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Henderson v. Harrington

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 23, 2017

DARREN HENDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARD HARRINGTON, MONICA NIPPE, TIMOTHY VEATH, and SHERRY BENTON, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge

         Currently pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Richard Harrington, Monica Nippe, Timothy Veath, and Sherry Benton on September 8, 2016 (Doc. 43).

         Background

         Plaintiff, Darren Henderson, is an inmate who was formerly housed at Menard Correctional Center. Henderson alleges that his constitutional rights were violated by a number of Menard employees including Warden Richard Harrington, counselor Monica Nippe, Adjustment Committee Chairperson Timothy Veath, and Chairperson of the Administrative Review Board, Sherry Benton. Following a threshold review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, Henderson was permitted to proceed on retaliation claims against all Defendants, as well as a due process claim against Veath (Counts 3-6) (Doc. 8).

         In short, Henderson claims that Harrington and Nippe retaliated against him for filing lawsuits by mishandling grievances in early 2013 (Doc. 8). He further claims that Veath and Benton retaliated against him by failing to properly conduct a disciplinary hearing and subsequent appeal related to two disciplinary tickets received at some point in 2012 or 2013 for possessing contraband and disobeying an order (Doc. 8).

         Defendants now seek summary judgment on Henderson's claims (Doc. 43). Along with their motion and memorandum, Defendants served a notice in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 informing Henderson of the requirements of the Rule and the consequences of failing to respond to their motion for summary judgment (Doc. 45). Despite the notice, Henderson did not file a response to the motion.

         The undisputed evidence reveals that Henderson was issued a disciplinary report on August 20, 2012, for possessing a shank and engaging in gang related activity (Doc. 44, ¶6). The Adjustment Committee conducted a hearing on August 23, 2012; Henderson pleaded guilty and sanctions were imposed (Doc. 44, ¶¶7-8). Following the hearing, Henderson submitted grievances related to the disciplinary report, which were denied at the institutional level by a grievance officer and Warden Harrington (Doc. 44, ¶¶9-10). Henderson appealed to the Administrative Review Board and received a response from Defendant Benton on July 8, 2013 (Doc. ¶12, Doc. 44-2, Doc. 44-3). Defendant Benton stated the grievance was denied as it pertained to the charge of possessing a shank, but granted as it pertained to the charge of gang activity (Doc. 44, ¶12, Doc. 44-2, Doc. 44-3). Specifically, Defendant Benton determined that Henderson should be found not guilty on the charge of gang activity due to non-compliance with the procedural due process safeguards outlined in DR 504.30 and DR 504.80 (Doc. 44-3).

         According to Defendants, the undisputed evidence also shows that prior to Defendant Benton's decision, Henderson received two additional disciplinary tickets on March 29, 2013, for: (1) possessing drugs, unauthorized property, and health and safety violations (numbered 201300468/1); and (2) possessing drugs, possessing dangerous written material, and possessing contraband (numbered 201300463/1) (Doc. 44, ¶¶14, 18). The Adjustment Committee conducted a hearing on April 4, 2013; Henderson was found guilty of the first set of offenses and pleaded guilty to the second set of offenses. (Doc. 44, ¶¶17, 20). He was sanctioned with six months of demotion to C grade, segregation, commissary restrictions, and contact visit restrictions (Doc. 44, ¶¶17, 21). Defendant Veath served on the Adjustment Committee that adjudicated these two disciplinary tickets (Doc. 44, ¶22).

         To support these facts, Defendants rely on the affidavit of Angela Grott, the litigation coordinator at Menard (Doc. 44-4, pp. 1-2). Ms. Grott, in turn, relies on the actual disciplinary reports themselves (Doc. 44-5, pp. 2, 6). Those reports, however, are facially and internally inconsistent and do not explicitly support Ms. Grott's statements. The first disciplinary ticket, signed by Joel Slavens, was issued after Henderson's cell was searched (see Doc. 44-5, p. 2). The cell search occurred at 3:05 p.m. on March 29, 2013 (Doc. 44-5, p. 2). The ticket indicates that Slavens signed it on March 29th at 5:05 p.m. (Doc. 44-5, p. 2). It also indicates, however, that it was served on Henderson on March 29th at 4:46 p.m., prior to when it was signed (Id.). The second disciplinary ticket, signed by Sergeant Eovaldi, was issued after Henderson was searched (see Doc. 44-5, p. 6). The strip search occurred at 3:20 p.m. on March 29, 2013 (Doc. 44-5, p. 6). The ticket indicates that it was served at 4:42 p.m. but does not contain the date on which it was served (Doc. 44-5, p. 6). It can be reasonably presumed that the report was served on March 29th; however, it also appears to have been served before it was signed by Sergeant Eovaldi. The Court assumes that the officers would have signed the disciplinary reports prior to serving them upon an inmate.

         Henderson points out this inconsistency in his deposition-that he could not have been served when the disciplinary reports indicate because the times don't make sense (Doc. 44-1, p. 31). He further testified that he never received a copy of the disciplinary reports and that “[t]hey only said something about a ticket when I say something to them about it” (Id.). Finally, he testified that Defendant Veath failed to consider his written statement (Id.).

         Defendants do not address the time discrepancy in their evidence, Henderson's denial that he received the disciplinary reports, or the failure to consider Henderson's written statements. As explained below, however, these genuine disputes over facts are not dispositive because the facts are not material.

         Discussion

         The standard applied to summary judgment motions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is well-settled and has been succinctly stated as follows:

Summary judgment is appropriate where the admissible evidence shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A “material fact“ is one identified by the substantive law as affecting the outcome of the suit. A “genuine issue” exists with respect to any such material fact . . . when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” On the other hand, where the factual record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is ...

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