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Dent v. Nalley

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 23, 2019

CHARLES DENT, Plaintiff,


          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL Chief U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff Charles Dent, an inmate in the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Defendants, in concert with each other, engaged in a course of retaliatory conduct against him for exercising his First Amendment right to file grievances and lawsuits against them. Before the Court are two motions for summary judgment: one filed by Defendants Nick Nalley, Denise Minor, Winnie Braddock, and Barry Lasater (Doc. 182) and one filed by Defendant Ty Wallace (Doc. 186). For the reasons explained below, the Court denies Defendant Wallace’s motion, and the motion filed by Defendants Nalley, Minor, Braddock, Lasater, and Garnett is granted in part and denied in part.


         At all times relevant to this action, Dent was incarcerated at Big Muddy River Correctional Center (“Big Muddy”). On February 28, 2018, Dent, through appointed counsel, filed an amended complaint raising the following claims:

Count 1: First Amendment retaliation against Defendant Nick Nalley and Jason Garnett for exposing Dent as a confidential informant.
Count 2: First Amendment retaliation against Defendants Denise Minor, Nick Nalley, and Winnie Braddock for improperly refusing to send Dent’s privileged mail.
Count 3: First Amendment retaliation against Defendant Denise Minor for improperly conducting a Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) investigation with a retaliatory motive.
Count 4: First Amendment retaliation against Defendant Denise Minor for placing Dent with a violent, homophobic cellmate.
Count 5: First Amendment retaliation against Defendants Denise Minor and Ty Wallace for illegally disclosing confidential information about Dent with the intent to have him first from his job in the law library.
Count 6: First Amendment retaliation against Defendants Denise Minor and Barry Lasater for improperly taking Dent’s legal papers.
Count 7: Violation of the Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act against Defendant Ty Wallace.

         A. Counts 1, 3, and 4

         At some point before Dent transferred to Big Muddy in July 2012, he was incarcerated at Centralia Correctional Center, which is where he met Defendant Nick Nalley. According to Dent, Nalley was a correctional officer at Centralia, and the two men had a good, cordial relationship. (Doc. 182-1, p. 5-6). Nalley worked in Internal Affairs at Big Muddy. He remembered that Dent worked in the law library at Centralia and referred him to Jennifer Wilson, who was a supervisor in the library, for a job. (Doc. 187-7, p. 6). Jennifer Wilson testified that the recommendation from Nalley was out of the ordinary. (Doc. 192-3, p. 2). She suspected that Dent was assigned to the library to keep an eye on the school building. (Doc. 192-3, p. 3).

         Dent began working in the law library on or about February 26, 2016, and, on February 28, 2016, he was moved from his cell in one-house to a cell in three-house. He believes he was moved away from another inmate, Shane Marcentel, and that the move was retaliatory because he tried to provide information about Marcentel to Defendant Nalley. Dent testified there is a big difference between one-house and three-house, in that one-house was quieter with more mature inmates while three-house is louder and run by “gang bangers.” (Doc. 187-1, p. 8). Dent complained about his reassignment to the warden, the placement office, internal affairs, and “everybody, ” and he was told that all of the library workers were being moved to three-house. (Doc. 187-1, p. 9). Nalley testified there was a phase where Big Muddy moved all of the students and the school workers to three-house. (Doc. 187-7, p. 14). According to Dent, however, no other library workers moved with him. (Doc. 187-1, p. 9).

         As a library worker, Dent helped other inmates file lawsuits, including lawsuits against internal affairs officers at Big Muddy. He testified that Nalley and the internal affairs team did not want him to help the inmates file lawsuits against them and that it became a source of conflict. Dent felt like he was stuck in the middle and had to choose between doing his job by helping inmates and helping Nalley by keeping other inmates from complaining about him. (Doc. 182-1, p. 9). His experiences in dealing with Nalley and internal affairs caused him great concern with how the unit operated, and Dent wanted to do something about it. (Doc. 182-1, p. 10-11).

         Jennifer Wilson submitted an incident report on March 3, 2016, about events that occurred the day before. She reported that Dent asked about the whistleblower statute. Dent allegedly told her, “I know that I.A. is dirty, but I’m afraid if I try to turn them in, they’ll be notified (I.A. staff) and then I’m done, Ms. Wilson, then I’m done for sure.” Wilson went on to note that the former internal affairs supervisor, Big Muddy “appeared to be run by thugs in I.A. who are unscrupulous.” Dent also told her that the internal affairs officers “are breaking the law and breaking the rules, covering for themselves, for other security staff, and for some inmates even. I’m the only one who knows it all, and if I tell they will know that it’s me who told on them. They will kill me for sure, Ms. Wilson.” At the end of the conversation, she spoke to her supervisor, and he advised that she speak to the warden, Defendant Jason Garnett. (Doc. 182-2).

         Dent testified that the retaliation against him began in earnest on March 3, 2016. (Doc. 187-1, p. 5). According to Dent, he had been working as a confidential informant for internal affairs, primarily with Nalley. He alleges that one of his roles for internal affairs was to control the number of lawsuits and grievances that inmates filed. On March 3, 2016, Nalley summoned Dent and asked him if he was okay, which Dent later tied to an incident report Jennifer Wilson turned over to Garnett. Garnett, in turn, allegedly gave the report to Nalley. During his conversation with Nalley, Dent provided information about what he viewed as threats to Marcentel. He felt like Nalley wasn’t listening to him and described the meeting as the last boiling point in feeling fed up with Nalley. (Doc. 187-1, p. 5-6).

         Defendant Nalley testified that Dent never worked as a confidential informant for him. He claims Dent wanted to meet with him on March 3, 2016, to discuss Dent’s reassignment to three-house. Nalley described the conversation as relaxed. He did not remember their conversation involving information about other inmates, but he did remember that Marcental told him that he and Dent had been in a relationship that ended. (Doc. 187-7, p. 14-15). At some point during the conversation, Dent claims that Defendant Jason Garnett, the warden, called Nalley to see if Dent was with him. Nalley allegedly warned him to watch what he said to Garnett. Garnett came to the internal affairs office and talked with Dent and Nalley about a meeting in the library that Dent missed because he was talking with Nalley. (Doc. 182-1, p. 13).

         According to Dent, Nalley-with a retaliatory motive- relayed everything he said to Marcentel, who then told other inmates that Dent was working with internal affairs. (Doc. 187-1, p. 5-6). On March 22, 2016, Dent filed a grievance because other inmates were coming up to him in the library and telling him they heard he was working with internal affairs. (Doc. 187-1, p. 6). He claims that the grievance never got to its intended recipient because Defendant Nalley held it up.

         In a March 29, 2016 grievance, Dent again complained about retaliation by Nalley. He attached a copy of his March 22 grievance and indicated that he signed a declaration against Nally on March 25, 2016, and that he was in the process of exposing corruption in the internal affairs department. He complained that Nalley was known for retaliating against inmates who filed grievances. (Doc. 182-4).

         Dent testified that on April 7, 2016, Marcentel got together with Nalley and Defendant Denise Minor and told them that Dent was running the lines in the library, kicking off an investigation into whether he was abusing his position. Dent was not punished after this alleged investigation. (Doc. 187-1). He claims the next retaliatory incident came on April 14, 2016, when he was sent to segregation for approximately eight days due to an investigation under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). (Doc. 187-1, p. 7-8). According to an April 14, 2016 incident report, an inmate reported to a correctional officer that he had been sexually harassed by Dent in the school building. Dent allegedly told this inmate that he was going to get him moved and that he was going to have sex with him. Dent was then moved to segregation on investigative status. (Doc. 182-9).

         Defendant Denise Minor was a supervisor in internal affairs at Big Muddy in 2016. Her supervisor was the warden. (Doc. 187-6, p. 3). She described Nalley as a good, thorough officer. (Doc. 187-6, p. 5). She testified that internal affairs received a lot of false PREA reports but that they have to investigate every report under the guidelines. According to Minor, inmates sometimes submit false reports to get a different housing assignment or cellmate. (Doc. 187-6, p. 6). Inmates against whom a claim has been filed must be kept separate until the investigation is complete. The inmates are sent to segregation on investigative status, but it is not meant to be punitive. (Doc. 187-6, p. 6).

         Minor testified that she first met Dent during the PREA investigation in April 2016. (Doc. 187-6, p. 8). She found it difficult to interview him because he would not stay focused on her questions and wanted to talk about a grievance instead. (Doc. 187-6, p. 9). Other than the grievances he brought up during their conversation, Minor testified that she was unaware of any grievances Dent filed before their interview. (Doc. 187-6, p. 9-10). She denies making any threats to Dent if he kept filing grievances. (Doc. 187-6, p. 10). Dent, however, testified that Minor focused their conversation while he was held on investigative status on whether he wanted to pursue his grievance against Nalley, and Dent claims that Minor said that she and Garnett wanted to know what he planned to do about the grievance. (Doc. 182-1, p. 21).

         Dent was released from investigative status on April 22, 2016, but he claims that he was released hours later than usual due to retaliation by Defendant Minor. He testified that Minor also intentionally assigned him to cell with a very aggressive inmate who was homophobic in retaliation for his complaints about Nalley. He claims that his cellmate threatened him and would lock him out of the cell. (Doc. 187-1, p. 7-8). Dent drafted his initial complaint in this action while he was in segregation and filed it the day that he was released. (Doc. 187-1, p. 10).

         B. Counts 5 and 7

         Dent went back to work after his release from segregation. On April 26, 2016, Defendant Minor allegedly pulled Dent from the library line and held him for three hours to investigate his grievance against Nalley and internal affairs. (Doc. 187-1, p. 9). According to Minor, their conversation focused on Marcentel, and Dent was upset about him more than anything else. When she tried to steer the interview back to Nalley, Dent would return to talking about Marcentel. (Doc. 187-6, p. 13). She found Dent hard to follow during the interview. She was not aware that he had filed a lawsuit days before their meeting. (Doc. 187-6, p. 14).

         Minor decided to refer Dent for a mental health appointment because he was crying and visibly shaken up during their conversation. (Doc. 187-6, p. 15). In the incident report she drafted in relation to the referral, Minor wrote that she made it due to Dent’s inability to focus during their interview and because he appeared to be overwhelmingly obsessed with other inmates’ legal matters. (Doc. 187-8). Dent maintains that her claims about his mental ...

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