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Montanezz v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 21, 2017



          MICHAEL J. REAGAN Chief Judge.


         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, pro se Plaintiff Pierre Montanez, filed a complaint against Kimberly Butler and Minh Scott, individually and in conspiracy, for retaliating against him by filing a false disciplinary report and finding him guilty because he would not testify falsely for them and implicate his cellmate (Count 1) and for denying his due process and equal protection rights by refusing to conduct an investigation and administer a polygraph test before issuing a predetermined conviction in a disciplinary hearing (Count 2). This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Docs. 146 and 147). Plaintiff has filed a response (Doc. 151) in opposition to the motion. Plaintiff has also filed his own motion for summary judgment (Doc. 130) to which Defendants have responded (Doc. 143). Based on the following, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion for summary judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff's allegations stem from a search of his cell by the tactical team at Menard Correctional Center during which a weapon was found. (Doc. 22, p. 4). Plaintiff alleges that Kimberly Butler, who was warden at the time, told him that he would be protected from punishment if he testified that the weapon belonged to his cellmate, Geoffrey Freeman. If Plaintiff did not, then Butler warned him that he would be found guilty of possessing the weapon. Plaintiff refused to testify against his cellmate, and they were both issued disciplinary reports for possessing dangerous contraband. Id. at 5. Plaintiff alleges that this was done out of retaliation for his failure to provide false testimony against his cellmate. Id. Plaintiff further alleges that during the review of his disciplinary report before the adjustment committee he was denied due process when Defendant Minh Scott, the adjustment committee chairperson, refused to conduct an investigation or a polygraph examination. Id. Plaintiff also alleges that he was denied the investigation and polygraph because he is African-American and that white inmates are routinely afforded these protections in their hearings. Id.

         The search giving rise to this suit was conducted on April 14, 2014, by Correctional Officer Alwerdt. (Doc. 147-1, p. 6, 10). The disciplinary report indicates that Alwerdt shook down the cell shared by Plaintiff and Freeman. (Doc. 147-1, p. 10; 151-1, p. 3). Alwerdt noticed a pillow on Freeman's bunk with missing stitches and, inside the pillow, found a weapon in the pillow stuffing made out of a lid of a property box. Id. According to Plaintiff's affidavit, [1] he then was confronted by Warden Butler who directed him to falsely accuse Freeman of possessing the weapon. (Doc. 151-1, p. 4). Plaintiff testified in his affidavit that Butler informed him that if he accused Freeman then he would not be mentioned in the disciplinary report. If, however, Plaintiff refused to cooperate, then Butler had already instructed Defendant Scott to find Plaintiff guilty of possessing dangerous contraband. Id. at p. 5. Both Plaintiff and Freeman were issued disciplinary reports for possessing the weapon on April 14, 2014. (Doc. 147-1, p. 10 and 12). Scott testified that it is the prison policy to issue both cellmates disciplinary tickets when neither inmate will admit to whom a weapon belongs. Id. at 6.

         Plaintiff was brought before the adjustment committee, chaired by Scott on April 16, 2014. (Doc. 147-1, p. 6; 151-1, p. 5). Scott testified that the adjustment committee consisted of Scott and Jason Hart, but Plaintiff testified that Scott and Plaintiff were alone in the room and that Jason Hart was not present. (Doc. 147-1, p. 7; 151-1, p. 6). Plaintiff further testified that Scott informed him that Scott had been directed by Butler to find Plaintiff guilty and that Scott was refusing his request for an investigation and a polygraph test. Id. at 6, 11. The disciplinary report indicates that Plaintiff requested a polygraph examination and also that he called Inmate Freeman as a witness. (Doc. 147-1, p. 10). According to Scott, Plaintiff was found guilty based on the disciplinary ticket, the reporting officer's shakedown findings, Plaintiff's witnesses' testimony, and the fact that neither Plaintiff nor his cellmate would admit owning the weapon. (Doc. 147-1, p. 7, 11). The adjustment committee report indicates that Plaintiff pleaded not guilty and testified that the pillow where the weapon was found belonged to his ex-cellmate, Inmate Watson. (Doc. 147-1, p. 11). The adjustment committee report is signed off on by both Scott and Jason Hart. Id. Scott testified that Butler did not instruct him to find Plaintiff guilty, that he did not find Plaintiff guilty alone, and that he could not find Plaintiff guilty without the entire committee's agreement. Id. at 7-8.

         Plaintiff was found guilty of the charge of dangerous contraband and was sentenced to 1 year CGrade, 1 year in segregation, 1 year commissary restriction, and 3 months yard restriction. (Doc. 147-1, p. 11). Plaintiff's disciplinary report and sentence was ultimately expunged after Plaintiff filed a grievance because the Administrative Review Board had expunged Freeman's disciplinary report. (Doc. 147-1, p. 15). The ARB expunged Freeman's disciplinary report after Freeman insisted that neither he nor Plaintiff had any knowledge of the weapon inside the pillow. (Doc. 130-2, p. 8). The ARB also noted that the “weapon” found was noted as being made out of the plastic from the property box but that no further description of the “weapon” was provided, nor was there any indication why the item was thought to be a weapon. Id. The ARB found that the charge was not substantiated and ordered Freeman's charge expunged on August 1, 2014. Id. Plaintiff's grievance was ruled on September 4, 2014, signed off on by Warden Butler on September 8, 2014, and his disciplinary ticket was expunged on September 10, 2014. (Doc. 147-1, p. 14-15).

         Legal Standards

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary Judgment is proper only “if the admissible evidence considered as a whole shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Dynegy Mktg. & Trade v. Multi Corp., 648 F.3d 506, 517 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a)); see also Ruffin-Thompkins v. Experian Info. Solutions, Inc., 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2005).The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating-based on the pleadings, affidavits, and/or information obtained via discovery-the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). After a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e)(2)). A fact is material if it is outcome determinative under applicable law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Ballance v. City of Springfield, Ill. Police Dep't, 424 F.3d 614, 616 (7th Cir. 2005); Hottenroth v. Vill. of Slinger, 388 F.3d 1015, 1027 (7th Cir. 2004). A genuine issue of material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         On summary judgment, the Court considers the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Srail v. Vill. of Lisle, 588 F.3d 940, 948 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court adopts reasonable inferences and resolves doubts in the nonmovant's favor. Id.; Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008).Even if the facts are not in dispute, summary judgment is inappropriate when the information before the court reveals that “alternate inferences can be drawn from the available evidence.” Spiegla v. Hull, 371 F.3d 928, 935 (7th Cir. 2004), abrogated on other grounds by Spiegla II, 481 F.3d at 966 (7th Cir. 2007). See also Anderer v. Jones, 385 F.3d 1043, 1064 (7th Cir. 2004).

         Because Plaintiff also moves for summary judgment here, an additional word about the burden of proof merits note. The Supreme Court has reminded district courts that “in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the judge must view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254. Thus, where, as here, the party moving for summary judgment also bears the burden of persuasion at trial (i.e., the movant is the plaintiff), he must establish all the essential elements of his claim or defense. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; see also Surles v. Andison, 678 F.3d 452, 455-56 (6th Cir. 2012) (if summary judgment movant is plaintiff, he must show that the record contains evidence satisfying his burden of persuasion); Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998) (at summary judgment state, party that bears burden of persuasion at trial must come forward with sufficient evidence of each essential element of its prima facie case); MOORE'S FEDERAL PRACTICE § 56.13(1) (3d ed. 2000). This is different from a summary judgment motion filed by a defendant who does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial and who can prevail just by showing an absence of evidence to support any essential element of the nonmovant's case. See Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1169 (7th Cir. 2013). But if the summary judgment movant does bear the burden of proof at trial, he can prevail only by proving each element of his case with evidence sufficiently compelling that no reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmovant. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331 (“If the moving party will bear the burden of persuasion at trial, that party must support its motion with credible evidence…that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial”); see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         B. Retaliation

         An official who retaliates against a prisoner because the prisoner filed a grievance violates that prisoner's First Amendment rights. DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 618 (7th Cir. 2000). Establishing a § 1983 claim of First Amendment retaliation requires a prisoner to show the following: (1) that he engaged in a protected activity, (2) he suffered a deprivation likely to prevent future protected activities, and (3) there was a causal connection between the two. Watkins v. Kasper, 599 F.3d 791, 794 (7th Cir. 2010)(citing Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546 (7th Cir. 2009)). A defendant can still prevail, however, if he shows that the offending action would have happened even if there had been no retaliatory motive, i.e. if “the harm would have occurred anyway.” Mays v. Springborn, 719 F.3d 631, 634 (7th Cir. 2013)(citing Greene v. Doruff, 660 F.3d 975, 977-80 (7th Cir. 2011)).At summary judgment, “mere speculation” by the plaintiff is insufficient to carry his burden. Rockwell Automation, Inc. v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of ...

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