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Tellez v. Walker

May 27, 2009


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


A. Introduction and Overview of Claims

Now before the Court is a January 29, 2009 motion for summary judgment (Doc. 31) filed by the eleven Defendants who remain in this action: (1) Roger E. Walker, Jr., (2) Melody J. Ford, (3) Alan Uchtman, (4) A. Ramos, (5) Gary Conder, (6) Betsy Spiller, (7) William Reardon, (8) James Alms, (9) Tyone Murray, (10) Lieutenant Walker, and (11) Sgt. McDaniels. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for determination. No hearing is needed to resolve the issues.

Ronald Tellez (Plaintiff), a prisoner in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), filed this pro se lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. §1983. He named twelve Defendants, all various correctional officials and guards at Menard Correctional Center, which is located within this Judicial District. On preliminary review in September 2008, the Court dismissed one Defendant (J. Moore) and construed Plaintiff's claims as follows (Doc. 7):

from March of 2005 through February 2006, [Plaintiff] was housed in the protective custody unit at Menard. He alleges no cells in that unit are specifically reserved for nonsmokers.

Thus, except for six weeks during that year, he shared a cell with heavy smokers.

He further alleges that he persistently requested to be housed with a non-smoker, but his requests and grievances were denied at every level of the administrative process. However, he alleges that other non-smoking inmates in protective custody were assigned to cell with other non-smokers.

Finally, he claims that his cell-mate assignments were due in part to retaliation by Defendants for his persistent complaints about smokers.

Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, supporting their motion with a memorandum and exhibits, including an affidavit. Defendants served notice of the motion, as required by Lewis v. Faulkner, 689 F.2d 100, 102 (7th Cir. 1982). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition, to which he attached exhibits, including affidavits. Defendants replied to Plaintiff's response.

The motion has two components. In part one, six Defendants (Roger Walker, Ford, Ramos, Conder, Alms and Murray) raise failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In part two, all eleven Defendants raise qualified immunity. Analysis begins with reference to applicable legal standards.

B. Relevant Legal Standards


Defendants' motion is captioned as a motion for summary judgment and is supported by exhibits. However, the exhibits relate only to the first issue, exhaustion of administrative remedies. Only the first portion of the motion (based on exhaustion) truly seeks summary judgment.

Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Estate of Suskovich v. Anthem Health Plans of Virginia, Inc., 553 F.3d 559, 563 (7th Cir. 2009), citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). AccordBreneisen v. Motorola, Inc., 512 F.3d 972 (7th Cir. 2008); Levy v. Minnesota Life Ins. Co., 517 F.3d 519 (7th Cir. 2008).

In ruling on a summary judgment motion, the Court construes all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party (here, Plaintiff). Lloyd v. Swifty Transp., Inc., 552 F.3d 594, 600 (7th Cir. 2009); TAS Distributing Co., Inc. v. Cummins Engine Co., Inc., 491 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2007); Reynolds v. Jamison, 488 F.3d 756, 764 (7th Cir. 2007).

In response to summary judgment, the non-movant cannot rest on his pleadings. Rather, the non-movant must provide evidence on which the jury or court could find in his favor. Maclin v. SBC Ameritech, 520 F.3d 781, 786 (7th Cir. 2008). As the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit explained earlier this year:

[T]he non-moving party must submit evidence that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Ptasznik v. St. Joseph Hosp., 464 F.3d 691, 694 (7th Cir. 2006). The existence of merely a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party.

Giant Screen Sports v. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, 553 F.3d 527, 531-32 (7th Cir. 2009).

Stated another way, to counter a summary judgment motion, the non-moving party may not simply reiterate the allegations contained in his pleadings; more substantial evidence must be presented. And a genuine issue of material fact is not shown by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Andersonv. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986), or "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if "a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [non-moving party] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

As to the second portion of Defendants' motion herein (based on qualified immunity), the motion is really a motion to dismiss, governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Dismissal is warranted under Rule 12(b)(6) if the complaint fails to set forth "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); EEOC v. Concentra Health Services, Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007). In making this assessment, the District Court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Tricontinental Industries, Inc., Ltd. v. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, LLP, 475 F.3d 824, 833 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 128 S.Ct. 357 (2007); Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d 965, 969 (7th Cir. 2006).

Stated another way, the question on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is whether the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of what the suit is about and the grounds on which the suit rests. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Mosely v. Board of Education of City of Chicago, 434 F.3d 527, 533 (7th Cir. 2006). Additionally, although federal complaints need only plead claims (not facts), the pleading regime created by Bell Atlantic requires the complaint to allege a plausible theory of liability against the defendant. Sheridan v. Marathon Petroleum Co., LLC, 530 F.3d 590, 596 (7th Cir. 2008). See also Limestone Dev. Corp. v. Village of Lemont, Ill., 520 F.3d 797, 803-04 (7th Cir. 2008).

In Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008), the Seventh Circuit emphasized that even though Bell Atlantic"retooled federal pleading standards," notice pleading is still all that is required. "A plaintiff still must provide only enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests and, through his allegations, show that it is plausible, rather than merely speculative, that he is entitled to relief." Id. Accord Pugh v. Tribune Co., 521 F.3d 686, 699 (7th Cir. 2008)(the allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level"). ...

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