United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, E.D
January 27, 1982
DALE E. WALKER; SHARON D. PATCHETT; MELBA JEAN THOMAS AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM N. THOMAS, DECEASED; DANNY DILL; NATALIE DILL; SANDRA N. COLE AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF STANLEY E. COLE, DECEASED; ROBERT CONKLE AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT J. CONKLE, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS,
CHARLES ROWE, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; THADDEUS PINCKNEY, FORMER WARDEN, PONTIAC CORRECTIONAL CENTER; DAVID SANDALL AND WILLIAM O'SULLIVAN, FORMER ASSISTANT WARDENS, PONTIAC CORRECTIONAL CENTER, WILLIAM SHEHORN; LOUIS LOWERY, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Aspen, District Judge:
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs are three former correctional officers, one of
their wives and three administrators of the estates of
correctional officers who died in an inmate riot at the
Pontiac Correctional Center on July 22, 1978. Plaintiffs'
cause of action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the
theory that various state corrections officials deprived them
of their constitutional rights by failing to take action to
prevent the July 22, 1978, riot and its tragic consequences.
Defendant William O'Sullivan, former assistant warden at the
correctional center and defendants William Shehorn and Louis
Lowery, former correctional officers at Pontiac, have moved to
dismiss this claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and
failure to state a claim upon which relief
Page 57(b)(1) and (6).
may be granted.*fn1 Fed.R.Civ.P. 12
Plaintiffs' complaint seeks redress for defendants' alleged
failure to take steps to control, if not prevent, the violence
which occurred at the Pontiac Correctional Center on July 22,
1978. Although the complaint contains 29 separate allegations,
the thrust of plaintiffs' claim involves defendants' failure
to warn plaintiffs of an impending prison disturbance, to
operate, equip and maintain the Pontiac facility in a safe
manner in the months preceding the riot, to provide adequate
training and supervision of prison personnel, and to
promulgate and enforce sufficient safety rules in the prison
as required by state law. Taken as true for purposes of this
motion, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594,
595-96, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972), these facts do state a claim for
which relief can be granted as to defendant O'Sullivan. For the
reasons stated below, however, this Court holds that
plaintiffs' complaint does not state a claim for which relief
can be granted as to defendants Shehorn or Lowery.
Defendants argue as a threshold matter that the Court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction over this case because the
Illinois Workmen's Compensation Act, Ill.Rev. Stat. 1979 ch.
48, § 138.1 et seq., is the exclusive remedy for all employee
claims arising out of deaths or injuries incurred in the course
of employment. The state statute upon which defendants rely,
however, does not and could not preclude the vindication of
plaintiffs' constitutional rights in a federal forum.*fn2 See
Hutchings v. Erie City and County Library Board of Directors,
516 F. Supp. 1265, 1272-73 (W.D.Pa. 1981). State law cannot
immunize the conduct of those persons who, acting under color
of law, allegedly deprive others of their constitutional
rights. Cf. Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 284 n.8, 100
S.Ct. 553, 558 n.8, 62 L.Ed.2d 481 (1980); McLaughlin v.
Tilendis, 398 F.2d 287, 290 (7th Cir. 1968). In light of the
wide disparity between the breadth of plaintiffs' damage claims
herein and the limited damages award provided in the Illinois
Workmen's Compensation Act, Ill.Rev.Stat. 1979 ch. 48, §
138.8(b)(2) and (4.2), the effect of dismissal on this ground
would leave plaintiffs without an adequate remedy for the
alleged deprivation of their constitutional rights.
The essence of this action is that defendants' failure to
control the situation at Pontiac deprived plaintiffs of life
and liberty without due process of law as guaranteed by the
fourteenth amendment. The question of whether such an
allegation of wrongful inaction rises to the constitutional
dimension necessary to ground a § 1983 cause of action was
addressed by the Supreme
Court in Martinez.*fn3 As made clear in Martinez, not every
injury resulting directly or indirectly from the conduct of
state officials is actionable under § 1983. 444 U.S. at 281,
100 S.Ct. at 557. See also Williams v. Kelley, 624 F.2d 695,
697 (5th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 1019, 101 S.Ct.
3009, 69 L.Ed.2d 391 (1981); Withers v. Levine,
615 F.2d 158, 162 (4th Cir. 1980). The alleged commission of a state law
tort, for example, will gain federal cognizance under § 1983
only when the conduct complained of is particularly egregious.
Williams, supra. See Van Horn v. Lukhard, 392 F. Supp. 384, 387
However, even if defendants' conduct herein constituted
nothing more than mere negligence, this conclusion alone does
not mandate the dismissal of this § 1983 action as a matter of
law. See Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 101 S.Ct. 1908,
1912-13, 68 L.Ed.2d 420 (1981). Moreover, the causal
relationship between defendants' failure to act and plaintiffs'
damages, although indirect, is not so remote as to require this
Court as a matter of law to grant defendants' motions to
dismiss.*fn4 Cf. Spence v. Staras, 507 F.2d 554, 557 (7th Cir.
1974). The consequence of state officials' failure to act when
they had an affirmative duty to do so under state law is
sufficient to support a valid § 1983 claim. Arnold v. IBM,
637 F.2d 1350, 1355-56 (9th Cir. 1981); Clappier v. Flynn,
605 F.2d 519, 533 (10th Cir. 1979); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740,
743-44 (9th Cir. 1978); Sims v. Adams, 537 F.2d 829, 831-32
(5th Cir. 1976).
The critical question of law relevant to these motions to
dismiss, therefore, is whether any of the moving defendants
had a constitutionally cognizable duty to plaintiffs to take
affirmative steps to prevent or control the disturbance at the
Pontiac Correctional Center on July 22, 1978.*fn5 The
existence of any affirmative duties owed these plaintiffs can
be identified by examining the nature of the relationship
between the parties involved. Although the exact nature of the
relationship between plaintiffs and defendant O'Sullivan is
not made clear in any of the papers filed before the Court, we
are not prepared to
hold on this record that the assistant warden of the Pontiac
facility does not, as a matter of law, owe any affirmative
duty to the correctional officers serving that prison. Indeed,
at common law, the "special relationship" between an employee
and his superiors imposes upon those superiors the duty to
protect employees from the reasonably foreseeable attacks of
third persons.*fn6 See generally Hosein v. Checker Taxi Co.,
95 Ill. App.3d 150, 154, 50 Ill.Dec. 460, 419 N.E.2d 568 (1st
Dist. 1981); Willie Cross v. Chicago Housing Authority, 74 Ill. App.3d 921,
925, 30 Ill.Dec. 544, 393 N.E.2d 580 (1st Dist.
1979); Whalen v. Lang, 71 Ill. App.3d 83, 85, 27 Ill.Dec. 324,
389 N.E.2d 10 (3d Dist. 1979); Restatement (Second) of Torts, §
302B Comment e(B), 314A Comment A (1965). Whether defendant
O'Sullivan satisfied such an obligation or whether his alleged
inaction was so egregious under the circumstances that this
claim rises to the level of a constitutional deprivation are
factual questions which are more appropriately resolved on a
motion for summary judgment or at trial.
The relationship between plaintiffs and defendants Shehorn
and Lowery, fellow correctional officers at Pontiac, on the
other hand, is not sufficient as a matter of law to support a
§ 1983 claim. Plaintiffs have not identified and this Court
will not imply any affirmative duty on these defendants in the
absence of the kind of special relationship between the parties
required by state tort law. See Fancil v. Q.S.E. Foods, Inc.,
60 Ill.2d 552, 559-60, 328 N.E.2d 538 (1975); Rstmt. (Second)
of Torts, § 314A (1965). A relationship between parties which
does not support a tort claim under state law cannot support a
§ 1983 claim for which relief can be granted. As a practical
matter, imposing on those defendants a legal duty to warn all
other correctional officers every time a rumor of disturbance
arises in the prison would almost certainly result in more
confusion than caution.
For the foregoing reasons, the motions by defendants Shehorn
and Lowery are granted and the motion by defendant O'Sullivan
to be dismissed from this action is denied. It is so ordered.