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Johnson v. Collins

March 22, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stiehl, District Judge


Plaintiff, an 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, and he has tendered the full filing fee.

This case is now 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). Upon careful review of the complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds that none of the claims in the complaint may be dismissed at this point in the litigation.

Factual Allegations

Plaintiff states that while he was detained in the St. Clair County Jail in Belleville, Illinois, defendants failed to protect him from an attack by another inmate. Plaintiff states that jail inmate Rafael A. Jackson had been forcing other detainees, including the Plaintiff, to pay him "protection dues." Plaintiff complained to jail officials, and on April 20, 2004, a separation order was entered and inmate Jackson was moved to a different cell block from Plaintiff. While Jackson was being moved, he passed by Plaintiff and threatened to kill him.

On June 5, 2004, Plaintiff was placed in the same visiting room with Jackson. Plaintiff states that this was done deliberately by defendant Pea. Jackson brutally attacked Plaintiff, stabbing him in the head and hand and causing a back injury. Plaintiff was taken to an outside hospital where he received stitches. Plaintiff later learned that inmate Jackson had assaulted other inmates in the jail. Plaintiff told Defendants Cole and Johnson that he wanted to lodge a formal complaint, but they told him to "drop the whole matter" or he would "end up" on the same block with Jackson. Plaintiff filed a formal grievance with Defendant Collins, but never received a response. Plaintiff states that all the defendants had allowed Jackson to "commit one assault after another" without taking any steps to stop him. Plaintiff states that as a result of the assault, he suffered from numerous stab wounds (requiring stitches), lower back problems, headaches, cold sweats, anxiety, and mental anguish. Legal Standards

Failure to Protect. In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the Supreme Court held that "prison officials have a duty . . . to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners." Id. at 833 (internal citations omitted); see also Luttrell v. Nickel, 129 F.3d 933, 935 (7th Cir. 1997). However, not every harm caused by another inmate translates into constitutional liability for the corrections officers responsible for the prisoner's safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. In order for a plaintiff to succeed on a claim for failure to protect, he must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, and that the defendants acted with "deliberate indifference" to that danger. Id.; Reed v. McBride, 178 F.3d 849, 852 (7th Cir. 1999). A plaintiff also must prove that prison officials were aware of a specific, impending, and substantial threat to his safety, often by showing that he complained to prison officials about a specific threat to his safety. Pope v. Shafer, 86 F.3d 90, 92 (7th Cir. 1996). In other words, Defendants had to know that there was a substantial risk that those who attacked Plaintiff would do so, yet failed to take any action. Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 733-34 (7th Cir. 2001). Based on Plaintiff's allegations and these legal standards, this claim cannot be dismissed at this point in the litigation. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

Retaliation. Plaintiff's factual allegations also state a claim of unconstitutional retaliation. Although Plaintiff does not specifically state that he is bringing such a claim, it is the Court's duty to find as many claims as may be inferred from a plaintiff's factual narrative. Plaintiff states that after the assault, he attempted to file a formal complaint regarding the incident, but Defendants Cole and Johnson told him that if he filed a complaint he would be put back in the same cell block with Jackson.

Prison officials may not retaliate against inmates for filing grievances or otherwise complaining about their conditions of confinement. See, e.g., Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005 (7th Cir. 2002); DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607 (7th Cir. 2000); Babcock v. White, 102 F.3d 267 (7th Cir. 1996); Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139 (7th Cir. 1988). Furthermore, "[a]ll that need be specified is the bare minimum facts necessary to put the defendant on notice of the claim so that he can file an answer." Higgs v. Carver, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. ...

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