United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.
Plaintiff Tony McGruder, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Pontiac Correctional Center ("Pontiac"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged deprivations of his constitutional rights at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard") (Doc. 1). Following a fight between a dozen inmates in Menard's chow hall on December 9, 2012, Plaintiff was charged with numerous rule violations stemming from his involvement in the altercation. Plaintiff denies any involvement. Nevertheless, he was found guilty of the rule violations at an allegedly unfair disciplinary hearing and punished with six months in segregation. As part of his punishment, Plaintiff was forced to share a cell with an inmate he was accused of fighting. Other inmates were required to do the same. Plaintiff endured this punishment for nearly six months, from December 17, 2012, until June 3, 2013, while three other inmates were allegedly murdered by their cellmates during this same time period.
In connection with these events, Plaintiff now sues eight prison officials for violating his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. He also asserts a conspiracy claim under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1986. The defendants include Lieutenant Veath (adjustment committee chairman), Lieutenant Lee (adjustment committee member), Jane/John Doe (unknown placement officer), Jane/John Doe (unknown internal affairs officer), Lori Oakley (grievance officer), Richard Harrington (warden), Sarah Johnson (administrative review board member), and S. A. Godinez (Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") Director). Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment, monetary damages, and injunctive relief.
Plaintiff filed this action on March 4, 2015, without paying a filing fee or filing a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP motion"). The same day, the Clerk of Court sent him a letter (Doc. 3) advising Plaintiff of his obligation to remit payment of the $400.00 filing fee or a properly completed IFP motion within thirty days (on or before April 3, 2015). Plaintiff was warned that the case would be dismissed if he failed to take action. On April 6, 2015, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking an extension of the deadline, and his motion was granted. The deadline was extended until May 9, 2015. Plaintiff's timely IFP motion followed and has been granted. The complaint is now ripe for review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
Merits Review Under 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). The complaint survives preliminary review under this standard.
On December 9, 2012, a fight broke out in Menard's chow hall (Doc. 1, p. 5). Approximately one dozen inmates were involved. Plaintiff was placed in segregation following the fight, along with eleven or twelve other inmates. He was issued a disciplinary ticket that cited the following rule violations: 101 - aiding, abetting, attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy; 403 - disobeying a direct order, and; 105 - dangerous disturbance. Plaintiff maintains that he was not involved in the fight.
After receiving the ticket, Plaintiff immediately submitted a written request to call witnesses at his prison disciplinary hearing. He placed this written request in the prison mail. Plaintiff then prepared a written statement requesting a continuance and the opportunity to call C/O Hormann as a witness at his disciplinary hearing. He handed this written statement to the adjustment committee at his disciplinary hearing on December 17, 2012. Neither of his requests was granted. He was found guilty of the rule violations following an allegedly unfair disciplinary hearing. Plaintiff was punished with six months of segregation, demotion to C-grade status, and commissary restriction (Doc. 2, p. 6).
For the next six months, Plaintiff was placed in a segregation cell with Antoine Brantley, one of the inmates he was accused of fighting (Doc. 1, p. 6). Of the eleven other inmates who were involved in the same fight, eight were forced to share a cell with an enemy. They were housed in cells with steel doors and left to fight or kill one another. Plaintiff contends that enemies "were strategically and purposely placed in the cell with each other for the sole purpose of... doing great bodily harm or causing great bodily harm to one... another" (Doc. 1, p. 6).
On February 5, 2013, Plaintiff filed a grievance challenging the results of the disciplinary hearing and his placement in a cell with Antoine Brantley (Doc. 1, p. 7). He received no response and submitted a written inquiry about the status of the grievance the following month (Doc. 1, p. 8). He learned in mid-March 2013 that the grievance was denied as untimely. Plaintiff attributes this to internal delays in processing his grievance. He appealed, but an Administrative Review Board member, Sarah Johnson, was allegedly "in cahoots" with Menard officials and denied the appeal.
Plaintiff was released from segregation on June 3, 2013. He later obtained a signed affidavit from C/O Hormann, confirming that he was not involved in the fight on December 9, 2012 (Doc. 1, p. 8). The law library supervisor confiscated the affidavit. An internal affairs officer, Lieutenant Munge,  investigated its authenticity by interviewing Plaintiff about it on June 3, 2014 (Doc. 1, p. 9). During the interview, Lieutenant Munge told Plaintiff that he did not intend to return the affidavit, unless ordered to do so by the warden. But rather than questioning him about the authenticity of the document, Lieutenant Munge interrogated Plaintiff about his involvement in a security threat group. Plaintiff maintains that Lieutenant Munge was posturing to issue him a ticket and place him in segregation, in order to prevent him from filing this lawsuit (Doc. 1, p. 10). Within four days, two internal affairs officers returned the affidavit to Plaintiff.
After carefully reviewing the allegations, the Court finds it convenient to divide the complaint into six counts that are consistent with Plaintiff's characterization of the same. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court.
Count 1: Defendants Veath and Lee deprived Plaintiff of a protected liberty interest without due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, when they punished him with six months in segregation following an unfair disciplinary hearing on false disciplinary charges ( see Doc. 1, pp. 11-13 (Counts I and II));
Count 2: Defendants Jane/John Doe (placement officer) and Jane/John Doe (internal affairs officer) failed to protect Plaintiff from an unreasonable risk of harm when they placed him in a cell for six months with an inmate he was accused of fighting ( see Doc. 1, pp. 13-15 (Count III));
Count 3: Defendants Harrington, Oakley, Johnson, and Godinez violated Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights when they denied his grievances and thereby failed to take any action to correct the constitutional violations ( see Doc. 1, pp. 15-19 (Counts IV and V));
Count 4: Defendants interfered with Plaintiff's access to the courts when they confiscated C/O Hormann's affidavit and delayed its ...