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Lamont Thomas v. State of Illinois

August 9, 2012

LAMONT THOMAS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE OF ILLINOIS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Lamont Thomas ("Plaintiff"), an inmate in Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence"), brings this suit for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is serving a fifteen year sentence for burglary, and four years for theft. 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.

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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, 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 Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

Upon careful review of the complaint and supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A; portions of this action are subject to summary dismissal.

The Complaint

Initially, it is apparent from a reading of the numbered paragraphs of the complaint that two pages (Doc. 1, pp. 17 and 18) were inadvertently reversed by Plaintiff. Therefore, the Clerk shall be directed to re-file those two pages of the complaint to place them in the proper order. References below to pages 17 and 18 shall be to the corrected version of the complaint.

Plaintiff's claims arose on July 29, 2010, when he was brought to the Lawrence Health Care Unit ("HCU") in response to his request to obtain copies of some of his medical records, which he needed for other pending litigation (Doc. 1, pp. 11, 13).

Plaintiff had made prior requests for this information over the past seven months, without successfully obtaining the desired records. He suffers from hepatitis-C and hypertension, and had undergone thyroid testing. He sought records of examinations relating to these problems from December 2009 to July 2010. Although his medical records amounted to some 400 pages, he needed copies of only 30 to 40 selected pages (Doc. 1, p. 13).

Plaintiff asserts that, "per rule and custom" he was entitled to receive the first 50 pages of his requested medical records free of charge (Doc. 1, pp. 9,13). However, when he arrived to pick up the records, Defendant Julie Morris informed Plaintiff that in order to receive the records, he must sign a voucher to be charged a fee of $12.00. Plaintiff states that on two other occasions, Defendants Martin, Morris, and Brooks (all HCU staff) had attempted to make him pay for excess copies after they erroneously duplicated records that he did not request. Plaintiff did not want to agree to any payment without first reviewing the records, and maintained that no payment should be due because of the 50-free-pages rule. Plaintiff was also unwilling to sign the "refusal slip" documenting that he refused to accept the copies of the records. A dispute between Plaintiff and Defendants Morris and Brooks ensued, in which Plaintiff claims Defendant Morris yelled racial epithets at him (Doc. 1, pp. 14-16).

Defendants Bayler,*fn1 Stanford, and Dowden*fn2 (Correctional Officers) were in the HCU during this confrontation. Defendant Brooks asked Defendant Bayler to take Plaintiff to segregation (Doc. 1, p. 15). Plaintiff was instead returned to his regular cell, but was told one hour later that Defendant Bayler had ordered him to be taken to segregation (Doc. 1, p. 16). He was then placed into a "strip cell" in the segregation unit, where he remained for approximately four days.

Defendant Morris wrote a disciplinary ticket on Plaintiff, charging him with insolence and disobeying a direct order (Doc. 1, p. 23; Doc. 1-1, pp. 1-2). After a hearing, Plaintiff was given one month in segregation and a one-month demotion to C-grade (Doc. 1-1, p. 3).

Plaintiff claims that Defendants Morris and Brooks convinced Defendants Bayler and Stuck to put him in the segregation strip cell, where conditions were unusually harsh, in retaliation for Plaintiff's assertion of his rights to 50 free pages of his medical records, and of his right not to sign either the payment consent form or the refusal slip (Doc. 1, p. 16). Defendants Morris and Brooks were also motivated in part by a desire to retaliate for his having filed past grievances against them. According to Plaintiff, the strip cell was to be used for inmates who were suicidal (which he was not), and he was purposely placed in that cell by Defendant Stuck (the segregation supervisor). Defendant Stuck allegedly went along with the request of Defendants Morris, Brooks, and Bayler to house Plaintiff in the strip cell when other, less harsh segregation cells were available (Doc. 1, p. 18).

The strip cell was filthy and had none of the amenities of a regular cell -- no electrical outlets or switch to turn off the lights (which stayed on all night), the bed was just a slab of concrete, and the bedding consisted of only a torn and dirty plastic-covered mattress (Doc. 1, pp. 20-22). Plaintiff was also not allowed to have any property, clean clothing, or writing materials. Worse, he claims the cell walls were smeared with feces and the room smelled of urine; it was infested with bugs, red ants, and spiders which he found crawling on his body any time he lay down (he sustained a painful spider bite); the water was brown and dirty and gave him gas, diarrhea, and stomach aches; there was no ventilation or handles to close the window, causing the room temperature to exceed 90 degrees during the day and fall into the 50s or below at night, as well as letting rain and insects into the room. He was also denied one dinner and two lunch meals due to confusion on the part of unnamed staff who thought he was on a hunger strike (Doc. 1, p. 22).

Plaintiff's requests to be moved or given cleaning supplies were refused by Defendants Stuck, Goins, Vaughn, and Stanford. Defendant Vaughn (the segregation unit counselor) refused to give Plaintiff writing materials, preventing him from writing a request slip to be moved from the strip cell. These Defendants also allegedly admitted to Plaintiff that he had been placed there as a favor to Defendants Bayler, Morris, and Brooks, and they were not going to go against the wishes of these fellow staff members by moving him (Doc. 1, p. 20). Defendant Fisher refused to issue Plaintiff unspecified property items that were permitted in segregation cells, while providing those same items to other inmates who went into segregation on the same day as Plaintiff (Doc. 1, p. 24). Plaintiff asserts this was part of the retaliation scheme against him.

Additionally, Plaintiff claims that when he was taken to the showers and strip-searched on July 29, 2010, before being moved to the strip cell, he began to feel faint, dizzy, and had difficulty breathing (Doc. 1, pp. 19-20). He asked Defendant Stuck for medical attention for these problems, but Defendant Stuck as well as other unknown officers in the shower area refused to call for any medical staff to examine Plaintiff.

Plaintiff further makes a general claim that from 2009 through 2011, Defendants Martin, Morris, and Brooks (the HCU staff) conspired to hinder his efforts to "obtain competent/adequate/and necessary medical care," and that after he filed formal complaints, they denied medical services and engaged in "acts of deliberate harm/punishments" in retaliation for those complaints (Doc. 1, p. 10). He also asks the Court to allow him to bring a common law claim of negligence against all the Defendants, who failed to provide "unbiased medical services" to him, causing his pre-existing ailments to worsen, as well as causing new medical problems (Doc. 1, pp. 25-26).

Finally, Plaintiff asserts that it is the policy of Defendant Wexford Health Service, Inc. ("Wexford"), to violate his constitutional rights by failing to adequately train, supervise, or discipline its employees, and by allowing its staff to violate its own policies (Doc. 1, pp. 10, 25).

Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief to prevent further retaliatory punishment against him, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Discussion

Based on the allegations of the complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into five (5) counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit. Count 1 -- Retaliation

Initially, it should be noted that merely moving an inmate to segregation when a disciplinary ticket is or will be issued does not implicate any constitutional concerns. However, Plaintiff has alleged that several of the Defendants agreed to make sure that Plaintiff would be placed in an especially disagreeable location within the segregation area, in retaliation for his assertion of his right to free copies and for other past complaints.

Prison officials may not retaliate against inmates for filing grievances or otherwise complaining about their conditions of confinement. See, e.g., Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005 (7th Cir. 2002); DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607 (7th Cir. 2000); Babcock v. White, 102 F.3d 267 (7th Cir. 1996); Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139 (7th Cir. 1988). Furthermore, "[a]ll that need be specified is the bare minimum facts necessary to put the defendant on notice of the claim so that he can file an answer." Higgs v. Carver, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. 2002). Naming the protected activity and the act of retaliation is all that is necessary to state a claim of improper retaliation. Id. A complaint that provides a short, clear statement of ...


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