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YOUNG v. WINNEBAGO COUNTY

United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois


March 21, 2003

YOUNG
v.
WINNEBAGO COUNTY, ET AL.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Phillip G. Reinhard, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

In a four-count amended complaint, plaintiff, Christopher E. Young, has sued defendants, the County of Winnebago ("County"), the Winnebago County Sheriff's Department and Richard Meyers, in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Winnebago County (collectively referred to as the "Sheriff"), Brian Klus, Robert Haenitsch, and Raymond Villaverde, for injuries he suffered while a pretrial detainee in the Winnebago County Jail ("Jail") when another inmate in his cell block assaulted him. Relevant to this order are Counts I, II, and W. Counts I and II are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, with Count I alleging Klus and Haenitsch, in their individual capacities as correctional officers at the Jail, were deliberately indifferent by failing to protect Young from the assault and Count II alleging the County and Sheriff had a policy or custom of inadequately training and supervising correctional officers like Klus and Haenitsch; Count IV is a state law claim against Klus, Haenitsch, and Villaverde for intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") based on the same facts. Jurisdiction and venue are proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 1367, 1391. Before the court is a joint motion for summary judgment by the County, the Sheriff, Klus, and Haenitsch (collectively referred to as the "County defendants"), filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

To sustain his deliberate indifference claim against Haenitsch and Klus in Count I, Young must show (1) the danger of him being assaulted posed a "substantial risk of serious harm" (of which there really is no doubt) and (2) the officers were deliberately indifferent to that danger. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); Langston v. Peters, 100 E.3d 1235, 1237 (7th Cir. 1996). Under the second prong, ordinary negligence is not enough; instead, Young must show the officers had actual knowledge of but disregarded an excessive risk to his health or safety. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837; Washington v. LaPorte County Sheriff's Dep't, 306 F.3d 515, 518 (7th Cir. 2002). Nevertheless, "prison officials who actually knew of a substantial risk to inmate health or safety are free from liability if they responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm ultimately was not averted, because in that case it cannot be said that they were deliberately indifferent" Peate v. McCann, 294 F.3d 879, 882 (7th Cir. 2002).

Viewing the facts and drawing all reasonable inferences in Young's favor, the details of the assault are as follows.*fn1 Sometime on September 28, 2000, Young was returned to his cell block after taking a shower in the observation unit, although it is unclear whether he was escorted by just Haenitsch or Haenitsch and Klus together. (LR 56.1(a) ¶ 28) Before actually entering the cell block, a prisoner is required to pass through a "sally port" or cage. The doors to the sally port, as well as to the cells themselves within that cell block, are controlled from inside the control room. The control room is immediately adjacent to the sally port and runs the length of the cell block, which is roughly U-shaped. The glass surrounding the control room is approximately three-quarters of an inch thick, making it virtually sound proof (Id. ¶¶ 15-16) While Haenitsch stood with Young outside the sally port, Klus opened the outside door to the sally port from within the control room. Young then walked inside the sally port and the outside door closed. (Id. ¶ 29)

Shortly before this, however, Ivery Washington, another inmate in Young's cell block with whom Young had a confrontation the day before, managed to escape from his cell so he could attack Young. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 27) Then, around the same time Young was locked in the sally port, Klus noticed Washington was outside of his cell.*fn2 While Klus was telling Washington to get back into his cell, which was located directly across from the sally port, he simultaneously began to open the inner sally port door to let Young in. (Id. ¶¶ 31-33; LR 56.1(b) ¶¶ 7, 9) Seeing his opportunity, Washington went for Young and attacked him. (LR 56.1(a) ¶ 35)

Even under Young's preferred version of events, the court does not see how a reasonable jury could find Haenitsch was deliberately indifferent. Oddly enough, Young testified in his deposition that Haenitsch left immediately after securing Young in the sally port and did not even see Washington before leaving. (Id. ¶¶ 30, 37) In response to the motion for summary judgment, however, Young seemingly discredits his own testimony and relies instead on Haenitsch's deposition testimony to show Haenitsch heard Young and Washington "trash talk" after Young was locked inside the sally port. (LR 56.1(b) ¶ 3) But even assuming Hacnitsch was there to hear the "trash talk," Young has not presented any evidence that Haenitsch could have done anything to stop the assault. Most importantly, it is undisputed it was Klus who was in the control room and who opened the inner sally port door. Haenitsch, on the other hand, was not in the control room when the inner door began opening and had no way to either stop it or open the outer door to let Young out. What's more, Haenitsch further testified (on the same page of his deposition that Young relies on) that as soon as he saw the two inmates trash talking, he went inside the control room to tell Klus not to open the inner sally port door. Unfortunately, he was too late as Klus had already started opening the door. (Def. Exh., Haenitsch dep., p. 92) Thus, aside from Young's unfounded speculation that Haenitsch conspired with Klus and Washington to set him up, there is simply no evidence that Haenitsch was deliberately indifferent to Young's safety.

The court also finds Klus is entitled to summary judgment. Although Klus was likely negligent and perhaps even grossly negligent for opening the inner sally port door before making sure Washington was fully secured inside his cell, this does not amount to deliberate indifference. See Washington, 306 F.3d at 518. To the contrary, Young himself cites Klus' deposition testimony that he (Klus) did not hear Young and Washington yelling at each other until after he had already begun opening the inner sally port door. (LR 56.1(b) ¶ 10) That, Klus testified, is when he "realized it was going to be a problem," so he tried to close the inner sally port door. (Id.) He was not able to do so, though, because the inmates were blocking the doorway. (LR 56.1(a) ¶ 33) Klus also was not able to open the outer sally port door because both doors to the sally port cannot be open at the same time. (Id. ¶ 16) So after he radioed for assistance, Klus sprayed mace into the sally port to break up the fight. (Id. ¶ 38) Thus, because it is undisputed Klus immediately tried to prevent the assault as soon as he realized what was happening, and then responded promptly and reasonably to break it up after it started, the court finds he was not deliberately indifferent.

For the same reasons discussed above, the court also dismisses the LIED claim against Klus and Haenitsch. Finally, because the court has found these two officers are not liable for the underlying substantive deliberate indifference claim, Young's Monell claim against the County and the Sheriff falls by the wayside. See Tesch v. County of Green Lake, 157 F.3d 465, 477 (7th Cir. 1998).

For the reasons stated above, the County defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted. Counts I, II, and IV against these defendants are dismissed with prejudice.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

In a four-count amended complaint, plaintiff, Christopher B. Young, has sued defendants, the County of Winnebago ("County"), the Winnebago County Sheriff's Department, Richard Meyers, in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Winnebago County, Brian Klus, Robert Haenitsch, and Raymond Villaverde, for injuries he suffered while a pretrial detainee in the Winnebago County Jail ("Jail") when another inmate in his cell block assaulted him. Relevant to this order are Counts III and IV brought against Villaverde in his individual capacity as a physician's assistant at the Jail. Count III is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleges Villaverde was deliberately indifferent to Young's serious medical needs when he was taken to the infirmary after the assault; Count IV is a state law claim against Klus, Heanitsch, and Villaverde for intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") based on the same facts. Jurisdiction and venue are proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 1367, 1391. Before the court is Villaverde's motion for summary judgment, filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

From what the court can make of Young's amended complaint and cursory two-page memorandum in response to Villaverde's motion for summary judgment, the sole basis for his claims against Villaverde is his treatment of a small cut underneath Young's chin. These claims, however, can be dismissed without much discussion. First, as to Young's § 1983 claim, by no stretch can the cut be considered a "serious medical need," see Chapman v. Keltner, 241 F.3d 842. 845 (7th Cir. 2001) (first prong of pretrial detainee's deliberate indifference claim under § 1983 is to show he suffered from an "objectively serious injury or medical need"), as Young cannot dispute it was a superficial laceration, no more than three-quarters of a centimeter long, with minimal bleeding, and producing a scar no bigger than the tip of Young's pinky finger, which cannot even be seen unless he tilts his head back. (LR 56.1(a) ¶¶ 17, 40) At the same time, there is absolutely no evidence that Villaverde was deliberately indifferent to Young's cut — that he was subjectively aware of Young's serious medical needs and "disregarded an excessive risk that a lack of treatment posed" to Young's health. Perkins v. Lawson, 312 F.3d 872, 876 (7th Cir. 2002) (internal quotations and citations omitted). To the contrary, the evidence is again undisputed Villaverde treated Young for his wounds, including the cut under his chin, prescribed a course of treatment for him, and saw him the next day, during which time he again examined Young, cleaned and dressed the wound, and recommended he see a dentist for some loose teeth. (LR 56.1(a) ¶¶ 18, 33-34) Far from exhibiting deliberate indifference, Villaverde attended to all of Young's medical needs. He may not have done so in the way Young wanted or believed was appropriate (Young insisted the cut needed stitches and a referral to an outside medical facility; instead, Villaverde treated it with a "steri strip," which he recommended be changed once a day for three days), but a mere disagreement with a prescribed course of treatment does not amount to deliberate indifference. See Snipes v. DeTella, 95 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1126 (1997). For the same reasons, the court dismisses the IIED claim against Villaverde.

For the reasons stated above, Villaverde's motion for summary judgment is granted. Counts III and IV against this defendant are dismissed with prejudice.


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