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Sparks v. Romani

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 7, 2017



          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Michael Sparks, an inmate in Hill Correctional Center, brings this action for alleged deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his Complaint, Plaintiff claims his procedural and substantive due process rights were violated during the course of his criminal trial and subsequent challenges to his conviction. (Doc. 1). This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening - The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from 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 any reasonable person would find meritless. 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. At this juncture, the factual allegations of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Upon careful review of the Complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A; this action is subject to summary dismissal.

         The Complaint

         In his Complaint (Doc. 1), Plaintiff makes the following allegations: Plaintiff was forced to wear a stun belt during his criminal trial proceedings. (Doc. 1, p. 4). Plaintiff also was not allowed to use an expert witness during his criminal trial. Id. For the trial, the prosecutor utilized witness testimony in which the witness perjured himself to implicate Plaintiff in the crimes alleged. Id. For these reasons, according to the Complaint, “[t]he trial was infected and the [guilty] verdict from the jury cannot stand.” Id.

         Plaintiff both appealed and filed a post-conviction petition to challenge the verdict. (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). The appeal was denied. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Further, though the criminal trial judge, Judge Charles Romani, recused himself after the court of appeals remanded Plaintiff's post-conviction petition, Judge Kyle Napp ultimately dismissed the post-conviction petition. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff then filed a habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 citing the same issues he cites in this action. See Sparks v. Butler, No. 14-cv-1044 (S.D. Ill. March 22, 2016). His habeas action is currently pending. Id.


         At the outset, this Court must independently evaluate the substance of Plaintiff's claims to determine if the correct statute-in this case 42 U.S.C. § 1983-is being invoked. Godoski v. United States, 304 F.3d 761, 763 (7th Cir. 2002) (court must evaluate independently the substance of the claim being brought, to see if correct statute is being invoked); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973) (dismissing § 1983 claims that should have been brought as petitions for writ of habeas corpus). A petition for a writ of habeas corpus is the proper route “[i]f the prisoner is seeking what can fairly be described as a quantum change in the level of custody-whether outright freedom, or freedom subject to the limited reporting and financial constraints of bond or parole or probation.” Graham v. Broglin, 922 F.2d 379, 381 (7th Cir. 1991). A civil rights complaint brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is proper if the prisoner “is challenging the conditions rather than the fact of confinement.” Graham, 922 F.2d at 381; see also Pischke v. Litscher, 178 F.3d 497, 500 (7th Cir. 1999).

         In his request for relief, Plaintiff specifically seeks an injunction ordering defendants to “release the Plaintiff from imprisonment” and “immediately arrange the return of the plaintiff back to where he was before the illegal acts of defendants, returning the commodity of liberty to the plaintiff.” (Doc. 1, p. 14). Such a request does not belong in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. It appears Plaintiff is aware of this fact, as he is party to an ongoing habeas corpus case under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See Sparks v. Butler, No. 14-cv-1044 (S.D. Ill. Mar. 22, 2016). In his habeas proceeding, Plaintiff makes the same allegations of impropriety involving the use of a stun belt ...

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