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Christopher Dickson v. S.A. Godinez

September 17, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge


Plaintiff, formerly an inmate at the Lawrence Correctional Center (now released), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment.

Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

Now before the Court is Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP"), i.e., without prepaying the filing fee (Doc. 2). At the time he filed his complaint, Plaintiff had been released from IDOC custody and was residing in Chicago. As such, Plaintiff does not meet the statutory definition of prisoner, for purposes of the in forma pauperis statute, which states that "[t]he term 'prisoner' means any person incarcerated or detained in any facility who is accused of, convicted of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms and conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h).

Under 28 U.S.C. 1915(a)(1), a federal district court may allow a civil case to proceed without prepayment of fees, if the movant "submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets [he] possesses [showing] that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor." Plaintiff has done so in the instant case. But the Court's inquiry does not end there, because 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) requires careful threshold scrutiny of the complaint filed by an IFP plaintiff.

A court can deny a qualified plaintiff leave to file IFP or can dismiss a case if the action is clearly frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim or is a claim for money damages against an immune Defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). The test for determining if an action is frivolous or without merit is whether the plaintiff can make a rational argument on the law or facts in support of the claim. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Corgain v. Miller, 708 F.2d 1241, 1247 (7th Cir. 1983). An action fails to state a claim 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). When assessing a petition to proceed IFP,a district court should inquire into the merits of the petitioner's claims, and if the court finds them to be frivolous, it should deny leave to proceed IFP. Lucien v. Roegner, 682 F.2d 625, 626 (7th Cir. 1982).

The Complaint

Dickson claims that on January 9, 2012, he was working as a cook in the Lawrence kitchen. Mr. Walker, the food supervisor, directed Dickson to slice turkey using a meat grinder/slicer machine. Dickson informed Mr. Walker that he did not know how to operate the machine, but Mr. Walker told Dickson, "don't worry, you'll catch on." Dickson attempted to follow Mr. Walker's direction, but his hand slipped into the machine. Dickson's middle finger was "mutilated from the tip to the first joint along with the nerve." The tip and nail of his ring finger were also shredded. Dickson was taken to the Lawrence Healthcare Unit. He alleges that unnamed nurses showed deliberate indifference to his condition. Dickson states that Defendant Fenoglio ordered a tetanus shot, but the nurses did not follow the order until approximately 30 hours later. Dickson alleges generally that Dr. Fenoglio and unnamed nurses "did not notice, understand, nor treat Dickson fully, correctly or properly" (Doc. 1, p. 7).

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated a colorable federal cause of action for deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs against Defendants Walker and Fenoglio. Plaintiff names nine other defendants in the caption of the complaint, but he makes no specific allegations against any of them. Merely invoking the name of a potential defendant is not sufficient to state a claim against that individual. See Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 334 (7th Cir. 1998) ("A plaintiff cannot state a claim against a defendant by including the defendant's name in the caption.").

Furthermore, Plaintiff may not maintain claims against Defendants Godinez, the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, Warden Marc Hodges, and Director Bates because "[t]he doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to § 1983 actions; thus to be held individually liable, a defendant must be 'personally responsible for the deprivation of a constitutional right.'" Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001)(quoting Chavez v. Ill. State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 651 (7th Cir. 2001)). Similarly, Plaintiff may not maintain claims against Lawrence Correctional Center, its administration, or its healthcare unit.

Governmental entities cannot be held liable for the unconstitutional acts of their employees unless those acts were carried out pursuant to an official custom or policy. Pourghoraishi v. Flying J, Inc., 449 F.3d 751, 765 (7th Cir. 2006).Plaintiff has made no such allegations. Accordingly, Defendants Godinez, Hodges, Bates, Lawrence Correctional Center Administration, Lawrence Correctional Center (erroneously listed in the docket as Lawrence Community Unit School District #20), and Lawrence Health Care Unit, are DISMISSED with prejudice because Plaintiff did not state claims against them.

Finally, the Court notes that Plaintiff charged unnamed nurses with treating him with deliberate indifference. In the caption of the complaint, Plaintiff names Nurses Brooks, Dower, and Hardy as defendants, but he states no specific claims against them. If Plaintiff intended Defendants Brooks, Dower, and Hardy to be the unnamed nurses, he must specifically identify them as such in a properly-filed amended complaint. The Court therefore GRANTS Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint clarifying his factual claims against the nurses within thirty days of the filing of this order. If at the end of thirty days Plaintiff has failed to file an amended complaint specifying the factual allegations against Defendants Brooks, Dower, and Hardy, the Clerk is DIRECTED to DISMISS themfrom the action.

Plaintiff's complaint survives review under ยง 1915(e)(2). His sworn IFP motion establishes that he is indigent for purposes of IFP review. Nothing indicates that his action is frivolous or malicious. The named Defendants are state actors and are not immune from relief. And at this point, the Court cannot ...

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