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Dejesus v. Harrington

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 27, 2015

NOEL DeJESUS, # R-70712 Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARD HARRINGTON, TERRY DOUGLAS, OFFICER SNELL, and TIMOTHY VEATH, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

STACI M. YANDLE, District Judge.

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He seeks damages from all Defendants because he was held in punitive segregation for over nine months, as punishment for a disciplinary ticket that was later expunged. Plaintiff is serving a 50-year sentence for murder, as well as additional 12-year and six-year sentences for attempted murder. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

According to the complaint, on June 5, 2013, correctional officers conducted a shakedown search of all the cells on Plaintiff's gallery (Doc. 1, p. 5). Defendant Officers Douglas and Snell ordered Plaintiff and his cellmate (Jones) to pack up their personal property because they were going to segregation. The officers told Plaintiff that a homemade weapon (a 3-1/2 inch long piece of sharpened steel) had been found in the cell door track. However, Defendants Douglas and Snell refused to show Plaintiff the object, and did not have anything in their hands. The officers also failed to give Plaintiff a shakedown slip to document the weapon that was allegedly discovered in his cell.

Plaintiff and his cellmate were both placed in segregation. Plaintiff was charged with violating two rules: 308-Contraband/unauthorized property, and 104-Dangerous contraband. His disciplinary ticket was heard on June 11, 2013, before an Adjustment Committee chaired by Defendant Veath. Plaintiff pled not guilty, and asked to see the evidence against him (the weapon), but Defendant Veath denied the request. He found Plaintiff guilty based on the report by Defendants Douglas and Snell. He recommended punishment of one year in segregation, as well as a year of C-Grade status and commissary restriction. This action was approved by Defendant Warden Harrington (Doc. 1, p. 12).

Also on or about June 11, Plaintiff learned that his cellmate had been released from segregation. On June 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed a grievance complaining that he had been wrongfully punished with segregation and targeted for no apparent reason, because his cellmate was not punished. This grievance was denied, and the denial was approved by Defendant Harrington.

Plaintiff appealed the denial of his grievance, noting that his cell had been shaken down on both June 3 and June 4 by various correctional officers. On those days, the officers checked the cell door track and found nothing; but they claimed to have found the weapon in that spot on June 5 (Doc. 1, p. 13). On March 11, 2014, the Administrative Review Board ruled that Plaintiff's disciplinary report and punishment should be expunged (Doc. 1, pp. 17-18). By that time, however, Plaintiff had already served over nine months out of the one-year term of segregation that had been imposed on him.

Plaintiff now seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Defendants Douglas, Snell, Veath, and Harrington (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9).

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 Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

After fully considering the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint, the Court concludes that it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The complaint (Doc. 1) shall thus be dismissed without prejudice. However, Plaintiff shall be allowed an opportunity to submit an amended complaint, if he believes that facts exist to support a constitutional claim. If the amended complaint still fails to state a claim, or if Plaintiff does not submit an amended complaint, the entire case shall be dismissed with prejudice, and the dismissal shall count as a strike pursuant to § 1915(g). The amended complaint shall be subject to review under § 1915A.

Deprivation of a Liberty Interest Without Due Process

The essence of Plaintiff's claim is that because of the actions of the Defendants, he was required to serve over nine months confinement in disciplinary segregation on charges that were ultimately expunged. The fact that the charges and punishment were erased from Plaintiff's record indicates that Plaintiff received due process in the end, but not in time to save him from serving the majority of the segregation term. Nonetheless, the facts contained in the complaint do not support a constitutional claim upon which relief may be granted.

Under certain limited circumstances, an inmate punished with segregation may be able to pursue a claim for deprivation of a liberty interest without due process of law. See Marion v. Columbia Corr. Inst., 559 F.3d 693, 697-98 (7th Cir. 2009). The initial inquiry is whether Plaintiff was denied procedural due process in the conduct of his disciplinary hearing. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-69 (1974) (to satisfy due process concerns, inmate must be given advance written notice of the charge, the right to appear before the hearing panel, the right to call witnesses if prison safety allows, and a written statement of the ...


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