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Amos E. Mason v. Virgil Smith

March 10, 2011

AMOS E. MASON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VIRGIL SMITH, LT. HOLTON, OFFICER ROY, JAMES R. RYAN, JOHN DOE GRIEVANCE OFFICER, DEFENDANTS.



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

#M-02422,

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, an inmate in the Pontiac 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, in pertinent part:

(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). Upon careful review of the complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds that the claims in the complaint against identified Defendants may not be dismissed at this point in the litigation.

Facts:

The following version of the facts of this case are gleaned from Plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 5). At some unspecified time prior to February 21, 2010, Plaintiff informed Defendant Smith that he did not feel safe in the same cell as his cellmate, and requested to be moved. Defendant Smith denied this request. Plaintiff then met with his psychiatrist, who made a recommendation based on the cellmate's history that Plaintiff be moved to another cell. Defendant Smith again refused to honor this request. Defendant Holton*fn1 was also made aware of the request, and informed Defendant Smith to ignore it.

On February 21, 2010, Plaintiff was attacked by his cellmate, causing severe injury to his lower lip. Plaintiff was taken to the medical ward, and ultimately sent to an outside hospital for treatment. Plaintiff received stitches to his lip, as well as a hepatitis immunization shot. Discussion:

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Smith and Holton failed to protect him from a known risk of harm when they refused to move him to a new cell away from his cellmate. In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the Supreme Court held that "prison officials have a duty ... to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners." Id. at 833 (internal citations omitted); see also Pinkston v. Madry, 440 F.3d 879, 889 (7th Cir. 2006). However, not every harm caused by another inmate translates into constitutional liability for the corrections officers responsible for the prisoner's safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. In order for a plaintiff to succeed on a claim for failure to protect, he must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, and that the defendants acted with "deliberate indifference" to that danger. Id.; Pinkston, 440 F.3d at 889. A plaintiff also must prove that prison officials were aware of a specific, impending, and substantial threat to his safety, often by showing that he complained to prison officials about a specific threat to his safety. Pope v. Shafer, 86 F.3d 90, 92 (7th Cir. 1996). In other words, Defendants had to know that there was a substantial risk that those who attacked Plaintiff would do so, yet failed to take any action. See Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 733-34 (7th Cir. 2001). However, conduct that amounts to negligence or inadvertence is not enough to state a claim, Pinkston, F.3d at 889 (discussing Watts v. Laurent, 774 F.2d 168, 172 (7th Cir. 1985)).

Plaintiff alleges that he made Defendants Smith and Holton aware of the threat his cellmate posed. Further, Plaintiff's prison psychiatrist made Defendants Smith and Holton aware of the risk, and recommended that Plaintiff be moved to a new cell. Even with this information from both Plaintiff and the psychiatrist, Defendants Smith and Holton ignored the impending danger. The refusal to heed the warnings resulted in Plaintiff being attacked by his cellmate. Because Defendants Smith and Holton were warned that the cellmate posed a danger to ...


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