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SHEFFEY v. GREER

United States District Court, Eastern District of Illinois


March 25, 1975

KENNETH R. SHEFFEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LIEUTENANT GREER, OFFICIAL OF ILLINOIS STATE PENITENTIARY, MENARD, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Foreman, District Judge:

ORDER

This case is presently before the Court on the Motion of the defendant to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 12(b)(6)).

Plaintiff, a prisoner at the Illinois State Penitentiary, Menard, Illinois, has filed a suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendant, a prison guard, struck him in the face and thereby violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by subjecting plaintiff to cruel and unusual punishment without due process of law. Plaintiff seeks $50,000 compensatory damages for superficial facial injuries and $750,000 punitive damages.

Viewing the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and admitting as true all well pleaded facts, as the Court is required to do for the purposes of this motion, Carroll v. Morrison Hotel Corp., 149 F.2d 404, 406 (7th Cir. 1945), this Court is unable to see in defendant's alleged actions the degree of wrong-doing which would bring his conduct under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Not every action that constitutes a state law tort of assault, even when it is committed under the color of state law, is sufficient in and of itself to show a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Kent v. Prasse, 385 F.2d 406, 407 (3rd Cir. 1967); Davidson v. Dixon, 386 F. Supp. 482, 487 (D.Del. 1974). In order to recover on a § 1983 claim, it is necessary for the plaintiff to show intentional conduct by one acting under color of state law which subjected him to the deprivation of rights, privileges, or immunities secured to him by the Constitution and laws of the United States, Kish v. County of Milwaukee, 441 F.2d 901, 904 (7th Cir. 1971); Basista v. Weir, 340 F.2d 74, 79 (3rd Cir. 1965); Davidson, supra, 386 F. Supp. at 487. The fact that a prisoner is assaulted or injured ". . . by state officials does not necessarily mean that he is deprived of any right protected or secured by the Constitution of laws of the United States," Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 108-109, 65 S.Ct. 1031, 1039, 89 L.Ed. 1495 (1945).*fn1

"The management by a few guards of large numbers of prisoners, not usually the most gentle or tractable of men and women, may require the occasional use of a degree of intentional force. Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chambers, violates a person's constitutional rights," Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028, 1033 (2d Cir. 1973), cert. denied in 414 U.S. 1033, 94 S.Ct. 462, 38 L.Ed.2d 32 (1973). To support liability, this Court believes the acts challenged must do more than offend some fastidious squeamishness or private sentimentalism. They must shock the conscience, Rochin v. California,*fn2 324 U.S. 165, 172, 72 S.Ct. 205, 96 L.Ed. 183 (1952), or constitute force that is "brutal", 342 U.S. at 174, 72 S.Ct. 205. "Thus, a plaintiff must show more than that he has suffered an intentional tort at the hands of a defendant who was acting under color of state law; he must prove acts which amount to shocking or brutal conduct," Davidson v. Dixon, 386 F. Supp. 482, 488 (D.Del. 1974).

Here, plaintiff, who filed his complaint within "a half hour after the initial incident occured [sic]" (plaintiff's complaint, page two), has alleged suffering "superficial facial damages" (complaint, page two) due to the single blow of defendant. A single punch in the face by a prison guard does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, Fisher v. Turner, 335 F. Supp. 577, 579 (D.Utah, 1972); Cullum v. California Department of Corrections, 267 F. Supp. 524 (N.D.Cal. 1967). Although a spontaneous attack by a guard is "cruel" and it is hoped "unusual," it does not fit any ordinary concept of punishment, Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028, 1032 (2d Cir. 1973), cert. denied in 414 U.S. 1033, 94 S.Ct. 462, 38 L.Ed.2d 32 (1973). Nor is such an assault sufficient to establish a violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Foster v. Jacob, 297 F. Supp. 299 (C.D.Cal. 1969).

This Court is of the opinion that plaintiff's complaint does not meet the test, enunciated above, which would raise the degree of wrong-doing involved up to a deprivation of a federally guaranteed right, i.e., the act challenged is not one which involves shocking or brutal conduct.

"Alleged assaults by state prison officials, without any showing of a constitutional violation, are matters for consideration of internal prison discipline of interest solely to the state and actionable, if at all, in the state courts," Cole v. Smith, 344 F.2d 721 (8th Cir. 1965). The general standard is that only in exceptional circumstances will a federal court interfere with matters that involve the internal management of a state prison, Butler v. Bensinger, 377 F. Supp. 870, 875 (N.D.Ill. 1974); United States ex rel. Lee v. People of the State of Illinois, 343 F.2d 120, 121 (7th Cir. 1965). Since plaintiff has failed to allege any violation of his constitutional rights, his complaint based upon 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must be dismissed.

For the reasons stated herein defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted is hereby granted and this case is accordingly dismissed.

It is so ordered.


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