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Phelps v. Tyner

March 24, 2008

CHRISTOPHER T. PHELPS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARY TYNER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, formerly an inmate in the Williamson County Jail, 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 subject to summary dismissal.

EXCESSIVE FORCE

Plaintiff first alleges that in June 2006, Defendants Weir and Dunnigan assaulted him without provocation or justification. This assault resulted in numerous bruises and abrasions, as well as a broken nose and badly injured arm.

The law is clear that 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 § 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.

Applying these standards to the allegations in the amended complaint, the Court is unable to dismiss any portion of this claim against Weir and Dunnigan.

DENIAL OF MEDICAL CARE

Plaintiff next claims that Weir and Dunnigan refused to summon the medical personnel to examine him, despite the obvious injuries he sustained. During the next shift, Plaintiff spoke with Defendant Doe about medical care. Doe told him that the nurse would not come in until Monday, so he would have to wait. Plaintiff suffered in pain for the next two days without any medical care. When Defendant Lynn saw him, she did a cursory examination of his bruised and swollen arm, but refused to order an x-ray. Lynn then sent Plaintiff back to his cell, canceled an appointment Plaintiff had scheduled with the jail's doctor, and did not provide him with any treatment for his pain and injuries.

A state official violates the due process rights of a pretrial detainee when she acts with deliberate indifference toward the detainee's serious medical needs. Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995); Brownell v. Figel, 950 F.2d 1285, 1289 (7th Cir. 1991); Salazar v. City of Chicago, 940 F.2d 233, 239 (7th Cir. 1991). The Seventh Circuit has observed that "deliberate indifference" is simply a synonym for intentional or reckless conduct, and that "reckless" describes conduct so dangerous that the deliberate nature of the defendant's actions can be inferred. Brownell, 950 F.2d at 1290. In this sense, the due process standard is analogous to that utilized in the Eighth Amendment context, where prison officials may be found liable for disregarding a substantial risk to an inmate's health or safety. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994). In both cases, the relevant inquiry is whether the official actually knew about the plaintiff's condition, not whether ...


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