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Brian Scholes v. Fayette County Jail

May 26, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: G. Patrick Murphy United States District Judge

IDOC # S00226,


MURPHY, District Judge:

Plaintiff Brian Scholes, a prisoner in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections who currently is incarcerated in the Taylorville Correctional Center, brings this action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights by persons acting under color of state law. This case is before the Court for screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides, in relevant 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 upon which relief may be granted[.] 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). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Though the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, "some factual allegations will be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice to defendants of the plaintiff's claim." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Also, "courts should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d 965, 969 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)).

In Scholes's pro se complaint in this case, Scholes alleges that on November 16, 2009, while Scholes was a prisoner in Defendant Fayette County Jail ("the Jail"), presumably as a pretrial detainee, Scholes was directed by Defendants Miles McConkey and Brian Glidden, Fayette County sheriff's deputies, to get out of bed. As McConkey and Glidden led Scholes down a hall at the Jail, Scholes alleges, McConkey and Glidden proceeded to attack him, Scholes, without provocation, repeatedly administering jolts of electricity to Scholes with a taser gun, jumping on Scholes, forcing a knee into Scholes's chest, and pulling Scholes's hair. Although Scholes pleaded for the assault to stop, McConkey supposedly told Scholes that the attack would not be finished until he, McConkey, was "fucking done." Doc. 1 at 5. After the attack, McConkey reportedly bragged to Scholes, "I really fucked you up, didn't I?" Id. at 6. Scholes alleges use of excessive force. Additionally, Scholes claims that he received inadequate medical care in the wake of the alleged assault. Named as Defendants in the case, in addition to the Jail, McConkey, and Glidden, are Arron Lay, the Fayette County sheriff, two unknown parties, Nurse Doe and Dr. Doe, who are health care providers at the Jail, and Health Professionals, Ltd. ("Health Professionals"), a company that furnishes health care services to prisoners at the Jail. Scholes seeks compensatory damages of $250,000 from each Defendant.

Claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, when involving pretrial detainees, arise under the Fourteenth Amendment and not the Eighth Amendment. See Weiss v. Cooley, 230 F.3d 1027, 1032 (7th Cir. 2000). However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has held that "§ 1983 claims brought under the Fourteenth Amendment are to be analyzed under the Eighth Amendment test." Henderson v. Sheahan, 196 F.3d 839, 844 n.2 (7th Cir. 1999). See also Mathis v. Fairman, 120 F.3d 88, 91 n.3 (7th Cir. 1997) (quoting City of Revere v. Massachusetts Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244 (1983)) ("The rights of a pre-trial detainee under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment are 'at least as great as the Eighth Amendment protections available to a convicted prisoner.'"). When a prisoner brings an excessive force claim, a court's task "is to determine 'whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.'" Lunsford v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1574, 1581 (7th Cir. 1994) (quoting Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320-21 (1986)). "Whether the defendants' actions were done in a malicious and sadistic manner to cause harm is a strict and fairly high threshold. Factors relevant to [the] inquiry include the nature and extent of the harm, the need for force, the threat to the safety of staff and inmates, and the extent of the injury inflicted on the prisoner." Id. (citing Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992)). "Infliction of pain that is 'totally without penological justification' is per se malicious." Fillmore v. Page, 358 F.3d 496, 504 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 737 (2002)). Still, "not every 'malevolent touch by a prison guard' gives rise to a federal cause of action, even if the use of force in question 'may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chambers.'" Outlaw v. Newkirk, 259 F.3d 833, 838 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9). Thus, an excessive force claim "cannot be predicated on a de minimis use of force" and "[i]nstead, the quantum of force required for a constitutional violation is that which is 'repugnant to the conscience of mankind.'" Fillmore, 358 F.3d at 504 (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 10). Importantly, however, a prisoner claiming excessive force need not establish serious bodily injury, because otherwise the Constitution "would permit any physical punishment, no matter how diabolic or inhuman, inflicting less than some arbitrary quantity of injury." Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9.

Concerning claims for denials of medical care by prisoners, it is well settled, of course, that "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)). As the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has instructed, the Eighth Amendment "imposes upon prison officials the duty to 'provide humane conditions of confinement,' including the obligation to provide medical care to those whom [they have] incarcerated." Vance v. Peters, 97 F.3d 987, 991 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994)). A prisoner raising a claim against a prison official for deliberate indifference to the prisoner's serious medical needs must satisfy two requirements. The first requirement compels the prisoner to satisfy an objective standard: "[T]he deprivation alleged must be, objectively, 'sufficiently serious[.]'" Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)). Thus, "a prison official's act or omission must result in the denial of 'the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'" Id. (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). The second requirement demands that the prisoner satisfy a subjective standard:

"[A] prison official must have a 'sufficiently culpable state of mind,'" one that amounts to "'deliberate indifference' to inmate health or safety." Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297). See also Hudson, 503 U.S. at 5 (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104) ("[T]he appropriate inquiry when an inmate alleges that prison officials failed to attend to serious medical needs is whether the officials exhibited 'deliberate indifference.'"). An objectively 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.'" Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 593 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Zentmyer v. Kendall County, Ill., 220 F.3d 805, 810 (7th Cir. 2000)) (quotation omitted).

With respect to Scholes's excessive force claim, the Court finds that Scholes has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted against McConkey and Glidden. Allegations that prison guards physically beat an unresisting prisoner obviously state a claim for use of excessive force. See, e.g., Hill v. Shelander, 992 F.2d 714, 718 (7th Cir. 1993) (allegations that a prison guard physically pulled a prisoner out of his cell by the prisoner's shoulder and hair, slammed the prisoner's head against the bars of an adjacent cell, and struck the prisoner twice in the face and kneed the prisoner in the groin violated clearly established Eighth Amendment standards). Similarly, Scholes's allegations that he was shocked repeatedly with a taser gun for no reason also rise to the level of a constitutional violation. According to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a taser gun "sends an electric pulse through the body of the victim causing immobilization, disorientation, loss of balance, and weakness." Matta-Ballesteros v. Henman, 896 F.2d 255, 256 n.2 (7th Cir. 1990). Said differently, a taser gun "inflicts a painful and frightening blow that temporarily paralyzes the large muscles of the body, rendering the victim helpless." Lewis v. Downey, 581 F.3d 467, 475 (7th Cir. 2009) (brackets omitted). Thus, "the use of a taser gun against a prisoner is more than a de minimis application of force." Id. With respect to the subjective prong of the Eighth Amendment standard, whether force was applied maliciously and sadistically, the Constitution is not offended when a taser gun "is used 'in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore [prison] discipline.'" Id. at 476 (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7). Accord Jefferson v. Cruse, 324 Fed. Appx. 599, 599 (9th Cir. 2009) (use of a taser gun to enforce discipline and security and not for the sole purpose of punishment or infliction of pain does not violate the Eighth Amendment); Jasper v. Thalacker, 999 F.2d 353, 354 (8th Cir. 1993) (use of a taser gun to subdue an unruly prisoner did not violate the Eighth Amendment where there was no evidence that the guards used force sadistically or maliciously to cause harm); Caldwell v. Moore, 968 F.2d 595, 602 (6th Cir. 1992) (use of a taser gun on a disruptive prisoner to restore discipline and order does not violate the Eighth Amendment). Where Scholes alleges that a taser gun was used on him repeatedly without justification, this states a claim for a deprivation of Scholes's constitutional rights. See Vasquez v. Gempeler, No. 06-cv-743-bbc, 2008 WL 2953566, at *2 (W.D. Wis. July 29, 2008) (a prisoner's claim that he was shocked with a taser gun by guards after he had stopped struggling established an excessive force claim); Williams v. Schueler, No. 04-C-65, 2006 WL 3469597, at **4-5 (E.D. Wis. Nov. 29, 2006) (a prisoner's claim that two guards restrained him while a third guard repeatedly shocked him with a taser gun established an excessive force claim); Shelton v. Angelone, 183 F. Supp. 2d 830, 835 (W.D. Va. 2002) (evidence that prison guards beat and repeatedly shocked a shackled prisoner without justification would support a finding that the guards applied force "maliciously and sadistically"). Scholes may proceed on his excessive force claim against McConkey and Glidden.

With respect to Scholes's allegations of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, the Court finds that Scholes has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Deliberate indifference for Eighth Amendment purposes is "something approaching a total unconcern for [a prisoner's] welfare in the face of serious risks, or a conscious, culpable refusal to prevent harm[.]" Duane v. Lane, 959 F.2d 673, 677 (7th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted). This total disregard for a prisoner's safety is "the functional equivalent of wanting harm to come to the prisoner." McGill v. Duckworth, 944 F.2d 344, 347 (7th Cir. 1991). Under this standard, "conduct is deliberately indifferent when the official has acted in an intentional or criminally reckless manner, i.e., the defendant must have known that the plaintiff was at serious risk of being harmed and decided not to do anything to prevent that harm from occurring even though he could have easily done so." Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d 469, 478 (7th Cir. 2005) (quotation and brackets omitted). See also Johnson v. Snyder, 444 F.3d 579, 585 (7th Cir. 2006) (quoting Collignon v. Milwaukee County, 163 F.3d 982, 988 (7th Cir. 1998)) ("Deliberate indifference 'is more than negligence and approaches intentional wrongdoing' . . . . [D]eliberate indifference is 'essentially a criminal recklessness standard, that is, ignoring a known risk.'"). In this instance, Scholes alleges that McConkey gave him pain medication shortly after the alleged assault, which does not suggest deliberate indifference to Scholes's medical needs. The following day Scholes saw Nurse Doe, who telephoned Dr. Doe, apparently at Scholes's request. Scholes complains that Nurse Doe gave him no treatment and Dr. Doe refused to examine him. However, "the Eighth Amendment does not require that prisoners receive 'unqualified access to health care.'" Johnson v. Doughty, 433 F.3d 1001, 1013 (7th Cir. 2006) (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9). Also, "[u]nder the Eighth Amendment, [a prisoner] is not entitled to demand specific care" or "the best care possible," only "reasonable measures to meet a substantial risk of serious harm[.]" Forbes v. Edgar, 112 F.3d 262, 267 (7th Cir. 1997).

Moreover, the injuries Scholes describes himself as suffering in the wake of the alleged assault on November 16, 2009, are merely the normal incidents of fighting, e.g., abrasions, bruising, and mild bleeding (including, it appears, some bleeding that occurred when Scholes removed taser prongs from his skin after the alleged assault). Thus, it is not clear what care Scholes expected the medical staff at the Jail to provide him, save to give him aspirin, bandages, and perhaps ice. Simply put, Scholes's injuries were not objectively serious ones to which the medical staff were recklessly indifferent. See Pinkston v. Madry, 440 F.3d 879, 891 (7th Cir. 2006) (holding that a split lip and a swollen cheek do not rise to the level of an objectively serious medical need); Murrell v. Bukowski, No. 08-2044, 2011 WL 884736, at *16 (C.D. Ill. Mar. 11, 2011) (a prisoner's "busted lip" caused by fighting was not objectively serious); Alvarado v. Battaglia, 539 F. Supp. 2d 1022, 1027-28 (N.D. Ill. 2008) (a prisoner who suffered a small cut on his lip and made subjective complaints of pain in his groin and knee after a fall in the prison yard did not show the existence of an objectively serious medical need); Willis v. Scrogum, No. 04-1413, 2006 WL 2597889, at **6-7 (C.D. Ill. Sept. 8, 2006) (a prisoner who suffered abrasions on his forehead and both sides of his face as well as an abrasion on his lower lip after a fight did not demonstrate the existence of an objectively serious medical need). ...

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