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Fieldss v. Ransom

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 13, 2017



          Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         In October 2014, while confined at Menard Correctional Center, Michael Fields (Plaintiff) filed a pro se civil rights complaint in this Court under 42 U.S.C. 1983, naming two Defendants - Richard Ransom and “C/O Quant.” Plaintiff alleged that Defendants violated his federally-secured constitutional rights.

         On threshold review, the undersigned dismissed certain claims but found that the complaint stated a cognizable claim for retaliation (in violation of the First Amendment) against both Defendants. “C/O Quant” initially was believed to be Shane Quant, but later information clarified that the correct individual was Eric Quant (see Doc. 35). Defendants answered, a discovery schedule was entered, and the case proceeded. Now before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment and supporting memorandum (Docs. 56-57), to which Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition (Doc. 59). For the reasons delineated below, the Court grants Defendants' motion.

         II. Summary of Allegations and Evidence

         As narrowed by the Court's threshold review Order, Plaintiff alleges that Quandt and Ransom (Defendants) retaliated against him for filing a grievance against Quandt on December 3, 2012. The act of retaliation was confiscation of Plaintiff's eyeglasses in a cell search in June 2013 (Doc. 8, p. 2). The key facts and allegations, drawn from the record properly before the Court (including exhibits, sworn declarations, and the transcript of Plaintiff's May 2016 deposition) are summarized as follows.

         On June 7, 2013, Richard Ransom, a correctional officer at Menard Correctional Center, conducted a shakedown of Plaintiff's cell in the West Cell House of Menard (Doc. 57-2, p. 2). Plaintiff believes the shakedown occurred on June 9, 2013, but an exhibit from the search (the Illinois Department of Corrections Shakedown Record, referred to as a “shakedown slip”) indicates that the search occurred on June 7, 2013 (Doc. 57-3, p. 1; Doc. 59, p. 17; Doc. 1, p. 18; 57-3, p. 23-24).

         In the cell, Ransom located three pairs of eyeglasses with pointed metal ends on the earpieces; he confiscated them (Doc. 57-3, p. 1; 57-2, p. 2). Two of the pairs belonged to Plaintiff; the third belonged to his cellmate, Anthony McGruder (Doc. 57-1, p. 24-25). Ransom attests in a sworn declaration that he confiscated the eyeglasses at the instruction of his supervisors, a directive issued after it was learned that inmates in the West Cell House, where Plaintiff's cell was located, were using the metal earpieces for weapons (Doc. 57-2, p. 1-2). Plaintiff testified that one of the eyeglasses was rubber and not metal (Doc. 57-1, p. 25).

         Correctional officer Eric Quandt witnessed the shakedown, according to the shakedown slip (Doc. 57-2, p. 2; 57-3, p. 1). Plaintiff points out that Eric Quandt actually was assigned to “the tower” (not the West Cell House) on June 9, 2013 (the day Plaintiff believes the shakedown took place). But he acknowledges that the tower was closed that day, and Quandt may have been on a floating rotation and thus in Plaintiff's cellhouse during the shakedown (Doc. 57-1, p. 19; Doc. 59, p. 19). Regardless of the date the shakedown occurred, both sides admit that Quandt was present during the shakedown, and the Court assumes Quandt's presence during the cell search for purposes of the summary judgment motion.

         Plaintiff alleged in his complaint that his glasses were taken in retaliation for his filing a grievance against Quandt in December 2012. Plaintiff testified in his deposition that Ransom (a month or two after the shakedown, when confronted by Plaintiff about why Ransom took the eyeglasses) said to Plaintiff “You complain too much” (Doc. 57-1, p. 20, 36-37).

         Plaintiff also testified that he wrote a grievance against Quandt on December 3, 2012, based on the fact Quandt would not let him use the restroom while he was in the healthcare unit (Doc. 57-1, p. 38). Plaintiff admitted that he had not talked to Quandt about the grievance or shown the grievance to him (Id. at p. 39). In response to that grievance, Plaintiff's counselor contacted the healthcare unit and determined that the restrooms were for staff only (Doc. 1, p. 23). Plaintiff testified that (a) the timeline of events led him to believe the confiscation of his eyeglasses was an act of retaliation for him filing a grievance against Quandt six months earlier, (b) Plaintiff presumed that Ransom was referring to the grievance when Ransom one day commented that Plaintiff complained too much (Doc. 57-1, p. 43). When pressed (in his deposition) as to his belief that Quandt took the glasses because of the December 2012 grievance, Plaintiff testified simply: “I'm saying it's possible” (Id., p. 44).

         Plaintiff also suggested he could have been retaliated against because he had two lawsuits pending against high ranking officers at Menard, one of which he says was filed just three or four weeks before his glasses were taken (Doc. 59, p. 7). Plaintiff identified one of those cases as Fields v. Restoff, Case No. 13-cv-0145-JPG-DGW filed on February 11, 2013 (Doc. 59, p. 7 n. 5). He identified the other case as Fields v. Dettrott, Case No. 12-cv-0420. There is no case listed in this District by that name, and that number was a case against petroleum refineries for municipal ordinance violations.

         Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that he did not receive any notice that the eyeglasses were declared prohibited. Plaintiff claims that when items previously were deemed contraband, the inmates would receive notices of future confiscations. Plaintiff points to two notices he received regarding confiscation of items that the prison changed to contraband, typewriters and hard plastic hairbrushes (Doc. 59-2, p. 7-8). Plaintiff says he did not get a notice about metal eyeglasses being declared contraband. Plaintiff also provides affidavits from five inmates testifying that they have plastic eyeglasses with malleable metal substance in the earpieces, and they never had their glasses confiscated (Doc. 59-2, p. 10-13; Doc. 59-3, p. 1-6).

         III. Applicable ...

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