The opinion of the court was delivered by: MILTON I. SHADUR
Phillip Matthews ("Matthews") originally filed a self-prepared Complaint against five employees of the Illinois Department of Corrections under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). Matthews there charged that defendants violated his constitutional rights by depriving him of hot water in his cell at Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville") for a period of some seven months, throughout his entire time in I House (Stateville's segregation unit) from May 1991 until the time that Matthews filed his Complaint in December of that year. In accordance with its almost invariable practice when a pro se complaint meets the test of legal non-"frivolousness" defined in Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 104 L. Ed. 2d 338, 109 S. Ct. 1827 (1989) and further refined in Denton v. Hernandez, 118 L. Ed. 2d 340, 112 S. Ct. 1728, 1733-34 (1992), this Court then appointed counsel to represent Matthews on a pro bono publico basis.
All defendants have now filed a motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 12(c) for judgment on the pleadings. One aspect of their arguments is groundless, and the other--though it presents a closer question--fails to carry the day. Accordingly defendants' motion is denied for the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order.
Defendants get off on the wrong foot by quarreling with the inclusion, in the responsive memorandum filed by Matthews' appointed counsel, of any references to Matthews' deposition testimony. But that objection really misses the important distinction between a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss (which attacks only the sufficiency of an existing complaint and therefore allows the opportunity to cure any problem with that pleading) and a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings (which asserts that the complaint is flawed in such a way that it cannot be cured by repleading, so that defendants are entitled to a final judgment of dismissal of the action itself).
The federal courts have followed a fairly restrictive standard in ruling on motions for judgment on the pleadings. Although the motion may be helpful in disposing of cases in which there is no substantive dispute that warrants proceeding further, thereby easing crowded trial dockets, hasty or imprudent use of this summary procedure by the courts violates the policy in favor of ensuring to each litigant a full and fair hearing on the merits of his claim or defense. The importance of this policy has made federal judges unwilling to grant a motion under Rule 12(c) unless the movant clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the trial court is required to view the facts presented in the pleadings and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. In this fashion the courts hope to insure that the rights of the nonmoving party are decided as fully and fairly on a Rule 12(c) motion, as if there had been a trial.
Elaborating on that concept, Wright & Miller, id. at 524 (footnote and numerous citations omitted) goes on to say:
In addition to assuming the truthfulness of the factual allegations for purposes of the motion, all reasonable inferences and intendments from these facts are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party.
In this instance Matthews' complaint about his conditions in segregation says (1) that the absence of hot water in his cell continued for many months
and (2) that defendants refused to correct the situation despite numerous letters and oral and written requests by Matthews. As a result, Matthews says, he "cannot take a bath or do anything that he needs hot water for." Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 81 L. Ed. 2d 59, 104 S. Ct. 2229 (1984) teaches that under Rule 12(b)(6) (and the same principle applies with equal force for Rule 12(c) purposes):
A court may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.
Thus the complained-of deposition references in Matthews' memorandum do little more than to buttress the perfectly proper notice pleading in Matthews' Complaint with a more particularized factual presentation (something that is really not required in pleading terms, Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 122 L. Ed. 2d 517, 61 U.S.L.W. 4205, 4206-07, 113 S. Ct. 1160 (U.S. Mar. 3, 1993)).
But defendants' current motion is not limited to the baseless procedural point that has just been rejected. In substantive terms defendants urge that judgment on the pleadings is in order because they should be relieved from having to defend this lawsuit on qualified immunity grounds. In that respect they advance a twofold argument: that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to hot water in their cells, and that even if such a constitutional right exists it is not as "clearly established" as the qualified immunity doctrine requires.
For the former proposition defendants lean entirely on an extraordinarily weak reed, a brief statement in Mann v. Smith, 796 F.2d 79 (5th Cir. 1986). Mann was a lawsuit brought by a pretrial detainee at a county jail who complained of a host of conditions of his confinement. It requires only a quotation of everything that the Court of Appeals said about one of those claims--asserted the absence of hot water--to demonstrate how patently inapplicable it is to Matthews' case ( id. at 85):