United States District Court, Southern District of Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
STACI M. YANDLE U.S. District Judge
Plaintiff Heriberto Rodriguez, Jr., an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center (“Stateville”), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”). Plaintiff claims that he was wrongfully disciplined for possession of a weapon (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7). He seeks monetary damages and expungement of his disciplinary ticket (Doc. 1, p. 9).
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). As discussed in more detail below, Plaintiff’s complaint does not survive preliminary review under Section 1915A and shall be dismissed.
According to the complaint, Plaintiff was issued a disciplinary ticket at Menard for possession of a weapon on July 20, 2013 (Doc. 1, p. 6). That day, Officer Kampfer conducted two separate searches of Plaintiff’s cell that were each ten minutes apart. During both “shakedowns, ” Plaintiff and his cellmate were taken to the shower. The cell “came out clean” each time (Doc. 1, p. 6).
Plaintiff was called to the internal affairs office an hour after the second shakedown. There, he was charged with possession of a weapon. He received a disciplinary ticket that night, but he could not read it. At his disciplinary hearing on July 23, 2013, Plaintiff learned that the charges arose from the discovery of a weapon in his waistband during a strip search. But Plaintiff was never subjected to a strip search. Even so, the adjustment committee found him guilty of the rule violation on July 23, 2013. According to the final adjustment committee hearing summary, he was punished with one year of segregation, demotion to C-grade status, and commissary restriction.
Plaintiff now sues Officer Kampfer for unspecified constitutional violations. He seeks monetary damages. He also seeks to have his disciplinary ticket expunged, after a polygraph test and a DNA analysis of the fingerprints on the weapon are completed (Doc. 1, p. 9).
Plaintiff challenges Defendant Kampfer’s issuance of a false disciplinary ticket against him that resulted in his punishment with one year in segregation, demotion to C-grade status, and commissary restriction. This claim arises under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. With the exception of Plaintiff’s placement in segregation, however, these allegations do not present a viable constitutional claim that warrants a detailed discussion. This is because there is no protected liberty interest in Plaintiff’s loss of status or his access to the prison’s commissary. See, e.g., Thomas v. Ramos, 130 F.3d 754, 762 n.8 (7th Cir. 1997).
An “inmate’s liberty interest in avoiding segregation is limited.” Hardaway v. Meyerhoff, et al., 734 F.3d 740 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Marion v. Columbia Corr. Inst., 559 F.3d 693, 697 (7th Cir. 2009)). Under certain circumstances, however, an inmate punished with segregation can pursue a claim for deprivation of a liberty interest without due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Marion, 559 F.3d at 697-98. Based on the allegations in the complaint, those circumstances are not present.
The complaint alleges that Plaintiff was issued a disciplinary ticket for possession of a weapon that he did not possess. The fact that Plaintiff received a disciplinary ticket based on fabricated charges does not, standing alone, create a liberty interest. Allegations of false disciplinary reports do not state a claim where due process is afforded. Hadley v. Peters, 841 F.Supp. 850, 856 (C.D. Ill. 1994), aff’d, 70 F.3d 117 (7th Cir. 1995) (citing Hanrahan v. Lane, 747 F.2d 1137, 1140 (7th Cir. 1984)). This is because a fair disciplinary hearing serves the purpose of sorting out any erroneous charges. Id.
To satisfy due process, an inmate facing disciplinary charges must be given: (1) advance written notice of the charges against him; (2) the opportunity to appear before an impartial hearing body to contest the charges; (3) the opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense (if prison safety allows and subject to the discretion of correctional officers); and (4) a written statement summarizing the reasons for the discipline imposed. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-69 (1974); Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139, 1145 (7th Cir. 1988). In addition, the decision of the adjustment committee must be supported by “some evidence.” Black v. Lane, 22 F.3d 1395 (7th Cir. 1994). In other words, courts must determine whether the decision of the hearing board has some factual basis. Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649 (7th Cir. 2000). Even a meager amount of supporting evidence is sufficient. Scruggs v. Jordan, 485 F.3d 934, 941 ...