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Brandon James v. Robert Redpath and Neil Williamson

June 4, 2012

BRANDON JAMES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT REDPATH AND NEIL WILLIAMSON, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sue E. Myerscough, U.S. District Judge:

E-FILED

3:12-cv-03025-SEM-BGC # 9 Page 1 of 10

Monday, 04 June, 2012 12:00:46 PM

Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD

OPINION

Plaintiff, proceeding pro se and currently incarcerated in Sangamon County Jail, pursues an excessive force claim. The case is before the Court for a merit review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

LEGAL STANDARD

The Court is required by § 1915A to review a Complaint filed by a prisoner against a governmental entity or officer and, through such process, to identify cognizable claims, dismissing any claim that is "frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." A hearing is held if necessary to assist the Court in this review, but, in this case, the Court concludes that no hearing is necessary. The Complaint and its attachments are clear enough on their own for this Court to perform its merit review of Plaintiff's Complaint.

The review standard under § 1915A is the same as the notice pleading standard under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Zimmerman v. Tribble, 226 F.3d 568, 571 (7th Cir. 2000). To state a claim, the allegations must set forth a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Factual allegations must give enough detail to give "'fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" EEOC v. Concentra Health Serv., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007), quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)(add'l citation omitted). The factual "allegations must plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a 'speculative level.'" Id., quoting Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged . . . . Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009), citing Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555-56. However, pro se pleadings are liberally construed when applying this standard. Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546 (7th Cir. 2009).

ANALYSIS

On December 12, 2011, Plaintiff was detained at the Sangamon County Jail, where he remains detained. That day, Plaintiff got into an argument with Officer Robert Redpath regarding whether Plaintiff had received his lunch tray. Plaintiff went to speak to officers in the control room about the problem, which allegedly sparked Officer Redpath to "storm back in" and yell at Plaintiff. Plaintiff told Officer Redpath to get out of Plaintiff's face, whereupon Redpath allegedly started choking Plaintiff. Plaintiff then hit Redpath. Redpath let go of Plaintiff and ordered everyone on to the ground. Plaintiff allegedly complied, lying face down on the floor with his hands behind his back. Officer Redpath then allegedly hit Plaintiff in the head with something and punched and kicked Plaintiff in his face and ribs. Plaintiff was allegedly taken to the hospital and received stitches.

Plaintiff is presumably a pretrial detainee, which means that his claim arises from the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause, not the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The exact legal standard for an excessive force claim under the due process clause is subject to reasonable debate. See Forrest v. Prine, 620 F.3d 739, 744 (7th Cir. 2010)("The Fourteenth Amendment right to due process provides at least as much, and probably more, protection against punishment as does the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment."); Lewis v. Downey, 581 F.3d 467, 474 (7th Cir. 2009)(in an excessive force claim, due process clause prohibits all "punishment," providing "broader protection" than the Eighth Amendment, "[a]lthough the exact contours of any additional safeguards remain undefined . . . ."). However, the debate is irrelevant at this point, since Plaintiff clearly states an excessive force claim under even the Eighth Amendment. See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992)(Excessive force is force applied "maliciously and sadistically to cause harm," as opposed to force applied "in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline."). Plaintiff alleges that he was prone on the floor with his hands behind his back, offering no resistance, when Redpath struck and kicked Plaintiff.

Accordingly, a constitutional excessive force claim will proceed against Defendant Redpath. However, no federal claim is stated against Sheriff Williamson. Williamson cannot be held liable for the constitutional violations of his subordinates solely because he is in charge. Chavez v. Illinois State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 651 (7th Cir. 2001)(no respondeat superior liability under § 1983). No plausible inference arises that Williamson participated in, directed, approved of, or turned a blind eye to the excessive force. See Johnson v. Snyder, 444 F.3d 579, 583-84 (7th Cir.2006)(liability under § 1983 requires personal involvement). If Plaintiff is trying to sue Sangamon County, the County is only liable under § 1983 if the constitutional violation was caused by an unconstitutional policy or practice implemented by the County. Rice ex rel. Rice v. Correctional Medical Services, 675 F.3d 650, 675 (7th Cir. 2012)("In order to recover against a municipal or corporate defendant under section 1983, it is not enough for the plaintiff to show that an employee of ...


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