United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.
Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is serving a ten-year sentence on a sexual assault conviction. He claims that Defendants failed to obtain a suitable parole location for him, and as a result, he has remained incarcerated at Lawrence past his parole date.
In the complaint, Plaintiff explains that six months prior to his projected release date of December 24, 2014, he submitted a request to the Field Services Department (headed by Defendant Stevenson), seeking placement in a halfway house because he did not have a place to live upon his release (Doc. 1, p. 5). He was told that he would be submitted for a halfway house placement three days before his release and that some sites would accept offenders with his type of conviction.
Plaintiff submitted several other follow-up requests to check the status of his parole site. Each time he was told that officials were aware that he is homeless, and they would have something for him closer to his out-date. When December 24 arrived, however, Plaintiff was told that Field Services did not find him a halfway house, and he had no approved host site for his parole. Consequently, Plaintiff was not released, and he was still in prison as of the date he submitted his complaint (March 27, 2015).
Plaintiff filed several grievances over his situation, with no resolution. Defendant Warden Duncan determined that Plaintiff's "emergency" grievance would not be handled as an emergency.
As to Defendant Gaetz, Plaintiff asserts that as the Deputy Director of the Southern District of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"), "he has not established an effective parole system within his Dist[rict], therefore he is denying [Plaintiff his] right to parole" (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff seeks an order from this Court "to move IDOC to find a halfway house for [him] to parole to so that [he] can be released to serve [his] parole term" (Doc. 1, p. 6).
Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A
Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant.
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). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that "no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit." Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). 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).
Initially, the Court must independently evaluate the substance of Petitioner's claim to determine if the correct statute - in this case 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or 28 U.S.C. § 2254 - is being invoked. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973) (dismissing § 1983 claims that should have been brought as petitions for writ of habeas corpus); Bunn v. Conley, 309 F.3d 1002, 1006-07 (7th Cir. 2002) (district court should not have recharacterized declaratory judgment action as petition for habeas corpus); Godoski v. United States, 304 F.3d 761, 763 (7th Cir. 2002) (court must evaluate independently the substance of the claim being brought, to see if correct statute is being invoked). A petition for a writ of habeas corpus is the proper route "[i]f the prisoner is seeking what can fairly be described as a quantum change in the level of custody-whether outright freedom, or freedom subject to the limited reporting and financial constraints of bond or parole or probation." Graham v. Broglin, 922 F.2d 379, 381 (7th Cir. 1991). If, however, the prisoner "is seeking a different program or location or environment, then he is challenging the conditions rather than the fact of confinement and his remedy is under civil rights law." Id.; see also Pischke v. Litscher, 178 F.3d 497, 500 (7th Cir. 1999).
If Plaintiff were seeking an order directing Defendants to release him from custody, he could not bring such a request in the context of a civil rights case under § 1983. Instead, he would be required to bring a petition for habeas corpus relief under § 2254. But Plaintiff's request is more nuanced - he wants Defendants (all corrections officials) to find him a suitable halfway house location, which so far they have failed to do despite assurances that attempts were being made to do so. Once acceptable housing is found, then presumably Plaintiff would meet that criterion for release, and he could begin his parole period. The relief Plaintiff seeks, therefore, is within the bounds of a § 1983 action. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2005) (prisoner may bring a § 1983 challenge to the constitutionality of state parole procedures); Murdock v. Walker, No. 08-C-1142, 2014 WL 916992, at *5 (N.D. Ill. March 10, 2014) (convicted sex offenders' challenge to the state's "turnaround" practice of denying release to paroled offenders who lacked approved housing was cognizable under § 1983).
But that is not the end of the inquiry. In order for Plaintiff to proceed with his case, his complaint must indicate that one or more of the Defendants have violated his constitutional rights. The complaint fails to cross this threshold.
Although Plaintiff does not articulate the constitutional basis for his request for injunctive relief, two possible claims are suggested by Plaintiff's allegations in light of the relevant case law:
Count 1 - Defendants subjected Plaintiff to cruel and unusual punishment contrary to the Eighth Amendment, by failing to obtain an approved housing site so he could ...