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Johnson v. Lappin

September 23, 2009


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


Plaintiff, an inmate now confined at the United States Penitentiary located near Waymart, Pennsylvania (USP-Canaan), brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S.388 (1971). 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). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 590 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, No. 08-4286, 2009 WL 2535731, at *5 (7th Cir. Aug. 20, 2009). Additionally, Courts "should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Service, No. 06-4260, 2009 WL 2498580, at *2 (7th Cir. Aug. 18, 2009).


In 2005, Plaintiff filed a civil rights complaint in this Court alleging that he was confined in a frigid "dry cell" for six days without clothing, bedding, or personal-hygiene items, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Johnson v. Lappin, Case No. 05-900 (S.D.Ill.). In the instant complaint, Plaintiff contends that, after his prior case was filed, he was again subjected to the "dry cell" for another six days - in part because of his prior lawsuit and to prevent him from complaining about the conditions of confinement in the future. As such, Plaintiff's complaint appears to assert two claims: (1) that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment by being put in the dry cell; and (2) that the Defendants retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights.


In the instant complaint Plaintiff again alleges that he was confined in a "dry cell" without hygiene items, mail, and clothing. Plaintiff also alleges that the "dry cell" was frigid and unsanitary causing him to become sick. Plaintiff states that he complained about these conditions through the grievance process. These allegations are enough to plead an Eighth Amendment claim. See Johnson v. Lapin, No. 07-1465, 2008 WL 397575 (7th Cir. Feb. 14, 2008). Consequently, this claim survives review under § 1915A and should not be dismissed at this time.

Prison officials may not retaliate against inmates for filing grievances or otherwise complaining about their conditions of confinement. See, e.g., Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005 (7th Cir. 2002); DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607 (7th Cir. 2000); Babcock v. White, 102 F.3d 267 (7th Cir. 1996); Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139 (7th Cir. 1988). Plaintiff asserts that he was placed in the "dry cell" in retaliation for his prior lawsuit and as a means to deter future complaints and grievances. It is reasonable for this Court to infer that the conditions of the "dry cell" would cause "a person of ordinary firmness" to stop or limit the filing of additional complaints. ...

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