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White v. Suneja

November 15, 2010


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


Plaintiff Charles White, formerly an inmate in the Menard Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Upon careful review of the complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A; portions of this action are subject to summary dismissal.


White states that he declared a hunger strike on July 23, 2008, due to "abuse of authority." When White persisted in his hunger strike, an unnamed doctor (a John Doe defendant in this action) inserted a feeding tube on a daily basis from September 6 through November 9, 2008. White states that even though he did not resist this force-feeding process, the feeding tube caused his nose and throat to bleed constantly, in addition to the choking and coughing he experienced. As the hunger strike persisted, Defendant Suneja prescribed psychotropic medication for White, which was forcibly injected by Defendant Foutch against White's express wishes.


White alleges that the actions of Suneja, Foutch, and the John Doe doctor constitute cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment.


The Court is not aware of any specific guarantee under the First Amendment, or any other constitutional provision, that protects inmate hunger strikes. The Seventh Circuit has frowned upon inmate coercive tactics like hunger strikes. See Freeman v. Berge, 441 F.3d 543, 546 (7th Cir. 2006) ("[a] prison cannot be forced by such tactics to change an otherwise reasonable rule"). Illinois courts have gone further to specifically hold that the I.D.O.C. does not violate an inmate's constitutional rights in seeking a court order to force feed an inmate on a hunger strike. See People ex rel. Illinois Dept. of Corrections v. Millard, 782 N.E.2d 966, 969 (Ill.App.Ct. 2003). As stated by the Illinois Court of Appeals, Defendant was not on a hunger strike as a means of demonstrating on behalf of some political cause or religious belief. His "cause," as is most commonly the case in hunger strike situations in prison, was to manipulate the system, to gain the attention of prison officials with the hope of making his confinement easier. We do not condone such manipulative behavior in our prison system. At the same time, however, we respect an individual's right to privacy and the right to control one's own body. See Thor v. Superior Court, 5 Cal.4th 725, 734-38, 855 P.2d 375, 380-83, 21 Cal.Rptr.2d 357, 362-65 (1993) (a person's interest in personal autonomy and self-determination is a fundamentally commanding one, with well-established legal and philosophical underpinnings). While in the Department's custody, however, an inmate's right to privacy must be balanced against the Department's interest in maintaining an orderly and disciplined institution. Because the Department's interest in prison administration is the controlling factor here, we hold that the Department may force-feed a hunger-striking inmate, whose only purpose is to attempt to manipulate the system so as to avoid disruptive or otherwise detrimental effects to the orderly administration of our prison system.

Id. at 972. The Seventh Circuit has agreed that a prison cannot allow a prisoner to starve himself to the point of causing great bodily harm, and that at some point the prison may be required to force feed a prisoner "to prevent him from ...

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