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Stephen Couch, # B-12125 v. Eric Nutall

November 9, 2012


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


Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Western Illinois Correctional Center ("Western") has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). Plaintiff is serving a twenty-six year sentence for distribution of cocaine. Plaintiff names Defendant Godinez and Taylor, Director and Assistant Director, respectively, of the Illinois Department of Corrections. Additionally, Plaintiff names the Wardens of three Illinois Correctional Centers: Defendant Ryker (Lawrence), Gaetz (Pickneyville) and Young (Western). Plaintiff claims, generally, retaliation and conspiracy to retaliate by prison employees or officials, medical negligence and failure to protect.

Plaintiff states that Correctional Officer Eric Nuttall, who is not named in the caption, but against whom Plaintiff makes claims in his pleadings, disposed of Plaintiff's legal documents and other personal possessions in retaliation for the numerous grievances Plaintiff filed against him. He asserts that the current directors and officials of the Illinois Department of Corrections, that is, Defendants Godinez, Taylor, Ryker, Gaetz and Young, have neglected to investigate and prosecute conduct within Plaintiff's facilities, and about which, it appears, Plaintiff has filed grievances. Additionally, Plaintiff claims that prison officials failed to protect him from fellow inmate Phillip Dotson, who assaulted him at the Lawrence facility. Finally, he states that unnamed medical personnel neglected the injuries resulting from this attack for fifteen days, and thus were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

He requests criminal and civil action against Officer Nutall and Inmate Dotson and that the current Directors of the IDOC be held responsible for their failure to address abuses. 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.

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated a colorable federal cause of action against Officer Nuttall for retaliation (Count 1).

The Court next turns to Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Godinez, Taylor, Ryker, Gaetz and Young for conspiracy to retaliate against Plaintiff for filing grievances (Count 2). Plaintiff claims that a lack of response to his grievances constitutes retaliation. Prison grievance procedures are not constitutionally mandated and thus do not implicate the Due Process Clause per se. As such, the alleged mishandling of grievances "by persons who otherwise did not cause or participate in the underlying conduct states no claim." Owens v. Hinsley, 635 F.3d 950, 953 (7th Cir. 2011).

However, 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). Here, Plaintiff asserts that officials are intentionally refusing to process his grievances. Naming the suit 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 the relevant facts complies with the federal rules of civil procedure, and thus cannot be dismissed because it does not allege all facts necessary to clearly establish a valid claim. Id.

At issue here is whether Plaintiff experienced an adverse action that would likely deter First Amendment activity in the future, and if the First Amendment activity was "at least a motivating factor" in the Defendants' decision to take the retaliatory action. Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 551 (7th Cir. 2009). This is a question that cannot be resolved at the pleading stages of this case. Thus, the Court shall allow Plaintiff's retaliation claim (Count 2) to proceed at this time.

Plaintiff also claims that Defendants Ryker and Nutall, officials at Lawrence, failed to protect him against assault by fellow inmate Dodson (Count 3), who was placed in his cell with Defendants' knowledge of Dodson's history of assault on former cellmates. In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the Supreme Court held that "prison officials have a duty . . . to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners." Id. at 833 (internal citations omitted); see also Pinkston v. Madry, 440 F.3d 879, 889 (7th Cir. 2006). Plaintiff has, at this stage of the proceedings, sufficiently stated a claim against Defendants Ryker and Nutall for failure to protect.

As to his claims of medical neglect (Count 4), Plaintiff outlines injuries and continued pain coupled with repeated requests for care that were ignored. The Seventh Circuit has held that delay in treating a condition that is painful even if not life-threatening may well constitute deliberate indifference, particularly in the case of an inmate who is facing a lengthy period of confinement before eligibility for parole. See Gonzalez v. Feinerman, 663 F.3d 311, 315 (7th Cir. 2011) ...

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