United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
DAVID R. HERNDON, District Judge.
Petitioner Lee Parker is currently incarcerated in the Lawrence Correctional Center in Sumner, Illinois. (Doc. 1 at 1.) Proceeding pro se, Parker has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his loss of good time credits and his placement in segregation stemming from a prison adjustment committee ruling on Parker's assault of his cellmate. (Id. ) Parker alleges that the committee erred by not allowing him to confront witnesses whose confidential testimony was used against him, and by not allowing him to call his own witnesses "in support of his not guilty plea." (Id. at 4.)
This matter is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the petition. Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts provides that, upon preliminary review by the district judge, "[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court, the judge must dismiss the petition and direct the clerk to notify the petitioner."
Since 1983, Parker has been in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections, serving a life sentence without parole. (Doc. 1 at 1.) On July 18, 2014, Parker had an altercation with his cellmate, Frank Gomez, in their cell at the Lawrence Correctional Center. (Id. at 2.) Internal affairs at the prison investigated the altercation, yielding two separate accounts of the dispute between Parker and Gomez. (Doc. 1-1 at 7-8.) Parker said that he and Gomez had a verbal altercation that turned physical when Gomez slapped him on the side of his head above his ear twice. (Id. ) When Gomez tried to slap Parker again, Parker blocked that slap, grabbed Gomez's hand, and moved to grab him by the throat, incidentally scratching him in the chest. (Id. ) Gomez told a different tale - he said that he criticized Parker's conduct related to Parker's sale of food to another inmate, and Parker threatened to harm Gomez if Gomez did not stay out of Parker's business. (Id. ) According to Gomez, Parker then stood from his wheelchair and tried to grab Gomez and choke him, scratching Gomez with his nails in the process. (Id. ) Two other prisoners were interviewed by internal affairs and they both corroborated Gomez's account. (Id. ) Based on the prison investigation, Parker was ultimately charged with assault. (Doc. 1 at 2.)
On July 25, 2014, the prison adjustment committee held a hearing on the assault charge. (Doc. 1-1 at 13.) Parker appeared, pled not guilty, and provided a written statement. (Doc. 1 at 3.) According to Parker, he also sought to have two other inmates testify in support of his plea, but testimony from those witnesses was not taken or considered by the adjustment committee. (Id. at 3-4.) The adjustment committee found Parker guilty of assault and sanctioned him with one year in segregation and the revocation of one year of good conduct credits or statutory good time, among other sanctions. (Doc. 1-1 at 13.) The prison warden signed off on the report on August 15, 2014. (Id. at 14.)
On August 26, 2014, Parker filed a grievance concerning the disciplinary proceedings. (Doc. 1 at 4.) According to Parker, he received no response to his grievance, so he sent letters following up on status on November 1, 2014 and November 25, 2014. (Id. at 4-5.) These letters received no response, so Parker mailed his grievance and his letters to the Administrative Review Board. (Id. at 5.) On December 24, 2014, the Board responded to Parker's correspondence, asking him to send a copy of the prison's response to his grievance, and directing him to contact his prison counselor to obtain a response. ( See id. at 5-6.)
On March 25, 2015, Parker filed the instant § 2254 petition. (Id. at 1.)
The Court begins with a preliminary issue, namely the exhaustion requirement for § 2254 habeas claims. "It is well-established that a prisoner seeking a writ of habeas corpus must exhaust his state remedies" before seeking federal relief. Moleterno v. Nelson, 114 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 1997). To exhaust state remedies for a prison disciplinary claim, an Illinois prisoner must first "exhaust [his] internal administrative remedies" through the prison administrative process. McAtee v. Cowan, 250 F.3d 506, 508-509 (7th Cir. 2001). If unsuccessful, he must then exhaust any state court remedies by filing "a complaint for an order of mandamus from an Illinois circuit court." Id. If the prisoner is dissatisfied with the state court's ruling, he "must invoke one complete round of the normal appellate process, including seeking discretionary review before the state supreme court, " to conclusively exhaust his state remedies. Id.
Parker seems to have some exhaustion problems: his petition suggests that he has given up on the prison administrative process and taken no further action with Lawrence or the Administrative Review Board, and his petition says nothing about any efforts to seek state mandamus relief. However, whether Parker has taken any further steps within the prison since December 2014 or pursued any state mandamus relief is unclear from the face of his pleading, meaning that it would be premature for the Court to delve into exhaustion at this stage. See Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1005 (7th Cir. 2002) (district court should not dismiss a suit sua sponte for failure to exhaust unless it is "plain from the face of the complaint that the suit can be regarded as frivolous").
Turning to Parker's substantive habeas allegations, the Court finds it appropriate to break the claims in Parker's pro se complaint into numbered counts, as shown below. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by the Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit.
COUNT 1: The revocation of Parker's good conduct credits or statutory good time was improper, as the adjustment committee ...