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Wrightt v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 17, 2017

JAMES E. WRIGHT, Jr., #R17719, Plaintiff,



         This matter is now before the Court for consideration of the First Amended Complaint filed by Plaintiff James Wright. (Doc. 17). Plaintiff is currently confined at Pontiac Correctional Center (“Pontiac”) (Doc. 9). He brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights at Pontiac and Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”). (Doc. 17).

         Plaintiff claims that officials at both facilities unlawfully punished him for participation in a gang and/or unauthorized organizational activity. (Doc. 17, p. 7). He was initially given three months of segregation, but his punishment was increased to twelve months without any new charges or evidence. (Doc. 17, pp. 7-22). Plaintiff also was transferred from Menard to Pontiac to serve his punishment in disciplinary segregation there, and he describes the conditions at Pontiac as atypical and harsh. Id. The decision to increase Plaintiff's punishment was ultimately overturned, but only after he served all twelve months in disciplinary segregation. Id.

         In connection with these events, Plaintiff names the following individuals as defendants: Kimberly Butler (Menard's warden), Minh Scott (adjustment committee chairman), Rebecca Cowan (adjustment committee member), Jason Hart (adjustment committee member), Randy Pfister (Pontiac's former warden), Chad Brown (adjustment committee chair), Aberardo Salinas (adjustment committee member), Leslie McCarty (administrative review board (“ARB”) member), and Salvador Godinez (Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) Director). (Doc. 17, pp. 1-4). He brings claims against them for retaliation under the First Amendment, unconstitutional conditions of confinement under the Eighth Amendment, and due process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment.[1] (Doc. 17, pp. 7-22). Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment, monetary damages, and indemnification by the State of Illinois. (Doc. 17, pp. 16, 22).

         This case is now before the Court for preliminary review of the First Amended 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.

Id. 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 in the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009). The First Amended Complaint survives screening under this standard.

         First Amended Complaint

         During his incarceration at Menard on April 22, 2014, Plaintiff was served with an inmate disciplinary report citing a violation of Rule 205 for participation in a security threat group or unauthorized organizational activity. (Doc. 17, p. 7). On April 24, 2014, he appeared before Menard's Adjustment Committee (including Minh Scott, Jason Hart, and Rebecca Cowan) and was found guilty of the rule violation. (Doc. 17, pp. 7, 18). Lieutenant Scott explained that the violation normally resulted in punishment with twelve months in disciplinary segregation. (Doc. 17, p. 8). The allegations against Plaintiff were vague, however, and therefore warranted only three months of disciplinary segregation, demotion to C-grade, commissary restriction, and visitation restriction. (Doc. 17, pp. 7-8).

         After reviewing the findings, Warden Butler remanded the matter to the adjustment committee with instructions to increase Plaintiff's punishment to twelve months of disciplinary segregation, C-grade, and commissary restrictions. (Doc. 17, p. 8). Consistent with these instructions, the adjustment committee reissued Plaintiff a “duplicate” ticket and reheard the matter on May 14, 2014. (Doc. 17, pp. 8, 19). Without considering any additional charges or new evidence, the adjustment committee increased Plaintiff's punishment to twelve months and ordered a disciplinary transfer to Pontiac. (Doc. 17, pp. 8, 19; Doc. 17-1, p. 15).

         Prior to April 22, 2014, Plaintiff lived in Menard's general population and was interviewed several times by Menard's intelligence officers. (Doc. 17, p. 9). The officers questioned him about his involvement in a gang and threatened to punish him if they learned of any involvement. Id. Until he was issued the ticket on April 22, 2014, however, no charges were ever brought against Plaintiff. Id. He claims that the ticket represented the culmination of the intelligence officers' and Warden Butler's concerted efforts to level false charges against him. Id. Warden Butler allegedly “retaliated against Wright” by remanding the ticket for an upward adjustment of his punishment, simply because she was dissatisfied with the adjustment committee's lenient punishment. Id.

         Plaintiff filed numerous grievances with Menard's grievance officer, prison grievance counselor, [2] and the ARB. (Doc. 17, p. 10). On October 20, 2014, Director Godinez and ARB Member McCarty reviewed the matter and found that the charges against Plaintiff were unsubstantiated. (Doc. 17, p. 10; Doc. 17-1, p. 18). Instead of dismissing the charges, however, they remanded the matter to the adjustment committee with instructions to have the reporting officer provide additional information to substantiate the charges. Id. At the time, Plaintiff had been confined in disciplinary segregation for three months beyond the sanction that was originally imposed. Id. Godinez and McCarty knew this, but they took no action to correct it. Id.

         On November 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed an emergency grievance with Pontiac's warden, Randy Pfister, to complain about the delay of the hearing by Pontiac's adjustment committee. (Doc. 17, pp. 11-12). He requested immediate release from segregation. Id. Warden Pfister denied the grievance as a non-emergency and ignored letters Plaintiff wrote to him on December 3 and 14, 2017. Id.

         Plaintiff received the rewritten disciplinary report on December 19, 2014. (Doc. 17, p. 12). It was substantially the same as the two prior reports that the ARB had deemed insufficient, dated April 22, 2014 and May 8, 2014. Id. On December 29, 2014, Plaintiff appeared before Pontiac's adjustment committee (comprised of Chad Brown and Aberardo Salinas). Id. He submitted a written statement pointing out that the latest disciplinary report suffered from the same deficiencies as all prior reports. Id. He asserted that his continued confinement in segregation was unlawful. Id.

         At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff had been confined for almost six months beyond the original 3-month period of punishment imposed for the rule violation. (Doc. 17, p. 12). The adjustment committee nevertheless found him guilty once again and imposed punishment of twelve months in disciplinary segregation. Id. Warden Pfister upheld this decision. (Doc. 17, pp. 12-13).

         Plaintiff was ultimately released from disciplinary segregation into administrative detention on April 24, 2015. (Doc. 17, p. 13). Just three days later on April 27, 2015, the ARB (comprised of Terri Anderson and Donald Stolworthy)[3] issued a final order, which concluded that the increase in punishment from three- to twelve- months in disciplinary segregation violated the Illinois Administrative Code. (Doc. 17, p. 14; Doc. 17-1, pp. 29-30). The ARB ordered Plaintiff's punishment to be retroactively ...

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