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Dixon v. Godinez

May 20, 1997




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 93 C 5151 Ann C. Williams, Judge.

Before BAUER, EASTERBROOK, and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

BAUER, Circuit Judge.


DECIDED MAY 20, 1997

Anthony Dixon, a state prisoner, sued several officials at Stateville Correctional Center, claiming that the conditions of his confinement in the prison's protective custody wing violated the Eighth Amendment. 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983. Dixon claimed that his cell became so cold each winter that ice formed on the walls and he could see his breath, while inadequate ventilation made the air stagnant and fetid in summer. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the ground that the cold and poor ventilation were not serious enough to state a constitutional claim. We affirm the grant of summary judgment on the inadequate ventilation claim, and reverse on the claim of extreme cold.


Anthony Dixon is an Illinois prisoner incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center. Defendants concede that because of threats of gang retaliation, he requires housing in the prison's protective custody wing. Stateville's protective custody wings have three stories of twelve cells each. During the period which this complaint covers, from December, 1990 through December, 1993, Dixon was assigned to several different cells on the lower floors of H-Wing. According to Dixon's complaint and deposition, supplemented by affidavits from several other prisoners, the rooftop central heating system does not adequately force air down through the ventilation system. The result is that, in wintertime, the third floor is too hot while the two lower floors are too cold. When the heat is on, the walls "sweat" and, as the temperature becomes colder, the water freezes on the walls. The basic clothing which officials issue to each prisoner who enters the system includes long underwear, a cap, gloves, and a jacket. *fn1 Each prisoner also has two sheets and a blanket. Dixon asserted that this clothing was insufficient to keep his extremities from getting freezing cold while he sits in his cell, and made it impossible to write or do legal work. He conceded that it was possible to sleep despite the cold if he bundled up in all the clothing issued to him. *fn2 Requests for space heaters and extra blankets went unfulfilled, though Dixon maintains that favored prisoners occasionally did receive space heaters. Defendants submitted no evidence refuting either the allegation that ice regularly forms on cell walls in winter, or that the average temperature was forty degrees.

In early 1994 Dixon, proceeding pro se, filed the instant lawsuit against Salvador Godinez, the warden at Stateville; *fn3 Thomas Roth, Godinez' predecessor as warden; Dennis Jennings, the manager of Stateville's protective custody unit; and Theopolis Smith, Jennings' predecessor. Dixon claimed that the conditions of his confinement violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment. Judge Williams declined to appoint counsel for him. After limited discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion, ruling that conditions at Stateville did not violate the Constitution.



Prison conditions may be harsh and uncomfortable without violating the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Farmer v. Brennan, 114 S. Ct. 1970, 1977 (1994). Prisoners are, however, entitled to "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities," including adequate shelter. Id. For this reason, prisoners have a right to protection from extreme cold. Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1433 (7th Cir. 1996); Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 720-21 (7th Cir. 1995) (per curiam). In the case at bar, the district court found that the heat provided to Dixon's cell was "clearly inadequate," and a problem of "long standing." Nonetheless, the court found that the cold cell was not constitutionally inadequate, first because the clothing and blanket provided adequate protection from the cold, and second because Dixon alleged only cold, rather than cold in combination with other intolerable conditions, such as inadequate plumbing, broken windows, cells infested by pests, or overcrowding. We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, with the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom viewed in the light most favorable to Dixon, the non-movant. Plair v. E.J. Brach & Sons, Inc., 105 F.3d 343, 346 (7th Cir. 1997).

The defendants' main argument on appeal is that the cold was not sufficiently serious to amount to an Eighth Amendment violation. They note, correctly, that in several Eighth Amendment cases, the successful litigant was not only exposed to cold, but also lacked alternative means of keeping warm. See, e.g., Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1433 (7th Cir. 1996) (no blankets to combat cold); Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 720-21 (7th Cir. 1995) (no clothes, bed, or bedclothing in mid-November); Del Raine v. Williford, 32 F.3d 1024, 1031 (no clothing, broken window, and wind chill forty degrees below zero); Henderson v. DeRobertis, 940 F.2d 1055 (7th Cir. 1991) (malfunctioning heating system, broken window, subzero air temperature). Dixon, in contrast, had a blanket, while his standard-issue clothing included long underwear, jacket, cap, and gloves.

The question, however, is not simply whether the inmate had some alternative means of warmth, but whether the alternative was adequate to combat the cold. See Antonelli, 81 F.3d at 1431. Moreover, it is not just the severity of the cold, but the duration of the condition, which determines whether the conditions of confinement are unconstitutional. In Del Raine, for example, the most extreme exposure lasted only as long as it took to conduct a strip search, but the cold was brutal. 32 F.3d at 1031. In Henderson, the inmate plaintiffs had standard-issue prison clothing and bedclothes, but were not issued extra blankets, winter coats, or additional shirts during a four-day period when the temperature plummeted below zero and the prison heating system malfunctioned. 940 F.2d at 1057-60. In Murphy, the prisoner lacked clothing and bedclothing; the cold was less severe than in Del Raine or Henderson, but the deprivation persisted for a week. 51 F.3d at 720-21. A condition which might not ordinarily violate the Eighth Amendment may nonetheless do so if it persists over an extended period of time. Antonelli, 81 F.3d at 1431. The conditions which Dixon had to endure were clearly not as severe as those in Murphy, Del Raine, or Henderson. Unlike those cases, however, the cold of which Dixon complains persisted for months, winter after winter. Like the plaintiffs in Henderson, Dixon had standard-issue prison clothing and a blanket, which he maintains were ...

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