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Townsend v. Fuchs

April 10, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 05 C 204-Barbara B. Crabb, Chief Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge.


Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, and RIPPLE and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

Wisconsin inmate Reggie Townsend filed a civil-rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Larry Fuchs, Security Director at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution, and Sergeant Jerry Allen, a correctional officer in the segregation unit at the prison. Townsend, who was held at New Lisbon at all times pertinent to this appeal, claimed that Fuchs violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by placing him, for 59 days, in administrative segregation-or, as it is known within the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WDOC), temporary lock-up (TLU). See Wis. Admin. Code DOC §§ 303.02(22), 303.11. Townsend also alleged that Allen deprived him of his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment by demonstrating deliberate indifference to the unsanitary conditions he endured while in TLU. Fuchs and Allen moved for summary judgment, but while their motion was pending, Townsend sought to amend his complaint to include New Lisbon Warden Catherine Farrey as a named defendant on both claims. The district court granted summary judgment for both Fuchs and Allen, and denied Town-send's motion to amend. We affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment for Fuchs and its denial of Townsend's motion to amend. However, we reverse the court's grant of summary judgment for Allen, and remand for further proceedings.


Townsend's civil-rights action has a convoluted factual and procedural history; we will endeavor to simplify the underlying proceedings, while simultaneously drawing all reasonable factual inferences in Townsend's favor. See Vinning-El v. Long, 482 F.3d 923, 924 (7th Cir. 2007). We begin on November 11, 2004, when several members of the Latin Kings gang led a riot against correctional officers stationed in New Lisbon's Unit A. The gang members injured more than a dozen officers during the melee; one gang member, in particular, struck an officer in the jaw with a padlock that he placed in a sock and swung like a mace. In response, Warden Farrey placed New Lisbon in emergency status, suspended the prison's administrative rules, see Wis. Admin. Code DOC § 306.23(1), and instructed Security Director Fuchs to transfer inmates believed to have participated in the riot to TLU and to investigate their involvement.

According to the WDOC administrative code, TLU is a "non-punitive segregated status allowing an inmate to be removed from the general population pending further administrative action." Id. § 303.02(22). The "main purpose" of TLU is to detain an inmate temporarily "until it is possible to complete an investigation, cool down a volatile situation or hold a disciplinary hearing." Id. § 303.11 note. "The effort," the code continues, "is to avoid punitive segregation without a prior hearing, while assuring that inmates can be separated from the general population when there is good reason to do so." Id. For instance, prison officials may assign an inmate to TLU if the officials suspect that the inmate "may impede a pending investigation." Id. § 303.11(4)(a). And in keeping with the "temporary" aspect of the assignment, there is a limit on the amount of time that an inmate may spend in TLU: the initial period of placement may not last longer than 21 days, and may be extended to a maximum of 63 days. See id. § 303.11(3).

Approximately 150 inmates were assigned to TLU at one time or another while prison officials attempted to determine who participated in the November 11 prison riot. Townsend himself was placed in TLU on November 15, after officials received word that, during the riot, he had destroyed evidence that could have revealed the identities of some of the inmates who were involved. See id. § 303.11(1), (4)(a). Upon his transfer, Townsend received two WDOC notice forms that provided the reason why he was placed in TLU: one explained that "the offender may impede a pending investigation," and the other stated, "Pending Investigation of Staff Battery." Townsend acknowledged those reasons by signing the notice forms.

Townsend remained in TLU for 59 days while prison officials investigated his role in the prison riot, and on January 13, 2005, he was transferred back to New Lisbon's general population when the officials were unable to confirm that he had destroyed evidence regarding the riot.*fn1 In accordance with the WDOC administrative code, Townsend's parole eligibility was not affected by his TLU placement, nor was his sentence extended because of it. See id. § 303.11 note. Townsend did not receive a conduct report, or was otherwise disciplined.

That is not to say that Townsend's experience in TLU was entirely pleasant; the accommodations afforded to him during his stay were less than hospitable. The cells in TLU are designed to house only one inmate at a time: each cell is 12 feet by 61/2 feet; contains one bunk, one sink, and one toilet; and is "wet," meaning that it features a shower that sprays onto the wall of the cell opposite the door and drains through the cell's floor. But because of the inordinately large number of inmates placed in TLU on suspicion of participating in the prison riot, Warden Farrey authorized, and Sergeant Allen helped supervise, the "double-bunking" of inmates in TLU cells. Consequently, Townsend was placed in a cell that was already occupied, where he shared the sink, toilet, and shower. He was, however, given his own "bunk"-a thin mattress that was placed on the concrete floor adjacent to the shower, the only area in the cell where it would fit. We must assume, because the party resisting a motion for summary judgment receives the benefit of all reasonable inferences, see Vinning-El, 482 F.3d at 924, that the mattress became (in Townsend's words) "wet, moldy, and foul smelling" rather quickly. Townsend complained to numerous prison guards and officials about his unsanitary cell conditions and attempted to obtain a new mattress, to no avail. Thus, for the entire 59 days that Townsend was assigned to TLU, he slept on a wet and foul mattress.

In the weeks following his transfer back to New Lisbon's general population, Townsend filed several complaints with the prison's Inmate Complaint Examiner, challenging both his placement in TLU and the unsanitary conditions in his cell. After Townsend exhausted the administrative remedies available to him, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Wis. Admin. Code DOC § 310.05; Dixon v. Page, 291 F.3d 485, 489-91 (7th Cir. 2002), he brought his § 1983 action against Security Director Fuchs and Sergeant Allen. Specifically, Townsend alleged that Fuchs violated his right to procedural due process as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States in Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 483-84 (1995), and Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 222-24 (2005). In Sandin, the Court explained that the Fourteenth Amendment provides to inmates a liberty interest in avoiding transfer to more restrictive prison conditions if those conditions result in an "atypical and significant hardship" when compared to "the ordinary incidents of prison life." 515 U.S. at 484-86. In such instances, the Court noted, the prison must afford the inmate procedural protections before the transfer occurs.

See id. at 487. Ten years later, the Court decided in Wilkinson that state inmates in Ohio had a liberty interest in avoiding placement in the state's Supermax prison, where inmates were held alone for 23 hours a day in cells that measured 7 feet by 14 feet. See 545 U.S. at 224. The Court concluded that those conditions constituted "an atypical and significant hardship under any plausible baseline" because assignment to the Supermax was indefinite and disqualified otherwise eligible inmates for parole consideration. Id. at 223-24. Townsend claimed that the conditions he endured while in TLU were sufficiently analogous to the conditions deemed atypically and significantly harsh in Wilkinson. For instance, he drew attention to the apparent similarities of the sizes of the TLU cells and Supermax cells; asserted that he, like the inmates incarcerated in the Supermax, was not allowed to have contact with friends, family, or even other inmates; and contended that he, unlike the inmates at the Supermax, was not allowed to leave his cell. Townsend therefore contended that he had a liberty interest in avoiding placement in TLU, and that Fuchs deprived him of his due-process rights by transferring him without first affording him a hearing.

Townsend also alleged that Sergeant Allen deprived him of his Eighth Amendment rights by demonstrating deliberate indifference to his basic need for clean and sanitary bedding. According to Townsend, Allen knew that he was forced to sleep on a wet and moldy mattress, and yet did nothing to remedy the unsanitary conditions. After discovery commenced, Townsend submitted an affidavit and provided deposition testimony, in which he explained his allegations against Allen in greater detail. Specifically, Townsend stated that while he was in TLU, he personally complained about his mattress to Allen and requested a new, clean mattress for his cell. However, Townsend continued, Allen responded, "We can't get you a mattress right now," and denied his request without further explanation. Townsend further related that several prison guards later informed him that his request for a new mattress was denied because if he received the mattress, prison officials would have to provide a new mattress to everyone else in TLU. Townsend also stated that the unsanitary sleeping conditions caused him to suffer several severe ailments, such as respiratory problems, chest and stomach pains, and muscle aches.

Security Director Fuchs and Sergeant Allen disputed Townsend's allegations and moved for summary judgment. Fuchs argued, among other things, that Townsend's due-process claim was meritless because the conditions in TLU were not analogous to those conditions the Supreme Court deemed atypically and significantly harsh in Wilkinson. Allen, in turn, argued that Townsend's Eighth Amendment claim failed because he was not personally responsible for the unsanitary condition of Townsend's mattress. In support of his argument, Allen attested in an affidavit that Townsend never spoke with him regarding the condition of his mattress; as Allen put it, "[a]t no time" did Townsend complain to him "about unsanitary or wet condition[s] of his cell or mattress," nor did he "personally observe a problem concerning an unsanitary cell or wet mattress" in Townsend's cell or any other cell in TLU. But in several proposed findings of fact that Allen later filed with the district court, he admitted that Townsend had complained to him about the state of his mattress and had requested a new one; Allen further stated that he did not ...

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