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Fanning v. Cook County

February 15, 2006

ROBERT J. FANNING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COOK COUNTY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Pro se Plaintiff Robert J. Fanning, a former pre-trial detainee at the Cook County Department of Corrections ("CCDOC"), brings the present Amended Complaint alleging that Defendants, employees of CCDOC and Cook County, violated his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Fanning's Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion.

LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint, not the merits of a case. Triad Assocs., Inc. v. Chicago Hous. Auth., F.2d 583, 586 (7th Cir. 1989). The Court will only grant a motion to dismiss 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." Centers v. Mortgage, Inc., 398 F.3d 930, 933 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). The Court assumes the truth of the facts alleged in the pleadings, construes the allegations liberally, and views them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Centers, 398 F.3d at 333.

BACKGROUND

Construing Fanning's pro se Amended Complaint liberally, see United States v. Ogle, 425 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2005), Fanning alleges the following facts: On September 15, 2005, Fanning filed an Amended Complaint in this action claiming Defendants violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. At that time, the Cook County Department of Corrections ("CCDOC") held Fanning in custody as a pre-trial detainee. (R. 22-1; Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) Fanning specifically alleges that the Cook County Jail was unsafe; had inadequate disease screening, food, cell space, mice control, heat, outdoor clothing, dental and medical care; was excessively noisy, and that CCDOC personnel conducted excessive body searches, among other complaints. (Id. ¶¶ 2-16.) Fanning seeks relief in the form of compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief. (Id. at p. 6.)

Defendants move to dismiss Fanning's Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on three grounds. Defendants first assert that Fanning has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies relying on Fanning's original Complaint as evidence of his failure to complete the CCDOC grievance process prior to filing this action.*fn1 Defendants also move to dismiss Fanning's Section 1983 individual capacity claim against Sheriff Sheahan claiming that Fanning has failed to allege an affirmative link between Sheriff Sheahan and the alleged constitutional deprivations. Third, Defendants move to dismiss Fanning's claims against the Cook County Jail because the CCDOC is not a suable entity. The Court addresses each argument in turn.

ANALYSIS

I. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

Defendants contend that Fanning has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing the present Section 1983 action in federal court. In his opposition to Defendants' motion, Fanning contends that he filed grievances to the "best of his abilities" prior to filing this lawsuit.

(R. 44-1, Pl.'s Brief in Opp. at 4.) Fanning also states that he did not receive responses to several of his grievances before filing his original federal complaint. (Id. at 5.)

Although Section 1983 does not require administrative exhaustion, the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") requires prisoners to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing a lawsuit in federal court. Burrell v. Powers, 431 F.3d 282, 284 (7th Cir. 2005); Perez v. Wisconsin Dep't of Corr., 182 F.3d 532, 535 (7th Cir. 1999). Specifically, [n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)). To satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement, "a prisoner must file complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's administrative rules require." Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2002). A prison official's failure to respond to a prisoner's grievance, however, may render administrative remedies unavailable. Lewis v. Washington, 300 F.3d 829, 835 (7th Cir. 2002) (court refused to interpret PLRA to allow prison officials to exploit exhaustion requirement through indefinite delay in responding to grievances); see also Brengettcy v. Horton, 423 F.3d 674, 682 (7th Cir. 2005).

Although Fanning states that he exhausted his administrative remedies to the best of his abilities -- implicating that he did not complete the Cook County Jail's exhaustion requirements -- he also contends that he did not received responses to some of his grievances. Under the circumstances, the Court cannot say, as a matter of law, that Fanning has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See Lewis, 300 F.3d at 835 (official's failure to respond to grievances makes administrative remedies unavailable). Accordingly, construing Fanning's pro se allegations liberally, the Court denies Defendants' Motion to Dismiss based on administrative exhaustion requirements. Under ...


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