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Hill v. Atchison

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 30, 2017

CHARLES HILL, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL P. ATCHISON, JOSHUA SCHOENBECK, TIMOTHY VEATH, and REBECCA COWAN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Charles Hill is an inmate at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), a maximum security facility in the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) prison system. In September 2012, a Menard official issued Hill a disciplinary report for possessing a note (referred to as a “kite” in prison parlance) that discussed prison “security threat group” (gang) activity. On October 1, 2012, the Menard Adjustment Committee held a hearing on Hill's disciplinary charge. Hill was found guilty, and he received one year in disciplinary segregation as punishment.

         On July 9, 2014, Hill filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserting that various officials at Menard violated his due process rights when he was subjected to the disciplinary action. Hill initially filed suit pro se, but counsel was later recruited to represent him. On July 29, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Docs. 66). On August 1, 2016, Hill filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 73). Hill also filed a Motion for Oral Argument (Doc. 83). All motions have been fully briefed.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 66), denies Hill's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 73), and denies Hill's Motion for Oral Argument (Doc. 83).[1]

         Factual Background

         Hill has been in IDOC custody since 2007 (Doc. 67-1, pp. 2-3). On September 25, 2012, Hill and three other inmate workers were picking up laundry in the Menard “Front Street” area (Doc. 67-1, p. 3). While they were working, a Menard official named Lt. Hughes conducted a shakedown of the west house/front street workers housing unit (Doc. 67-1, p. 3; Doc. 73, p. 3). In conducting the shakedown, Lt. Hughes discovered and confiscated a note that was in Hill's pocket (Doc. 67-1, p. 4). Hill testified at his deposition that he had never actually read the contents of the note, but that he was just passing it along for another inmate in his gallery (Id). Hill testified that inmate workers frequently pass notes between other prisoners (Id). Hill admitted, however, that passing notes was prohibited under prison rules (Id).

         Defendant Joshua Schoenbeck, an internal affairs officer, investigated the incident, which included reviewing the letter, interviewing Hill, and interviewing Juan Blanco, another inmate at Menard who was housed at the time in the cell corresponding to the number written on the letter (Doc. 73, p. 4; Doc. 74).

         Menard officials later determined that the note referenced “security threat group” (gang) activity (Doc. 67-1, p. 4). On September 27, 2012, Hill was issued a disciplinary report for possessing the note (Doc. 67-2, p. 1).[2] The disciplinary report stated that “Offender Hill is a known member of the Maniac Latin Disciples (MLD), known affiliates of the Latin Folk Family.” (Id.). The report goes on to mention that the confiscated letter “made references to ‘membership' of the Latin Folk Family and the ‘I' staff which is the leadership of the Latin Folks at the Institutional level here at Menard.” (Id.).

         The report was signed by Defendant Schoenbeck, shift supervisor Major Kees, and reviewing officer D. Lyorla (Id.). At the bottom of the report there is also a signature line for the “Hearing Investigator.” (Id.). When the disciplinary report was first provided to Hill (in the form of a carbon copy), the hearing investigator line was blank (Id.). However, sometime after the carbon copy was removed from the original, Defendant Rebecca Cowan placed her signature on the original disciplinary report on the hearing investigator line (Doc. 1, p. 14). Because the carbon copy and original disciplinary report were no longer attached, Defendant Cowan's signature was, of course, not on the carbon copy.

         On October 1, 2012, a disciplinary hearing took place before the Adjustment Committee. The Adjustment Committee was comprised of Menard officials Defendant Timothy Veath and Anthony Wells (Doc. 1, p. 15). Hill told the members of the Adjustment Committee that he did not write the confiscated note, he had never read the note, and he was merely passing it along for someone else (Doc. 67-1, p. 5). One of the members of the Adjustment Committee then responded, “Tell us where it came from or where you were the note (Doc. 1, p. 15). During the hearing, Hill was not given an opportunity to read the note (Doc. 67-1, p. 4). Hill was allowed to see the note during his deposition for this case, however, which occurred years later (on July 27, 2015) (Id.). Hill testified at his deposition that this was the first time that he had actually read the note (Id.).

         Defendant Veath (now retired from Menard) testified at his deposition that inmates were not typically allowed to review confiscated gang-related documents at disciplinary hearings due to security concerns (Doc. 67-10, p. 7). Defendant Veath also testified that, when disciplinary hearings involved gang-related matters, he generally would rely on the investigations conducted by the Internal Affairs office (Id.). Defendant Veath stated that he did not specifically remember Hill's Adjustment Committee disciplinary hearing, but he indicated that he would have likely reached a ruling without having read the confiscated note (Id.).

         Following the hearing, the Adjustment Committee found Hill guilty of “Gang or Unauthorized Organization Activity” (Doc. 67-3, p. 1). The Adjustment Committee recommended that Hill be punished with one year of “C Grade, ” one year of disciplinary segregation, a one year commissary restriction, and a six-month restriction on contact visits (Id.). Defendant Michael Atchison, the warden of Menard at that time, approved the disciplinary recommendation, and Hill spent the next twelve months in segregation. (Id.).

         Shortly after arriving in the segregation unit, Hill filed a grievance protesting the disciplinary report and hearing (Doc. 1, p. 16). When Hill initially received the carbon copy of the disciplinary report, there was no signature on the “hearing investigator” line. Hill argued in his grievance that the lack of a signature reflects that the disciplinary charge was not properly investigated (Id.). Hill also argued in his grievance that he should have been afforded an opportunity to read the letter during his disciplinary hearing. On January 30, 2013, Warden Harrington, who became the warden of Menard after Defendant Atchison, denied Hill's grievance (Doc. 1, p. 19).

         On February 13, 2013, Hill appealed the denial to the IDOC Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) in Springfield (Doc. 1, p. 17). On January 15, 2014, almost one year later, the ARB issued a decision to expunge the disciplinary report (Id.). The ARB noted that Hill's disciplinary report failed to comply with IDOC rules, presumably due to the lack of the hearing investigator's signature (Id.). At this point, Hill had already served the full twelve months in segregation, and so the expungement had little effect.

         On July 9, 2014, approximately six months after receiving the ARB expungement letter, Hill filed this lawsuit. Hill asserts in his complaint that Defendants Atchison, Schoenbeck, Veath, and Cowen mishandled his disciplinary proceedings, thereby violating his due process rights. On August 8, 2014, District Judge J. Phil Gilbert screened Hill's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Judge Gilbert determined in the screening order that Hill asserted a colorable denial of due process claim against all four defendants. On September 14, 2015, Magistrate Judge Philip M. Frazier (who has ...


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