Lewis v. State Of Illinois
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order : Signed by the Honorable Rebecca R. Pallmeyer on 3/12/2018. Mailed notice. (etv, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
STEPHEN E. LEWIS,
STATE OF ILLINOIS; LISA M. MADIGAN,
in her official capacity as Illinois Attorney
General; ILLINOIS COURT OF CLAIMS,
in its official capacity; ILLINOIS PRISONER )
REVIEW BOARD, in its official capacity;
KENNETH TUPY, in his official capacity
as chief legal counsel for the Illinois
Prisoner Review Board; and BRUCE
RAUNER, in his official capacity as
Governor of the State of Illinois,
No. 16 C 11648
Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer
In 1996, Plaintiff Stephen E. Lewis was found guilty in state court on child pornography
charges. The Illinois Appellate court concluded, however, that the photograph at issue was not
“lewd” and therefore reversed Mr. Lewis’s conviction in a published opinion in 1999. Years
later, the Illinois General Assembly adopted a statute that grants persons who have been
wrongly convicted to seek a declaration of innocence—a requirement for seeking a remedy for
wrongful detention in the Illinois Court of Claims. Persons who, like Lewis, were convicted prior
to the effective date of the statute were allowed to file their petitions within two years. Lewis did
file such a petition—but as it was well after the two-year period, his case was dismissed. In this
federal action, Lewis argues that imposing this time limit on persons who are innocent of a
charged crime is unconstitutional.
Defendants, all Illinois officials, have moved to dismiss his complaint. They raise several
arguments: they contend that the named Defendants are not subject to suit, that the complaint
is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and by the Eleventh Amendment, and that the
allegations do not state a claim for relief. In a reply memorandum, Defendants have noted
another basis for dismissal: Plaintiff Lewis raised his constitutional argument in a state court
case, filed after dismissal of his untimely petition for a certificate of innocence. That case, too,
was dismissed, and precludes this case under the doctrine of res judicata, Defendants contend.
For the reasons explained here, the motion to dismiss is granted.
As alleged in his amended complaint, Stephen Lewis was convicted in 1996 on two
counts of child pornography. (Amended Complaint [10 ¶¶ 3,4.) He appealed his conviction, and
the Illinois Appellate court concluded that the single photograph at issue was not in fact
pornographic. (Id. ¶ 5.) His conviction was reversed.
See People v. Lewis, 305 Ill. App.3d
665, 712 N.E.2d 401 (2nd Dist. 1999). Lewis then filed an action with the Illinois Court of
Claims on May 8, 2000. (Amended Complaint ¶ 6.) Though the amended complaint he filed in
this court does not state what relief he sought there, it appears that Mr. Lewis was seeking
recovery for time he had spent in prison on the pornography charges. That relief was denied
him, however, and the case was dismissed on the basis that he had not received a “pardon
based upon actual innocence.” (Id.)
This left Lewis in an awkward position. A pardon is not appropriate in his case because
he has been declared not guilty; there is no conviction for which he could be pardoned at all. A
person acquitted on appeal was not eligible for a pardon, and therefore not eligible for relief
available to a pardoned individual from the Court of Claims.
In 2008, the Illinois General
Assembly recognized this problem, and adopted a statute that grants persons in Mr. Lewis’s
situation the right to seek a declaration of innocence. (Id.; see 735 ILCS 5/2-702.)
preamble to the Act statute explicitly recognized that persons wrongly convicted in Illinois “have
been frustrated in seeking legal redress . . . .” The General Assembly observed that language
that effectively “compels an innocent person to seek a pardon for being wrongfully incarcerated”
is “misleading.” The statute therefore authorizes a person whose conviction, like Lewis’s, was
“reversed or vacated” to petition for a certificate of innocence.
Importantly, the Act established a two-year limitations period:
(i) Any person seeking a certificate of innocence under this Section based on the
dismissal of an indictment or information or acquittal that occurred before the
effective date of this amendatory Act of the 95th General Assembly shall file his
or her petition within 2 years after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the
95th General Assembly. Any person seeking a certificate of innocence under this
Section based on the dismissal of an indictment or information or acquittal that
occurred on or after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 95th General
Assembly shall file his or her petition within 2 years after the dismissal.
735 ILCS 5/2-702 (i) (emphasis added). The statute thus gave an individual whose conviction
was reversed or vacated prior to 2008 a two-year window in which to file a petition for a
certificate of innocence.
Plaintiff Lewis did file such a petition—but he did not do so until October 31, 2011.
(Amended Complaint ¶ 10.) Not surprisingly, the Illinois trial court dismissed the petition as
untimely. (Id.) The dismissal was affirmed by the Illinois Appellate court and by the Illinois
Supreme Court. (Id. ¶¶ 12-14.)
Lewis filed a second complaint in state court in 2014; his
complaint provides no information about that second case other than the fact that it, too, was
dismissed. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff then evidently sought a pardon, but Governor Bruce Rauner
denied the request in December 2016. (Id. ¶ 16.)
Lewis’s next step was this federal lawsuit. He filed his original complaint on December
28, 2016 against one Defendant: the State of Illinois . When the Illinois Attorney General
raised the Eleventh Amendment as a bar (Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss ), Lewis filed an
amended complaint, this time naming a host of Defendants: Illinois Attorney General Lisa
Madigan; the Illinois Court of Claims; the Illinois Prisoner Review Board; Kenneth Tupy, chief
legal counsel for the Prisoner Review Board; and Governor Rauner. [10.] All Defendants have
again moved to dismiss. [13..
Lewis contends that his constitutional rights have been violated because, in his view, a
statute of limitations may not be applied to bar a claim for a certificate of innocence in any case
in which petitioner, as here, claims actual innocence. Defendants contend this claim fails both
procedurally and on the merits. They argue, initially, that this case is a challenge to a statecourt ruling, barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which generally precludes federal review
of final state-court decisions. See Levin v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Comm'n of
Supreme Court of Illinois, 74 F.3d 763, 766 (7th Cir. 1996). Indeed, the court assumes Lewis
could have challenged the constitutionality of enforcement of the statute of limitations in his
state court proceedings. If the Illinois state courts erred, it is for the U.S. Supreme Court, not
this one, to correct the error. This court need not address the Rooker-Feldman doctrine further,
however, because it concludes Lewis’s complaint fails for other reasons, addressed below.
Failure to State a Claim
Lewis believes he is not subject to the two-year statute of limitations imposed by Illinois
law. In support of this theory, Lewis cites McQuiggin v. Perkins, 133 S. Ct. 1924 (2013). In that
case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a plea of actual innocence can overcome the federal
statute of limitations for habeas corpus petitions. 133 S.Ct. at 1932. The situation in McQuiggin
differs from this one in important ways, however. First, the petitioner in that case presented new
evidence of actual innocence. Mr. Lewis presents nothing new here. He has known for many
years the circumstances that support his claim for relief.
And he has not suggested that
anything stood in the way of his presenting that claim earlier.
Nothing about McQuiggin
supports Lewis’s apparent conclusion that limitations periods have no application at all, so long
as a petitioner claims actual innocence. More importantly, the rule announced in McQuiggin
protects persons from wrongful incarceration. Mr. Lewis is not incarcerated. The question in
this case is whether the Constitution is violated by a statute of limitations that governs a civil
proceeding in which the petitioner seeks a declaration that would permit him to seek a remedy
for past incarceration. There is nothing unusual about such a limitation, nor any constitutional
impediment to enforcing it.
Other case law cited by Mr. Lewis is distinguishable for similar reasons. People v.
Washington, 171 Ill. 2d 475, 665 N.E.2d 330 (1996) also involved newly-discovered evidence of
the post-conviction petitioner’s actual innocence. Again, Lewis has no new evidence of his
innocence, nor would any new evidence be relevant to his claim here; unlike the petitioner in
Washington, Lewis was declared not guilty by the Illinois Appellate court years ago. In Herrera
v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993), the Court found affidavits offered by petitioner in a habeas case
were insufficient to establish his innocence.
As Lewis emphasizes, the Herrera Court
“assume[d], for the sake of argument in deciding this case, that in a capital case a truly
persuasive demonstration of ‘actual innocence’ made after trial would render the execution of a
defendant unconstitutional.” 506 U.S. at 317. This court agrees; but Lewis is neither facing
execution nor serving a sentence at all, as his conviction was overturned.
Plaintiff contends this argument misconstrues his complaint as an action for monetary
damages under 42 U.S.C, and objects to characterization of his allegations as a claim for denial
of due process. The court is puzzled by these objections; § 1983 is the appropriate statutory
mechanism for filing a federal lawsuit to enforce Constitutional rights, and Lewis identifies no
constitutional provision, apart from the due process clause, that is relevant to his claim. To
Defendants’ argument that he has no constitutional right to a pardon, Lewis “asserts that he has
a constitutional right not to be wrongly convicted and left as a felon.”
(Plaintiff’s Response to
Motion to Dismiss  at 7.) As the court understands his situation, however, Lewis is not
“convicted and left as a felon.” The Illinois Appellate court has declared him not guilty, he is not
in custody, and he is not serving any ongoing criminal sentence. The certificate of innocence
that he seeks would not change his status in any way other than to trigger a right to seek
monetary relief for his past incarceration in the Illinois Court of Claims.
Lewis insists that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar this action because he “is not
seeking monetary damages,” and he suggests vaguely that a certificate of innocence would
allow him to seek “expungement of the record.” (Plaintff’s Response at 7.) But Lewis has not
identified any “record” reflecting his now-overturned conviction. As noted, the only apparent
value that a certificate of innocence would have for him at this point is that it would trigger his
right to seek a remedy in the Illinois Court of Claims. That means, as this court sees it, that this
lawsuit is nothing more than a predicate for Mr. Lewis’s damages claim.
principle prohibits the state from imposing reasonable time limits on such a claim, even where
the result bars the courthouse door to Lewis’s effort to obtain a certificate of innocence. Cf.
Betts v. United States, 10 F.3d 1278, 1283 (7th Cir. 1993) (“petition for a certificate of innocence
is civil in nature” and subject to civil litigation timeliness rules).
In a reply memorandum in support of their motion to dismiss, Defendants have asked
the court to dismiss this case for a second reason:
the doctrine of res judicata, or claim
preclusion. That doctrine “provides for the finality of rulings by barring the relitigation of claims
or defenses that had been or could have been brought in a prior case.” Smith Tr. & Sav. Bank v.
Young, 312 Ill. App.3d 853, 858, 727 N.E.2d 1042, 1045 (3rd Dist. 2000); see also Hicks v.
Midwest Transit, Inc., 479 F.3d 468, 471 (7th Cir. 2007). As noted earlier, Lewis has filed two
proceedings in state court. The first, his suit for a certificate of innocence, was dismissed as
untimely, and that dismissal was affirmed on appeal. (Amended Complaint ¶¶ 10-14.)
complaint in this court referred to a second state court case, as well, without mention of details.
(Id. ¶ 15.)
Defendants have investigated that second case and presented a copy of the
complaint, and the state court’s dismissal order, as exhibits in support of their reply
memorandum. (Defendants’ Reply , Exhibits A and B.) As those documents demonstrate,
Lewis’s second state court complaint is substantially similar to the one he filed in this court. The
only defendant named there is Attorney General Lisa Madigan, but the allegations are largely
identical to the ones before this court. Lewis alleged that his complaint “seeks to void section (i)
[that is, the limitations provision] of 735 ILCS 5/2-702. (Lewis Chancery Complaint, Ex. A to
Defendant’s Reply Memorandum [16-1], ¶ 8.) Lewis alleged in that complaint that the statute of
limitations is unconstitutional, citing the same authority he invokes here: McQuiggin v. Perkins,
133 S.Ct. 1925 (2013). (Id. ¶ 36.) The trial judge dismissed that case as barred by Lewis’s
earlier petition, and also rejected his constitutional challenge to application of the limitations bar.
(Memorandum and Order of Judge Neil Cohen, Exhibit B to Defendant’s Reply Memorandum
This court agrees that Plaintiff Lewis was free to raise his constitutional challenge to
application of the statute of limitations in two previous state court proceedings. Those earlier
rulings preclude this litigation under the doctrine of res judicata.
Defendants’ motion to dismiss the amended complaint  is granted. Plaintiff Lewis
has leave to file an amended complaint, if he can do so consistent with this court’s conclusions,
within 21 days.
Date: March 12, 2018
REBECCA R. PALLMEYER
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?