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Norfleet v. Vale

December 5, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James B. Zagel U.S. District Judge


The plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the Cook County Department of Corrections, has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff claims that the defendants, a correctional officer and staff nurse at the Cook County Jail, violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights by acting with deliberate indifference to his safety and medical needs, by failing to accommodate his disability, and by wrongfully disciplining him. More specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant Vale failed to protect him from an attack by a fellow inmate, then subjected him to false disciplinary action to cover up for the incident; the plaintiff further maintains that the defendant Locke denied him a cane that he needs to walk and for which he has a doctor's prescription. This matter is before the court for consideration of the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. For the reasons stated in this order, the motion is denied.

It is well established that pro se complaints are to be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), reh'g denied, 405 U.S. 948 (1972); see also McCormick v. City of Chicago, 230 F.3d 319, 325 (7th Cir. 2000). They can be dismissed for failure to state a claim only if it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Haines, 404 U.S. at 521; Zimmerman v. Tribble, 226 F.3d 568, 571 (7th Cir. 2000). Fact pleading is not necessary to state a claim for relief. Thompson v. Washington, 362 F.3d 969, 970-71 (7th Cir. 2004). To satisfy the notice pleading requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), the plaintiff need only state his legal claim and provide "some indication . . . of time and place." Id. at 971.

When considering whether to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court takes the allegations in the complaint as true, viewing all facts--as well as any inferences reasonably drawn therefrom--in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Autry v. Northwest Premium Services, Inc., 144 F.3d 1037, 1039 (7th Cir. 1998). Dismissal should be denied whenever it appears that a basis for federal jurisdiction in fact exists or may exist and can be stated by the plaintiff. Jones v. Edgar, 3 F. Supp. 2d 979, 980 (C.D. Ill. 1998).


The plaintiff alleges the following facts, which must be accepted as true for purposes of the defendants' motion: Prior to his confinement, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a severe back impairment and radiculopathy. "Radiculopathy" is defined as a disease of the nerve roots and/or compression of the spine. Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary (28th ed. 1994), p. 1404. The plaintiff was classified as disabled and was receiving disability benefits at the time of his arrest. On May 27, 2003, physicians at Cook County Jail's Cermak Hospital prescribed the plaintiff a walking cane.

On December 20, 2003, the plaintiff was granted protective custody status.

In January 2004, the plaintiff was attacked and stabbed in a courthouse holding cell. [That attack is the subject of another lawsuit currently pending before this court. See Norfleet v. Gray, et al., Case No. 04 C 2952 (N.D. Ill.)]. Following the assault, the judge presiding over the plaintiff's state court criminal case ordered that the plaintiff be isolated from other detainees.

On August 28, 2004, the defendant Vale, a correctional officer at the Cook County Jail, locked the plaintiff in an outdoor recreation area with another inmate. Vale then left the inmates unsupervised. The other inmate attacked the plaintiff, somehow injuring his knee. Vale "wrongfully" issued the plaintiff a disciplinary report charging him with assault. The disciplinary report, which is attached as an exhibit to the plaintiff's memorandum of law in support of his complaint, accused the plaintiff of being the instigator in the altercation. According to the disciplinary report, the plaintiff swung his cane at the other inmate with sufficient force to break it, although the other inmate blocked the blow with his hand. The plaintiff, however, maintains that Vale came on the scene only after the other inmate started the brawl, compelling the plaintiff to defend himself. The plaintiff contends that Vale wrote a false disciplinary report in order to deflect attention from his failure to prevent the assault.

On August 31, 2004, the defendant Locke, a nurse at the jail, denied the plaintiff the use of a walking cane although he told her that he had an "urgent need" for the cane. Locke cited the disciplinary report accusing the plaintiff of using the cane as a weapon as her reason for denying him a cane. That same day, the plaintiff fell as he walked without a cane. The plaintiff required hospitalization for his injuries.


Accepting the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, the court finds that the complaint states colorable causes of action against both Vale and Locke. While a more fully developed record may belie the plaintiff's claims, it is not the case that the plaintiff could prove "no set of facts" entitling him to relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The defendants' motion to dismiss is denied as moot with respect to Cook County and the Cook County Board of Health. By Minute Order of March 31, 2005, the court on its own motion dismissed those defendants on initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). The plaintiff "agrees with dismissing . . . Cook County & Cook County Board of Health." (Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, p. 2.) Those entities have already been terminated as defendants.

The defendant Vale asserts that he cannot be held liable for a sudden, unexpected attack on the plaintiff. It is true that the complaint alleges only that Vale "deviated from municipal policy" both by placing the plaintiff on the recreation yard with another inmate despite his protective custody status and leaving the two detainees unattended. Violations of state law [or, by extension, court orders or jail rules] are not, in and of themselves, actionable as constitutional torts. See, for example, Rowe v. DeBruyn, 17 F.3d 1047, 1051 (7th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1994 (1994). Only deliberate indifference, which is defined as a failure to take reasonable measures in the face of a substantial risk of serious harm, violates the Constitution. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 827 (1994); Riccardo v. Rausch, 375 F.3d 521, 525 ...

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