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TOMA v. COUNTY OF KANE

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois


April 30, 2004.

DAVID TOMA, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF KANE, et al., Defendants

The opinion of the court was delivered by: MILTON SHADUR, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

David Toma ("Toma") brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") action against Kane County Sheriff Kenneth Ramsey ("Ramsey"), Sergeant Wayne Gordon ("Gordon") and Sergeant Wayne Carter ("Carter"), asserting a violation of his constitutional rights.*fn1 Toma alleges that he was attacked by fellow inmates when he was a pretrial detainee at the Kane County Jail and that Ramsey, Gordon and Carter had been aware of the threat to Toma's safety but did nothing to prevent the attack. Toma also contends that Ramsey should be held responsible in his official capacity as Sheriff because, according to Toma, it was Sheriff's Office policy to deny all requests for transfer — even where a prisoner's safety was in jeopardy — because the jail was just too crowded to accommodate such requests.

All defendants jointly moved for summary judgment and complied with this Court's LR 56.1.*fn2 For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, their motion is granted and this action is dismissed.

  Summary Judgment Standards

  Familiar Rule 56 principles impose on movants Ramsey, Gordon and Carter the burden of establishing the lack of a genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). For that purpose this Court must "consider the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party . . . and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor" (Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002)). Pugh v. City of Attica, 259 F.3d 619, 625 (7th Cir. 2001) has explained the test for summary judgment by echoing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986):

A genuine issue of triable fact exists only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."
  As with any summary judgment motion, this Court views all disputed facts in Toma's favor and accepts his version of events, but only so long as there is supporting evidence in the record. Because Toma has not separately submitted any record evidence, what follows was culled from the record as provided by defendants.

  Background

  On August 15, 1999 Toma had an altercation with fellow inmate Robert Moore ("Moore"), in consequence of which Toma was placed in a segregated cell for a few days (Toma Dep. 8). When Toma was released from segregation, prison officials assigned him to cell block 161 (id. 10).

  Toma feared that other members of Moore's gang that occupied cell block 161 planned to beat him up, so he asked two corrections officers Gordon and Carter to reassign him to a different cell block (Toma Dep. 6-7). Every day for at least 20 days Toma told Gordon and Carter that other inmates had threatened to beat him up because of gang affiliation (id. 7-8). But, because he was concerned that he would be in an even worse situation if he were to rat on other inmates, he never gave Gordon or Carter any specific information (such as who had threatened him or with which gang they were affiliated (id. 26). Neither Gordon or Carter ever responded to Toma's requests, other than to say that the jail was too crowded to move him to a different cell block (id. 25).

  On the early morning of September 23, 1999 Toma's fears came true — he was jumped by two fellow inmates of cell block 161 (Ex. 7 at 2). Not long after the incident Carter came around to pick up breakfast trays and discovered a bloodied Toma, whom Carter immediately took to the infirmary. Toma timely filed this Section 1983 action on September 18, 2001 to recover for the injuries he sustained that day back in September 1999.

  Individual-Capacity Liability

  All defendants recognize that Section 1983 prohibits jail officials from acting with deliberate indifference toward a prisoner's safety (Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835-39 (1994)).*fn3 But Gordon, Carter and Ramsey correctly maintain that they cannot be found to be deliberately indifferent unless they had actual knowledge of a specific threat to Toma's safety: To survive summary judgment, Toma must point to some evidence that raises a genuine issue as to whether Gordon, Carter or Ramsey had "actual knowledge of impending harm easily preventable, so that a conscious, culpable refusal to prevent the harm can be inferred from the defendant's failure to prevent it" (McGill v. Duckworth, 944 F.2d 344, 348 (7th Cir. 1991); see also Butera v. Cottey, 285 P.3d 601, 605 (7th Cir. 2002)).

  Toma falls well short on that score. Although he may have told Gordon and Carter every day about threats to his safety from unspecified "other inmates," he admits that he never gave them the names of prisoners who were threatening him, nor did he even identify a gang to which they belonged (Ex. 1 at 7, 25). Instead he simply voiced generalized concerns to Gordon and Carter, apparently expecting them to fill in the blanks.*fn4 Without their having received any such specific information, so that they could have taken preventive measures to protect Toma against identified perils, it cannot be said that Gordon or Carter acted with deliberate indifference to Toma's safety.

  Toma might perhaps argue that the guards should have removed him from the general population when he voiced his nonspecific concerns for his own safety. Indeed, it might be thought in hindsight that protective custody designation would have been a sensible step to take under the circumstances.*fn5 But Gordon, Carter and Ramsey may not be held liable for failing to choose that option. As Frake v. City of Chicago, 210 F.3d 779, 782 (7th Cir. 2000) explains:

A defendant is not, however, required to guarantee the detainee's safety. The existence or possibility of other better policies which might have been used does not necessarily mean that the defendant was being deliberately indifferent.
Without any evidence to show, or to raise a reasonable inference, that Gordon, Carter and Ramsey had knowledge of a specific threat to which a specific protective response was appropriate, Toma's Section 1983 individual capacity claims fail as a matter of law.

  Ramsey in His Official Capacity

  Toma's lawsuit against Ramsey in his official capacity must be understood for what it really is — a suit against the Kane County Sheriff's Office. McMillian v. Monroe County, 520 U.S. 781, 785 n.2 (1997) (internal quotation marks, brackets and citations omitted) makes that plain:

We have explained that a suit against a governmental officer in his official capacity is the same as a suit against the entity of which the officer is an agent, and that victory in such an official-capacity suit imposes liability on the entity that the officer represents.
And Gable v. City of Chicago, 296 F.3d 531, 537 (7th Cir. 2002) lists three alternative showings that Toma could make to hold the Sheriff's Office responsible:
1. that the Sheriff's Office maintained an express policy that deprived Toma of a constitutional right; or
2. that a well settled and widespread practice within the Sheriff's Office caused his constitutional deprivation; or
3. that the actions of a person with final policymaking authority were responsible for his constitutional injury.
Toma proffers nothing to suggest that Ramsey (or any other person with final policymaking authority, for that matter) was somehow directly responsible for Toma's injuries, and of course the Sheriff's Office cannot be held responsible on respondeat superior principles (Gable, 296 F.3d at 537). Toma does advance one assertion that fits one of the three Gable categories and might potentially inculpate the Sheriff's Office: that the Sheriff's Office had a policy of denying transfer requests because of jail overcrowding. But that claim fails too, for even if the jail was too crowded to move Toma as he claims, those conditions must be shown to have been the "moving force" behind his injuries — and given the record before this Court, Toma has not created a genuine issue in that regard.

  Board of County Commissioners of Bryan County v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997)(emphasis in original) states in clear and precise terms what Section 1983 requires — and what is lacking here:

As our § 1983 municipal liability jurisprudence illustrates, however, it is not enough for a § 1983 plaintiff merely to identify conduct properly attributable to the municipality. The plaintiff must also demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the "moving force" behind the injury alleged. That is, a plaintiff must show that the municipal action was taken with the requisite degree of culpability and must demonstrate a direct causal link between the municipal action and the deprivation of federal rights.
So even if Toma could prove that the jail was overcrowded so that he could not have been transferred out of cell block 161, that fact alone does not entitle Toma to damages from the Sheriff's Office. He must also show that the Sheriff's Office deliberately refused to move him in conscious disregard of the known or obvious consequence — here, that Toma would get beaten up (Bd ___-___ of County Comm'rs. id. at 413 n.1). Nothing in the record raises a genuine issue in those terms, so that Toma's official capacity claim also fails as a matter of law.

  Conclusion

  Toma fails to raise a genuine issue of material fact that would, even with the requisite favorable inferences, support either his individual-capacity claims or his claims against the Sheriff's Office (through Ramsey in his official capacity). Gordon, Carter and Ramsey are therefore entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Their Rule 56 motion is granted, and this action is dismissed.


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