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MEDERA v. GRIFFIN

January 14, 2003

CARLOS MEDERA, #B-71886, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT GRIFFIN, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harry D. Leinenweber, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The plaintiff, a state prisoner, has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff claims that the defendants, two officers at the Stateville Correctional Center, violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights by retaliating against him for his grievances, by denying him due process and equal protection, and by subjecting him to cruel and unusual conditions of confinement.*fn1 For the reasons stated in this order, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

As preliminary matters, the court must address motions concerning the summary judgment briefs. The clerk is directed to terminate the defendants' motion for an extension in which to file a reply brief. That motion appears as a pending motion on the court's docket although it was previously granted by Minute Order of November 14, 2002. The defendants subsequently filed their reply brief. The defendants' motion, in the alternative, to strike the plaintiff's response to their motion for summary judgment is denied as moot. Although the plaintiff's brief was not in compliance with Local Rule 56.1 or the court's cautionary instructions, see Minute Order of September 3, 2002, the court has considered the plaintiff's response. Nevertheless, the plaintiff is advised for future reference that even pro se litigants must comply with basic filing requirements. The plaintiff's motion for leave to amend, which the court construes as a motion to supplement his opposing brief is granted. The court has taken into account the additional affidavit of inmate witness Luis Macedo.

Turning to the summary judgment motion itself, the standards governing such motions are familiar: summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Prime Northgate Plaza Ltd. Partnership v. Lifecare Acquisitions Corp., 985 F. Supp. 815, 817 (N.D. Ill. 1997). In determining whether factual issues exist, the court must view all the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Walker v. Northeast Regional Commuter Railroad Corp., 225 F.3d 895, 897 (7th Cir. 2000).

However, Rule 56(c) "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no `genuine issue for trial.'" Chiaramonte v. Fashion Bed Group, Inc., 129 F.3d 391, 393 (7th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 523 U.S. 1118 (1998).

Disputed facts are material if they might affect the outcome of the suit. First Ind. Bank v. Baker, 957 F.2d 506, 507-08 (7th Cir. 1992). The inquiry is essentially "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury, or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986) (citations omitted).

FACTS

The plaintiff is a state prisoner, confined at the Stateville Correctional Center at all times relevant to this action. (Complaint, p. 2, Section 1, "Plaintiff(s);" Defendants' Exhibit 13, "Inmate Occupancy History Inquiry.") The defendant Robert Griffin is a unit superintendent at Stateville. (Defendants' Exhibit 3, Affidavit of Robert Griffin, ¶ 5.) The defendant Peter King is a lieutenant at the prison. (Defendants' Exhibit 2, Affidavit of Peter King, ¶ 2.)

The following facts are uncontested for purposes of this motion (disputed facts are in bold print): On or about July 7, 2000, the plaintiff was placed in Stateville's Unit D, cell 333. (Complaint, p. 6.)*fn2 The light switch did not turn on the light in the cell. (Id.) The plaintiff went through the "chain of command," complaining to the named defendants and others that his overhead light did not work. (Id.)

The defendants maintain that, although the cell itself had no working light, large overhead light fixtures flooded the entire cell area with light. (Griffin Affidavit, ¶ 18.) Cell 333 has open bars which allow the overhead lights to illuminate the interior of the cell. (Id., ¶ 19; see also Defendants' Exhibits 16A and 16B, photographs of the area in question.) The plaintiff maintains, however, that his tier and cell were situated in such a way that ambient light in his cell was almost non-existent. (Defendants' Exhibit 1, Deposition of Carlos Medera, tr. at 17.)

Over seven months later, on February 18, 2001, the plaintiff filed a grievance complaining that the staff had failed to rectify the situation. (Id.; see also Unmarked Grievance attached to Complaint.) The counselor responded, "Per C/O Week, orders have been submitted and electrician notified. A/W Vinson contacted per Supt. Griffin; hopefully lighting will be restored in next 24 hours." (Id.)

On February 18, 2001, King allegedly went to the plaintiff's cell and said, "Look, you Spic, by you writing a grievance it will not make me fix your light." (Complaint, p. 6.) The plaintiff reported King's remarks to Griffin, who responded, "You are a Spic — you ain't no Caucasian." (Id.) Both Griffin and King have submitted affidavits denying that they ever referred to the plaintiff or any other inmate as a "Spic." See King Affidavit at ¶¶ 4-6; Griffin Affidavit, ¶¶ 6-9. The plaintiff, in turn, has submitted affidavits from fellow inmates confirming that the defendants routinely made disparaging, anti-Latino remarks. (Document numbers 41 and 42, Affidavits of Inmates Carlos Espinoza and Ella Gomez.)

On an unspecified date, the plaintiff wrote a follow-up note to his counselor. (Unmarked Exhibit to Complaint.) The plaintiff advised her that although the light was supposed to have been fixed within twenty-four hours, two more months had passed without any effort at repair. (Id.) The counselor forwarded the plaintiff's letter to Assistant Warden Vinson, adding the notation, "Can we get a light for this cell? It has been out since July 2000." (Id.) The plaintiff also apparently filed a second grievance regarding the inadequate lighting, which was denied as moot when he was moved to a different cell. (See complaint at p. 6; attached exhibits.)

After the plaintiff filed the second grievance, Vincent, Griffin and King went to his cell. Griffin purportedly told the plaintiff, "Listen, Spic, I am going to have you moved, but only after I hear from the Grievance Officer — and don't expect a better cell." (Complaint, pp. 6-7.)

On May 29, 2001, the plaintiff was placed in Cell 732 in the same unit. (Grievance Officer's Report, attached as Unmarked Exhibit to Complaint.) According to the defendants, Cell D-732 was not a "condemned" cell. (Griffin Affidavit, ¶ 21.) However, the plaintiff maintains that no one has been placed in the cell since he was housed there. The defendants further maintain that the cell's water worked "except for minor repairs and leaks from time to time." (Griffin Affidavit, ¶ 21.) The plaintiff and his cellmate, in contrast, assert that the cell had no water whatsoever. (Complaint, p. 7; see also Espinoza Affidavit, ¶ 2.) When the plaintiff complained to King, he supposedly said, "Spics do not have running water in Central America, so why should you expect water here?" (Complaint, p. 7; Espinoza Affidavit, ¶ 4.)

The plaintiff spent the summer months without running water and claims to have suffered from dehydration. (Complaint, p. 7.). However, while the plaintiff was confined in Cell D-732, he was able to drink water at least at meals and possibly in the exercise area. (Defendants' Exhibit 1, Deposition of Carlos Medera, tr. at 25-26.)*fn3 The plaintiff was also able to buy bottled water in the prison commissary and was permitted to shower once a week. (Grievance attached as Unmarked Exhibit to Complaint.) During the time period in question, the plaintiff had sufficient strength to play basketball and handball and lift weights. (Medera deposition, tr. at 25.)

The plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the lack of water on October 24, 2001. (Complaint, p. 7; Grievance attached as Unmarked Exhibit.) On October 28, 2001, the counselor denied the grievance as moot because the plaintiff had been moved to another cell, D-747. (Id.)

On September 4, 2001, the defendant King warned the plaintiff, "I am going to walk you to segregation as soon as I figure out a way." (Complaint, p. 7.)

Five days later, on September 9, 2001, the plaintiff was placed on investigative status and moved to administrative segregation. (Grievance Officer's Report, attached as Unmarked Exhibit to Complaint.) The plaintiff received no disciplinary ticket and claims to have broken no rules. (Complaint, p. 7.) However, an incident report dated September 9, 2001, written by an Officer Slaughter stated:

On the above date and appx. time c/o Terry informed this Investigator that he (Terry) observed Inmate Swift, R00632, digging in the mud in the D & C small yards. This Investigator and Major Quijano conducted a search of mentioned area and discovered two (2) metal rods; one appx. 5 1/2 inches in length and the other appx. 5 3/4 inches in length. During this search this Investigator observed inmate Swift exchange shoes with inmate Medera, ...

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