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Clarence Commings, #N-60964 v. Matthew Flowers

September 7, 2011


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


Plaintiff Clarence Commings, an inmate in Pontiac Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on an incident that occurred while Plaintiff was housed at Pinckneyville Correctional Center. Plaintiff is serving a fifteen year sentence for aggravated vehicular hijacking. Plaintiff is represented by counsel and has paid the filing fee in full. Defendant has been served with summons and has filed his answer and affirmative defenses by counsel (Doc. 9). 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). Conversely, 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).

Upon careful review of the complaint pursuant to § 1915A, the Court finds that Plaintiff's claims merit further consideration.

The Complaint

During the month of May, 2010, the sink in Plaintiff's cell on the C-Wing of Pinckneyville Correctional Center had a constant leak that caused flooding in the cell and a foul smell of mildew. Plaintiff made several complaints to Defendant Flowers and to other correctional officers asking for repairs to be made, but no action was taken. Plaintiff announced he would go on a hunger strike, and wrote letters to other prison officials and to the governor, complaining of the conditions and staff's refusal to make repairs. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Flowers was aware of these actions. Instead of attempting to remedy the cell conditions, Defendant threatened to harm Plaintiff.

After Plaintiff's ongoing complaints about the cell continued to be ignored, Plaintiff requested to be placed on suicide watch, but Defendant Flowers and other officers intercepted his requests. One such request did get through, and Plaintiff was removed from the cell and put into a suicide watch cell for a time. Upon Plaintiff's release from suicide watch, he was placed on the A-Wing in cell 5-A-66, where he was housed on June 24, 2010.

On that date, Defendant Flowers was supervising the distribution of ice to inmates on Plaintiff's gallery. Defendant opened the "chuckhole" door to Plaintiff's cell and yelled to Plaintiff to "put [his] fucking bowl on the chuckhole, now!" (Doc. 2, p. 5). The chuckhole door has a hinge on the bottom and opens downward and out, creating a shelf where trays or other items can be passed in and out of the cell. When opened, there is a small gap between the hinges and the solid door. After Defendant Flowers opened the chuckhole door, Plaintiff placed his right hand on the open door, with his fourth finger resting in this gap. As Plaintiff turned to reach his ice bowl with his other hand, Defendant Flowers slammed the chuckhole door closed, trapping the end of Plaintiff's finger and causing him great pain. Plaintiff yelled to Defendant Flowers that his finger was trapped, but Defendant Flowers instead increased the pressure on the door, which would not latch because Plaintiff's finger prevented it from closing completely. Defendant Flowers continued pushing on the door while cursing at Plaintiff, until the end of Plaintiff's finger was completely severed, and blood spattered from the wound. Defendant Flowers then opened the chuckhole door, and the severed portion of Plaintiff's finger was in plain view resting on the door. Defendant Flowers yelled, "You got blood all over me you piece of shit," and walked away (Doc. 2, p. 6).

Approximately ten minutes later, Plaintiff was removed from his cell by other officers, bleeding and in severe pain. He was taken to the prison Health Care Unit, then to Pinckneyville Community Hospital, where doctors determined he needed more specialized treatment. Plaintiff was then taken to Washington County Hospital, where surgery was required to remove damaged bone and tissue, and close the amputated area. Plaintiff was treated with pain medication and antibiotics upon his return to prison, but continues to suffer pain and loss of feeling in the injured finger.

To add insult to injury, Defendant Flowers filed a false disciplinary report against Plaintiff, claiming that Plaintiff reached out of the chuckhole, grabbed Defendant Flowers by the shirt, and slung blood on him. Several days later, Plaintiff was found guilty of assaulting a staff member. As punishment, Plaintiff was put in disciplinary segregation for one year, given a disciplinary transfer to ...

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