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Howell v. Austin

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 12, 2018

BILLIE E. HOWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS AUSTIN, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Hon. Reona J. Daly United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Billie Howell, a former inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging his constitutional rights were violated while he was incarcerated at Centralia Correctional Center (“Centralia”). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges documents related to his criminal case were confiscated by staff at Centralia and, after he filed grievances complaining about the same, various staff members retaliated against him.

         Following a threshold review of Plaintiff's complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, he was allowed to proceed on the following claims:

Count One: First Amendment access to the courts claim against Defendants Taphorn, McAbee, Shreve, Beckmann, Stewart, and other unknown officers, who confiscated Plaintiff's legal documents in December 2009 and continue to withhold them, thus preventing Plaintiff from pursuing post-conviction relief in his criminal case.
Count Two: First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendants Taphorn, McAbee, Shreve, Beckmann, Stewart, and Feazel, who are withholding Plaintiff's legal documents from him because he filed grievances against them and other prison officials.

         Thomas Austin, the warden of Centralia, was named as a defendant in this action only for the purpose of carrying out any injunctive relief. The unknown officers named in Count One were dismissed by the Court on October 2, 2017 (Doc. 77). Plaintiff's claim for damages in Count One was also dismissed as the Court found such claim barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994) (Doc. 41). Thus, as to Count One, Plaintiff is only proceeding on his request for injunctive relief.

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on February 5, 2018 (Doc. 86). Plaintiff filed his timely response on March 12, 2018 (Doc. 88). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED IN PART.

         Background

         Plaintiff was incarcerated at Centralia from March 1999 until June 2017 (Deposition of Billie Howell, Doc. 87-8, p. 12). While at Centralia, Plaintiff was allowed to keep his excess legal paperwork in the storage room of the law library (Id. at 16). In 2010, Plaintiff noticed that some of his legal papers, including court dockets, were missing (Id. at 15, 18). Plaintiff was told that his papers were confiscated after a shakedown of the law library was conducted, and that Major Beckmann, Lieutenant Shreve, and Counselor Feazel, were involved in the same (Id. at 20, 30, and 37). Lieutenant Shreve later told Plaintiff who was involved in the library shakedown and indicated that “they” took his paperwork to the major's office (Id. at 21, 37). Although not entirely clear, it appears Plaintiff was told Beckmann was involved in the destruction of Plaintiff's documents, but Plaintiff is not certain they were destroyed (Id. at 24). Plaintiff believes his documents were destroyed or confiscated at the direction of Judge Gamber, the judge presiding over his criminal case in Jefferson County (Id.).

         Plaintiff asked Defendants Taphorn, Stewart, and McAbee, all with Internal Affairs, about his missing papers, but they never answered his questions (Id. at 26, 39 and 41). According to Plaintiff, this type of shakedown should have been approved by Internal Affairs, so they should have had knowledge about it (Id. at 27). Plaintiff filed a grievance on September 7, 2010, concerning the issue with his missing legal documents (Doc. 87-8 at 32; see Doc. 1 at 10-11).

         Discussion

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if the moving party can demonstrate “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322(1986); see also Ruffin-Thompkins v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2005). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party “must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Estate of Simpson v. Gorbett, 863 F.3d 740, 745 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

         In assessing a summary judgment motion, the district court views the facts in the light most favorable to, and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of, the nonmoving party. Apex Digital, Inc. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 735 F.3d 962, 965 (7th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). The Seventh Circuit has remarked that summary judgment “is the put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of events.” Steen v. Myers et. al, 486 F.3d 1017, 1022 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hammel v. Eau Galle Cheese Factory, 407 F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2005) (other citations omitted)).

         Count One - First Amendment Access to ...


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