United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
LESTER WINTER, JR., No. M28567, Petitioner/Plaintiff,
WARDEN DUNCAN, Respondent/Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
DAVID R. HERNDON, District Judge.
Lester Winter, Jr., is an inmate at Lawrence Correctional Center. His "Amended Complaint" (Doc. 16) is before the Court for preliminary review.
The public records of the Illinois Department of Corrections indicate that Winter was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a minor less than 13 years of age. His projected parole date was July 9, 2014, but because he did not have a satisfactory residence, he was not released from prison.
Winter's initial pleading (Doc. 1) bore no formal caption. The pleading referenced the First Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment-all suggesting civil rights violations by officials in connection with the conditions of confinement in prison, and the failure to find Winter a place to live. However, Winter sought placement in a halfway house. Unable to discern the nature of the case, the complaint was dismissed without prejudice (Doc. 7).
The dismissal order explained the differences between two possible avenues for relief: (1) a civil rights action; or (2) a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Court gave Winter an opportunity to amend his pleading, and indicated that the appropriate filing fee would be assessed once it was clear whether this was a civil rights or habeas action. The Amended Complaint (Doc. 16) is somewhat ambiguous, but for the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that it must be analyzed as a civil rights case.
Notices and Motions
In advance of delving into the Amended Complaint, a variety of notices and motions filed by Winter will be addressed-some of which are tangentially related to the assessment of the Amended Complaint.
Winter has filed two motions for counsel (Docs. 13, 15). He states that he has an unspecified learning disability, although he completed high school. He explains that he does not know much about the law, his access to the law library is limited, and he does not feel that he will be able to adequately represent himself. With only approximately $150 in his prison trust fund account, he obviously cannot afford to retain counsel.
There is no constitutional or statutory right to counsel in federal civil cases. Romanelli v. Suliene, 615 F.3d 847, 851 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Johnson v. Doughty, 433 F.3d 1001, 1006 (7th Cir. 2006). Nevertheless, the district court has discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) to recruit counsel for an indigent litigant. Ray v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 706 F.3d 864, 866-67 (7th Cir. 2013).
When a pro se litigant submits a request for assistance of counsel, the Court must first consider whether the indigent plaintiff has made reasonable attempts to secure counsel on his own. Navejar v. Iyiola, 718 F.3d 692, 696 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing Pruitt v. Mote, 503 F.3d 647, 654 (7th Cir. 2007)). If so, the Court must examine "whether the difficulty of the case-factually and legally- exceeds the particular plaintiff's capacity as a layperson to coherently present it." Navejar, 718 F.3d at 696 (quoting Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 655). "The question... is whether the plaintiff appears competent to litigate his own claims, given their degree of difficulty, and this includes the tasks that normally attend litigation: evidence gathering, preparing and responding to motions and other court filings, and trial.' Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 655. The Court also considers such factors as the plaintiff's "literacy, communication skills, education level, and litigation experience." Id.
Although Winter cannot afford to retain counsel, he has not made any effort to get an attorney to take his case on a contingency basis, or to have a legal services group take up his cause. Denial of his motions on that basis alone is justified. The Court is definitely concerned about Winter's intellect and ability to frame his cause of action, but his pleadings to date and choices made do not convince the Court that his issues are factually or legally more than he can handle, particularly since pro se pleadings are construed liberally and pro se litigants are not held to the same standards as trained legal counsel. More specifically, Winter appears to be challenging a very narrow aspect of what has been called the "turnaround policy." Compare Murdock v. Walker, 2014 WL 916992, *7 (N.D. Ill. 2014). Therefore, Winter's motions for counsel (Docs. 13, 15) will be denied without prejudice. The Court will remain open to appointing counsel.
Two "motions for notification" (Docs. 11, 14) were filed in advance of the Amended Complaint. The first document (Doc. 11) is not signed, so it will be stricken. See FED.R.CIV.P. 11(a) (unsigned motions must be stricken). The second document (Doc. 14) is construed as a motion for leave to file the amended pleading out of time, due a delay in the prison business office transmitting the pleading to the Court before the prescribed deadline. A review of the Amended Complaint reveals that it was signed before the deadline for amendment and received by the Court six days after the deadline (with an intervening three-day holiday weekend when mail would not have been delivered to the Court). For good cause shown, and because it appears that the Amended Complaint was turned over for transmittal to the Court before the deadline, Plaintiff's motion (Doc. 14) will be granted. Accordingly, the Amended Complaint (Doc. 16) is considered to have been timely filed.
Another "motion for notification" (Doc. 19) was filed after the Amended Complaint. Winter cites the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88-352, 78 Stat. 241(1964)), pertaining to discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender or national origin. The Court surmises that he meant to cite 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Pub.L. 96-170, 93 Stat. 1284 (1979)). In any event, he asserts that his constitutional rights are being violated relative to (1) his being held past his out-date, and (2) the conditions of his confinement. Plaintiff does not request anything specific in this "motion to notify, " so the motion (Doc. 19) will be denied as moot.
A "Petition against Field Service, Resource Placement" (Doc. 20) confirms that Winter remains in prison where, due to discrimination, he is not being given medical treatment for his learning disorder. Because it is unsigned, the "petition" (Doc. 20) must be stricken. See FED.R.CIV.P. 11(A) (unsigned motions must be stricken).
A month after the Amended Complaint was filed, Winter filed an "Amended Motion for False Imprisonment" (Doc. 21). Assertions are made that officials have been negligent and have violated Winter's constitutional rights by holding him in prison without his consent. Insofar as Winter may have intended to further amend the Amended Complaint, amendment by interlineation is not permitted ( see Local Rule 15.1). An amended complaint must contain all claims a plaintiff wants to pursue against all defendants. Winter's motion (Doc. 21) will, therefore, be denied, leaving the Amended Complaint (Doc. 21) as the controlling pleading.
The Amended Complaint
The Amended Complaint (Doc. 16) specifies that it is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to seek redress for constitutional violations related to Winter's continued incarceration at Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence") long past his September 2014 parole date. According to the Amended Complaint, halfway housing is supposed to be provided to inmates who have no other approved placed to reside upon their release from prison on parole. See 730 ILCS 5/3-3-2 and 5/3-14-2 (splitting duties related to the parole decision itself, and supervision of a parolee, between the Prisoner Review Board and Department of Corrections). No such housing arrangement has been made for Winter. The five named defendants-all Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) officials-are described as being individuals acting under color of law, which is prescribed in Section 1983 as a requirement for liability.
Defendant Salvador Godinez is the director of the IDOC, and defendant Donald Gaetz is the deputy director overseeing the institutions within the southern region, including Lawrence.
Defendant Stephen Duncan is the warden of Lawrence. Duncan is described as being legally responsible for the operation of the prison and the welfare of inmates housed there.
According to the Amended Complaint, the Clinical Services Department at the prison, headed by defendant Randy Stevenson, is supposed to keep an up-to-date list of available housing sites. Clinical Services also "handles the leg work" to ensure a halfway house site is approved prior to an inmate's parole date. Clinical Services does not provide the list of possible cites to the inmate, so an inmate cannot take action to improve the chances that a site will be secured, except that an inmate may stay with a family member, if approved by the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") Prisoner Review Board.
Living with a relative is the first option explored. Six months prior to an inmate's parole date, the inmate's counselor is supposed to submit the proposed family site so that a Parole agent can inspect and approve the site. If disapproved, the inmate then ...