LANDERS v. VIGO COUNTY COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS et al
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DIRECTING ENTRY OF FINAL JUDGMENT. The record shows that Mr. Landers' Fourteenth Amendment claims are not grounded in a liberty interest. Accordingly, the defendants' motion for summary judg ment, dkt. 41 , is granted, and this action is dismissed with prejudice. The clerk is directed to enter final judgment consistent with this order and the screening entry, dkt. 13 . (See Order). Copy to Plaintiff via U.S. Mail. Signed by Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on 9/7/2021. (MAC)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
VIGO COUNTY COMMUNITY
CORRECTIONS, et al.
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
AND DIRECTING ENTRY OF FINAL JUDGMENT
In February 2019, a Vigo County judge authorized Michael Landers to serve the final five
years of his prison sentence in a work-release program. Within two weeks, he allegedly violated
the program's rules, and he was sent back to state prison. Mr. Landers was not given a hearing first,
and he alleges that this deprived him of due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The defendants move for summary judgment. Because Mr. Landers' return to prison did
not affect a liberty interest, the motion is granted, and the action is dismissed with prejudice.
I. Summary Judgment Standard
A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or
genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the
record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can
also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of
a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.
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Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B). Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set
out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on
matters stated. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a
movant's factual assertion can result in the movant's fact being considered undisputed, and
potentially in the grant of summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e).
On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would
convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Gekas v. Vasilades, 814 F.3d 890, 896
(7th Cir. 2016). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable fact-finder
could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir.
2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws
all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Skiba v. Illinois Cent. R.R. Co., 884 F.3d 708, 717
(7th Cir. 2018). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment
because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. Miller v. Gonzalez, 761 F.3d 822, 827 (7th Cir.
2014). Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving
party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
Mr. Landers failed to respond to the summary judgment motion. Accordingly, facts alleged
in the motion are deemed admitted so long as support for them exists in the record. See S.D. Ind.
Local Rule 56-1 ("A party opposing a summary judgment motion must . . . file and serve a response
brief and any evidence . . . that the party relies on to oppose the motion. The response must
. . . identif[y] the potentially determinative facts and factual disputes that the party contends
demonstrate a dispute of fact precluding summary judgment."); Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 683
(7th Cir. 2003) ("[F]ailure to respond by the nonmovant as mandated by the local rules results in
an admission"); Brasic v. Heinemanns, Inc., 121 F.3d 281, 285-286 (7th Cir. 1997) (affirming
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grant of summary judgment where the nonmovant failed to properly offer evidence disputing the
movant's version of the facts). This does not alter the summary judgment standard, but it does
"[r]educe the pool" from which facts and inferences relative to the motion may be drawn. Smith
v. Severn, 129 F.3d 419, 426 (7th Cir. 1997). Thus, "[e]ven where a non‐movant fails to respond
to a motion for summary judgment, the movant 'still ha[s] to show that summary judgment [i]s
proper given the undisputed facts.'" Robinson v. Waterman, 1 F.4th 480, 483 (7th Cir.
2021) (quoting Yancick v. Hanna Steel Corp., 653 F.3d 532, 543 (7th Cir. 2011)).
In February 2019, Mr. Landers was incarcerated at the Indiana State Farm. Dkt. 41-1 at
5:1–4. His earliest possible release date was March 7, 2025. Dkt. 41-7.
Mr. Landers had a motion to modify his sentence pending in Vigo Superior Court. At a
hearing on February 28, Judge Michael Lewis granted the motion. Id. Judge Lewis approved
Mr. Landers for admission to a Community Transition Program ("CTP") effective the following
day, March 1, 2019. Id. Mr. Landers' sentence would continue to run through March 7, 2025, but
he could serve the remainder of the sentence in a CTP coordinated by Vigo County Community
Corrections ("Community Corrections"). Id.
Following the sentence modification hearing, Mr. Landers was shackled and transported to
the Work Release Center ("WRC"), where CTP participants lived. Dkt. 41-1 at 11:23–12:8.
Mr. Landers describes the WRC as "a dorm-like setting." Id. at 11:19. Residents were subject to
extensive rules and regulations that, in many ways, resemble a correctional facility. See dkt. 41-2.
The WRC was staffed with correctional officers, and residents were required to address
staff members as "Officer," "Mr.," or "Mrs." Id. at § 24. Residents were searched every time they
entered the facility, and they were subject to unannounced searches at any time inside the facility.
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Id. at § 15. They were subject to the same disciplinary code enforced in Indiana Department of
Correction ("IDOC") facilities. Id. at § 25. The building had metal detectors. Dkt. 41-1 at 20:15–
16. At least some of the time, Mr. Landers was escorted through the WRC by staff members. Id.
WRC residents' daily activities were strictly regulated. Residents were required to be in
their bunks from 11:00 P.M. until 5:00 A.M. every day. Dkt. 41-2 at § 28. They were required to
shower and make their beds every day and keep their bunks in a specific way—no personal items
or pictures displayed, laundry bag hung at the foot of the bed, towels hung from the head of the
bed. Id. at § 11. Residents had to wear shirts, pants, and shoes at all times, and jewelry was
prohibited. Id. at § 14. Residents could only eat food served or purchased inside the WRC, and
meals were served at set times every day. Id. at §§ 17–19. Personal property was limited to specific
types and quantities of clothing, toiletries, and miscellaneous items. Id. at § 41.
Of course, the WRC differed from prison in that residents were permitted to leave—they
were released from the facility to work. But even this was subject to extensive regulation and
numerous exceptions. Residents had to submit their work schedules every week and could only
leave according to those schedules. Id. at § 4. When they returned, they had to show documentation
of their whereabouts for the entire day. Id. at § 3. Residents were not allowed to work more than
60 hours per week. Id. at § 2. They were limited to workplaces within 30 minutes of the WRC. Id.
Residents could not work out of home offices, and they could not work outdoors after 8:00 P.M.
Id. Residents with certain jobs could not work on holidays (when the WRC staff was limited), and
they might not be permitted to leave for work during heavy snow. Id. at § 8.
Mr. Landers completed CTP orientation on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. Dkt. 41-2.
He received a GPS ankle monitor. Dkt. 41-1 at 13:9–16. On Friday, March 8, Mr. Landers left the
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WRC to look for a job, and he states that he made an unauthorized visit to his mother's house while
he was out. Id. at 13:24–15:1. But, according to Brad Burton, a case manager, two of the victims
in Mr. Landers' criminal case notified Community Corrections on March 8 that Mr. Landers "had
made threats to them." Dkt. 41-9 at 1. Data from Mr. Landers' ankle monitor indicated that he
"walked around" his "victim zone" for about 20 minutes on March 8. Id. at 1–3.
On Monday morning, March 11, the WRC staff notified Mr. Landers that he was under
investigation for threatening the two victims, that a conduct report had been written, and that he
would be returned to state prison. Dkt. 41-1 at 20:1–21:24. On Thursday, March 14, Mr. Landers
was transported to Plainfield Correctional Facility. Id. at 4:7–9, 21:25–22:4. He has been
incarcerated in IDOC facilities since then. Mr. Landers states that he has never had a disciplinary
hearing regarding the allegation that he threatened his former victims.
At screening, the Court identified plausible Fourteenth Amendment claims against two
defendants—Community Corrections and Bill Watson, who was deputy director during
Mr. Landers' time in the CTP. These claims are based on the theory that the defendants deprived
Mr. Landers of liberty without affording him due process by returning him from the WRC to state
prison without holding a disciplinary hearing.
"The Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause protects persons against deprivations
of life, liberty, or property; and those who seek to invoke its procedural protection must establish
that one of these interests is at stake." Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005). "A liberty
interest may arise from the Constitution itself . . . or it may arise from an expectation or interest
created by state laws or policies . . . ." Id. (internal citations omitted).
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Constitutional Liberty Interests
"[O]nce an inmate has been released from institutional confinement, the Due Process
Clause does confer upon him certain liberty interests allowing him at least to remain free from
detention and outside the prison's walls." Hoffman v. Knoebel, no. 4:14-cv-00013-SEB-TAB, 2017
WL 1035933, at *4 (S.D. Ind. Mar. 17, 2017). Of course, all prisoners are not released under the
same circumstances. The Supreme Court has made clear that parole creates a Fourteenth
Amendment liberty interest and that "[i]ts termination calls for some orderly process, however
informal." Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 482 (1972). The same is true for "pre-parolees."
See Young v. Harper, 20 U.S. 143 (1997). Meanwhile, the Seventh Circuit has held that an offender
sentenced to a "home detention program" has a liberty interest in remaining out of prison. See
Paige v. Hudson, 341 F.3d 642, 643–44 (7th Cir. 2003).
In other cases "where the convict is not technically 'imprisoned,'" the law "is still evolving."
Domka v. Portage Cty., 523 F.3d 776, 781 (7th Cir. 2008). The dispositive question is "whether
being removed" from one situation to the other "is a sufficiently large incremental reduction in
freedom to be classified as a deprivation of liberty." Paige, 341 F.3d at 643.
Neither the Supreme Court nor the Seventh Circuit has considered Mr. Landers' particular
situation—confinement in a residential work-release program operated by a county community
corrections agency. But this Court has. Hoffman concerned a state prisoner who achieved sentence
modification, was transferred to the Clark County Work Release Center, and was detained in
county jail for over two months awaiting a hearing after he was accused of violating program rules.
Hoffman, no. 4:14-cv-00013-SEB-TAB, 2017 WL 1035933, at *1. Judge Barker determined that
"the relevant considerations" in assessing an incremental reduction in freedom "are: 'where the
inmate is housed; the restrictions on his freedom, movement, and employment; and his overall
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ability to live a life without the incidents of imprisonment.'" Id. at *5 (quoting White v. Steuben
Cty., 2011 WL 4496504, at *7 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 27, 2011). She determined that moving Hoffman
from the work release facility to jail without a hearing did not implicate a liberty interest. Id.
There is no reason Mr. Landers' case should produce a different result.
Mr. Landers was housed in an environment that resembled a correctional facility. He
arrived there in shackles. It was staffed with correctional officers and outfitted with metal
detectors. It maintained strict schedules for meals and bedtimes. It enforced the same disciplinary
code as state prisons.
Mr. Landers' freedom, movement, and employment were all regulated. Inside the building,
he was escorted by staff members and subjected to unannounced searches. Mr. Landers had to
bathe, dress, and maintain his bunk area in compliance with the WRC's rules. He could only eat
food and keep property approved by the WRC staff. He could leave the WRC to work—but only
in certain locations and at certain times.
During his brief time at the WRC, nearly every aspect of Mr. Landers' life was constrained
by the "incidents of imprisonment." Hoffman, no. 4:14-cv-00013-SEB-TAB, 2017 WL 1035933,
at *5. It is not clear that life in the WRC differed at all from life in prison except that Mr. Landers
could leave prison to search for or work at a job—and he could only do that within the strict
parameters imposed by County Corrections. If Mr. Landers suffered an incremental reduction in
liberty when he was returned to state prison from the WRC, it was minimal. Mr. Landers' return
to prison did not affect a liberty interest inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment.
State-Created Liberty Interests
Mr. Landers did not have an inherent, constitutional liberty interest that guaranteed him a
hearing or any other due process before being removed from the CTP and returned to state prison.
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But "a liberty interest in avoiding particular conditions of confinement may arise from state
policies or regulations, subject to the important limitations set forth in Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S.
472 (1995)." Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 222. "[T]he touchstone of the inquiry into the existence of a
protected, state-created liberty interest in avoiding restrictive conditions of confinement is . . . the
nature of those conditions themselves 'in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.'" Id. at
223 (quoting Sandin, 515 U.S. at 485).
Again, neither the Supreme Court nor the Seventh Circuit has applied the Sandin analysis
to the facts of this case, but this Court did in Hoffman. The dispositive question, Judge Barker
determined, is whether removal from work release to state prison is "'atypical or significant when
compared to the experience of the large number of prisoners who spend the duration of their
sentences in prison.'" Hoffman, no. 4:14-cv-00013-SEB-TAB, 2017 WL 1035933, at *8 (quoting
White, 2011 WL 4496504, at *10). This Court, like others inside and outside the Seventh Circuit,
held that it does not. Id. (collecting cases). Convicted offenders sentenced to prison terms
"typically serve out their sentences in institutional confinement." Id. Programs like work release
are the exception to the rule. Returning an inmate from such a program to state prison returns him
to "'the ordinary incidents of prison life,'" Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 223 (quoting Sandin, 515 U.S. at
485), not a substantially harsher environment.
The legal landscape has not changed since this Court decided Hoffman, and nothing in the
record suggests that Mr. Landers returned to an atypically harsh state prison setting. See, e.g.,
Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 223–24 (finding a liberty interest in avoiding indefinite assignment to
environment where "almost all human contact is prohibited" and parole eligibility is terminated).
Accordingly, a different result is not warranted. Mr. Landers' return to state prison from the CTP
did not affect a state-created liberty interest.
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The record shows that Mr. Landers' Fourteenth Amendment claims are not grounded in a
liberty interest. Accordingly, the defendants' motion for summary judgment, dkt. , is granted,
and this action is dismissed with prejudice. The clerk is directed to enter final judgment
consistent with this order and the screening entry, dkt. .
IT IS SO ORDERED.
PENDLETON - CORRECTIONAL INDUSTRIAL FACILITY
CORRECTIONAL INDUSTRIAL FACILITY
5124 West Reformatory Road
PENDLETON, IN 46064
David P. Friedrich
WILKINSON GOELLER MODESITT WILKINSON AND DRUMMY
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