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Arrieta v. Bass

August 26, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Plaintiff, a state prisoner, has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that Defendants, officials at the Stateville Correctional Center, violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights by acting with deliberate indifference to his safety. More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants ignored repeated warnings that Plaintiff's cellmate was threatening him and that the two needed to be separated. This matter is before the Court for ruling on Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. For the reasons stated below, the motion [10] is granted. However, Plaintiff will be given the opportunity to submit an amended complaint curing pleading deficiencies.

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). Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires only "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.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, (1957)). While a complaint challenged by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted).

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 Plaintiff. Marshall-Mosby v. Corporate Receivables, Inc., 205 F.3d 323, 326 (7th Cir. 2000); Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 563 (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)). A well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it appears "that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely." Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 556. Nevertheless, the factual allegations in the complaint must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Id. at 555. Furthermore, a plaintiff can plead himself or herself out of court by pleading facts that undermine the allegations set forth in the complaint. See, e.g., Kolupa v. Roselle Park Dist., 438 F.3d 713, 715 (7th Cir. 2006). The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not to decide the merits. Weiler v. Household Finance Corp., 101 F.3d 519, 524 n. 1 (7th Cir. 1996) (citations omitted).

I. Background

Plaintiff is a state prisoner who has been confined at the Stateville Correctional Center at all times relevant to this lawsuit. Defendant Shaun Bass was a placement officer at Stateville at the time of the events giving rise to the complaint. Defendant Akinola Iyiola is a lieutenant at the prison. Defendant Karen Rabideau is a correctional counselor.

Plaintiff alleges the following facts, which must be accepted true for purposes of the motion to dismiss: During the last week of August 2008, Plaintiff made several requests to the Defendants for a cell change because he was having "trouble" with his new cellmate (Fonzo Swanigan). At the time, Plaintiff was classified at a low aggression level because he had received no disciplinary reports for over six years.

On September 27, 2008, when Plaintiff returned from the recreation yard, Swanigan was waiting for him at the door of his cell. An irate Swanigan threatened that he was going to "beat [Plaintiff] down" for somehow causing Swanigan to miss a meeting with a prison visitor. After the two inmates exchanged heated words, Plaintiff left the cell.

Plaintiff returned a short time later to an empty cell; he asked an officer to unlock the door so he could go in. When Plaintiff entered his cell, he observed that Swanigan's property was packed as if he were ready to move. Alongside the bed was a fan motor inside a laundry bag. Plaintiff believed that Swanigan had placed the fan motor in the laundry bag with the intent to use it as a weapon. Plaintiff immediately began to pack his own property as well, because he knew that he was going to end up in segregation that day (presumably because he anticipated a fight with Swanigan).

When Swanigan arrived at the cell following a meal, he saw that Plaintiff was already there. Swanigan ran to a supply cell and grabbed a milk crate. Swanigan tried to enter the cell, but Plaintiff fended him off with the laundry bag-weapon for approximately three to four minutes. Swanigan's television set was knocked to the floor during the struggle. Eventually two gallery officers saw what was taking place. One officer slammed the cell door shut, while another ordered Swanigan to the bullpen (a holding area). Plaintiff was disciplined for the incident and still suffers "extreme and continuous depression" on account of his altercation with Swanigan.*fn1

II. Analysis

Even accepting Plaintiff's factual allegations as true, the current complaint does not articulate a colorable cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against any Defendant. Further, because Plaintiff's complaint does not assert that he was physically injured, his claims for damages must be dismissed against all defendants. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e).

The Constitution "imposes upon prison officials the duty to take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates." Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 909 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994)) (internal citations omitted). The obligation to protect encompasses a duty "to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners." Brown, 398 F.3d at 909; Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. To establish an Eighth Amendment claim that correctional officials acted with deliberate indifference to his safety, Plaintiff must show that:

(1) he was "incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm," and (2) defendant-officials acted with ...

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