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Merritt v. Bradley

February 19, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: G. Patrick Murphy United States District Judge


MURPHY, District Judge

Plaintiff, who was an inmate in the Pinckneyville Correctional Center, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case is 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).


On March 1, 2006, Plaintiff saw Inmate Sims assault Inmate Nichols; Defendant Doe #1 intervened. Less than two hours later, when inmates were released to their classes, Sims again assaulted Nichols; this time, Defendants Doe #1 and Doe #2 intervened. At dinnertime that same day, Sims once again threatened Nichols. Plaintiff attempted to diffuse the situation, but no good deed goes unpunished; Sims punched him in the face. Plaintiff reported the assault to Defendants Doe #3 and Doe #4, who sent him on to dinner after Sims said he was "only playing" with Plaintiff. Plaintiff and Nichols walked toward the chow hall, when Sims assaulted Plaintiff. Plaintiff defended himself, and the altercation ended when Sims fell through a window. Plaintiff later received a disciplinary ticket for fighting and was punished with nine months in segregation, nine months at C-grade, and partial restitution for the broken window.

Plaintiff was taken to the medical unit, where he was examined by Defendant Nurse Jane Doe. He told her his back felt broken, but she told him he only had a few scratches. He asked to see a doctor and requested pain medication, but she denied his requests. Plaintiff alleges that for the several months he remained in segregation at Pinckneyville, he did not receive any further medical treatment for his injuries or pain.


Plaintiff first alleges that Defendants, Doe #1, #2, #3 and #4, were aware of Sims's assaultive behavior earlier that day, yet they failed to prevent the assault on him by Sims, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. Prison officials have a duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994); Luttrell v. Nickel, 129 F.3d 933, 935 (7th Cir. 1997). However, not every harm caused by another inmate translates into constitutional liability for the corrections officers responsible for the prisoner's safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. In order for a plaintiff to succeed on a claim for failure to protect, he must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm and that the defendants acted with "deliberate indifference" to that danger. Id.; Reed v. McBride, 178 F.3d 849, 852 (7th Cir. 1999). A plaintiff also must prove that prison officials were aware of a specific, impending, and substantial threat to his safety, often by showing that he complained to prison officials about a specific threat to his safety. Pope v. Shafer, 86 F.3d 90, 92 (7th Cir. 1996). In other words, Defendants had to know that there was a substantial risk that those who attacked Plaintiff would do so, yet failed to take any action. Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 733-34 (7th Cir. 2001). Moreover, a "mere possibility of violence" or the occurrence of a random act of violence is not sufficient to impose liability on prison officials. See Estate of Davis v. Johnson, 745 F.2d 1066, 1071 (7th Cir. 1984); Ward v. Thomas, 708 F.Supp. 212, 214 (N.D.Ill. 1989).

In this case, Plaintiff clearly states that the earlier incidents involved Nichols and Sims. The fact that Doe #1 and Doe #2 were aware of those earlier incidents does not suggest that they were aware of any threat to Plaintiff by Sims, and Plaintiff doesn't allege he had a history of conflict with Sims. Plaintiff's problems with Sims began at dinner, when Plaintiff attempted to intervene in a developing situation between Nichols and Sims. Nothing in the complaint suggests that Defendants had reason to suspect that Plaintiff was in danger from Sims at that time. From the allegations in the complaint, as well as in the summary of the incident contained in the disciplinary ticket (Exhibit A, Doc. 1 pp. 17-18), it appears that the situation escalated quickly, again not something that Defendants could have reasonably anticipated. It is clear to the Court that this incident was a ...

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