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Ames v. Baldwin

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

July 26, 2017

THOMAS R. AMES, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN BALDWIN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Ruben Castillo Chief Judge United States District Court.

         Thomas R. Ames ("Plaintiff) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville") employees Joel Shaw, M. Hudson, Anna McBee, and Randy Pfister, as well as Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") Administrative Review Board members Sherry Benton and John Baldwin. (R. 12, Am. Compl.) Defendants McBee, Pfister, Benton, and Baldwin (referred to herein as "Moving Defendants") seek dismissal of the claims asserted against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (R. 30, Mot.) For the reasons set forth below, their motion is granted.

         RELEVANT FACTS

         Plaintiff was incarcerated at Stateville from December 1999 until September 2015. (R. 12, Am. Compl. ¶ 4.) During his time at Stateville he held several jobs, including working in the kitchen. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 12.) His responsibilities in the kitchen included managing day-to-day operations, unloading food from supply trucks, and keeping inventory. (Id. ¶113-14.) Some kitchen workers prepared food hays for inmates who could not leave their cells, but Plaintiff was not involved in this task. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         On or about September 2, 2015, Plaintiff was working in the kitchen when he was "suddenly and unexpectedly" escorted to the office of Shaw, an internal affairs officer at Stateville. (Id. ¶ 15.) Shaw allegedly informed Plaintiff that he was conducting an investigation into "excess food materials [found] on food trays around the prison." (Id.) Plaintiff claims Shaw was "threatening and coercive" in his manner and told Plaintiff that "someone has to go down for all this stuff." (Id.) He repeatedly told Plaintiff to "tell [him] something" and threatened that if he failed to do so he would lose his job in the kitchen. (Id.) Plaintiff took Shaw's statements to mean that he was not actually interested in finding the culprit and instead wanted Plaintiff to "identify anybody, regardless of whether he had actually done anything wrong, " (Id.) Plaintiff told Shaw that he had no information about the food trays, at which point Shaw became "visibly angry and agitated" and the interview ended. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         Later that day, Plaintiff filed a grievance about his interaction with Officer Shaw with Hudson, a counselor at Stateville, to "document Officer Shaw's threatening and coercive tactics." (Id. ¶ 17.) In the "relief requested" section, he asked that "these threatening and coercive practices stop immediately and that I not be punished for not knowing anything, not making anything up, and not putting myself in harm's way by conveying their 'threatening messages' to other dietary workers." (R. 12-1, Grievance at 3.)

         Approximately one week later, Plaintiff and five other kitchen employees were notified by the dietary manager (a non-party) that they were being terminated from their jobs because of the excess food found on trays around the prison. (Id. ¶ 18.) Two of the employees received disciplinary "tickets" for "possession of excess food materials, " although Plaintiff himself did not receive a disciplinary ticket. (Id) Later that same day, Plaintiff received a letter from an employee in the Placement and Assignment Office (also a non-party) advising him that he had been terminated from his job assignment based on "staff recommendations" and for "administrative reasons." (Id. ¶ 19.) The letter made no mention of the food tray issue. (Id.) Plaintiff believes that the "staff recommendations" came from Shaw and/or Hudson. (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed another grievance with Hudson the same day he received the letter, this time alleging that his termination from his job in the kitchen was retaliation for his earlier grievance about Shaw. (Id. ¶ 23.) On September 16, 2015, Hudson responded to Plaintiffs second grievance by stating:

Job assignments are a privilege and, in accordance with Department Rule 420, Assignment of Committed Persons, a committed person may be removed from his assignment and/or reassigned by the Chief Administrative Officer or by the Assignment Officer with subsequent approval by the Chief Administrative Officer. Removal and/or reassignment shall be based upon matters including, but not limited to, the committed person's inability or incompetence in performing or completing the assignment, disciplinary reasons, the committed person's request for assignment change, staff recommendations, security or administrative reasons.

(Id. ¶ 24.) Later that same day, Plaintiff had a conversation with Hudson while Hudson was making his rounds. (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff asked Hudson why he had not yet responded to Plaintiffs original grievance from September 2. (Id.) He allegedly responded by questioning "what kind of relief Plaintiff could "possibly get" from the September 2 grievance, and stating that it was unlikely Shaw was "ever going to admit threatening" Plaintiff. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, Hudson refused to investigate his September 2 grievance. (Id.)

         After this conversation, Plaintiff filed an appeal of Hudson's "refusal to conduct even a cursory investigation" into his grievance about Shaw. (Id. ¶ 26.) No response was forthcoming, however, and over the course of the several months Plaintiff submitted numerous "Offender Request Slips" seeking a response to his appeal. (Id. ¶ 28.) On March 7, 2016, McBee, a grievance officer at Stateville, issued a written denial of Plaintiff s appeal. (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff complains that McBee did not contact him when making his decision and instead "simply rubber-stamped the prior decision without any independent analysis." (Id.) Plaintiff appealed further, and the following day Pfister, the warden at Stateville, issued a decision in which he "concurred with Officer McBee's response." (Id. ¶ 32.) Plaintiff complains that Pfister failed to "provide any comments" in his written decision or "contact [Plaintiff] or any other witnesses who could have corroborated [Plaintiffs] allegations." (Id. ¶ 33.) In Plaintiffs view, this shows that Pfister "merely acquiesced" to the decisions of Hudson and McBee. (Id.)

         On March 11, 2016, Plaintiff appealed the warden's decision to IDOC's Administrative Review Board. (Id. ¶ 35.) On July 19, 2016, two members of the board, Benton and Baldwin, denied Plaintiffs appeal. (Id. ¶ 36.) Plaintiff criticizes them for not including "any comments" in their written decision and for failing to contact him or otherwise conduct their own independent investigation into his complaint. (Id.) He believes these two Defendants also simply "acquiesced" to the decisions of Hudson, McBee, and Pfister, (Id.)

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint under Section 1983, along with a motion for appointment of counsel. (R. 1, 4.) This Court granted Plaintiffs motion for appointment of counsel. (R. 5.) Through appointed counsel, Plaintiff filed his amended complaint raising one count against all six Defendants labeled, \"Retaliation Against Protected First Amendment Action." (R. 12, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 41-51.) He claims that Shaw and Hudson violated his First Amendment rights because they had him fired in retaliation for his September 2 grievance. (Id. ¶¶ 44-45.) He further alleges that McBee and Pfister "deprived [him] of his First Amendment rights when they failed to evaluate and conduct an investigation into [his] grievance and acquiesced to the unconstitutional retaliation" committed by Shaw and Hudson. (Id. ΒΆ 47.) As to Benton and Baldwin, he claims that they ...


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