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Henderson v. Brown

September 27, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, claims in this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that Defendants, five Illinois Department of Corrections transport officers, violated his constitutional rights by acting with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's safety and medical needs. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants allowed him to fall while he was exiting a prison van on his way to court and then failed to take him to a medical care provider for treatment of his injuries. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's safety claim; they do not seek judgment on the claim regarding medical care.

The standards for ruling on a motion for summary judgment are well recognized. Such motion should be granted "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(2); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Vision Church v. Village of Long Grove, 468 F.3d 975, 988 (7th Cir. 2006). In determining whether factual issues exist, the court views the evidence, and draws all reasonable inferences, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Walker v. Northeast Regional Commuter Railroad Corp., 225 F.3d 895, 897 (7th Cir. 2000). Where the record, viewed under that generous standard, "could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Sarver v. Experian Information Solutions, 390 F.3d 969, 970 (7th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted).


Defendants filed a statement of uncontested material facts pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 (N.D. Ill.). Together with their motion for summary judgment, Defendants served Plaintiff with the "Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment" [Doc. 78], required by circuit precedent. That notice clearly explained the requirements of the Local Rules and warned Plaintiff that his failure to controvert the facts as set forth in the moving party's statement would result in those facts being deemed admitted. See, e.g., Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2003).*fn1

The Seventh Circuit has endorsed strict enforcement of Local Rule 56.1. See Ammons v. Aramark Uniform Servs., Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817 (7th Cir. 2004); Bordelon v. Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees, 233 F.3d 524, 527 (7th Cir 2000) (strict compliance with the local rules governing summary judgment is upheld given the importance of local rules that structure the summary judgment process). Although pro se plaintiffs are entitled to some leniency standards, they are nevertheless required to comply with appropriate procedural rules. Members v. Paige, 140 F.3d 699, 702 (7th Cir. 1998) ("[R]ules apply to uncounseled litigants and must be enforced"); Jones v. Phipps, 39 F.3d 158, 163 (7th Cir.1994); Fischer v. Ameritech, No. 98 C 7470, 2002 WL 1949726, *4 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 23, 2002) (Pallmeyer, J.). In this case, the court specifically alerted Plaintiff to the basic requirements of Local Rule 56.1 in light of his failure to file a proper response to Defendants' earlier summary judgment motion on exhaustion grounds. (See Memorandum Opinion and Order of August 11, 2009 at 1, n. 1.) Despite these admonitions, Plaintiff has not responded to Defendants' statement of uncontested facts in his opposing brief and, as he implicitly concedes, Defendants' proposed statements of facts, all of which are supported by the record, are deemed admitted. See Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 687 (7th Cir. 2008); L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(B) (N.D. Ill.). The following facts are based upon those statements, but the court will also exercise its discretion to consider additional information that appears in Plaintiff's deposition testimony and exhibits.

Plaintiff is a state prisoner, confined at the Stateville Correctional Center at all times relevant to this action. (Complaint, ¶ 8.) Defendants Troy Hall, Larissa Williamson, Allen Kocher, and Nina Watts are all Stateville correctional officers.*fn2 (Complaint, ¶ 2.)

On August 16, 2006, Defendants transported Plaintiff by prison van from Stateville to a court hearing in Chicago in connection with a custody hearing relating to his son. (Defendants' Exhibit A, Deposition of Marco Henderson, at 9, 13, 14.) Approximately three or four inmates besides Plaintiff were in the van as well. (Id. at 42.) Plaintiff's wrists were handcuffed, and he wore waist shackles and ankle restraints while away from Stateville. (Id. at 21.) Although shackled, Plaintiff was able to board the van without the officers' assistance. (Id. at 36.)

Once Plaintiff arrived at the courthouse, officers placed a milk crate on the ground for him to step on as he exited the van. (Id. at 27.) Plaintiff was familiar with this procedure; he testified that a milk crate was used in this way "at least 85 percent of the time." (Id. at 22.) Often, he stated, a transport officer would help Plaintiff out of the van on his arrival at court because the leg chains made it difficult to step down. (Id. at 22, 36.) On the return to Stateville, however, officers never assisted inmates in getting out of the transport, as the officers were eager to clock out and go home. (Id. at 37.) Plaintiff says that transfers from facility to facility do not generally involve the use of leg manacles, but his legs are shackled whenever he is transported outside "the boundaries of the Illinois Department of Corrections." (Id. at 49-50.)

On the date in question, Defendant Brown ordered the inmates out of the van. (Id. at 45.) Brown was one of the transport officers who usually assisted Plaintiff in exiting the van, but he did not do so on this occasion, and Plaintiff did not ask for any assistance. (Id. at 27, 47.) As he exited the vehicle, Plaintiff stumbled and fell. (Id. at 28.) He sustained minor scratches on his arm in the fall; he claims, in addition, that "something's wrong with [his] elbow" since the fall occurred. Plaintiff maintains that he also continues to suffer from headaches and experiences back problems since the incident. (Id. at 33.) Plaintiff recalls that he lay on the ground for somewhere between 10 seconds and one minute before Officers Kocher and Brown "snatched" him up. (Id. at 30-31, 52.)

An officer stationed at the courthouse saw the fall and urged Defendants to call an ambulance, but Defendants rejected the proposal. (Id. at 32.) According to Defendant Kocher, Plaintiff was asked whether he needed medical assistance, but he purportedly responded that he did not. (Defendants' Exhibit C-2, Incident Report..) About fifteen minutes later, Defendants notified their shift commander that Plaintiff had fallen but was not requesting medical attention. (Id.)*fn3

When Plaintiff returned to Stateville that evening, one of the officers assisted him as he disembarked the van. (Plaintiff's Dep. at 35.) Although Plaintiff did not ask for medical assistance, he was taken to the health care unit once he arrived at the prison. (Id. at 37-38.)

Prior to August 16, 2006, Plaintiff had been transported from Stateville to court "over 100 times." (Id. at 18.) He had always been shackled during prior trips and had never fallen before. (Id. at 25, 37.) Plaintiff has never witnessed any other inmates fall from the vans and injure themselves. (Id. at 26, 36, 37.) Though Defendants Watts, Hall, and Kocher have each participated in hundreds of writs (Watts Affidavit, ¶ 5; Kocher Affidavit, ¶ 5; Defendants' Exhibit D, Affidavit of Troy Hall, ¶ 4), they likewise had never known an inmate to fall during transportation to other courts. (Defendants' Exhibit B, Affidavit of Nina Watts, ¶ 5; Defendants' Exhibit C, ...

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