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Hairston v. Cole

July 6, 2009


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


Plaintiff Shauntez Hairston, an inmate in the St. Clair County Jail, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.


In his amended complaint (Doc. 13), Hairston states that in early October 2007, two unidentified employees of the I.D.O.C. caused him injury when moving him from the infirmary at St. Clair County Jail. He alleges that Defendants White and Sutherlin watched, yet did not interfere. Hairston was placed in the "quiet room," which was cold, unsanitary, and overrun with vermin. He was stripped completely naked and left in that cell for hours without even a mattress; he alleges that this was done on orders of Defendant Knapp. Eventually he was provided with a "nasty, dirty, filthy mattress" and a sleeveless gown.

On or about October 11, 2007, Defendant Saunders accused Hairston of throwing feces on the wall. Hairston denied the charge, but Saunders directed that Hairston be placed in a full restraint chair. Hairston began to panic, as he had already been subjected to this treatment on another occasion.*fn1 He maneuvered the chair close to the door and began banging his head against the steel door and brick wall in an attempt to knock himself unconscious. Apparently he (and the chair) were then moved into the TV room within the segregation area of the jail. This area was in full view of all detainees and jail employees. Because he was wearing only a thin, short, sleeveless gown, he alleges that any passerby could easily see his genitals. It is unclear exactly how long he was confined in this manner, but Hairston alleges that he spent at least 150 hours in that restraint chair over a period of seven days. He complained repeatedly to each of the named Defendants, but his confinement persisted. Hairston also alleges that he was denied medical care for the injuries he sustained to his head, as well as for chest pains and straps that were too tight.


Based on the above facts, Hairston alleges that all defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment.

[F]or a pretrial detainee to establish a deprivation of his due process right to adequate medical care, he must demonstrate that a government official acted with deliberate indifference to his objectively serious medical needs. See Qian, 168 F.3d at 955. This inquiry includes an objective and subjective component. The objective aspect of the inquiry concerns the pretrial detainee's medical condition; it must be an injury that is, "objectively, sufficiently serious." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994) (internal quotations omitted); see also Henderson v. Sheahan, 196 F.3d 839, 845 (7th Cir. 1999). "A 'serious' medical need is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention." Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1371 (7th Cir. 1997).

Even if the plaintiff satisfies this objective component, he also must tender sufficient evidence to meet the subjective prong of this inquiry. In particular, the plaintiff must establish that the relevant official had "a sufficiently culpable state of mind[,] ... deliberate indifference to [the detainee's] health or safety." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970. Evidence that the official acted negligently is insufficient to prove deliberate indifference. See Payne, 161 F.3d at 1040. Rather, as we have noted, " '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." Qian, 168 F.3d at 955. Consequently, to establish deliberate indifference, the plaintiff must proffer evidence "demonstrating that the defendants were aware of a substantial risk of serious injury to the detainee but nevertheless failed to take appropriate steps to protect him from a known danger." Payne, 161 F.3d at 1041. Simply put, an official "must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Higgins, 178 F.3d at 510. Even if he recognizes the substantial risk, an official is free from liability if he "responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm ultimately was not averted." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 843, 114 S.Ct. 1970.

Jackson v. Illinois Medi-Car, Inc., 300 F.3d 760, 764-65 (7th Cir. 2002). Applying these standards to the allegations in the complaint, the Court is unable to dismiss his medical care claims against any of the individual defendants.

Hairston also asserts that he was subjected to inhumane conditions of confinement, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. A detainee has no constitutional right to confinement in comfort. See Martin v. Tyson, 845 F.2d 1451, 1457 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 488 US 863 (1988) (detainee has no right to a pillow, new tennis shoes, or frequent laundry service). Cf. Caldwell v. Miller, 790 F.2d 589, 601 (7th Cir.1986). However, he does possess a right to adequate heat and shelter. Henderson v. DeRobertis, 940 F.2d 1055, 1059 (7th Cir.1991), cert. denied, 503 U.S. 966 (1992). Hairston's contention that he was confined to a cold, vermin-infested cell without sufficient clothing is a sufficient allegation of inadequate heat and shelter. Therefore, the Court is unable to dismiss his claims regarding conditions of his confinement.

In addition to the individual defendants, Hairston has named St. Clair County Jail as a defendant in this action. The jail cannot be held liable for the unconstitutional acts of its employees unless those acts were carried out pursuant to an official custom or policy. Pourghoraishi v. Flying J, Inc., 449 F.3d 751, 765 (7th Cir. 2006). See also Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). "The 'official policy' requirement for liability under § 1983 is to 'distinguish acts of the municipality from acts of employees of the municipality, and thereby make clear that municipal liability is limited to action for which the municipality is actually responsible.' " Estate of Sims ex rel. Sims v. County of Bureau, 506 F.3d 509, 515 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479, 106 S.Ct. 1292, 89 L.Ed.2d 452 (1986)). See also Lewis v. City of Chicago, 496 F.3d 645, 656 (7th Cir. 2007) ("Misbehaving employees are responsible for their own conduct, 'units of local government are responsible only for their policies rather than misconduct by their workers.' "(quoting Fairley v. Fermaint, 482 F.3d 897, 904 (7th Cir. 2007))).

Hairston alleges just that: the individual defendants were acting in concert with an official policy advocated by St. Clair County (1) to confine inmates in the quiet room for an inordinate amount of time, and (2) not to release inmates from the restraint chair until a mental health official orders that release. Therefore, at this time, the Court is ...

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