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BEY v. SPILLER

June 3, 2005.

CLIFFORD WILLIAMS BEY, Inmate #B54232, Plaintiff,
v.
B. SPILLER, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: G. PATRICK MURPHY, Chief Judge, District

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, a former inmate in the Menard Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff previously was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis without payment of an initial partial filing fee.

This case now is before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides, in pertinent part:
(a) Screening. — The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal. — On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint —
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.
28 U.S.C. § 1915A. An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). After evaluating Plaintiff's claims individually, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under Section 1915A to dismiss those claims that are frivolous before allowing Plaintiff to proceed with his remaining claims. See House v. Belford, 956 F.2d 711, 718-19 (7th Cir. 1992).

  Plaintiff states that in June 2002 he witnessed Defendants Childers and Holder beat a fellow inmate at Menard Correctional Center. Plaintiff provided statements about the beating to Menard Internal Affairs and to the Illinois State Police. Thereafter, Defendant Childers came to Plaintiff's cell each night and threatened him with retaliation if he did not "change his story." Plaintiff filed numerous grievances regarding the harassment, asking to be assigned to a different cell or to have Defendant Childers removed from his cell house during the course of the internal investigation. The grievances were denied.

  Plaintiff states that from September 2002 to January 2003, Defendants Albert, Hall, Holder, Childers, and other unknown corrections officers refused to feed Plaintiff breakfast. Furthermore, Defendants Spiller and Gales ordered Defendants Mezo, Welborn, and Dunn to strip Plaintiff of all of his property, turn off his water, and deny him soap, toothpaste, sheets, mattress, access to showers, toilet paper, and access to the law library for fifteen days.*fn1

  Based on these allegations, Plaintiff argues that the actions of Defendants violated the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff argues that these deprivations constituted "deliberate indifference" and caused emotional and mental stress, which led to a "mental break down" and caused Plaintiff to be put on anti-psychotic medication and transferred to the Pontiac South Mental Correctional Center. Plaintiff also argues that he was denied his right of access to the courts.

  Plaintiff further states that in September 2002, Defendant Rowland wrote a false disciplinary report against Plaintiff for assault. Defendant Holder filed a corroborating incident report. Plaintiff argues that he was denied due process because the adjustment committee held a hearing on the report without him being present to prove that he was innocent. Plaintiff alleges that the adjustment committee falsified records to show that Plaintiff refused to appear but did not obtain Plaintiff's signature on a "denial slip." As a result, Plaintiff lost six months of good conduct credit, access to the telephone, state pay, access to recreation with the general population, and food items from the commissary.

  Cruel and Unusual Conditions of Confinement

  Plaintiff alleges that he was stripped of his personal property, his water was shut off, and he was denied soap, toothpaste, sheets, a mattress, access to showers, and toilet paper for a period of fifteen days. In a case involving conditions of confinement in a prison, two elements are required to establish violations of the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishments clause. First, an objective element requires a showing that the conditions deny the inmate "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities," creating an excessive risk to the inmate's health or safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). The second requirement is a subjective element — establishing a defendant's culpable state of mind. Id. Based on these standards, Plaintiff's claims cannot be dismissed at this time. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A; see Kimbrough v. O'Neill, 523 F.2d 1057, 1059 (7th Cir. 1975) (plaintiff stated claim under § 1983 where he was subjected to three days in solitary confinement without water, toilet, mattress, bedding, or personal hygiene items).

  Denial of Meals

  Plaintiff alleges that he was denied breakfast from September 2002 to January 2003. In some circumstances, a prisoner's allegations of denial of food may satisfy the elements required to show an Eighth Amendment violation. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the denial of food is not a per se violation of the Eighth Amendment. Rather, a district court "must assess the amount and duration of the deprivation." Reed v. McBride, 178 F.3d 849, 853 (7th Cir. 1999); see generally Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 304 (1991) (it would be an Eighth Amendment violation to deny a prisoner of an "identifiable human need such as food"); Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 734 (7th Cir. 2001) (withholding food from an inmate can, in some circumstances, satisfy the first Farmer prong); Talib v. Gilley, 138 F.3d 211, 214 n. 3 (5th Cir. 1998) (noting that denial of one out of every nine meals is not a constitutional violation); Cooper v. Sheriff of Lubbock County, 929 F.2d 1078 (5th Cir. 1991) (finding failure to feed a prisoner for twelve days unconstitutional); Cunningham v. Jones, 567 F.2d 653, 669 (6th Cir. 1977), app. after remand, 667 F.2d 565 (1982) (feeding inmates only once a day for 15 days would constitute cruel and unusual punishment only if it "deprive[s] the prisoners concerned . . . of sufficient food to maintain normal health"). Based on these standards, this claim cannot be dismissed at this point in the litigation. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

  Denial of Access to Law Library

  Plaintiff alleges that during the fifteen day period, he also was denied access to the prison law library.

 
Prison officials have an affirmative duty to provide inmates with reasonable access to courts, which includes providing access to adequate libraries (or counsel). DeMallory v. Cullen, 855 F.2d 442, 446 (7th Cir. 1988). The right of access "requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977). Nonetheless, reasonable access does not mean unlimited access. Hossman v. Sprandlin, 812 F.2d 1019, 1021 (7th Cir. 1987).
Martin v. Davies, 917 F.2d 336, 338 (7th Cir. 1990). Violations of the right of access to the courts may be vindicated in federal court in a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. An allegation of actual or threatened detriment is an essential element of a § 1983 action for denial of access to the courts. Martin v. Davies, 917 F.2d at 340; Howland v. Kilquist, 833 F.2d 639, 642-43 (7th Cir. 1987); Hossman v. Sprandlin, 812 F.2d at 1021-22. Such an allegation must be more than merely conclusory, and a complaint is inadequate if it "offers no specific facts to support these allegations — no court dates missed; no inability to make timely filings; no denial of legal assistance to which he was entitled; and no loss of a case which could have been ...

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