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MITCHELL v. SHOMIG

March 20, 1997

ANTHONY MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES H. SHOMIG, VERA COLEMAN, and MR. BURNS, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GETTLEMAN

 Plaintiff Anthony Mitchell brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking damages for the conditions of his confinement in I-House segregation unit at the Stateville Correctional Center. Named as defendants are assistant warden James H. Schomig, *fn1" unit manager Vera Coleman, and correctional officer Donald Burns. Before the court is defendants Burns and Schomig's motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and the state's request to dismiss defendant Coleman pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m) for want of timely service.

 Mitchell alleges defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by exposing him to extreme cold while confined in a segregation cell during December 1995. According to the complaint, the temperature in Mitchell's cell ranged down to between 32 and 50 degrees. Mitchell attributes the lack of heat to the placement of his cell at the end of the gallery and improperly installed windows that allowed cold air to blow into the cell. Mitchell claims the cold air caused his extremities to go numb and prevented him from sleeping. The only way for him to stay warm was to wear extra clothing and wrap himself up in his mattress. Mitchell avers each defendant failed to take any remedial action when he informed them of the conditions in his cell. Defendant Burns informed Mitchell that he could not be moved because no other cells were available.

 Contending the allegations do not state a claim for relief under the Eighth Amendment, defendants Burns and Schomig move to dismiss the complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). They also argue that Mitchell cannot hold them liable in their personal capacities because he fails to sufficiently allege their personal involvement in the claim and that the claim against them in their official capacities must be dismissed as barred by the eleventh amendment. Finally, defendants urge the court to dismiss the complaint for Mitchell's failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by Section 803 of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) ("PLRA"), amending 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Before addressing these defenses, however, the court reviews the standards governing a motion to dismiss.

 Dismissal for failure to state a claim is proper only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957). When deciding a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all of plaintiff's well pleaded factual allegations. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90, 94 S. Ct. 1683 (1974); Zarnes v. Rhodes, 64 F.3d 285, 289 (7th Cir. 1995). In construing those well pleaded factual allegations, the court must give plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference that may be drawn from the facts. Powe v. City of Chicago, 664 F.2d 639, 642 (7th Cir.1981). The liberality accorded the complaint is even more pronounced where, as here, plaintiff is proceeding without the benefit of an attorney. Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1427 (7th Cir. 1996).

 Defendants contend that the conditions alleged in the complaint are not so objectively harsh as to give rise to a claim of cruel and unusual punishment. Arguing that prisoners cannot expect all the amenities and services of a good hotel, they assert that the inconvenience of having to wear an extra jacket during the winter months is not enough to give rise to an actionable Eighth Amendment claim. With rhetorical flourish, defendants' counsel asks, "During the winter, who one of us has not experienced cold hands and feet or needed an extra blanket in our homes when the wind is howling at our window?" Such bombast is inappropriate here. The court is obligated to draw all reasonable inferences from the facts in favor of plaintiff, not defendants. The court has little difficulty in concluding that defendants violated Mitchell's Eighth Amendment rights if, as he intimates, they exposed him for an extended period to temperatures hovering around 50 degrees or colder.

 The Eighth Amendment imposes upon prison officials the duty to "provide humane conditions of confinement; [they] must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care...." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832, 128 L. Ed. 2d 811, 114 S. Ct. 1970 (1994). The right to adequate shelter encompasses the right to adequate heat. See Henderson v. DeRobertis, 940 F.2d 1055, 1059 (7th Cir. 1991), cert denied, 503 U.S. 966, 118 L. Ed. 2d 220, 112 S. Ct. 1578 (1992). Allegations that defendants confined an inmate in a bitterly cold cell with broken windows is enough to support "an inference that prison officials failed to provide adequate heat and shelter." Del Raine v. Williford, 32 F.3d 1024, 1035 (7th Cir. 1994); see also Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 721 (7th Cir. 1995) (confinement in cold cell without clothes and heat for a week and a half in middle of November states claim); Lewis v. Lane, 816 F.2d 1165, 1171 (7th Cir. 1987) (claim that prison administrators allowed cell temperatures to fall at times to between 52 and 54 degrees during December and January remanded for further proceedings). Although defendants attempt to impugn the veracity of Mitchell's claim by noting his failure to allege any significant injury, Del Raine makes clear that the Eighth Amendment requires protection from severe discomfort as well as frostbite and hypothermia. 32 F.3d at 1035. Mitchell's allegations of severe discomfort are sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss.

 Defendants further contend that Mitchell's allegation that defendants failed to act despite personal knowledge of the conditions in his cell is insufficient to establish either the deliberate indifference required by the subjective prong of the Eighth Amendment or the personal involvement required to establish individual liability generally. Gentry v. Duckworth, 65 F.3d 555 (7th Cir. 1995) set out the causation test:

 
To recover damages under § 1983, a plaintiff must establish that a defendant was personally responsible for the deprivation of a constitutional right.... An official satisfies the personal responsibility requirement of section 1983 . . . if the conduct causing the constitutional deprivation occurs at his direction or with his knowledge and consent. That is, he must know about the conduct and facilitate it, approve it, condone it, or turn a blind eye....

 Id. at 561 (citations and internal quotations omitted). Mitchell alleges that he informed defendants of the conditions in his cell, that they were in a position to alleviate those conditions, and that they refused to take any action. *fn2" These allegations are plainly enough to establish defendants' personal responsibility for the conditions of Mitchell's cell under Gentry.

 As defendants point out, Mitchell must not only allege facts linking defendants personally to the conditions of his cell, but also allege facts evidencing a deliberate indifference to those conditions. A claim of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment requires a specific intent as well as a showing of exposure to an objectively serious risk of substantial harm. That specific intent is one of deliberate indifference, which the Supreme Court has defined as follows:

 
[A] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.

 Defendants, however, are not subject to liability in their official capacities. Mitchell concedes that the doctrine of sovereign immunity bars the official capacity claims. The court therefore ...


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