United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
HOWARD W. WILSON, #K02002, Plaintiff,
JOHN BALDWIN, KESS ROBERSON, BUTLER-JONES, MITTLEMAN, PATRICK T. SINGLETON, KOONTZ, SHERRY BENTON, JOHN/JANE DOE 1-5, MATHEW C. SWALLS, BARWICK, LUCE, CONNIE HOUSTON, MARIBETH ETHRIDGE-HICKS, ANGELA MCCANN, LAURA LONG, POTOCKI, and JOHN/JANE DOE 6-10, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
M. YANDLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Howard Wilson, an inmate of the Illinois Department of
Corrections (“IDOC”) currently incarcerated at
Vienna Correctional Center (“Vienna”), brings
this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged
deprivations of his constitutional rights. He requests a
declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and monetary
Complaint is now before the Court for preliminary review
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under Section 1915A, the
Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out
non-meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(a). Any portion of a complaint that is legally
frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a
defendant who by law is immune from such relief must be
dismissed. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). The Court also must
determine whether misjoinder is an issue and retains
authority to sever unrelated claims against different
defendants into one or more additional lawsuits. See
George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007).
makes the following allegations regarding allegedly
unconstitutional handling of his mail and processing of his
grievances during his time at Lincoln Correctional Center
(“Lincoln”) and Vienna. (Doc. 1):
at Lincoln, Plaintiff was employed as a Greenhouse
Specialist. Id. at p. 12. In June 2018, he and other
inmates began experiencing respiratory problems and severe
allergy-like symptoms. Plaintiff submitted Freedom of
Information Act (“FOIA”) requests to the Illinois
Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department
of Public Health asking for public records related to the
health effects of exposure to mold and mildew. Id.
at pp. 12-13. On July 6, 2018, he received various public
records from the Illinois Department of Public Health
pertaining to mold and mildew. Id. at p. 13. Because
Plaintiff's requests to governmental agencies are not
recognized as privileged or legal mail, his mail was placed
in unsealed envelopes so that the mail room staff had
opportunities to inspect and read his mail.
Plaintiff submitted the requests for public documents and
received the information, staff members began treating him
unusually. Id. On one occasion, a corrections
officer asked him if he had written to the EPA. Id.
In another instance, an envelope containing a motion he was
trying to file in a state civil case was not sent certified
mail as requested, and the Champaign County Circuit Clerk
never received the motion. Id. at pp. 14, 15, 59,
filed two grievances regarding the mishandling of his mail
(“Grievance 1” and “Grievance 2”). In
Grievance 1, Plaintiff requested an explanation for why his
certified mail service request was not honored, and in
Grievance 2, he asked for an explanation and reimbursement
for financial burdens incurred for the untimely filing of the
legal documents. Id. at p. 15.
September 12, 2018, Plaintiff met with Defendants Corrections
Counselor Koontz, Caseworker Supervisor Singleton, and
Clinical Services Supervisor Mittleman. Id. at p.
16. Koontz told Plaintiff that he would not be allowed to
attach additional pages to his grievances and would have to
take Grievance 2 back. After being questioned by Defendants
about emails received from the Assistant State's Attorney
in his civil case and the use of intimidation tactics by
Defendants aimed at “making Grievance 2
disappear”, Plaintiff was allowed to leave.
Id. at pp. 17, 18.
the meeting, Plaintiff told Koontz he had submitted another
grievance (“Grievance 3”) regarding inadequate
health care at Lincoln, which also included additional pages
and documents. Koontz told Plaintiff Grievance 3 would also
not be processed because of the additional pages and that his
bosses told him not to process Grievances 2 and 3.
Id. at p. 18. Plaintiff understood
“bosses” to mean Defendants Warden Roberson,
Mittleman, and Singleton. Id. at p. 19.
then submitted another grievance (“Grievance 4”)
regarding the mishandling of Grievances 2 and 3 and
recounting the meeting with Koontz, Singleton, and Mittleman.
Id. A few days later, he received a response to
Grievance 4 that was signed by Singleton, stating that
Plaintiff was not denied the right to file a grievance, but
was instructed on the proper procedure for filing a
grievance. Id. at p. 20. Plaintiff then submitted
Grievance 4 for second level review, which was again reviewed
by Singleton. Id. at pp. 22, 87. Singleton's
response was in violation of Illinois Administrative Code,
which prohibits a person directly involved in the subject of
the grievance from serving as the reviewing grievance officer
and also contained false statements. Id.
filed an appeal of Grievance 4 with the Administrative Review
Board (“ARB”) and Defendant IDOC Director
Baldwin. Id. at p. 25. Ultimately, the ARB ruled
that Plaintiff had submitted Grievance 2 and 3 in accordance
with the Offender Grievance Process, and ruled Grievance 2
moot. Id. at pp. 30-31. The ARB did not address the
conduct of Koontz, Mittleman, or Singleton, and by finding
Grievance 2 moot, concealed the actions of IDOC employees.
Id. Late in December 2018, Plaintiff was abruptly
transferred from Lincoln to Vienna and was terminated from
his job assignment as a Greenhouse Specialist. Id.
at p. 25.
claims he has had similar experiences regarding staff
misconduct in the processing of his mail and grievances at
Vienna. Plaintiff's mail has been repeatedly mishandled
by mailroom staff. He has been overcharged for three mailings
sent certified mail. Id. at p. 37. His legal and
privileged mail has been (1) opened while he was not present;
(2) given to someone else on at least two separate occasions;
and (3) sent without a return receipt as requested.
Id. at p. 29, 30, 33, 37, 39. One letter addressed
to a sheriff's office and labeled “privileged
mail” was returned to Plaintiff and marked
“non-privileged mail which must be unsealed, ”
contrary to a Vienna Institutional Directive. Id. at
pp. 28, 105. Another letter Plaintiff mailed to his mother
was returned to him marked “No third party.”
Although Plaintiff submitted a request to mailroom staff
asking for further explanation, he never received a response,
and after resubmitting the letter to be mailed a second time,
still does not know if it was ever sent. Id. at pp.
31-32. In March 2019, Plaintiff received one set of legal
documents 17 days after the envelope was postmarked and
another set 11 days after postmarked. Id. at p. 34.
He also never received an envelope of documents sent to him
by an assistant attorney general. Because he did not receive
his mail in timely fashion, he was not able to argue against
the defendant's motion in another civil case, and the
motion was subsequently granted. Id. at p. 34.
has contacted and met with staff and filed grievances
regarding the mishandling of his mail. See Id. at
pp. 28-29, 34, 35, 38. He filed three grievances regarding
the problems with the mail policies (“Vienna Grievance
1, ” “Vienna Grievance 2, ” and
“Vienna Grievance 3”). Vienna Grievance 1
included attached documents that were not on the
facility's grievance forms and marked as an emergency.
Id. at pp. 32-33. That grievance was returned to
Plaintiff with no response. Id. at p. 34. After
submitting the grievance a second time, it was again returned
with a sheet stating that Plaintiff must submit the
additional pages of his grievance on grievance forms.
Id. at p. 35. He later learned the note was written
by Defendant Correctional Counselor Ethridge-Hicks.
Id. at p. 36. Plaintiff appealed, and the ARB deemed
Vienna Grievance 1 not an emergency and, in its response,
wrote “Now process through DR 504 F.”
Id. at p. 39. Although Plaintiff resubmitted Vienna
Grievance 1, it was not processed. Id.
attempted to appeal the response to Vienna Grievance 2 but
received no response when he requested complete copies from
Defendant Grievance Officer Long. Id. at pp. 36. He
submitted an offender request slip with the Housing Unit 1
Counselor, and the request for copies was denied.
Id. at p. 37.
Grievance 3 was denied by Defendant Warden Swalls on
Long's recommendation, despite a corroborating statement
by a corrections officer in the grievance response that there
are issues in the mail handling. Id. at pp. 37-38.
Upon Plaintiff filing an appeal of Vienna Grievance 3, the
ARB ruled that his privileged mail had been mishandled.
However, the ARB members did not discipline the staff
involved or consider the relief Plaintiff requested.
Id. at p. 39.
next grievance (“Vienna Grievance 4”) was also
returned unprocessed at the direction of Ethridge-Hicks.
Id. at p. 37. Plaintiff submitted another grievance
(“Vienna Grievance 5”) regarding
Ethridge-Hick's handling of grievances and failure to
provide copies needed to appeal the grievance decisions.
Id. at p. 38. He later met with Ethridge-Hicks and
McCann. Ethridge-Hicks informed Plaintiff that she did not
need to consider documents attached to grievances as exhibits
and that she could not provide him copies of attachments he
had previously submitted because she had thrown them away.
on the allegations in the Complaint, the Court finds it
convenient to divide the pro se action into
the following fifteen counts:
Count 1: First Amendment retaliation claim
against Mittleman, Singleton, and Koontz for impeding
Plaintiff's ability to file grievances, transferring him
to another prison, and terminating his job as a greenhouse
specialist after he filed FOIA requests and grievances.
Count 2: First and Fourteenth Amendment
claim against Roberson, Mittleman, Singleton, Koontz, Benton,
and John/Jane Does 1-5 for denying and mishandling
Plaintiff's grievances filed during his time at Lincoln.
Count 3: Illinois state law claim under 730
ILCS 5/3-8-8 and Ill. Admin. Code tit. 20 § 504 against
Mittleman, Singleton, Koontz, Benton, and John/Jane Does 1-5
for refusing to properly process Plaintiff's grievances
submitted while at Lincoln.
Count 4: Fourteenth Amendment equal
protection claim against Mittleman, Singleton, Koontz,
Benton, and John/Jane Doe 1-5 for impeding his access to the
offender grievance process while at Lincoln.
Count 5: First Amendment and Fourteenth
Amendment claim against Baldwin, Roberson, and Butler-Jones
for failing to adequately train and supervise subordinates
resulting in the unconstitutional mishandling of
Plaintiff's mail and grievances at Lincoln.
Count 6: First Amendment claim for the
mishandling of Plaintiff's mail while at Lincoln.
Count 7: First Amendment retaliation claim
against Houston, Ethridge- Hicks, McCann, Long, Potocki, and
John/Jane Does 6-10.
Count 8: First and Fourteenth Amendment
claim against Houston, Ethridge- Hicks, McCann, Long, Swalls,
Benton, and John/Jane Does 1-5 for the denying and
mishandling Plaintiff's ...