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Seventh Circuit Upholds False Imprisonment and Deliberate Indifference Dismissal

Seventh Circuit Upholds False Imprisonment and Deliberate Indifference Dismissal

On September 4, 2014, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of an Illinois prisoner’s false imprisonment suit, because he was not unlawfully detained.

Sex offender David Armato was convicted of two Illinois theft charges and sentenced to ten years imprisonment on May 6, 2006. Illinois law requires a term of “Mandatory Supervised Release” (MSR), but the court did not order an MSR term.

Prison officials calculated Armato’s release date as November 9, 2009. Records Office Supervisor Michele Littlejohn reviewed Armato’s file in anticipation of his release and recalculated his release date as September 6, 2010, due to a lack of information about his jail time served credit. Armato was notified of the change and advised to seek judicial clarification of his release date.

On February 18, 2010, the sentencing court issued two typed judgments and one handwritten agreed-upon order, granting Armato credit for 373 days in jail and expressly holding that Armato was “to be released from the Department of Corrections without a term of Mandatory Supervised Release,” on May 28, 2010.

Littlejohn received the new orders on February 22, 2010 and recalculated Armato’s release date as August 23, 2009, based on goodtime credits. Littlejohn believed that it violated state law to release Armato without an MSR term.

Littlejohn contacted the Assistant State’s Attorney, who confirmed that the sentencing judge intended not to impose an MSR term. She then consulted several other prison officials who agreed that state law mandated an MSR term. A prison attorney advised prison officials to seek assistance from the Attorney General, because prison officials were required to follow the court order unless the AG challenged it.

Prison officials repeatedly attempted to persuade the AG to challenge Armato’s sentencing order but the AG did not make an immediate decision. Prison officials refused to release Armato until the issue was resolved. On March 9, 2010, Armato filed a grievance as to his continued confinement, but the grievance was denied.

On May 21, 2010, prison officials learned that the AG declined to challenge the court order and Armato was entitled to release. He was released later that day.

Armato brought federal suit, alleging that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his illegal detention, and a state law false imprisonment claim. The district court granted prison officials summary judgment.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that the February 18, 2010 order expressly provided that Armato was to be released on May 28, 2010. Since he was actually released one week earlier on May 21, 2010, the Court found that he was not harmed and his claim failed on the merits.

The court also held that Armato’s deliberate indifference claim failed on the merits, because “defendants were not deliberately ignoring Armato’s detainment without penological justification.” Prison officials were actively seeking correction of what they perceived to be an error, and Armato was released the day that the AG declined to pursue the issue. See: Armato v. Grounds, 766 F.3d 713 (7th Cir. Ill. 2014).

Related legal case

Armato v. Grounds


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