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Ruhl v. Department of Corrections

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

June 23, 2015

RONALD RUHL, ROBERT HERNANDEZ and DOUGLAS OAKS, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Defendant-Appellee

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois. Circuit No. 12-MR-1674. Honorable Roger Rickmon, Judge, Presiding.

JUSTICE SCHMIDT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holdridge and Wright concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

SCHMIDT, JUSTICE.

[¶1] Plaintiffs, Ronald Ruhl, Robert Hernandez and Douglas Oaks, inmates incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC), filed a petition for writ of mandamus against the DOC in the Will County circuit court. The complaint alleged tat the DOC had been overcharging plaintiffs for goods sold at the prison commissary in violation of section 3-7-2a of the Unified Code of Corrections (Unified Code) (730 ILCS 5/3-7-2a (West 2008)).

[¶2] The DOC filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-619(a)(9) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(9) (West 2012)), arguing that the inmates lacked standing to enforce section 3-7-2a of the Unified Code against it.

[¶3] The trial court granted the DOC's motion to dismiss.

[¶4] Plaintiffs appeal, arguing that this court's recent decision in Jackson v. Randle, 2011 IL App. (4th) 100790, 957 N.E.2d 572, 354 Ill.Dec. 256, is flawed and they do, in fact, have standing to enforce the relevant statutory provision.

[¶5] We affirm.

[¶6] FACTS

[¶7] In August 2012, Ruhl, an inmate in the DOC's custody incarcerated at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, filed a complaint for mandamus relief against the DOC. Ruhl alleged that the DOC had been " illegally" overcharging him for goods sold at the prison commissary by marking up the price of those goods beyond the percentage price caps outlined in section 3-7-2a of the Unified Code (730 ILCS 5/3-7-2a (West 2008)). Section 3-7-2a allows an additional charge of up to 35% for tobacco products and up to 25% for nontobacco products. According to Ruhl, the Illinois Auditor General determined in a report that the DOC had been exceeding the statutorily-allowed maximum markup on goods sold to inmates by 9% in its prison commissaries since November 1, 2005. He alleged that the DOC's failure to comply with section 3-7-2a had resulted in its " illegal procurement" of $576.62 from his inmate trust fund account.

[¶8] Ruhl's petition further asserted that he had attempted to seek relief for the DOC's violation through various avenues. He initially sought relief through the prison's grievance process, which ultimately resulted in the Administrative Review Board finding " no merit" to his grievance. Next, he sought " a remedy through the Illinois Court of Claims" that he alleged resulted in a rejection over subject matter jurisdiction, with a final ruling issued on May 8, 2012. Finally, Ruhl alleged that he had " contacted several different government agencies" for assistance in compelling the DOC to comply with section 3-7-2a, all to no avail.

[¶9] As for relief, Ruhl's petition sought a ruling that the DOC's actions in exceeding the allowed statutory markup on commissary items was unlawful as contrary to the language of section 3-7-2a. He requested the court enter an order: (1) compelling the DOC to comply with section 3-7-2a; (2) crediting his inmate trust fund account with all " illgotten funds" since November 1, 2005; and (3) compelling payment of all his costs and fees.

[¶10] The DOC moved to dismiss Ruhl's complaint pursuant to section 2-619(a)(9) of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(9) (West 2012)). The DOC contended that inmates lacked standing to enforce section 3-7-2a of the Unified Code. It explained that in Jackson v. Randle, 2011 IL App. (4th) 100790, 957 N.E.2d 572, 354 Ill.Dec. 256, the Fourth District affirmed the dismissal of an inmate's complaint, nearly identical to Ruhl's, on the basis that inmates lack standing to enforce the percentage price caps for commissary goods outlined in section 3-7-2a of the Unified Code against the DOC. Ruhl opposed the motion to dismiss, to which the DOC responded.

[¶11] During briefing on the DOC's motion to dismiss, plaintiffs Hernandez and Oaks, also inmates in the DOC's custody incarcerated at the Stateville Correctional Center, each filed complaints for mandamus relief against the DOC nearly identical to the petition filed by Ruhl. The allegations in Oaks' and Hernandez's complaints mirrored those in Ruhl's with the exception that neither Oaks nor Hernandez alleged they had pursued an action in the ...


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