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Comi v. Godinez

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 14, 2015

PATRICK COMI, # B-69649, Plaintiff,
v.
SALVADOR GODINEZ, RICHARD HARRINGTON, TIMOTHY VEATH, C/O NEW, LANCE W. PHELPS, S. WOOLEY, BARBARA MUELLER, C/O SHORE, MONICA NIPPE, GRIEVANCE OFFICER OAKLEY, and UNKNOWN PARTY, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

STACI M. YANDLE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Patrick Comi, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights at Menard (Doc. 1). Plaintiff claims that he was wrongfully disciplined for possession of a weapon that was allegedly planted in his work area at Menard. In connection with this claim, he now sues the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") and numerous Menard officials for violating his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments (Doc. 1, p. 2). Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment and monetary damages, among other things (Doc. 1, pp. 25-26).

Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under Section 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court is required to dismiss any portion of the complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross "the line between possibility and plausibility." Id. at 557. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts "should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009). When considering the allegations in light of this standard, the Court finds that one of Plaintiff's seven claims (Count 3) survives preliminary review.

The Complaint

According to the complaint, Plaintiff was issued a disciplinary ticket for possession of contraband on April 2, 2013. Plaintiff claims that the disciplinary charges against him were unwarranted. Menard's weapons task force, which was comprised of Defendants New and Wooley, discovered a homemade shank in the third floor breakroom of Menard's health care unit ("HCU") on March 5, 2013 (Doc. 1, pp. 9-10). At the time, Plaintiff was working at the HCU and had just returned from the prison's barber shop. A confidential source allegedly linked the weapon to Plaintiff and a fellow inmate (Doc. 1, p. 12).

Defendant Phelps issued Plaintiff and his co-worker a disciplinary ticket on April 2, 2013 (Doc. 1, p. 11). The ticket resulted from an allegedly unfair internal investigation into the matter. Plaintiff maintains that Menard officials fabricated the charges, in an effort to convince Illinois lawmakers and Governor Pat Quinn to reopen Tamms Correctional Center ("Tamms") (Doc. 1, pp. 11-12).

Defendant Veath allegedly conducted an unfair disciplinary hearing (Doc. 1, p. 14). Prior to the hearing, Plaintiff requested a polygraph test, but was administered a voice stress test instead on March 27, 2013. The results indicated that Plaintiff's responses were deceptive. Plaintiff claims that Menard officials doctored the test results. He asked Defendant Veath for a continuance of the disciplinary hearing until a polygraph examination was conducted. Defendant Veath denied the request and also refused to call Plaintiff's witnesses. Plaintiff was ultimately found guilty of the rule violation following a disciplinary hearing on April 4, 2013. He received one year of segregation, demotion to C-grade status, commissary restrictions, and no contact visits (Doc. 1, p. 14).

Plaintiff complains that he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement in segregation. First, his blood pressure spiked as a result of the events described herein, and his doctor had to increase his dosage of blood pressure medicine (Doc. 1, p. 26). Second, he was only allowed to shower once each week. Third, Plaintiff was only allowed out of his cell to exercise one day per week.

Plaintiff filed numerous grievances to challenge the disciplinary hearing committee's decision, beginning on April 4, 2013 (Doc. 1, p. 15). However, Defendant Oakley and several other unknown grievance officers systematically lost or destroyed the grievances, in order to prevent Plaintiff from exhausting his administrative remedies (Doc. 1, pp. 15-16). Defendants Mueller and Nippe prevented Plaintiff from speaking to his attorney before a court date, by routinely cutting off his phone calls after twenty seconds when no one answered (Doc. 1, p. 16). Finally, Defendant Shore tampered with Plaintiff's outgoing legal mail, by opening it or refusing to send it (Doc. 1, p. 17).

Plaintiff now sues the IDOC Director[1] and numerous known[2] and unknown Menard officials for violating his rights under the United States Constitution and Illinois administrative law. Each of Plaintiff's claims are summarized and discussed in detail below. Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment and monetary damages, among other things.

Discussion

After carefully reviewing the allegations, the Court finds it convenient to divide the complaint into seven counts that are consistent with Plaintiff's characterization of the same. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court.

Count 1: Defendants New, Wooley, Phelps, and Unknown Defendants (weapons task force officers) violated the Illinois Administrative Code by knowingly providing false information in support of the disciplinary action taken against Plaintiff;
Count 2: Defendants Godinez, Harrington, New, Wooley, Phelps, and Unknown Defendants (weapons task force officers) violated Plaintiff's right to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment in connection with the issuance of a false disciplinary ticket, which resulted in his placement in segregation, demotion to C-grade, commissary restriction, and no contact visits for a year;
Count 3: Defendant Veath violated Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights at the disciplinary hearing when he failed to call Plaintiff's witnesses to contradict testimony offered by a confidential source, which resulted in his placement in segregation, demotion to C-grade, commissary restriction, and no contact visits for a year;
Count 4: Defendants Oakley and Unknown Defendants (grievance officers) interfered with Plaintiff's right to access the courts under the Illinois Administrative Code and the First Amendment by routinely losing or destroying grievances challenging the April 4, 2013, decision of the adjustment committee;
Count 5: Defendant Shore and other Unknown Defendants (officers) interfered with Plaintiff's legal mail in violation of the First Amendment;
Count 6: Defendants Mueller and Nippe interfered with Plaintiff's telephone communications with counsel, in violation of Plaintiff's First, ...

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