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Carter v. Illinois Department of Human Services

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 5, 2017

WILLIAM L. CARTER, JR., Plaintiff,


          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY United States District Judge

         William Carter, Jr. filed a pro se lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) and two of its employees, Connie Weiss and Tasha Barnes, alleging that they improperly denied him benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in violation of his constitutional rights. The Court recruited counsel to represent Carter but later allowed counsel to withdraw. Weiss and Barnes have moved for summary judgment on the grounds that they were not personally responsible for denying Carter's request for benefits and the denial did not violate his constitutional rights. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the motion and also dismisses Carter's remaining claim against IDHS.


         Because Weiss and Barnes have moved for summary judgment, disputed facts must be taken in the light most favorable to Carter. Carter has not, however, submitted either a statement of facts or any evidence in support of his response to this motion. The following summary is therefore taken from Carter's amended complaint and response to the present motion, as well as the statement of facts submitted by Weiss and Barnes. The Court notes any factual disputes between the parties.

         Carter is a resident of Illinois who, during the time relevant to this suit, lived in a shelter. On September 4, 2013, Carter visited a family community resource center in Chicago to apply for TANF benefits on behalf of himself and his two children. According to Carter, he met with Weiss, a caseworker, and submitted a TANF application. Although Carter says he completed his application, he also alleges that Weiss failed to provide him with a second party acknowledgment form and contends that this form is a prerequisite to receiving TANF benefits. In his amended complaint, Carter asserts that Weiss then denied his TANF application. In his response to the motion for summary judgment, he states that Weiss could not have submitted his application because of her failure to provide all of the paperwork.

         Following this encounter, Carter returned to the center multiple times over the following weeks per Weiss's instructions to discuss the status of his application. Carter states that he again applied for TANF benefits on September 25, 2013. According to Weiss and Barnes, Carter returned on September 25 to complete his original application, not to re-apply. On this day, Carter met with Barnes, who Carter alleges also failed to provide him with the necessary paperwork. The parties agree that Barnes then referred Carter to Rochelle Colston, the human service caseworker manager. Colston made an appointment for Carter to return to the center to attend a required TANF orientation on October 3.

         Carter returned to the center on October 3, 2013 for his scheduled orientation. He alleges, however, that at the beginning of the orientation, Colston indicated that it was intended only for pregnant women and parents with children under the age of one. Because Carter does not belong to either of these categories, he left before the orientation ended.

         According to Colston, she began the orientation by explaining the expectations, policies and procedures, and benefits of the TANF program. She then instructed the applicants that they had to complete the entire orientation, at the end of which they would all sign responsibility and service plans (RSPs). TANF applicants are required to sign an RSP in order to receive benefits. Because Carter left the orientation before it was over, he did not sign an RSP. After the orientation ended, Colston instructed a different caseworker not named in this suit to deny his application.

         Carter filed suit against IDHS, Weiss, and Barnes, alleging that by denying his application for TANF benefits, they deprived him of a constitutional right in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. IDHS moved for judgment on the pleadings on the ground that it is immune under the Eleventh Amendment from Carter's claim for damages. In July 2015, the Court granted the motion and dismissed Carter's claims against IDHS. In June 2016, Carter filed an amended complaint naming the same three defendants and requesting a declaratory judgment, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys' fees and costs.


         Weiss and Barnes have moved for summary judgment. They contend that Carter has failed to present evidence that they were personally involved in denying his application for TANF benefits. They also argue that, even if they were personally involved, Carter cannot show that this denial was a deprivation of a constitutional right.

         When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court construes the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and makes all reasonable inferences in his favor. Wilson v. Warren Cty., 830 F.3d 464, 468 (7th Cir. 2016). Where the movant has supported his motion with evidence, the non-moving party must come forward with evidence of his own; argument alone is insufficient. Beatty v. Olin Corp., 693 F.3d 750, 754 (7th Cir. 2012). Summary judgment is appropriate where the evidence shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Hussey v. Milwaukee Cty., 740 F.3d 1139, 1142 (7th Cir. 2014).

         A. Personal involvement

         Weiss and Barnes argue that they were not personally involved in the denial of Carter's application and therefore they cannot be held liable for a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on this denial. Carter appears to argue that they were involved in two ways. First, he asserts that both Weiss and Barnes were the IDHS employees who actually denied his request for benefits. See Am. Compl. ΒΆ 12 ("At all times relevant, Defendants wrongfully denied Carter TANF cash benefits."). He also contends that Weiss and ...

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