Submitted: October 29, 2015 [*]
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 15-3038 -- Harold A. Baker, Judge.
Michael Hughes, Plaintiff - Appellant, Pro se, Rushville, IL.
Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and POSNER and EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judges.
Wood, Chief Judge.
Michael Hughes alleges that an employee of the facility where he is civilly committed abused him because he is a homosexual; another employee suspended his treatment for complaining about it. He is confined at the Treatment and Detention Facility in Rushville, Illinois, as a result of his designation as a sexually violent person for purposes of Illinois's Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act, 725 ILCS 207/1-99. Invoking 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Hughes sued Michael Farris, the supervisor of the laundry, and Krista Wilcoxen, Rushville's rehabilitation director. After interviewing Hughes at a " merit-review" hearing and screening his complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the district court concluded that he had failed to state a claim and dismissed the case. We vacate that judgment and remand.
Without vouching for anything, we recount the allegations in Hughes's complaint and, where consistent with the complaint, in his related filings. See Flying J Inc. v. City of New Haven, 549 F.3d 538, 542 n.1 (7th Cir. 2008). Hughes was first abused in 2014, when Farris began supervising Rushville's laundry room. Hughes had been receiving vocational training in the laundry room as part of his treatment. Farris berated Hughes with an onslaught of homophobic epithets, including " sissy, faggot, bitch, whore, slut, and any other degrading female or homosexual insult one can imagine." Farris also " encourage[d] other residents to take reprisals against Plaintiff because he is gay." He urged them " to Ram broom and/or Mop Handles in the Plaintiff['s] rectum ... because he likes it so much." Hughes lived in constant fear of violent attack.
Hughes's troubles with Farris came to a head in January 2015. Farris ordered Hughes to " Take Charge" of the laundry room and " Tell these fuckers what they need to be [doing]." Hughes hesitated, reminding Farris that, under his own treatment plan and the rules of Rushville, he was prohibited from asserting authority over fellow detainees. He attempted to show Farris the resident handbook, which contained the rule that Farris was telling Hughes to violate. In response, Farris ordered him to leave the laundry.
When Hughes complained about Farris to Wilcoxen, his situation worsened. Hughes told Wilcoxen that Farris was abusing and threatening him for being gay. But Wilcoxen's practice, Hughes asserts, is to ignore complaints about Farris's conduct and " terminat[e] anyone that has a negative encounter" with Farris. Considering herself " sue proof," Wilcoxen suspended Hughes from vocational training, in the laundry or elsewhere, for three months, to punish him for protesting Farris's abuse. Vocational training, Hughes explains, is part of the treatment that he must complete to be eligible for conditional release. By suspending him from that training, Wilcoxen kept him from " fully participat[ing] in the treatment he was sent to this facility for."
The district judge held a brief telephonic merit-review hearing and dismissed the complaint. (We have previously discussed the proper and improper use of these hearings. See Henderson v. Wilcoxen, 802 F.3d 930 (7th Cir. 2015); Williams v. Wahner, 731 F.3d 731 (7th Cir. 2013).) The judge asked Hughes if his " main complaint" was that he had been laid off from his job at the laundry. Hughes replied, " No, sir. That's not my main complaint. That is a result, or what triggered me to actually file the complaint." When the judge asked him what constitutional provision he believed the defendants had violated, Hughes answered that he was " sexually harassed" and " punished" for refusing to violate " our own rules." The court ended the hearing, noting that it " did not see any constitutional violation in this." It then dismissed Hughes's complaint for failure to state a claim. He failed to state a due process claim, the court reasoned, because prisoners do not have a protectable interest in prison jobs, and the court found no equal protection violation. These rulings caused the court to count the dismissal as a " strike" under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). It entered judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58 the same day.
Hughes appealed and moved to proceed in forma pauperis. In his motion, he elaborated his complaint's allegations. He also said that at the merit-review hearing he felt " rushed," " stressed," and " confuse[d]," explaining that he " thought of all kinds of things to say only moments after the phone call had ended." The district court granted Hughes's motion to proceed IFP. It observed that Hughes's new filing " more clearly states his intended claims and it appears he has adequately alleged a violation of his constitutional rights." The court advised Hughes that if he asked the court to reconsider its dismissal, the court would " certify that it would grant the motion upon remand from the court of appeals." As Hughes explains in his appeal brief, he ...