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Ruddock v. Mueller

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

August 1, 2018

ANDRE RUDDOCK, #B61610, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT MUELLER and KEVIN KINK, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          MICHAEL J. REAGAN CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Andre Ruddock, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Robinson Correctional Center (“Robinson”), brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivations of his constitutional rights at Centralia Correctional Center (“Centralia”). (Doc. 1). According to the Complaint, two former employees of Wexford Health Sources, Inc., named Martha Cowgill and Veronica Lehman, were permanently prohibited from visiting inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) in May 2016. (Doc. 1, pp. 7-14). Both individuals were on Plaintiff's list of approved visitors at the time the visitation restriction was imposed. Id. Plaintiff claims that Warden Robert Mueller and Assistant Warden Kevin Kink instituted the ban in violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of association and Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law. Id. He seeks declaratory judgment and monetary damages. (Doc. 1, pp. 14-16). He also requests reinstatement of his visitation privileges with both individuals.[1] Id.

         This case is now before the Court for preliminary review of the Complaint (Doc. 1) 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.

         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 of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         The Complaint

         According to the allegations in the Complaint, Plaintiff has been in custody since the age of sixteen. (Doc. 1, p. 8). He anticipates being released when he is forty-six years old. Id. His projected parole date is 2022.[2] Plaintiff will return to society as a middle-aged adult who “knows nothing about the [twenty-first] century.” Id. He has no family support system to help him with this reintegration, and he wants to avoid the gang and drug scene he encountered in Chicago as a teenager. Id.

         During his incarceration at Shawnee Correctional Center (“Shawnee”), Plaintiff befriended two female employees of Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (“Wexford”), named Martha Cowgill and Veronica Lehman. (Doc. 1, p. 7). At the time, Cowgill and Lehman worked in Shawnee's health care unit (“HCU”). Id. Plaintiff met both of them while serving as a volunteer caretaker for terminally ill inmates. Id. Plaintiff's friendship with Cowgill and Lehman survived his transfer and their resignations from Shawnee. Id.

         A month after Plaintiff transferred to Centralia in March 2015, Cowgill contacted him and informed him that she was no longer employed by Wexford. (Doc. 1, p. 7). She expressed her desire to help Plaintiff with his rehabilitation by offering him moral and spiritual support. Id. Plaintiff submitted a proposed Offender Visiting List containing Cowgill's name pursuant to Department Rule 525(a), and the warden approved it on May 7, 2015. Id. During the next year, Cowgill visited Plaintiff twice each month without any violations of facility regulations, department rules, state law, or federal law. Id.

         In late April 2016, Lehman also contacted Plaintiff and informed him that she was no longer employed by Wexford. (Doc. 1, p. 7). Like Cowgill, Lehman asked Plaintiff if she could visit him at Centralia. Id. Plaintiff submitted another Offender Visiting List to the warden that included both Lehman's and Cowgill's names. Id. On May 6, 2016, Warden Mueller approved the new list. Id. Lehman visited Plaintiff the next day. (Doc. 1, p. 8).

         Cowgill and Lehman made Plaintiff their “pet project.” Id. They explained that they wanted to help him reintegrate into society in Southern Illinois following his release, by finding him a job and housing. Id. Their goal was to remove Plaintiff from the “criminal elements” in Chicago that led to his imprisonment. Id. Cowgill's husband and other family members were aware of this plan. Id. Lehman spoke with her cousin about teaching Plaintiff to become a professional horse trainer. (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9).

         The plans for Plaintiff's rehabilitation were thwarted by Warden Mueller and Assistant Warden Kink, who imposed a permanent visitation restriction against Cowgill and Lehman on May 13, 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 9). The two women were prohibited from visiting Plaintiff and any other offender indefinitely. Id. The ban extended to all IDOC facilities. Id. Both wardens took the position that the women had engaged in “inappropriate socialization, ” but they refused to explain what they meant by this. Id.

         The term is not defined in the administrative directives or department rules governing inmate visitations. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Plaintiff could find only one rule that might govern the wardens' decision, and he quotes it in the Complaint, as follows:

Employees who have been involved with offenders or former employees who have either resigned or have been terminated as a result of involvement with offenders may be permanently restricted from visits if it is determined they may be a threat to safety of security.

Id. (citing IDOC Rule 525). Plaintiff maintains that this rule is inapplicable to Cowgill and Lehman because they were not “employees” of the IDOC, and they did not resign from or lose their jobs because of their “involvement with offenders.” Id. They resigned for “personal” or “family” reasons. Id. He admittedly has no idea whether the wardens even relied on this rule when imposing the ban. Id.

         Cowgill contacted Warden Mueller and challenged the decision. (Doc. 1, p. 9). She asked for an explanation. Id. Although Warden Mueller acknowledged that Cowgill visited the plaintiff numerous times without incident, the warden refused to clarify what he meant by “inappropriate socialization.” Id. Cowgill then sent both wardens a letter seeking further clarification, but they did not respond. (Doc. 1, pp. 9-10). Lehman also called the warden's office and spoke with a counselor. (Doc. 1, p. 10). The counselor explained that “inappropriate socialization” meant “she was too familiar with the plaintiff.” Id. Plaintiff spoke directly to Warden Mueller about the restriction. Id. He pointed out that Illinois Administrative Directive 05.01.106(II) § G7b.2 required the warden to outline the incident leading to the restriction in a “Notice of Restriction” letter. Id. The warden responded, “This is my facility. I don't need a reason to restrict someone from visiting you.” Id. He then threatened to turn Plaintiff's life “upside down” for pressing the issue. Id.

         Plaintiff filed a grievance to complain about the restriction on July 1, 2016, and it was denied. (Doc. 1, p. 10). On December 13, 2016, he requested a 6-month review of the decision and sought restoration of visitation privileges with Cowgill and Lehman. Id. Warden Mueller denied the request. Id. Plaintiff was informed that the restricted visitors, not Plaintiff, were required to write a letter ...


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