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Cordell Sanders v. George Welborn

December 17, 2010


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


Plaintiff Cordell Sanders ("Sanders"), formerly incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), filed this lawsuit on November 19, 2007, against various Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") officials, alleging violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Sanders filed an amended complaint on June 30, 2009 (Doc. 35). The amended complaint is divided into three counts. Count One alleges that George Welborn, Michael Hoffman, Terry Luehr and Daniel Porter ("Defendants") used excessive force against Sanders in violation of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Id. Count Two alleges that Defendants failed to provide Sanders with adequate medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id. Count Three alleges that Defendants violated Sanders's Fourteenth Amendment rights by directing racial slurs toward him. Id.


Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support (Docs 52, 53). In their motion, Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on Counts Two and Three of the Amended Complaint because: (1) Sanders has not established that he suffered from a objectively serious medical condition or that Defendants acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind; (2) there is no evidence that Sanders was discriminated against on the basis of his race; (3) they are entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) the claims against them in their official capacity are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.


At all times relevant to this action, Defendants Welborn, Hoffman and Luehr were correctional officers at Menard, and Porter was an Internal Affairs officer at Menard (Doc. 35). The events that occurred on July 3, 2007 are in dispute.*fn1 Sanders alleges that he was physically assaulted by Defendants Welborn, Hoffman, Luehr and Porter on July 3, 2007. Id. During the alleged assault, Sanders contends that Welborn and Hoffman uttered numerous highly offensive racial slurs (Docs. 35, 53-1, 60). As a result of the assault, Sanders allegedly suffered bleeding and bruised wrists, pinched and damages nerves in his right hand, and pain to his face, back, chest and testicles. Id. Immediately after the attack, Sanders reportedly requested medical care from Welborn and Hoffman, who refused his request. Id. Sanders also contends that he requested medical care from an unnamed gallery officer on July 4, 2007. Id. The correctional officer allegedly told Sanders that he would look into getting him medical care, but Sanders never heard back from him. Id.

On July 9, 2007, Sanders alleges that Welborn and Hoffman returned to his cell, placed him in a chokehold, and wrapped a bed sheet around his neck while stating "this is what happens to nigger monkeys who attack clan officers" (Docs. 35, 53-1, 60). Sanders allegedly requested medical treatment from an unknown gallery officer on this date. Id. Despite Sanders requests for medical care, he claims that he was never seen by a doctor while incarcerated at Menard. Id.

Not surprisingly, Defendants Welborn, Luehr and Porter paint a very different picture of the events that occurred on July 3rd and 9th, 2007. Welborn denies that he directed racial slurs toward Sanders, denies that he or anyone physically assaulted Sanders, denies that Sanders requested medical care from him or that he denied any request, and denies that he was aware that Sanders was in need of medical attention (Doc. 67-1, Ex. A). Similarly, Luehr denies that he assaulted Sanders, and claims that he was unaware that Sanders was in need of medical care. Id. at Ex. B. Porter claims that he has never used force against an inmate during his employment with the IDOC. Id. at Exhibit C.


Motion for Summary Judgment Summary judgment is appropriate when "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 the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Estate of Suskovich v. Anthem Health Plans of Va., Inc., 553 F.3d 559, 563 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining summary judgment motions, "facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). Further, the party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). After "a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party 'must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Anderson, 477 at 255 (quotation omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2) (requiring adverse party to "set out specific facts"). Finally, at summary judgment, the "court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact." National Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008).

Deliberate Indifference

The Supreme Court has declared that a prison official's "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,' proscribed by the Eighth Amendment." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976)). In order prevail on such a claim, a plaintiff must first show that his condition was "objectively, sufficiently serious" and that the "prison officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 652-53 (7th Cir. 2005) (citations and quotations omitted); see also Williams v. Liefer, 491 F.3d 710, 714 (7th Cir. 2007). With respect to the objective component of that inquiry, "[a] 'serious' medical need is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention." Foelker v. Outagamie County, 394 F.3d 510, 512-13 (7th Cir. 2005).

Second, a prisoner must show that prison officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind, namely deliberate indifference. "The infliction of suffering on prisoners can be found to violate the Eighth Amendment only if that infliction is either deliberate, or reckless in the criminal law sense." Duckworth v. Franzen, 780 F.2d 645, 652-653 (7th Cir. 1985). Negligence, gross negligence, or even "recklessness," as that term is used in tort cases, is not enough. Id. at 653; Shockley v. Jones, 823 F.2d 1068, 1072 (7th Cir. 1987). Put another way, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the prison officials were "aware of facts from ...

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