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Tucker v. Baldwin

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

September 17, 2019

JASON TUCKER, DANIEL BARRON, JEFFREY KRAMER, and JASEN GUSTAFSON, on behalf of themselves and all similarly situated individuals, Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN BALDWIN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John Z. Lee United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Jason Tucker, Daniel Barron, Jeffrey Kramer, and Jasen Gustafson, individually and on behalf of all similarly situated individuals, brought this lawsuit against Defendant John Baldwin, Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs allege that IDOC's policy of restricting the access of parolees to the Internet violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated herein, the motion [39] is denied.

         Background[1]

         Plaintiffs are individuals who are required to register as sex offenders and who are currently serving terms of mandatory supervised release (“MSR”), or parole. 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 9, ECF No. 64.[2] IDOC has discretion to determine whether an individual on MSR for a sex offense may access the Internet. Id. ¶ 10. IDOC exercises this discretion pursuant to a written policy providing that parolees who have committed “Internet-related” offenses cannot access the Internet, while parolees who have not committed such offenses can access the Internet only “on a case by case basis.” Id. ¶¶ 11-12; id., Ex. 1 (“Policy”) at 1, ECF No. 64-1. Parolees who are granted Internet access are subject to certain conditions; for example, they are prohibited from using social media or any website that “focuses primarily on blogs, forum, and/or discussion groups.” Policy at 1-2.

         According to Plaintiffs, IDOC's policy is “overly restrictive with regard to people who have been convicted of offenses ‘related' to the Internet because it broadly prohibits” all Internet use rather than merely imposing usage restrictions. Id. ¶¶ 16- 17. Plaintiffs allege that the policy is unduly vague because it fails to (1) define “Internet-related offenses, ” (2) establish standards for granting a parolee Internet access, or (3) create procedures for impacted parolees to seek Internet access. Id. ¶ 18. Additionally, Plaintiffs state, there is no opportunity for a parolee to appeal or request review of a decision by IDOC's Sex Offender Supervision Unit Containment Team to restrict Internet access. Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiffs also allege that an “effective and widely-used alternative to guard against” improper Internet usage exists in the form of hardware or software monitoring systems. Id. ¶ 15.

         As alleged, IDOC's Internet policy affects the ability of parolees to access news, entertainment, and commercial or governmental information, “thus interfer[ing] with almost all aspects of [their] lives.” Id. ¶ 20. And, they allege, the policy “inhibits rehabilitation” and interferes with their efforts to reintegrate into their communities. Id. ¶ 21.

         Furthermore, according to Plaintiffs, IDOC's policy also affects the rights of parolees' family members, because the policy prohibits parolees who are required to register as sex offenders from residing at any location where there is Internet access or any Internet-capable device. Id. ¶¶ 22-24.

         I. Daniel Barron

         Barron was convicted of criminal sexual assault in May 2014. Id. ¶ 25. His crime did not involve use of the Internet. Id. ¶ 27. He was released from prison in December 2017 and now resides with his parents. Id. ¶ 29. According to Plaintiffs, IDOC's policy interferes with Barron's ability to search for a new job (because he cannot view listings online) and affects his ability to visit friends and family (because he cannot visit a residence that has Internet access). Id. ¶ 30. Furthermore, Barron cannot take online classes, and he is “cut off” from news and entertainment sources. Id. In addition, Barron's family cannot have personal computers or other Internet-capable devices in their home, which places a “huge burden” on them. Id. ¶¶ 30-32.

         II. Jason Tucker

         Tucker was convicted of predatory criminal sexual assault of a minor in 2011. Id. ¶ 33. His crime did not involve use of the Internet. Id. ¶ 35. Tucker became eligible for release on MSR in April 2015; however, he “was unable to find housing that met [IDOC's] approval, ” and therefore remained in prison for an additional thirty-one months. Id. ¶¶ 36-37. He was eventually released in November 2017. Id. ¶ 38.

         According to Plaintiffs, IDOC's policy “severely restrict[s]” Tucker's ability to find a new job, because many applications are completed online. Id. ¶ 39. It also has made it more difficult for him to obtain health insurance and manage his finances. Id. Because of the policy, Tucker cannot access news or entertainment sources, or communicate with his attorneys, friends, and family, including his brother, who lives abroad. Id.

         III. Jeffrey Kramer

         Kramer was convicted of aggravated possession of child pornography in 2013. Id. ¶ 40. He downloaded images onto his computer from the Internet. Id. ¶ 42. He was originally sentenced to probation, but his probation was revoked for accessing the Internet. Id. ¶ 41. He was resentenced and became eligible for release on MSR in September 2016. Id. ¶ 43. Because he was unable to find compliant housing, he was “forced to remain in prison for an additional 16 months.” Id. He was eventually released in January 2018. Id. ¶ 44.

         IDOC's policy, Plaintiffs assert, “impose[d] a serious barrier” on Kramer's ability to communicate with friends and family. Id. ¶ 45. It also affected his ability to pursue his hobbies, because he was prohibited from visiting the library. Id. Moreover, the policy prohibited Kramer from paying bills or banking online, and made it difficult for him to find a medical provider. Id.

         Kramer was arrested in September 2018 after his parole officer discovered a cell phone in his possession. Id. ¶ 46. He is now serving an additional two-year sentence. Id. ¶ 47.

         IV. Jasen Gustafson

         Gustafson was convicted of aggravated possession of child pornography in 2013. Id. ¶ 48. He too downloaded images from the Internet. Id. ¶ 50. Gustafson was approved for release on MSR in October 2014, but he was not released from prison until February 2019 because he could not find housing that met IDOC's requirements. Id. ¶ 51.

         According to the complaint, IDOC's policy has “severely restricted” Gustafson's ability to find a job, because many applications are completed online. Id. ¶ 53. Furthermore, Gustafson's ability to communicate with his family, friends, and attorneys has been “severely diminished.” Id. ...


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