French v. Wills et al
ORDER: For reasons explained in this Order, Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff's Motion for Status (Doc. 10) is GRANTED by the issuance of this order. Plaintiff shall have 30 days, until December 13, 2023, to file an amended complaint, failing which this case may be dismissed. Signed by Judge David W. Dugan on 11/13/2023. (kgk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
MARCELLUS A. FRENCH, SR.,
JOSHUA A. SCHOENBECK,
ANTHONY B. JONES,
Case No. 23-cv-2948-DWD
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
DUGAN, District Judge:
Plaintiff Marcellus A. French, Sr., an inmate of the Illinois Department of
Corrections (IDOC) currently detained at Menard Correctional Center (Menard), brings
this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged deprivations of his
constitutional rights. (Doc. 1). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that his rights were violated
during two separate disciplinary proceedings, the conditions of confinement in
segregation were improper, he has been denied medical care, and his grievances have
been mishandled. He seeks a variety of declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief.
The Complaint (Doc. 1) 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)-(b). 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). At this juncture, the factual
allegations of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. Rodriguez v. Plymouth
Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).
Plaintiff’s factual allegations are about 30-pages, but his complaint is accompanied
by 240-pages of exhibits, which he references extensively in support of his factual
allegations. On November 8, 2022, Plaintiff was escorted from the yard to segregation,
and he was charged with a dangerous disturbance and disobeying a direct order. (Doc.
1 at 12). He alleges that at his hearing on these tickets he was not allowed to call witnesses
or to tender a written statement. Plaintiff was found guilty of the tickets, and he received
28 days in segregation, one month of C-grade, and an increase in his aggression level.
(Doc. 1 at 12-14). Upon completion of the segregation time, he was released to the East
House, which he alleges is filled with “bad inmates” and does not have the same
privileges as general population.
In January of 2023, he acquired a new cellmate in the East House. Within a month
of the new living arrangement, drugs were discovered in the cell on or around February
9, 2023. However, he did not receive a disciplinary report until April 29, 2023. On April
29 he was escorted to segregation, and he was charged with drugs or drugs paraphernalia
and contraband. On May 3, 2023, he had a disciplinary hearing before Defendants Joshua
Schoenbeck and Anthony Jones. He explained that he believed that he was innocent, and
that he believed institutional rules and procedures had not been followed for the issuance
of the ticket. Despite his arguments, Plaintiff was found guilty. He does not allege in text
of the complaint what his punishment was, but he did append the disciplinary findings,
which show that he got six months of segregation time, six months of C-grade, and sixmonths of contact visit restrictions. (Doc. 1-2 at 23-24).
Plaintiff is adamant that the conditions of segregation have been extreme and
inhumane. As of the filing of the complaint, he stated he had been in segregation for 102
days. (Doc. 1 at 29). During this time, he was stuck in the middle of an inmate/staff riot,
that involved feces, urine, flooding, a suicide, and the use of mace. He alleges that
nothing was cleaned until “days later,” showers were not given for weeks, and food
portions were decreased. (Doc. 1 at 18). While in segregation he alleges that he has only
been to yard about five hours, his personal property has been mishandled, he has not had
adequate access to the courts or to educational programming, his family and friends have
been denied visitation (by video or in person), he was denied the ability to marry his
fiancé, and he missed his grandfather’s death. (Doc. 1 at 18-20). He alleges that these
deprivations are part of a pattern or policy of misconduct, and that some of these things
violate prison polices, directives or procedures.
He further alleges that he believes this ‘pattern of misconduct’ is being extended
to him because he has filed grievances. (Doc. 1 at 20).
Plaintiff goes on at length about various provisions of the Illinois Administrative
Code, institutional rules, and administrative directives that he believes have been
violated by his disciplinary proceedings and other prison actions. He argues Defendants
Schoenbeck and Jones completely disregarded the Administrative Code and
Plaintiff argues that his Due Process rights have been violated by the disciplinary
convictions because the convictions might have an impact on his ability to secure a
sentence reduction. Specifically, he explains that because he was sentenced at 20 years
old for first degree murder, he may be eligible for a sentence reduction. (Doc. 1 at 27-28).
He avers that one of the most important factors for sentence reduction is prison
disciplinary history. Plaintiff attached documentation to his complaint that showed a
petition for leave to appeal the denial of his sentence reduction to the Illinois Supreme
Court. (Doc. 1-2 at 51-72).
Plaintiff alleges that he has raised concerns about the issues in his complaint to
grievance officer Sara McClure, gallery officer Garcia, major Rowland, and Chief
Administrative Officer Anthony Wills to no avail. (Doc. 1 at 31). He also appealed his
grievances to the Administrative Review Board (ARB) where they were denied by
Defendants Latoya Hughes and Margaret Madole. He alleges these rulings on his
grievances have violated prison policies by failing to remedy the problems he identifies.
Plaintiff alleges that the grievance process is incompetent, and that the Defendants have
firsthand knowledge of his rights, but they have refused to act. (Doc. 1 at 32).
Plaintiff summarily alleges that he has been denied medical treatment, but he does
not state what treatment he sought. (Doc. 1 at 32).
Based on the allegations in the Complaint, the Court designates the following
Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim concerning
November 2022 disciplinary ticket;
Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim against
Defendants Schoenbeck and Jones concerning April 2023
Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim
concerning segregation placement.
The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders
unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. Any claim that is mentioned
in the Complaint but not addressed in this Order is considered dismissed without
prejudice as inadequately pled under Twombly. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 570 (2007) (an action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does
not plead “enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face”).
Plaintiff alleges in shotgun fashion that Defendants Wills, Rowland, Garcia,
McClure, Madole, and Hughes have violated his rights by failing to act on his grievances,
or by simply affirming rulings from earlier stages of the grievance process. This claim is
insufficient for two reasons. First, as to Defendants Rowland and Garcia, it is not clear
what their role was in any alleged harm. They are identified as a major and a correctional
officer, so it is not immediately obvious what role they might have had in the grievance
process. Section 1983 liability hinges on the personal involvement of each defendant in
an alleged constitutional harm. Gentry v. Duckworth, 65 F.3d 555, 561 (7th Cir. 1995).
Without clarity on what Rowland or Garcia did, the claim against them is insufficient.
Second, Plaintiff names Defendants Sara McClure and Anthony Wills (the Chief
Administrative Officer). The Court will assume these two individuals participated
directly in the processing of grievances as a grievance officer (grievance reviewer) and
the CAO (final signatory on grievances), but the mere processing of a grievance without
participation in an underlying harm is insufficient to state a claim. Owens v. Hinsley, 635
F.3d 950, 953 (7th Cir. 2011) (prison grievance procedures are not mandated by the First
Amendment, and the alleged mishandling of grievances by persons who did not
otherwise cause or participate in the underlying conduct states no claim). The same
rationale applies to Defendants Hughes and Madole, who allegedly processed the
grievances at the ARB.
The mention of Rowland, Garcia, McClure, Wills, Hughes, and Madole in relation
to grievance processing is the only mention that Plaintiff makes of these defendants in
the entire complaint. As such, he has failed to state a sufficient claim against these parties,
and they will all be dismissed without prejudice.
Plaintiff also mentioned near the end of his complaint that he has not received
adequate medical care, but he does not specify conditions for which he needs medical
care. Although there might be information buried in the 240-pages of exhibits about this
topic, the Court is not required to hunt endlessly to decipher Plaintiff’s potential claims.
Accordingly, any claim about medical care is dismissed as inadequately pled.
The Court also notes that to the extent Plaintiff repeatedly stresses violations of
prison procedures or directives, none of these allegations are sufficient to state a claim
because the violation of a prison policy, or even a state law, is not sufficient to state a §
1983 claim. Scott v. Edinburg, 346 F.3d 752, 760 (7th Cir. 2003) (Section 1983 protects
inmates from constitutional violations, not violations of state laws, or prison regulations
Plaintiff alleges that in November of 2022 he was disciplined for two offenses and
his disciplinary proceedings violated his right to Due Process. To establish a due process
claim related to disciplinary proceedings, an inmate must demonstrate: (1) the
deprivation of a liberty interest; and (2) the procedures he was afforded were
constitutionally deficient. Lisle v. Welborn, 933 F.3d 705, 720 (7th Cir. 2019). Six months
in segregation and six months’ loss or restriction of privileges—do not, without more,
implicate a protected liberty interest. See Hardaway v. Meyerhoff, 734 F.3d 740, 744 (7th
Cir. 2013) (six-month disciplinary segregation alone); Lekas v. Briley, 405 F.3d 602, 605, 613
(7th Cir. 2005) (temporary loss of contact visitation and restricted commissary); Whitford
v. Boglino, 63 F.3d 527, 533 n.7 (7th Cir. 1995) (six-month disciplinary segregation and
demotion to C grade). A plaintiff may also argue that the combination of disciplinary
measures deprived him of a protected liberty interest. See Kervin v. Barnes, 787 F.3d 833,
836 (7th Cir. 2015). As punishment, Plaintiff received 28 days of segregation, a one-month
reduction to C-grade, and an increase of his aggression level. None of these consequences
are sufficient to invoke a liberty interest, so he has not stated a claim related to the
November 2022 discipline.
Plaintiff alleges that his disciplinary ticket in April of 2023, and his hearing in May
of 2023, also violated his Due Process rights. He does not allege in the body text of his
complaint what kind of punishment he received, but he appended the disciplinary
findings. (Doc. 1-2 at 23-24). Plaintiff received six-months of C-grade, six-months of
segregation, and a six-month restriction on contact visits. As explained above, six months
in segregation or with restrictive privileges do not automatically invoke due process
protections. To implicate a liberty interest based upon six-month consequences, Plaintiff
must also demonstrate that the conditions of his segregation term caused an atypical and
significant hardship. Lisle v. Welborn, 933 F.3d 705, 720 (7th Cir. 2019). To make a showing
of atypical and significant hardship, an inmate must show that “the conditions of his
confinement in his segregated cell deviated substantially from the ordinary conditions of
prison life.” Id. at 721. A vague description of a cell, without comparison to ordinary
conditions is not sufficient. Id.
Plaintiff claims his conditions in segregation were atypical, but most of the things
that he identifies do not appear to be unique to segregation. For example, he alleges that
he was unfortunately caught in the middle of a riot between inmates and guards which
included human waste, flooding, mace, and even a suicide, but while unpleasant, this is
something that could happen in segregation or in general population. He claims that it
was ‘days’ before things were cleaned up after the riot, but he does not say how long, or
what it was actually like without cleaning. Plaintiff also claims he missed his wedding,
and he missed his grandfather’s death, but again, these are things that might also have
happened in regular prison life.
Plaintiff alleges that he has not had much access to yard-time, but he does not
allege he has no ability to exercise. He also alleges there have been restrictions on shower
access, but he does not go into detail about what that has looked like or how long it has
lasted—other than that there was a shower restriction for a few weeks following the riot.
Plaintiff complains about access to educational materials or legal materials, but there is
not a liberty interest in educational materials, and he has not shown that he had any legal
claims impaired by limited legal access. See, e.g., Murdock v. Washington, 193 F.3d 510, 513
(7th Cir. 1999) (there is no liberty interest in attending prison classes); Zimmerman v.
Tribble, 226 F.3d 568, 571 (7th Cir. 2000) (there is no constitutional mandate to provide
educational, rehabilitative or vocational programs to inmates). Plaintiff also alleges there
has been a reduction in the amount of food served, but this allegation is vague. In total,
Plaintiff has not described conditions that are unique to segregation itself, and that are
sufficient to establish that his six-month segregation placement is atypical and significant.
In relation to both Plaintiff’s first and second claims about discipline, he argues
that the disciplinary outcomes implicate due process because disciplinary convictions
might bear on his ability to receive a reduced sentence. This claim seems comparable to
a claim that Plaintiff improperly lost good time credit, or the chance at good time credit.
Assuming for a second that Plaintiff is claiming he lost good-time credit, or the chance to
earn good-time credit---he can only pursue a claim that he was wrongfully charged under
§ 1983 related to this issue if he can show that the guilty finding for the disciplinary
proceedings was overturned. Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 643 (1997); Moon v. Galipeau,
2023 WL 6584173 at * 2 (N.D. Ind. 2023) (if an inmate did not actually lose any good time
credit, then a liberty interest is not invoked).
Ultimately, it appears that for Plaintiff’s purpose the implications of the
disciplinary proceedings will not matter. Plaintiff attached to his complaint a copy of a
Petition for Leave to Appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court (Doc. 1-2 at 51-72). In the
Petition, counsel seeks the reconsideration of the Illinois Appellate Court’s denial of his
request for a reduced sentence. The Court checked the status of this Petition on the
Illinois Supreme Court’s website and determined that the Petition was denied on
https://www.illinoiscourts.gov/courts/supreme-court/leave-to-appeal/ (last accessed
November 9, 2023). Given that the Petition has been denied, Plaintiff cannot even say
prospectively now that a reduced sentence was thwarted by his discipline, so he has not
lost any chance at a reduced sentence based on the discipline and this potential
consequence does not translate to a protected liberty interest.
The Court also considered if Plaintiff had made sufficient allegations to proceed
under the Eighth Amendment concerning the conditions of his confinement in
segregation, because sometimes an inmate can maintain an Eighth Amendment challenge
even when a Fourteenth Amendment challenge fails. Here, Plaintiff’s complaint falls
short because even if he has identified conditions that were constitutionally deficient, he
has not associated these allegations with any named defendants. As such, Claim 3 is
subject to dismissal without prejudice.
For these reasons, the Court finds it appropriate to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint
for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff will have 30 days from the date of this Order to file
an Amended Complaint. The Amended Complaint will completely replace the earlier
complaints. See Flannery v. Recording Indus. Ass’n of Am., 354 F.3d 632, 638 n. 1 (7th Cir.
2004). Failure to submit an Amended Complaint on time could result in the dismissal of
this entire lawsuit for failure to state a claim or failure to prosecute. FED. R. CIV. P. 41(b);
Ladien v. Astrachan, 128 F.3d 1056-57 (7th Cir. 1997) (dismissal is allowed for failure to
comply with a court order); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Plaintiff is encouraged to keep his
amended complaint short and concise. If he attaches hundreds of pages of exhibits, the
Court will not hunt through the exhibits to determine if he has pled valid claims. He
should focus on the basics, the who, what, when, and where of his allegations.
Plaintiff’s Complaint (Doc. 1) is dismissed for failure to state a claim. He shall
have 30 days to file an amended complaint, failing which this case may be dismissed in
full. Plaintiff’s Motion for Status (Doc. 10) is GRANTED by the issuance of this Order.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: November 13, 2023
/s David W. Dugan
DAVID W. DUGAN
United States District Judge
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