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Illinois Prisoner’s Petition Challenging Disciplinary Report States Cause of Action

The Illinois Fourth District Court of Appeals held in July 2017 that a prisoner had stated a cause of action on several claims in his petitions for writ of mandamus, declaratory relief and common law writ of certiorari.

Prisoner Aaron Fillmore received a disciplinary report on December 16, 2014 that alleged two offenses: security threat group or unauthorized organizational activity and intimidation or threats. The report summarized 1) an “accumulation of incidents” concerning Fillmore’s “involvement with the Latin King’s Security Threat Group”; 2) handwritten notes confiscated during a shakedown that contained Fillmore’s discussion of Latin King business, which included a threat against someone named Kevin; and 3) recorded phone conversations in which Fillmore discussed various Latin King members who were incarcerated.

An adjustment committee hearing was held on December 19, 2014. Fillmore was found guilty and sanctioned with one year in “C grade,” one year in segregation, revocation of one year of good conduct credits, restriction for one year to $15 per month and contact visits restriction for one year. His administrative grievances were denied and the Sangamon County Circuit Court granted the Illinois DOC’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action.

In a lengthy and detailed ruling, the appellate court found Fillmore failed to state a cause of action on some of his claims, but held that others stated a valid claim for mandamus and certiorari. With respect to mandamus, Fillmore stated a cause of action on claims alleging the adjustment committee members were not impartial and his written statement at the hearing was not summarized and included in the disciplinary record.

Fillmore alleged committee member Eldon L. Cooper told him at the beginning of the hearing “that the Committee [had been] directed by higher up prison authorities to find plaintiff guilty and revoke a year[’s] good conduct credit and impose punitive segregation and other punitive sanctions for a year.” The Court of Appeals noted that this violated Ill. Admin Code 20 § 504.80(d), which requires that when a prisoner alleges a lack of impartiality, “the Committee shall document the basis of the objection and the decision in the Adjustment Committee Summary.” Likewise, Fillmore’s written statement was required by § 504.80(/)(1) to be included in the summary, but that did not occur.

Having found those claims stated a cause for mandamus, the appellate court then turned to the certiorari claims. At the hearing, Fillmore requested that the confiscated handwritten notes be produced. The Court of Appeals said the well-pleaded facts in the complaint indicated prison officials had violated their duty to allow Fillmore to produce any relevant evidence in his defense. The Court wrote it was “untenable to characterize the notes as irrelevant” given the fact they were cited as evidence in the disciplinary report.

Finally, the appellate court found  that Fillmore stated a claim related to the failure of the committee members to recuse themselves, and their prejudice in the case appeared evident because 1) “they personally examined none of the primary evidentiary materials”; 2) Cooper informed Fillmore the committee was told by superiors to find him guilty and to impose certain penalties; and 3) the committee “found him guilty and imposed precisely the penalties their superiors had ordered them to impose.”

Notably, the Court of Appeals stated, “It is true that, for purposes of constitutional due process, the liberty interests that state statutes create are ‘generally limited to freedom from restraint which imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life,’” citing Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 372 (1995). “That does not mean, however, that it is impossible for a state statute to create other, nonconstitutional rights for inmates, enforceable by mandamus.”

The circuit court’s order was affirmed in part and reversed in part; however, the Illinois Supreme Court granted a petition for leave to appeal on January 18, 2018, which remains pending.

See: Fillmore v. Taylor, 2017 Il App (4th) 160309, 80 N.E.3d 835 (Ill. App. Ct. 4th Dist. 2017), leave to appeal granted

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Related legal case

Fillmore v. Taylor