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Heinrich v. Prange

July 24, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, 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. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(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 it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A; portions of this action are legally frivolous and thus subject to summary dismissal.


On September 28, 2005, Plaintiff declared a hunger strike. That evening, Defendants Prange and Presswood delivered dinner trays on Plaintiff's gallery. Plaintiff refused to take the trays offered to him, and he placed the trays on the floor outside his cell. As he started to pull his arm back through the food slot, Prange grabbed and twisted his arm; Plaintiff believed that Prange was trying to break his arm. Plaintiff managed to pull free, and then Prange threw both food trays through the slot. One tray hit Plaintiff in the mid-section; the other spilled food on his cell mate's bed. When Prange and Presswood returned to retrieve the dinner trays, a verbal altercation followed between Plaintiff and Prange; Plaintiff then began kicking the toilet loose from the wall.

Less than two hours later, Defendant Carter arrived with two other officers and directed Plaintiff to cuff up. Plaintiff complied; he was taken to the shower area, stripped to his underwear, and then walked through the gallery to a "strip cell" with no running water. Plaintiff told an unspecified officer that he needed to see a nurse; the officer denied that request. Plaintiff then removed two screws from the wall outlet and threatened to swallow them if he didn't see a nurse. The officer denied his request again, so Plaintiff swallowed the screws. Later he saw the nurse making rounds and called for her, but the officer escorted her past Plaintiff's cell without stopping. The next day, Plaintiff spoke with a medical technician about the previous day's events, and he was taken to the medical unit. X-rays were taken, and he was placed in the hospital for observation. Plaintiff later wrote a grievance over these matters, but Internal Affairs did not investigate or file charges against Prange.

Several potential claims can be gleaned from these allegations, as discussed below.


The first potential claim is against Prange for use of excessive force in throwing the food trays and then twisting Plaintiff's arm through the food slot. The intentional use of excessive force by prison guards against an inmate without penological justification constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and is actionable under Section 1983. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6-7 (1992); DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 619 (7th Cir. 2000). "[W]henever prison officials stand accused of using excessive physical force in violation of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, the core judicial inquiry is . . . whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Hudson, 503 U.S. at 6-7. An inmate seeking damages for the use of excessive force need not establish serious bodily injury to make a claim, but not "every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action. . . . [the] prohibition of 'cruel and unusual' punishment necessarily excludes from constitutional recognition de minimis uses of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort 'repugnant to the conscience of mankind.'" Id. at 9-10; see also Outlaw v. Newkirk, 259 F.3d 833, 837-38 (7th Cir. 2001).

Applying these standards to the allegations in the complaint, the Court is unable to dismiss this claim against Prange ...

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