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Williams v. Jaimet

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 5, 2018

TIRNELL WILLIAMS, # B-58000, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center (“Pinckneyville”), brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He claims that some of the defendants improperly confiscated and read his legal mail, and others violated his due process rights in two disciplinary proceedings.

         The Complaint is now before the Court for a preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The Court also must consider whether all of Plaintiff's claims may appropriately proceed together in the same lawsuit. This initial review reveals that not all of Plaintiff's claims are properly joined in this action. The improperly joined claims shall be severed into a separate case, where they shall undergo the required Section 1915A evaluation.

         Under Section 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out non-meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss any portion of the Complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         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 “no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit.” 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. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Applying these standards, the Court finds that the claim that shall remain in this action is subject to dismissal under Section 1915A, but Plaintiff will be given an opportunity to submit an amended complaint in order to correct the deficiencies in his pleading.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff filed the original Complaint in this action on April 24, 2018 (Doc. 1), along with a Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Doc. 2). On April 30, 2018, Plaintiff filed another Complaint (Doc. 5), which was docketed as an Amended Complaint. An amended complaint supersedes and replaces all prior complaints, rendering them void. See Flannery v. Recording Indus. Ass'n of Am., 354 F.3d 632, 638 n.1 (7th Cir. 2004). Thus, the original Complaint (Doc. 1) is a nullity, and Doc. 5 is now the operative Complaint. For clarity, Doc. 5 shall be referred to as the First Amended Complaint; its allegations are summarized below.

         Plaintiff is “a disabled wheelchair assisted resident, ” who is currently confined in segregation at Pinckneyville. (Doc. 5, p. 3). Plaintiff requests the Court to delineate the counts representing the “several constitutional violations” he raises in this lawsuit. Id.

         On March 23, 2018, Plaintiff received two flash drives given to him as discovery during a deposition for another pro se civil action, Williams v. DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Grp., et al., No. 16-cv-384 (N.D. Ill., filed Jan. 11, 2016).[1] (Doc. 5, pp. 4, 14). Immediately after the deposition, an officer searched Plaintiff and noticed the flash drives in his legal envelope. (Doc. 5, p. 7). On March 26, 2018, Plaintiff tried to give the flash drives to corrections officer Mitchel (not a defendant) to give to another officer (McBride) after he found out that he should not have them in his possession. Id. That same day, he gave the flash drives to a secretary (Diane Skorch, who also is not a defendant), to find out how he could review the discovery. (Doc. 5, pp. 4, 7). Shortly thereafter, Thompson and Rodman took Plaintiff to segregation. (Doc. 5, p. 4).

         Thompson ordered Rodman to “confiscate all Plaintiff's legal mail to read it, search it and make copies, ” to copy and review the flash drives, and specified that nothing should be given to Plaintiff. (Doc. 5, p. 4). As a result, all of Plaintiff's legal mail was confiscated and reviewed without Plaintiff being present. On April 5, 2018, most of the legal mail was returned to Plaintiff, but some items, including the flash drives, were not given back. (Doc. 5, p. 5). Plaintiff indicates that he cannot submit interrogatories in the Northern District of Illinois case (No. 16-cv-384) because he needs paperwork that was not returned. Id.

         On March 28, 2018, Plaintiff received a disciplinary report charging him with possession of pills found hidden in his cell. (Doc. 5, pp. 5, 15). When the ticket was heard, hearing panel members Heck and Myers refused to call Plaintiff's witnesses. (Doc. 5, pp. 5, 10, 20). The final summary report erroneously states that Plaintiff did not request a witness. (Doc. 5, pp. 5, 18). He was punished with two months in segregation, as well as restrictions on some privileges. (Doc. 5, pp. 18-19). In an attached affidavit, Plaintiff claims that Heck was improperly allowed to read Plaintiff's medical file, in violation of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act) to compare the pills that were found. (Doc. 5, p. 12). He further states that the adjustment committees are prejudiced and routinely find Black inmates guilty of disciplinary charges without calling their witnesses, while white inmates are treated differently from Blacks for the same offense. (Doc. 5, p. 12).

         On April 10, 2018, Plaintiff received another disciplinary ticket (issued on April 4, 2018, by Rodman), for possession of the flash drives. (Doc. 5, pp. 5, 16). Hicks signed the document stating that he served Plaintiff with the ticket on April 6, noting that Plaintiff refused to sign the ticket. Id. Plaintiff asserts, however, that he was not actually served with the ticket until April 10, 2018, and that Wrangler, not Hicks, served it. (Doc. 5, pp. 5, 11). According to Plaintiff, IDOC rules provide that a ticket shall be served within three days of the offense, or the ticket shall be expunged. (Doc. 5, p. 11).

         The ticket was heard by Heck and Diane Skorch on April 11, 2018, the day after Plaintiff received it, and he was not able to prepare a defense. Id. Plaintiff claims that Heck knew that the ticket was not served within the three days required by IDOC rules, and that it therefore should have been expunged. (Doc. 5, p. 5). He also complains that it was improper for Skorch to serve on the adjustment committee, because she had been involved in the incident where Plaintiff's possession of the flash drives was discovered. (Doc. 5, p. 11). Plaintiff's requests for grievance forms were denied, so he informed Jaimet of his complaints in a letter, which raised the issues of the late service of the ticket, false information on which officer served it, and Skorch (who was a witness) serving on the committee. (Doc. 5, pp. 5, 21).

         Another hearing was held (apparently on the same ticket) on April 25 or 26, 2018, but Plaintiff again did not have time to prepare a defense. (Doc. 5, pp. 6, 11). Plaintiff told Heck and Myers that it would be a conflict of interest for them to hear the ticket, and he gave them a copy of his lawsuit and “the injunction that was filed.” (Doc. 5, pp. 5-6, 11). The Complaint does not disclose what punishment Plaintiff received for this disciplinary infraction, but indicates that he was given additional segregation time. (Doc. 5, p. 6). Plaintiff's Motion for Injunction (Doc. 2) states that he was given a total of six months in segregation, with four months resulting from the flash drive ticket. (Doc. 2, p. 4). In the attached letter to Jaimet, Plaintiff states that he would not get out of segregation until December 26, 2018. (Doc. 5, p. 21).

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Warden Jaimet failed to investigate and review or sign the disciplinary committee's recommendations. (Doc. 5, p. 6).

         Plaintiff seeks an order from this Court requiring the defendants to release him from segregation and expunge his disciplinary record. He also requests compensatory damages. (Doc. 5, p. 6).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         Based on the allegations of the First Amended Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into the following counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit. Any other claim that is mentioned in the Complaint but not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice.

Count 1: Claim against Thompson and Rodman, for interfering with Plaintiff's access to the courts, by confiscating and reading Plaintiff's legal mail outside Plaintiff's presence, and withholding the confiscated legal material from Plaintiff for at least ten days;
Count 2: Due process claim against Heck and Myers, for finding Plaintiff guilty of the March 28, 2018, disciplinary report (for possession of pills) without calling Plaintiff's requested witnesses;
Count 3: Due process claim against Wrangler, Heck, and Hicks, for failing to give Plaintiff sufficient notice of the April 4, 2018, disciplinary report (for possession of flash drives) to allow him to prepare his defense, and against Heck for improperly allowing Skorch to sit on the disciplinary committee;
Count 4: Due process claim against Jaimet, for failing to investigate or review the disciplinary actions ...

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