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Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Ex-prisoner’s § 1983 Action Regarding Computer Disk

Craig A. Childress was an Illinois state prisoner at the Big Muddy River Correctional Center who was released from custody to mandatory supervised release in 2010. At the time of his release, a prison official placed a computer disk containing Childress’ resume into his property, despite the fact that Childress was barred from possessing such disks due to his prior sex-related offense. His post-release address was later searched, and he was found in possession of the disk and cited for a parole violation.

After being returned to prison for the violation and again released, then held in a civil commitment center, Childress filed a pro se action in federal court. Following the district court’s review of his complaint under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the case was dismissed. Upon reconsidering the decision and noting that Childress was no longer considered a prisoner for PLRA purposes, the court still found that as an in forma pauperis filing the complaint could be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

According to the Seventh Circuit, Childress alleged that the prison’s customary “practice of placing computer disks in inmates’ property subjected him to an unnecessary risk of reincarceration in violation of the Eighth Amendment and of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The appellate court agreed, stating in a May 21, 2015 decision, “The district court’s dismissal of Mr. Childress’s complaint was premature. His complaint set forth sufficient facts to proceed against at least one of the defendants ... he should have been granted the opportunity to amend his complaint, [and] the district court failed to consider adequately [his] request to recruit counsel.”

With respect to the latter issue, the Seventh Circuit wrote, “There is no question that the court abused its discretion in failing to address Mr. Childress’s motion for appointment of counsel. We previously have recognized that “[t]he failure of the trial court to exercise its discretion at all – in this case, in failing to rule on appellant’s request for appointment of counsel – constitutes an abuse of discretion.”

Although the Court of Appeals held the lawsuit could proceed, and strongly recommended that the district court appoint counsel for Childress, it also suggested that he could face an uphill battle in terms of “adequately investigat[ing] and articulat[ing], in accordance with established practices of Section 1983 liability, the familiarity of each defendant ... with the conditions of mandatory release placed on offenders like Mr. Childress,” in order to establish the liability of the defendants.

The case remains pending on remand, with pro bono appointed counsel now representing Childress. A trial is scheduled for November 2016. See: Childress v. Walker, 787 F.3d 433 (7th Cir. 2015). 

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Related legal case

Childress v. Walker