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Hawthorne v. Flagg

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 6, 2017

KENNETH HAWTHORNE, # B31208, Plaintiff,
v.
JULIUS FLAGG, LT. AARON J. MIDDLETON, JENNIFER WALLACE, CARA R. BRASSEL, and JOHN/JANE DOE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          MICHAEL J. REAGAN Chief Judge.

         Plaintiff Kenneth Hawthorne, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center (“Pinckneyville”), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against five officials at Centralia Correctional Center (“Centralia”). (Doc. 1). In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that an unknown prison official (“John/Jane Doe”) at Centralia added a charge for sexual misconduct (Rule 107) to a disciplinary ticket that he received for insolence (Rule 304) on October 19, 2014. (Doc. 1, pp. 3-15). Plaintiff was found guilty of both rule violations and punished with a disciplinary transfer and 3 months of segregation, among other things. Id. Although the sexual misconduct violation was ultimately dismissed, Plaintiff claims that he endured 2 additional months of segregation as a result. Id.

         He now brings claims against the following defendants for due process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment, retaliation under the First Amendment, and cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment: Julius Flagg (warden), Aaron Middleton (adjustment committee chairperson), Jennifer Wallace (grievance officer), Cara Brassel (correctional officer), and John/Jane Doe (unknown officer). Id. He seeks declaratory judgment and monetary damages against the defendants. (Doc. 1, pp. 16-17).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint (Doc. 1) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 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).

         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). 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). After carefully considering the allegations, the Court finds that the Complaint does not survive review under § 1915A and shall therefore be dismissed.

         The Complaint

         While incarcerated at Centralia on October 19, 2014, Plaintiff alleges that he asked to speak with a female correctional officer named C/O Brassel. (Doc. 1, p. 3). When Brassel came to his room, Plaintiff asked her for “permission to speak freely.” Id. Brassel granted him permission to do so, and Plaintiff informed the correctional officer that “he likes her and thinks she is a cool officer, because [she] never shakes[s] down cells, write[s] tickets, or give[s] anyone a hard time.” Id. Plaintiff also told Brassel that he would let her know if anyone ever spoke negatively about her in his presence. Id. Brassel said, “[S]ounds good.” Id. At that, she walked away. Id.

         What Plaintiff failed to tell Brassel is that he heard a negative report about her two or three days earlier. (Doc. 1, p. 4). Another inmate, Christopher Davis, told him that Brassel “backed her ass up into him and told him that she has to be cool because I.A. is watching her.” Id. Inmate Davis intimated that he had more information about Brassel and would share it with Plaintiff later. Plaintiff claims that he intended to share this information with Brassel. Id.

         Before he could do so, however, Plaintiff was cuffed and taken to segregation by Lieutenant Shreve.[1] (Doc. 1, p. 4). When Plaintiff asked the lieutenant to explain why he was being placed in segregation, Shreve stated that he used to work with Brassel's father in the same prison. Id. Shreve assured Plaintiff that he would tell Brassel anything she needed to know. Id. Plaintiff did not need to “look out for her.” Id.

         On October 21, 2014, Plaintiff received a disciplinary ticket for violating Rule 304 - insolence and Rule 107 - sexual misconduct. (Doc. 1, p. 4). When he looked closely at the ticket, Plaintiff realized that the word “ALONE” and “107 - Sexual Misconduct” were written in different handwriting than the rest of the ticket. Id. Plaintiff immediately concluded that someone other than Brassel doctored the ticket by adding the sexual misconduct charge. Id.

         Plaintiff attended a disciplinary hearing two days later. At the hearing, he submitted a 4-page letter to the committee. (Doc. 1, p. 5). In the letter, Plaintiff admitted that he approached Brassel and spoke with her on October 19, 2014. Id. He also described his conversation with Inmate Davis.[2] The adjustment committee found Plaintiff guilty of both rule violations. (Doc. 1, p. 20). He was punished with a 1-month loss of good conduct credit and a disciplinary transfer to Pinckneyville. Id. Plaintiff also received 3 months of segregation, C-grade status, and a gym/yard restriction. Id.

         On October 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed a grievance to complain that his disciplinary ticket was altered by an undisclosed officer (“John/Jane Doe”). (Doc. 1, p. 6). He requested the name of the officer who added “ALONE” and “107 - Sexual Misconduct” to his disciplinary ticket. Id. He complained that he was deprived of the opportunity to confront John/Jane Doe at his disciplinary hearing. Id.

         Jennifer Wallace denied Plaintiff's grievance. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Wallace believed Brassel when she said that she was responsible for the changes to the ticket. (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 27). Plaintiff claims that this was “clearly a lie.” (Doc. 1, p. 6). He insists that another officer, who Plaintiff thinks was also under investigation, added this rule violation to the ticket in order to subject Plaintiff to harsher punishment. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-8).

         Plaintiff alleges that Wallace was biased. Two or three years before the incident at issue in this case, Wallace was investigated for sexual misconduct. (Doc. 1, p. 6). At the time, she was working as a law clerk or librarian at the prison. Id. The matter was ultimately resolved in her favor. Id. However, Plaintiff contends that Wallace willingly disregarded the truth surrounding his disciplinary ticket because Wallace “almost lost her job” over a similar incident. (Doc. 1, p. 7). This personal bias prevented Wallace from carrying out her administrative duties fairly. Id.

         In addition, Plaintiff maintains that Centralia's warden, Julius Flagg, failed to investigate Plaintiff's allegations in the 4-page letter because he was also biased. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Plaintiff alleges that, “upon information and belief, ” the warden overlooked Plaintiff's claims because Brassel was the daughter of a former employee. Id. In signing off on the grievance officer's report, Plaintiff claims that the warden conspired to retaliate against Plaintiff. (Doc. 1, p. 9).

         Similarly, Plaintiff maintains that Lieutenant Middleton, the disciplinary committee chairperson, failed to investigate Plaintiff's allegations or acknowledge the “obvious difference” in Brassel's handwriting and the additions to the ticket. Id. Middleton “should have known” that the comment Plaintiff made to Brassel (i.e., “I really like you”) did not meet the requirements for 107 - sexual misconduct. Id.

         On June 4, 2015, the Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) overturned the decision of the disciplinary committee with respect to the sexual misconduct violation. (Doc. 1, pp. 7, 28). The ARB held that the offense should be dismissed. Id. This was despite the fact that the ARB found no due process violation associated with the issuance of the ticket on October 19, 2014. Id. In so finding, the ARB determined that the ticket listed both rule violations on the date it was served, it was served within the required 8 days, it was heard within the required 14 days, and it was ...


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