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No Liberty Interest in Illinois Segregation

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of an Illinois prisoner’s due process and retaliation claims, finding that his allegations “effectively plead him out of court.”

Illinois prisoner Christopher Lekas “cultivated a relationship on ‘friendly terms’ with Tyone Murray, a female prison employee.” After Lekas was transferred to another prison, he had a third party send Murray a personal letter and two ceramic mugs. Lekas was issued a disciplinary report, placed in segregation, and ultimately sanctioned to three months in segregation for sending Murray the package.

Lekas filed suit in federal court alleging he was denied due process when he was placed in segregation. He also argued the physical injury requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, (PLRA) is facially, and as-applied, unconstitutional. The district court dismissed, concluding that the due process claim failed to state a claim because no liberty interest was implicated. The court also found the PLRA challenge “untenable” because the provision is “merely a limitation on recovery, and not––as the complaint alleged––an outright bar.”

The Seventh Circuit noted that it had previously held in Williams v. Ramos, 71 F3d 1246 (7th Cir. 1995) and Thomas v. Ramos, 130 F.3d 754 (7th Cir. 1997) that the conditions in disciplinary segregation at Lekas’s prison “were not so atypical and significant to constitute a deprivation of a liberty interest.” It then denied the due process claim for that reason.

The court found that Lekas failed to assert his relationship claim in the district court and thereby waived it. Since “no ‘case or controversy’ remains between these parties,” the court found it was “both constitutionally and statutorily constrained from reaching Lekas’s” challenge to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), the physical injury requirement. See: Lekas v. Briley, 405 F.3d 602 (7th Cir. 2005).

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Related legal case

Lekas v. Briley