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Clark v. Gipson

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

January 26, 2015

RAMON CLARK, Plaintiff,


SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, District Judge.

On February 15, 2013, this Court conducted a merit review of Plaintiff's complaint and determined that Plaintiff stated constitutional retaliation claims based on Plaintiff's allegations that: (1) Officer DeWitt withheld Plaintiff's reassignment as a peer educator in retaliation for Plaintiff's challenge to DeWitt's disciplinary report written on February 13, 2012; (2) Officer Gipson wrote Plaintiff two false disciplinary reports in retaliation for a note Plaintiff wrote to Nurse Puckett; and, (3) Lieutenant Saathoff and Officer Gibson retaliated against Plaintiff for Plaintiff's refusal to act as an informant. (2/15/13 order.) Defendants' motion for summary judgment is before the Court.

The Court holds that Plaintiff's note to Nurse Puckett was not protected First Amendment speech because the note was reasonably construed as an attempt to create staff conflict and to interfere with internal affairs investigations. The Court also holds that Plaintiff had no constitutional right to refuse to act as an informant as a condition of obtaining a prison job. Alternatively, Defendants are protected by qualified immunity on these claims. The retaliation claim against Officer DeWitt survives for further development.

The Court's determination of qualified immunity is immediately appealable. Abelesz v. Magyar Nemzeti Bank, 692 F.3d 661, 667 (7th Cir. 2012). Counsel will be appointed for Plaintiff to explore this possibility and to otherwise represent Plaintiff in this case.


These facts are set forth in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, construing inferences in Plaintiff's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

In the Fall of 2011, Plaintiff was assigned as a "peer educator" in the health care unit of Graham Correctional Center. According to Plaintiff, his duties included educating and counseling other inmates about diseases like HIV, AIDs, hepatitis, sexually transmitted diseases, and alcohol addiction. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 8.) Nurse Puckett was Plaintiff's primary supervisor and was responsible for staffing the peer educator position, though others had to approve Nurse Puckett's choice for the job.

In addition to his job as a peer educator, Plaintiff worked as a "zone 2 lieutenant clerk." His duties as a clerk included picking up "movement sheets" from placement officers and passing the sheets out to officers on the appropriate housing units. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 12.) In discharging these duties, Plaintiff picked up movement sheets from Defendant Officer DeWitt on a daily basis. Lieutenant Ketcherside, who is not a Defendant, was Plaintiff's supervisor for this position. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 11.)

Plaintiff felt that Officer DeWitt did not like Plaintiff and, according to Plaintiff, DeWitt repeatedly made unspecified harassing and threatening comments to Plaintiff when Plaintiff would pick up the movement sheets. (Pl.'s Aff. para. 6, d/e 50-1.) Plaintiff complained to Lieutenant Ketcherside about Officer DeWitt's comments, to which Ketcherside responded, "Look, all you got to do, go in there and pick up your paperwork and just leave." (Pl.'s Dep. p. 19.)

Plaintiff believes that Lt. Ketcherside spoke to Officer DeWitt about Plaintiff' s complaints because at some point DeWitt warned Plaintiff, "It's only a matter of time before I get you." (Pl.'s Dep. pp. 20, 23.) After DeWitt's purported threat, Plaintiff's name was put on a movement sheet to be moved out of Plaintiff's cell. The move was stopped by Lt. Ketcherside or Defendant Saathoff. (DeWitt's Admissions, d/e 50-1 p. 1.) Then, Plaintiff's cell mate was moved out of Plaintiff's cell.

On or around February 13, 2012, Plaintiff was placed in segregation on investigative status regarding a disciplinary report written by Defendant DeWitt which accused Plaintiff of insolence and disobeying a direct order. DeWitt wrote that Plaintiff had disobeyed DeWitt's order to stop meddling in placement matters. According to DeWitt's disciplinary report, Plaintiff had told another correctional officer that DeWitt's plan to move an inmate was improper because the inmate was a porter.[1] (Disciplinary report, d/e 50-2, p. 4; Pl.'s Dep. p. 12.) Plaintiff admits that he told DeWitt that the inmate scheduled to be moved was a porter, that DeWitt then "got smart and said what he said, " and that then Plaintiff told an officer by the name of Goodman about DeWitt's plan to move an inmate porter. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 12.)[2] After DeWitt's plan to move the inmate porter was scotched, DeWitt wrote the disciplinary report against Plaintiff.

On or about February 21, 2012, Plaintiff was released from segregation. He discovered that he had not been reassigned to his peer educator position. Three days later, Plaintiff and Nurse Puckett asked Officer DeWitt why Plaintiff had not been reassigned to the position. According to Plaintiff, Officer DeWitt said that Plaintiff could not be reassigned until "additional clearance" was obtained. Plaintiff believes that Officer DeWitt concocted this explanation to cover up DeWitt's desire to retaliate against Plaintiff for Plaintiff's opposition to DeWitt's disciplinary report.

Plaintiff continued to inquire about the peer educator position, at which point Lieutenant Saathoff, who worked in internal affairs, told Plaintiff that Plaintiff would have to "watch and snitch on the nurses" if Plaintiff wanted to work as a peer educator. According to Plaintiff, Lieutenant Saathoff had investigated the nurses while Plaintiff had been a peer educator and Lieutenant Saathoff had expressed to Plaintiff that Saathoff thought something improper was going on in the health care unit.

This was not the first time that Lieutenant Saathoff insisted that Plaintiff be an informant if Plaintiff wanted a job. Plaintiff testified in his deposition that Lieutenant Saathoff had also asked Plaintiff to be an informant before Plaintiff's assignment as a zone 2 lieutenant clerk.

Plaintiff refused to act as an informant in either position. Lt. Saathoff's purported efforts to block Plaintiff from working as the zone 2 lieutenant clerk were unsuccessful, but Saathoff was able to prevent Plaintiff's reassignment as a peer educator.

On March 4, 2012, Plaintiff addressed a note to Nurse Puckett on an inmate request form, stating:

Due to the way I have been egregiously victimized by c/o DeWitt and Lt. Saathoff's abuse of authority, I feel that the only way to avoid them is to go on a hunger strike in an attempt to get shipped out of Graham. Before I do this, you need to know that the main reason Lt. Saathoff is trying to stop me from becoming the HCU Instructor is because I refused to spy on the nurses. I told him, "I'm not snitching on them nurses." This is the main reason my name was removed from the list. He told me if I said anything he would make my time here a ...

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