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Carl Tisthammer, No. 46827-112 v. J.S. Walton and Charles E. Samuels

February 21, 2013


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


Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary-Marion ("Marion"), has brought this pro se civil rights action for alleged violations of his constitutional rights by persons acting under the color of federal authority. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Plaintiff is serving a 420-month sentence for production, receipt, and possession of child pornography. United States v. Tisthammer, Case No. 08-cr-0057 (C.D. Cal.). Plaintiff claims that Defendants have housed him and other Marion inmates in unconstitutionally crowded conditions. Petitioner had previously attempted to raise this claim in a habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in Tisthammer v. Walton, Case No. 12-cv-1267-DRH. That action was dismissed without prejudice on January 7, 2013, because a claim regarding conditions of confinement is not cognizable in a § 2241 proceeding.

More specifically, Plaintiff claims that the nine-foot-by-thirteen-foot cells in Marion were originally constructed as single-man cells. However, they since have been modified by the addition of two more bunks and lockers, in order to house three inmates in each cell (Doc. 1, p. 5). While the prison was originally designed to house 550 inmates, it now holds an inmate population of approximately 1,000 men. These conditions have prevailed since Plaintiff's arrival at Marion.

Plaintiff complains that these overcrowded conditions "directly effect [sic] services available and/or denied at the prison, including medical and dental services, access to library, education, recreation and food services, along with the dining room capacity, none of which have been expanded" (Doc. 1, p. 5). He asserts that after inmates challenged similar conditions in other prisons, the third bunks have been ordered to be removed (he does not indicate where this occurred). Plaintiff seeks such an order in this case, requiring the Federal Bureau of Prisons to "conform to established, well documented conditions of confinement" not only for himself at Marion, but for "all federal prison institutions nationwide where abuses are occurring" (Doc. 1, p. 6).

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint. After fully considering the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint, the Court concludes that this action is subject to summary dismissal.

In a case involving conditions of confinement in a prison, two elements are required to establish violations of the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishments clause. First, an objective element requires a showing that the conditions deny the inmate "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities," creating an excessive risk to the inmate's health or safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). The second requirement is a subjective element -- establishing a defendant's culpable state of mind. Id.

The defining Supreme Court case addressing issues of overcrowding is Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337 (1981). In that case, the plaintiffs contended that the lodging of two inmates in a single cell ("double celling") constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court disagreed, concluding that "[a]t most . . . double celling inflicts pain," id. at 348-49, but not the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" that violates the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 346. The Court found that the Constitution "does not mandate comfortable prisons," id. at 349, and only those deprivations denying "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities," id. at 347, are sufficiently grave to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment violation. In reaching this conclusion, the Court stated:

Conditions must not involve the wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain, nor may they be grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime warranting imprisonment . . . . But conditions that cannot be said to be cruel and unusual under contemporary standards are not unconstitutional. To the extent that such conditions are restrictive and even harsh, they are part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.

Id. at 347. See also Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991).

Although the Supreme Court has not yet spoken on the issue of triple-celling, at least two Courts of Appeal have done so, concluding that triple-celling is not per se unconstitutional. See, e.g. Hubbard v. Taylor, 538 F.3d 229 (3d Cir. 2008) (triple-celling of pretrial detainees in single-man cells was rationally related to managing overcrowded prison); Strickler v. Waters, 989 F.2d 1375, 1382 (4th Cir. 1993) (quoting Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 824-25 (4th Cir. 1991)). Likewise, the Seventh Circuit in a recent unpublished opinion found that a complaint over triple-celling in FCI-Greenville failed to state a constitutional claim, where the plaintiff did not connect any deprivation of "basic human needs" or "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities" to the crowded conditions. McCree v. Sherrod, 408 F. App'x 990, 992 (7th Cir. 2011) (affirming Case No. 09-cv-601-DRH (S.D. Ill. 2010)) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). The appellate court reiterated that a floor space limitation of approximately 35 square feet per inmate*fn1 does not by itself amount to cruel and unusual punishment. McCree, 408 F. App'x at 992-93 (citing Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 348-49; Duran v. Elrod, 760 F.2d 756, 759 (7th Cir. 1985); Smith v. Fairman, 690 F.2d 122, 124, 126 (7th Cir. 1982)).

Like the plaintiff in McCree, Plaintiff here alleges only general, conclusory claims of deprivation of medical/dental services, and limitations on library, educational, recreational and food services. He does not state whether or how he personally has been affected by the triple-celling conditions, nor does he allege that either Defendant had the requisite subjective intent of deliberate indifference to a known risk of serious harm to him arising from the cell assignment. A complaint 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). Courts "should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). The instant complaint is deficient because it rests entirely on such conclusory statements, unsupported by any factual allegations of unconstitutional harm suffered by Plaintiff. See also Higgason v. Farley, 83 F.3d 807, 810 (7th Cir. 1996) (plaintiff lacks standing in civil rights action where he alleges that inmates generally are treated in contravention to the constitution, but not that plaintiff himself was treated in violation of the constitution).

Accordingly, Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a constitutional claim upon which relief may be granted. This case shall be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

Filing Fee

When this action was filed on January 30, 2013, Plaintiff neither paid the $350.00 filing fee, nor did he submit a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP"). That same date, the Clerk of Court sent a letter to the Plaintiff explaining that his case was opened without the payment of the filing fee and that he was to either pay the fee or file a motion to proceed IFPwithin 30 days or face dismissal of the case (Doc. 3). A blank motion ...

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