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Thompson v. Washington

January 15, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Proud, Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Brian K. Thomson, an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections, housed at all relevant times at Menard Correctional Center, filed the above-captioned civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff names Odie Washington and Donald Snyder, both former directors of the Illinois Department of Corrections, Lt. Oakley*fn2 and other unidentified "John Doe" correctional officers at Menard Correctional Center as defendants.

As previously summarized by the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit:

The complaint . . . charges prison officials with having confiscated the plaintiff's legal papers (including a brief in the Supreme Court of Illinois) thereby causing him to lose a number of lawsuits, denied him daily physical exercise and a prescribed diet (and incidentally caused him to lose 30 pounds in two months), subjected him to ambient cigarette smoke even though he is allergic to cigarette smoke, and retaliated against him for complaining about these and other conditions of his confinement by first placing him in solitary confinement and then a higher-security prison, all in violation of the federal constitutional rights of prisoners.

Thomson v. Washington, 362 F.3d 969, 969 -970 (7th Cir. 2004). More specifically, the complaint has been characterized as encompassing: (1) a claim of denial of access to the courts in violation of the First Amendment and due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) a claim of infliction of cruel and unusual punishment by denying essential medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and (3) a claim of retaliation for seeking redress of grievances in violation of the First Amendment. (Doc. 14, p. 1).

Before the Court is defendants Odie Washington, Lt. Oakly and Donald Snyder's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 85). In essence, defendants Washington and Snyder assert that they lacked personal involvement and cannot be held liable under the respondeat superior doctrine. Defendant Oakly contends that he never worked at Menard Correctional Center, where the alleged wrongdoing is said to have occurred. Plaintiff has not filed a response, despite having been mailed notice of the possible consequences of failing to respond. (Doc. 86).

The Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir.2000). The Court construes all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.

The moving party has the burden of establishing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. If it meets this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth facts that demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir.1996). The nonmoving party must do more than cast "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir.2000). Rather, the nonmoving party must demonstrate to the Court that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Insolia v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596 (7th Cir.2000). Mere assertions of a factual dispute unsupported by probative evidence will not prevent summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-250.

Legal Standards for Personal Involvement and Responsibility

In a civil rights suit such as this, 42 U.S.C. §1983 requires a plaintiff to show "(1) an action taken under color of law (2) which violates his federal constitutional rights." Cunningham v. Southlake Ctr. for Mental Health, Inc., 924 F.2d 106, 107 (7th Cir. 1991). Wolf-Lillie v. Sonquist, 699 F.2d 864, 869 (7th Cir.1983), stresses that "Section 1983 creates a cause of action based upon personal liability and predicated upon fault. An individual cannot be held liable in a [Section] 1983 action unless he caused or participated in an alleged constitutional deprivation." See also McBride v. Soos, 679 F.2d 1223, 1227 (7th Cir.1982). "The doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to § 1983 actions; thus to be held individually liable, a defendant must be 'personally responsible for the deprivation of a constitutional right." ' Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001), quoting Chavez v. Ill. State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 651 (7th Cir. 2001). ; see also Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Eades v. Thompson, 823 F.2d 1055, 1063 (7th Cir. 1987); Wolf-Lillie v. Sonquist, 699 F.2d 864, 869 (7th Cir. 1983); Duncan v. Duckworth, 644 F.2d 653, 655-56 (7th Cir. 1981). A director of a state correctional agency is not personally responsible for constitutional violations within prison system solely because grievance procedure made him aware of it and he failed to intervene. Crowder v. Lash, 687 F.2d 996, 1006 (7th Cir.1982). However, supervisory officials may be liable for the constitutional torts of their subordinates if the supervisor knows of and facilitates, approves, condones, or turns a blind eye to the conduct. Chavez v. Cady, 207 F.3d 901, 906 (7th Cir. 2000); Jones v. City of Chicago, 856 F.2d 985, 992-93 (7th Cir. 1988).

The Evidence Before the Court

The complaint alleges that, following plaintiff's announcement that he intended to file a grievance about the confiscation of his personal property, Lt. Oakly momentarily left the area and then returned, stating that Unit Supervisor Larry Hopkins had said that no grievance was going to be filed and that plaintiff was "rolled," meaning plaintiff was transferred from the minimum security unit to a maximum security unit. According to plaintiff, his property was improperly confiscated and he was written a baseless disciplinary ticket, which was later dismissed. Plaintiff further contends that his property, including needed legal materials, were returned in part, lost and/or destroyed. Plaintiff asserts that the confiscation was at the order of Director Snyder and based on Snyder's policies, and Snyder later affirmed the denial of a related grievance. The complaint also alleges that the legal materials that were never returned adversely impacted several legal actions plaintiff was litigating. Although Director Washington is not mentioned outside of the caption of the complaint, plaintiff does refer to "the defendants" losing or destroying his property, and "the defendants" forcing inmates to make choices about which legal cases they can work on based on what items of property they can access. Lastly, plaintiff succinctly claims: "I was denied prescribed medical treatment. That I have been placed in cells that were in smoking aress" [sic].

During his deposition, plaintiff was questioned extensively about each defendant's personal involvement in the alleged constitutional wrongs. (Docs. 85-2 and 85-3). Plaintiff testified that Lt. Oakly's involvement was limited to his statement about what Unit Supervisor Larry Hopkins had said about plaintiff not filing a grievance, and subsequently packing plaintiff's personal property, handcuffing him and leading plaintiff away from the cell. (Doc. 85-2, pp. 24-26 and 32; and Doc. 85-3, pp. 38, 40, 50 and 64). Plaintiff expressly stated that he did not know if Oakly had any personal involvement in the decision to pack plaintiff's property and handcuff him, nor did he know if Oakly had any contact with plaintiff's property after it was packed. (Doc. 85-3, pp. 41-42). ...

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