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Dobbey v. Jeffreys

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

October 8, 2019

ROB JEFFREYS, Director, Illinois Department of Corrections, in his official capacity, Defendant, and GLADYSE TAYLOR, DARWIN WILLIAMS, WALTER NICHOLSON, and MARCUS HARDY, in their individual capacities, Defendants.


          Robert W. Gettleman Judge

         Plaintiffs Lester Dobbey, Joseph Dole, Raul Dorado, Benard McKinley, and Eugene Ross are serving long sentences at Stateville Correctional Center, Illinois. Plaintiffs allege that they were members of a debate class established by Stateville. The members of the class allegedly advocated for reinstating a parole system in Illinois, culminating in a debate attended by journalists, state legislators, and other members of the public. Prison officials allegedly canceled the debate class and retaliated against plaintiffs. The prison officials did so, plaintiffs allege, solely because they did not approve of plaintiffs' opinions about parole.

         Plaintiffs sued the prison officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a remedy to people deprived of their constitutional rights. Plaintiffs claim that: (Count I) canceling the debate class violated their rights under the First Amendment; (Count II) defendants retaliated against plaintiffs for expressing their opinions about parole; (Count III) defendants conspired to cancel the class and to retaliate against plaintiffs; and (Count IV) defendants failed to intervene to prevent the violation of plaintiffs' rights. Plaintiffs seek damages and reinstatement of the debate class. They also seek a preliminary injunction, for which this court has scheduled an evidentiary hearing and a pre-hearing conference.

         Defendants move to dismiss. The court dismisses the failure to intervene claim against Gladyse Taylor. The motion is otherwise denied.


         Because defendants challenge the legal sufficiency of plaintiffs claims, plaintiffs allegations are taken as true. Gibson v. Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990).

         Plaintiffs allege that on March 21, 2018, journalists, members of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, officials from the Illinois Department of Corrections, and eighteen members of the Illinois General Assembly went to Stateville Correctional Center and listened to plaintiffs advocate for instituting a parole system in Illinois. Lester Dobbey talked about how he dropped out of high school before going to prison and re-teaching himself to read and write. Benard McKinley argued that people serving life sentences ought to one day have a chance of going home. Joseph Dole, a co-founder of an advocacy organization called Parole Illinois, argued that prosecutors should not serve on parole boards or play a significant role in parole decisions.

         Eugene Ross, the other co-founder of Parole Illinois, argued that a parole system would ensure public safety and save taxpayer money. Raul Dorado, a member of parole Illinois, said that parole would encourage prisoners to focus on self-improvement.

         Plaintiffs allege that the members of the Illinois General Assembly took their views seriously. They spent time with plaintiffs after the debate, asking questions and discussing the proposed policies. Plaintiffs-along with other students of the Stateville debate class responsible for planning and hosting the debate-planned to re-create the debate for other prisoners. The Department of Corrections approved that debate and agreed for it to be recorded.

         The debate never happened. Three weeks before it would have taken place, defendant Gladyse Taylor-the Assistant Director of the Department of Corrections-allegedly appeared unannounced at a regularly scheduled debate class. With her were defendants Darwin Williams, Walter Nicholson, and Marcus Hardy, all employees of the Department of Corrections. Williams, Nicholson, and Hardy allegedly stayed silent as Taylor:

• said that she did not approve of plaintiffs communicating with Illinois legislators about parole;
• said that plaintiffs' advocacy interfered with the legislative agenda of the Illinois Department of Corrections;
• said that Illinois legislators needed to focus on appropriations for the Department of Corrections, not on parole;
• said that she talked to the legislators at the debate and told one of them that they should not introduce legislation without hearing the Department of Corrections' perspective;
• questioned whether plaintiffs were "appropriately placed" at Stateville, insinuating that they could be transferred to prisons farther from their families, with fewer opportunities for education or other program; and
• warned plaintiffs, "I better not see my name in any lawsuits."

         The scheduled debate was canceled. So was the debate class. And the teacher of the class-Katrina Burlet, an accomplished competitive debater-was allegedly banned from entering any Department of Corrections facility for any purpose.

         Plaintiffs filed grievances. They kept advocating for reinstating parole in Illinois. Members of the class sent a letter to the governor asking him to reinstate the class, which received significant media and public attention. Defendants allegedly retaliated. Dole submitted paperwork to add Burlet to his list of approved visitors, but unnamed defendants allegedly prevented him from doing so. McKinley, who had been admitted to a bachelor's degree program offered at Stateville by Northwestern University, was blacklisted from the program-again, by unnamed defendants-until a lawyer intervened for him. Unnamed defendants also allegedly:

• interfered with plaintiffs' placements in ...

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