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Sorrentino v. Godinez

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 23, 2015

JOSEPH SORRENTINO and LABRON C. NEAL, on their own behalf and on behalf of all similarly situated people, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
SALVADOR A. GODINEZ, Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, Defendant-Appellee

Argued September 10, 2014

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 12 C 6757 -- Thomas M. Durkin, Judge.

Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and EASTERBROOK and TINDER, Circuit Judges.


Page 411

Wood, Chief Judge.

Joseph Sorrentino and Labron C. Neal are inmates at Illinois's Stateville Correctional Center. They purchased several items from Stateville's commissary, but the prison later forbade inmates to possess those items in their cells. Sorrentino and Neal were among those whose property was removed, as the new rule required. They responded by filing a proposed class action in the district court, alleging that

Page 412

the confiscation of their property was an unconstitutional taking and a breach of contract. We conclude that the district court was correct to dismiss the action, though the dismissal should have been without prejudice.


The district court concluded that Sorrentino and Neal failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and thus that dismissal with prejudice was appropriate. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). It took no action on class certification. Our fresh assessment of the case relies on the facts that they set forth in their complaint, including all reasonable inferences in their favor. See Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008). Our review is de novo. Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 665 (7th Cir. 2013).

Our two plaintiffs purchased goods from Stateville's commissary throughout 2011 and 2012. Around May 25, 2011, Neal purchased a fan and signed a " personal property contract," which obligated him to follow all Department of Corrections (DOC) rules related to use, ownership, and possession of the fan. Sorrentino purchased a typewriter on November 29, 2011, and a fan on March 27, 2012. He also signed a personal property contract for his fan.

At the time Neal and Sorrentino made their purchases, Stateville allowed inmates to keep typewriters and multiple fans in their cells. It changed the fan policy in July 2012, and memorialized that action in a bulletin that Warden Marcus Hardy issued on July 17, 2012. The bulletin announced that henceforth inmates were prohibited from possessing more than one fan in their cells. On July 23, 2012, Hardy issued a similar bulletin altogether prohibiting typewriters in cells. The new policy offered several options for inmates who owned the newly prohibited types of property. Inmates with typewriters could have them destroyed; give them to visitors; ship them to someone outside the prison at no cost; store them in " offender personal property," which is returned to inmates upon release from prison; or donate them to the prison library. Extra fans were simply placed in storage as " offender personal property."

Prison officials removed both plaintiffs' fans on July 16, 2012, and Sorrentino's typewriter sometime after July 23, 2012. The fans are currently in storage, and Sorrentino's typewriter is in the prison library. Although the complaint and briefs did not clearly indicate that Sorrentino voluntarily gave the typewriter to the library, at oral argument counsel stated that he opted to donate it (given his restricted range of choice).

Some time later, Sorrentino and Neal filed this suit, on behalf of themselves and an alleged class. (Unless the context requires otherwise, we will refer only to Sorrentino in the remainder of this opinion, for the sake of simplicity. The district court took no action on the class allegations and they are not mentioned on appeal; we thus do not discuss that aspect of the case.) The complaint alleged violations of the Takings and Contracts Clauses of the Constitution as well as a breach of contract; plaintiffs sought monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief. After Director Godinez filed a motion to dismiss, Sorrentino withdrew the claim for breach of contract to the extent it sought damages. The district court then dismissed the entire action, finding that the Eleventh Amendment barred claims for ...

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