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Walker v. Dart

February 19, 2010

RICKY WALKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOM DART, COOK COUNTY SHERIFF; SALVADOR A. GORDIEZ,*FN1 EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR JUDGE WAYNE R. ANDERSEN C.C.D.O.C.; D. BROWN, ASST. EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR C.C.D.O.C; JOHN DOE, ASST. EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR C.C.D.O.C; SLAUGHTER, SUPERINTENDENT DIV #1 C.C.D.O.C.; D. HOWELL, CHIEF DIV. #1 C.C.D.O.C., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wayne R. Andersen, Judge United States District Court

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Ricky Walker, a pretrial detainee at Cook County Jail, brings this pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his conditions of confinement violate the Constitution. Defendants Thomas Dart, the Sheriff of Cook County; Salvador Godinez, the Executive Director of the Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC); Dan Brown, the Assistant Director of the CCDOC; Superintendent Slaughter, the Superintendent of Division 1; and D. Howell, the Chief of Division 1, have filed a motion to dismiss. For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion to dismiss.

I. Standard of Review on a Motion to Dismiss

It is well established that pro se complaints are to be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); see also McCormick v. City of Chicago, 230 F.3d 319, 325 (7th Cir. 2000). In addition, when considering whether to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court takes the allegations in the complaint as true, viewing all facts -- as well as any inferences reasonably drawn therefrom -- in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Marshall-Mosby v. Corporate Receivables, Inc., 205 F.3d 323, 326 (7th Cir. 2000); Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508, n. 1, (2002)). However, some factual allegations may be "so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice to defendants of the plaintiff's claims." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. Aug. 20, 2009) (quoting Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007)).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires, in relevant part, that the complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" in order to " give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Rule 8 reflects a liberal notice pleading requirement that focuses the 'litigation on the merits of the claim' rather than some technicality that might keep a plaintiff out of court. Brooks, 578 F.3d at 580 (quoting Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 514. Alleging specific facts is not required. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). However, a plaintiff's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555. The plaintiff's claim must be "plausible" in that there are "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" that supports the plaintiff's allegations. Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 556.

However, "a court need not accept as true 'legal conclusions[, or t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.'" Brooks, 578 F.3d at 581 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). Plaintiffs cannot "merely parrot the statutory language of the claims that they are pleading . . . rather than providing some specific facts to ground those legal claims. . . ." Brooks, 578 F.3d at 581. "[C]courts should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal arguments." Brooks, 578 F.3d at 581.

II. Facts

Plaintiff asserts a list of complaints about the conditions at Cook County Jail ("CCJ"). He claims that the paint, which may contain lead, is peeling throughout Division 1; the coverings over the pipes, which may contain asbestos, is unraveling; the showers flood constantly and Plaintiff has contracted fungus as a result; years of built-up rust drip on inmates while they are showering; air vents are full of dust, which cause breathing problems; inmates are not allowed to use a sheet or curtain to provide privacy while using the toilets in their cells; there are seven to eight cans in the recreation room to catch water; and the building is infested with rodents and bugs. During administrative lockdowns, inmates are locked in their cells more than 72 hours before being allowed to shower; are not allowed any exercise time; denied religious services; and have to wear the same clothing for more than two weeks at a time. Plaintiff claims these conditions have caused constant headaches, nervousness, depression, skin rashes, coughing, blood spotting, and breathing difficulties. In his response, Plaintiff adds that there is increased damage to his external lupus on his head.

III. Analysis

In response to Defendants' motion to dismiss, Plaintiff clarifies that he is suing Defendants in their official capacities.

Claims filed against government officers in their official capacity are actually claims against the government entity for which the officers work. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 (1985); Guzman v. Sheahan, 495 F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2007). A governmental entity is liable for damages under Section 1983 only if Plaintiff can show that the alleged constitutional deprivation occurred as a result of an official policy, custom, or practice. See Monell v. Department of Social Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978) Unconstitutional policies or customs generally take three forms:

(1) an official policy adopted and promulgated by its officers; (2) a widespread practice that, although not authorized by written law or express municipal policy, is so permanent and well settled as to constitute a usage or custom with the force of law; or (3) a constitutional injury was caused by a person with final policy-making authority. Thomas v. Cook County Sheriff's Dept., 588 F.3d 445, 453 (7th Cir. 2009); Brokaw v. Mercer County, 235 F.3d 1000, 1013 (7th Cir. 2000).

Plaintiff does not allege that Defendants have either an express policy to create the allegedly unconstitutional living conditions at CCJ or that a person with final policy-making authority caused the allegedly unconstitutional living conditions. However, Plaintiff claims that Defendants have ignored the conditions despite numerous grievances being filed and that the lockdown orders have come from the Directors and/or superintendents. He also claims that religious services were denied in Division 1 from January 13, 2009, until September 1, 2009. Plaintiff sufficiently alleges a claim against Defendants in their official capacities through his allegations of a widespread practice of allowing various conditions to continue. Accordingly, Plaintiff can proceed against Defendants in their official capacities.

The Eighth Amendment*fn2 imposes on prison officials the duty to "provide humane conditions of confinement...." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). However, prison conditions violate the Eighth Amendment only when they exceed "contemporary bounds of decency of a mature, civilized society." Lunsford v. Bennett, 17 ...


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