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BIRCH v. JONES

September 21, 2004.

JOHN L. BIRCH, Plaintiff,
v.
JERRY JONES and JAMES PAGE, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BLANCHE MANNING, 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, officials at the Stateville Correctional Center, violated his constitutional rights by acting with deliberate indifference to his safety. More specifically, the plaintiff alleges that he was placed, over his repeated protests, in a cell with a dangerous and belligerent inmate and that his cellmate attacked him. This matter is before the court for consideration of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated in this order, judgment must be granted in favor of the defendants and against the plaintiff because, under the circumstances of this case, the defendants cannot be held liable under the Civil Rights Act for the attack.

STANDARD FOR A SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION

  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 non-moving 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). A "metaphysical doubt" will not suffice. Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Disputed facts are material only if they might affect the outcome of the suit. First Ind. Bank v. Baker, 957 F.2d 506, 507-08 (7th Cir. 1992).

  FACTS

  The plaintiff is a state prisoner, confined at the Stateville Correctional Center at all times relevant to this action. (Complaint, p. 2.) The defendant Jerry Jones, currently retired, was the placement office supervisor at Stateville at the time of the events giving rise to this lawsuit. (Id., p. 1; Defendants' Exhibit C, Affidavit of Jerry Jones, ¶ 1.) The defendant James Page, likewise now retired, was Stateville's warden at the time of the events giving rise to this lawsuit. (Defendants' Exhibit B, Affidavit of James Page, ¶ 1.) The following facts are uncontested for purposes of this motion: In October 1998, the plaintiff was transferred from a medium security facility to the Stateville Correctional Center after he was cited (wrongfully, he claims) for a staff assault. (Defendants' Exhibit A, Deposition of John L. Birch, at pp. 9-10.) Presumably following his release from segregation, somewhere between October 20 and October 25, 1998, the plaintiff was placed in a cell with inmate Cornell Ivy. (Id., pp. 29-30.)

  The plaintiff had not named inmate Ivy as an enemy on the IDOC's "Keep-Separate-From" [also known as "Enemies"] List. (Id., pp. 25-26.) The plaintiff did not file a regular or emergency grievance immediately upon being placed with Ivy. (Id., pp. 24-25.) The plaintiff did not speak directly to either of the named defendants about any problems with Ivy. (Id., pp. 18, 23-25, 27-28, 33-34 and 41; see also Page Affidavit, ¶ 12; Jones Affidavit, ¶ 8.) The plaintiff never requested placement in protective custody either before or after the altercation. (Plaintiff's Deposition, pp. 45-46.) Neither Page nor Jones was aware that the plaintiff feared for his safety at the hands of inmate Ivy. (Page Affidavit, ¶ 15; Jones Affidavit, ¶ 8.) No staff contacted Jones regarding fears about the plaintiff's physical safety prior to the incident. (Jones Affidavit, ¶ 11.)

  Jones was not in the chain-of-command for inmate grievances. (Jones Affidavit, ¶ 7.) Jones never received any correspondence, grievance, or other notification from the plaintiff that he had concerns about his cell placement. (Id., ¶ 8.) Had Jones received a grievance from the plaintiff, he would have forwarded it to the plaintiff's counselor for investigation. (¶ 9.)

  When deciding where to house an inmate, the placement officer reviews such information as the inmate's gang affiliation, his aggression level, his "predator" or "vulnerable" status, and the "keep separate from" [or enemies] list. (Jones Affidavit, ¶ 2.) Stateville is a maximum security facility, housing mostly inmates convicted of Class X, Class 1 and Class 2 felonies. (Id.) During the relevant time period, the plaintiff was classified as a high aggression level inmate, with an aggression score as high or higher than inmate Ivy's. (Id., ¶ 10; Defendants' Exhibit E, IDOC Internal Classification Form.) The aggression level is based on such factors as the nature of the offense for which the inmate has been convicted, his disciplinary and adjustment history, and his security classification. (Id.) Contrary to the plaintiff's belief, lieutenants, captains and building superintendents do, in fact, have the power to authorize cell changes. (Page Affidavit, ¶ 13.)

  The plaintiff says that a Sergeant Greenfield witnessed inmate Ivy acting "in a dangerous and belligerent" manner toward the plaintiff one day. (Plaintiff's deposition, pp. 22-23.) The plaintiff told Greenfield that the two inmates were not getting along and that Ivy had specifically threatened "to [expletive deleted] me up." (Id., p. 29.) Greenfield allegedly told the plaintiff that he had contacted the placement office but that Jones had declined to authorize a cell change, announcing that "the only cell changes that he would make would be to disciplinary segregation." (Id., p. 23.) The plaintiff also claims that he spoke to his counselor, as well as an unidentified lieutenant, about problems with Ivy. (Id., pp. 27, 30.) [The plaintiff explains that he did not know who his building superintendent was and never saw him, see Plaintiff's Deposition at p. 53, and that in any case he would have feared for his safety had he contacted the superintendent. Id.]

  On or about November 1, 1999, the plaintiff filed a grievance concerning his placement with Ivy. (Id., p. 24; Defendants' Exhibit D, Grievance dated November 2, 2004). The grievance stated, "This inmate states he is white and keeps getting celly's (sic) that (sic) are Islam, Muslim and or Racists. Cells without an option for a cell change and a chance to be secure in my person and property. Policy of not allowing a person a cell change without making trouble for himself are wrong." (Exhibit D.) In the relief section, the plaintiff requested, "A cell change into a cell where I can sleep without one eye open, or another celly." (Id.)

  The counselor's November 3, 1999, response stated: "Cell assignments are made by the placement officer on a non-discriminatory basis." (Id.) On November 18, 1999, the defendant Page [or a designated subordinate] signed off as concurring with the counselor's response. (Id., p. 2; Page, Affidavit, ¶ 11.)

  In the meantime, on November 2, 1999, the plaintiff and Ivy had a physical altercation. (Defendants' Exhibit G, Incident Reports.) When inmate Ivy at first refused to heed correctional officers' orders to stop fighting and the fight continued to escalate, one of the officers fired a warning shot, thereby quelling the situation. (Id.) The plaintiff sustained a broken nose, facial injuries, and lost a tooth or teeth. (Id.)*fn1 Ivy had neck and chest injuries. (Id.) The fight lasted "a couple of ...


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