The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge
This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Donald N. Snyder, Steven C. Bryant, and Kenneth Cripe's Motion to Dismiss (d/e 12). The Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is ALLOWED, in part, and DENIED, in part.
Plaintiff Jerry Joyner has filed a Complaint (d/e 1) alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on injuries resulting from deprivations of his First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The facts as set forth in Plaintiff's Complaint are as follows.*fn1 Plaintiff Jerry Joyner is an individual residing in Decatur, Macon County, Illinois. Plaintiff is an African-American male and is homosexual. From approximately July 1999 to July 2002, Plaintiff was incarcerated at Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro, Illinois. At all relevant times, the Defendants were employed at the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). Defendant Snyder was a former Director of IDOC. Defendant Bryant is the Warden of Graham Correctional Center. Defendant Cripe was employed as food supervisor in the dietary unit at Graham Correctional Center.
Plaintiff Joyner was required to be on a low sodium diet, but Defendant Cripe, on several occasions, denied Plaintiff his special diet tray by stating, "we don't feed homosexuals here." Complaint, ¶ 10. Additionally, Defendant Cripe referred to Plaintiff as "faggott" [sic], "big fat bitch", "queer ass", and "black queer." Id., ¶ 9. As a result of mistreatment from Defendant Cripe, Plaintiff filed four grievances against Defendant Cripe on the following dates: April 23, 2001, December 16, 2001, January 9, 2002, and March 11, 2002.
On January 9, 2002, Defendant Cripe threatened Plaintiff that he would be placed in segregation, transferred to another facility, and/or his cell would be subjected to "shakedowns." In either late 2001 or the early part of 2002, Plaintiff's cell was subjected to an improper shakedown at the request of Defendant Cripe. In response, Plaintiff repeatedly complained of Defendant Cripe's conduct to Defendants Snyder and Bryant and requested that they take action to stop the harassment. Nothing was done, however. Plaintiff was released from prison in July 2002. Since his release, Plaintiff has received two threats of bodily harm from Defendant Cripe, through intermediaries who were instructed to convey such threats to Plaintiff.
Plaintiff complains that he has suffered physical illness due to emotional and mental distress resulting from the Defendants' conduct. Plaintiff seeks nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages. On August 7, 2006, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's Complaint.
The Defendants move to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. A complaint should not be dismissed, under Rule 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Doherty v. City of Chicago, 75 F.3d 318, 322 (7th Cir. 1996). The plaintiff is required only to provide a short and plain statement of his claim "'that will give the defendant[s] fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a); see also Lucien v. Preiner, 967 F.2d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 1992). Indeed, the complaint need not plead facts, but must provide the defendant "fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley, 355 U.S. at 47. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is ALLOWED, in part, and DENIED, in part.
Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims on the ground that derogatory comments alone are not sufficient to violate the Constitution. In the alternative, Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity.
Plaintiff asserts that he was harassed and discriminated against on account of his sexual orientation. "[D]iscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is subject to rational basis review." Nabozny v. Podlesny, 92 F.3d 446, 458 (7th Cir. 1996). And, "[i]n the prison context, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires inmates to be treated equally, unless unequal treatment bears a rational relation to a legitimate penal interest." May v. Sheahan, 226 F.3d 876, 882 (7th Cir. 2000). "Standing alone, simple verbal harassment does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, deprive a prisoner of a protected liberty interest or deny a prisoner equal protection of the laws[,]" although it can be relevant as evidence of discriminatory animus. DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 612, 612 n.3 (7th Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted). Therefore, to the extent that Plaintiff alleges that his constitutional rights were violated simply because Defendant Cripe harassed him with derogatory comments regarding his homosexuality, the Court finds that those allegations are not enough to state a viable claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on this basis is allowed.
The Complaint, however, does not simply allege that Defendant Cripe verbally harassed Plaintiff because of his sexual orientation. The Complaint additionally alleges that Defendant Cripe, on more than one occasion, denied Plaintiff his low sodium diet tray and instructed others to perform an improper shakedown of Plaintiff's cell because of his sexual orientation. In this context, Defendant Cripe's verbal harassment of Plaintiff is relevant as evidence of discriminatory animus, which is "an essential element of any equal protection claim." DeWalt, 224 F.3d at 612 n. 3. In drawing all inferences at this stage in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Joyner, the Court finds that the Complaint sets forth enough allegations to establish an equal protection violation. See id. at 618. Plaintiff's allegation that he was harassed and discriminated against in these ways because of his sexual orientation is sufficient to state a claim on which relief can be granted.
Similarly, the Court finds that Plaintiff states a First Amendment retaliation claim. "[O]therwise permissible conduct can become impermissible when done for retaliatory reasons." Zimmerman v. Tribble, 226 F.3d 568, 573 (7th Cir. 2000) (citing Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139, 1145 (7th Cir. 1988)); see Babcock v. White, 102 F.3d 267, 276 (7th Cir. 1996) ("retaliation against constitutionally protected conduct is actionable regardless of whether the defendant's actions independently violate the constitution."). As such, "a prison official may not retaliate against a prisoner because that prisoner filed a grievance [or a lawsuit]." DeWalt, 224 F.3d at 618; Babcock, 102 F.3d at 275; see Johnson v. Stovall, 233 F.3d 486, 489 (7th Cir. 2000). "A complaint states a claim for retaliation when it sets forth 'a chronology of events from which retaliation may plausibly be inferred.'" Zimmerman, 226 F.3d at 573 (quoting Cain, 857 F.2d at 1143 n. 6).
Plaintiff alleges that, in response to Defendant Cripe's harassing and discriminatory conduct, he filed grievances against Defendant Cripe on April 23, 2001, December 16, 2001, January 9, 2002, and March 11, 2002. Plaintiff further alleges that, specifically on January 9, 2002, Defendant Cripe threatened Plaintiff that he would be placed in segregation, subjected to shakedowns of his cell, and/or transferred to another facility. The Complaint does not state whether the January 9, 2002, grievance was filed in response to this alleged threat from Defendant Cripe, or before this alleged threat from Defendant Cripe took place. The Complaint further asserts that, in late 2001 or the early part of 2002, an improper shakedown of Plaintiff's cell was performed at the request of Defendant Cripe. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in this Court on February 21, 2002. Plaintiff alleges that, in retaliation for filing this lawsuit, Plaintiff received two threats of bodily harm from Defendant Cripe, through intermediaries, following his release from prison in July 2002. This is the chronology set forth in Plaintiff's Complaint. See Zimmerman, 226 ...