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Courtney v. Godinez

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 9, 2017



          STACI M. YANDLE U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff James Courtney, previously incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that the defendants violated his state and federal constitutional rights of due process, equal protection and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment by incarcerating him beyond the date he was eligible for mandatory supervised release (“MSR”). Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated. Therefore, this Court will conduct a preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), which provides:

         Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal -

i. is frivolous or malicious;
ii. fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
iii. seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         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 Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         The Complaint

         In the Complaint (Doc. 1), Plaintiff alleges that 6 months prior to his projected release date, he submitted a request to Field Services seeking approval of the residence of Faye Milburn or placement in a halfway house at a specified address in East St. Louis upon his release. (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff alleges that, despite these requests, on October 7, 2013, he was told that he was “violated” and he would not be allowed to leave on MSR. Id. Plaintiff claims he immediately wrote to Defendants Godinez, Harrington and Butler complaining of his illegal incarceration and demanding he be released on MSR. Id. Plaintiff also claims that he found out later that other prisoners, who became eligible for MSR after Plaintiff, were sent to halfway houses before Plaintiff. He wrote Godinez, Harrington and Butler to complain about this practice as well. Id. Plaintiff allegedly received no response to his complaints. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was discriminated against by each of the defendants due to “what [he is] labeled.” Id. To support this contention, Plaintiff indicates that the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) and its employees could have sent him to another halfway house or Ms. Milburn's house, but they chose not to do so. Id. He contends that the aforementioned facts constitute a violation of the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause, [1] the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Plaintiff also claims that his rights under the Illinois Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been violated. (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9). He seeks monetary damages. (Doc. 1, p. 10).


         In order for Plaintiff to proceed with his case, his Complaint must suggest that one or more of the defendants violated his constitutional rights. The Complaint fails to meet this threshold. Three possible constitutional claims are suggested by Plaintiff's allegations in light of the relevant case law:

Count 1 - Defendants subjected Plaintiff to cruel and unusual punishment contrary to the Eighth Amendment by failing to release him on his expected MSR date;
Count 2 - Defendants deprived Plaintiff of a liberty interest without due process, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, when they failed to release him on his expected MSR date; and
Count 3 - Defendants violated Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection rights by releasing prisoners with later MSR eligibility dates to halfway houses before releasing Plaintiff.

         Count 1 - ...

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