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John L. Ray v. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart

April 1, 2011

JOHN L. RAY
v.
COOK COUNTY SHERIFF TOM DART



Name of Assigned Judge RONALD A. GUZMAN Sitting Judge if Other or Magistrate Judge than Assigned Judge

CASE TITLE

(#B-75296)

DOCKET ENTRY TEXT:

The plaintiff's motion for leave to file in forma pauperis [#3] is granted. However, the complaint is dismissed on initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A for failure to state a federal claim. The case is terminated. The plaintiff's motion for appointment of counsel [#4] is denied as moot. Dismissal is without prejudice to pursuing any relief that may be available in state court. The trust fund officer at the plaintiff's place of confinement is authorized and ordered to make deductions from the plaintiff's account and payments to the clerk of court in accordance with this order. The clerk is directed to mail a copy of this order to the trust fund officer at the Vienna Correctional Center. This dismissal counts as one of the plaintiff's three allotted dismissals under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

O [For further details see text below.] Docketing to mail notices.

STATEMENT

The plaintiff, currently a state prisoner, has brought this pro se civil rights action purportedly pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff claims that the defendant, the Cook County Sheriff, violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights by exposing him to unreasonable risk of harm while the plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the jail. More specifically, the plaintiff alleges that he sustained a severe cut on his arm from a chuckhole that went unrepaired despite multiple requests to remove exposed wires from the opening.

The court finds that the plaintiff is unable to prepay the filing fee and hereby grants his motion to proceed in forma pauperis. Because the plaintiff currently has a negative balance in his inmate trust account, the initial partial filing fee is waived pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4). However, the trust fund officer at the plaintiff's place of incarceration is authorized and ordered to begin collecting monthly payments from the plaintiff's trust fund account in the amount of 20% of the preceding month's income credited to the account. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). Monthly payments shall be forwarded to the clerk of court each time the account balance exceeds $10 until the full $350 filing fee is paid. Id. Separate deductions and payments shall be made with respect to each action or appeal filed by the plaintiff. All payments shall be sent to the Clerk, United States District Court, 219 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, Illinois 60604, attn: Cashier's Desk, 20th Floor, and shall clearly identify the plaintiff's name and this case number.

However, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court is required to dismiss a suit brought in forma pauperis at any time if the court determines that it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. Here, even accepting the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, the court finds that the complaint fails to state a federal claim as a matter of law.

The Constitution "imposes upon prison officials the duty to take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates." Santiago v. Walls, 599 F.3d 749, 758 (7th Cir. 2010), citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). To establish a Fourteenth Amendment claim that correctional officials acted with deliberate indifference to his safety, a plaintiff must show that: (1) he was "incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm," and (2) defendant-officials acted with "deliberate indifference" to that risk. Santiago, 599 F.3d at 756; Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. In the case at bar, the plaintiff cannot satisfy either prong.

To satisfy the objective prong, a plaintiff must demonstrate not only that he or she experienced, or was exposed to, a serious harm, but also that there was a known substantial risk that serious harm might actually occur. Santiago, 599 F.3d at 758, citing Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 910 (7th Cir. 2005). The general definition of "substantial risk" includes "risks so great that they are almost certain to materialize if nothing is done." Brown, 398 F.3d at 911 (citations omitted).

The courts have routinely found minor, potential hazards such as the one at issue in this case not to be sufficiently serious to rise to the level of a constitutional violation. For example, in Christopher v. Buss, 384 F.3d 879 (7th Cir. 2004), an inmate claimed that he was injured during a ball game when a baseball bounced off a "protrusive lip" on the softball field and hit him in the eye. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal upon initial screening, concluding that the defect in the field was not an excessive risk to inmate safety. As the Court of Appeals explained:

An "objectively 'sufficiently serious' " risk . . . is one that society considers so grave that to expose any unwilling individual to it would offend contemporary standards of decency. Unlike the acute risks posed by exposure to raw sewage, or inordinate levels of environmental tobacco smoke, or amputation from operating obviously dangerous machinery, or potential attacks by other inmates, the risk of being hit by a ...


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