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James Brown v. Lee Ryker

June 12, 2012

JAMES BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LEE RYKER, DONALD GAETZ, AND CHRISTINE BOYD, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff James Brown brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Brown alleges violations of his Eighth Amendmentright to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 33). For the reasons explained below, the motion is DENIED.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In May 2010, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff James Brown sued three officials at the Illinois Department of Corrections' (IDOC's) Lawrence Correctional Center (Lawrence) for alleged violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. According to the Complaint, Lee Ryker (Lawrence's Warden), Donald Gaetz (Lawrence's Assistant Warden of Operations), and Christine Boyd (Lawrence's Assistant Warden of Programs) acted with deliberate indifference to a serious health risk by failing to provide sufficient water for Brown's sanitary needs following a water main break. Brown seeks a declaratory judgment that each defendant violated his constitutional rights, and he requests $3 million in compensatory damages, and $3 million in punitive damages. The undersigned judge reviewed the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and the Eighth Amendment claims against all three defendants survived. (Doc. 6). Defendants initially raised - but subsequently withdrew - the affirmative defense of failure to exhaust administrative remedies (Doc. 23). The instant motion was filed on January 27, 2012 (Doc. 33), and ripened upon Brown's response on March 29, 2012 (Doc. 47).

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2008, Plaintiff James Brown was incarcerated at the IDOC's Lawrence Correctional Center. On June 11, a water main broke in nearby Lawrenceville, Illinois. (Doc. 33-2, 2). Early summer rains had been heavy, and the resulting floodwaters covered the break in the pipe. (Doc. 33-2, 2). It took divers about five days to repair the broken water main and restore service. (Doc. 33-2, 2). At Lawrence, the broken main led to a water shortage.

Defendant (and then-Warden) Lee Ryker issued a memorandum to all inmates on June 14, outlining the following "drastic measures to ensure that all offenders [got] the necessary water supply": inmates could flush toilets three times every 24 hours; one-gallon water containers would be delivered to each offender three times every 24 hours; and ice would be delivered at least twice daily. (Doc. 33-3). According to the affidavit of one correctional officer, inmates "were never deprived of water or access to toilet facilities" during the shortage, since the prison "immediately began providing gallon jugs of water to inmates" and continued to do so until the crisis was over. (Doc. 33-2, 2). The same officer swears that running water was restored to each prison housing unit at least three times per day, which "allowed inmates to use and flush their toilets many times throughout the course of the day." (Doc. 33-2, 3--4).

Plaintiff Brown disagrees with that description of Lawrence during the water crisis, and provides evidence to support his position. In sworn affidavits, twenty inmates swear to largely the same circumstances: that no water was provided for personal hygiene, that the toilet-flushing regimen was insufficient to the point that inmates had to urinate and defecate in plastic bags, and that inmates were forced to eat - under the strong stench of human waste. (See Doc. 47-2, 8--28). No prisoner says that gallon jugs of water were brought to the inmates; to the contrary, most prisoners claim to have received two or three cups of lukewarm water per day. As a counterweight to the prisoner affidavits, Defendants provide Warden Ryker's memorandum, plus the aforementioned affidavit, in which a corrections officer swears that inmates "were not forced to urinat[e] or defecat[e] in plastic bags," and that the inmates' limited ability to flush toilets "did not result in sanitation issues, overflowing toilets, or any other crisis regarding the disposal of human waste." (Doc. 33-2, 4).

The matter having been briefed and the entire record having been thoroughly reviewed, the Court rules as follows.

STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgment, which is governed by FEDERAL RULE OF PROCEDURE 56, is proper only if the admissible evidence considered as a whole shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Dynegy Mktg. & Trade v. Multiut Corp. , 648 F.3d 506, 517 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing FED.R.CIV.P. 56(a)).*fn1 The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating - based on the pleadings, affidavits and/or information obtained via discovery - the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

After a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc ., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). See also Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, LLC , 656 F.3d 540, 547 (7th Cir. 2011) ("When a summary judgment motion is submitted and supported by evidence . . . the nonmoving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials in its pleadings"). A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. A mere scintilla of evidence supporting the non-movant's position is insufficient; a party will successfully oppose summary judgment only when it presents definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion. Albiero v. City of Kankakee , 246 F.3d 927, 931--32 (7th Cir. 2001). See also Steen v. Myers , 486 F.3d 1017, 1022 (7th Cir. 2007) ("[S]ummary judgment is . . . the put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events") (internal quotation marks omitted). In other words, there is "no genuine issue of material fact when no reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party." Van Antwerp v. City of Peoria , 627 F.3d 295, 297 (7th Cir. 2010). Accord Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248 (material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party).

Finally, the Court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge witness credibility, or to determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether a genuine issue of triable fact exists. Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co. , 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008). At summary judgment, the Court considers the facts in a light most favorable to the non-movant - here, Brown. Srail v. Vill. of Lisle , 588 F.3d 940, 948 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court ...

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