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Stanley Chairs, Reg. No. 449393 v. Richard Watson and Phillip Mclaurin

May 15, 2013


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


Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at the St. Clair County Jail, has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that he has been subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement during his 22 month stay at the jail.

Plaintiff states that since June 23, 2011, when his incarceration began, he has never been allowed any recreation/exercise time. As a result, he has developed back spasms, neck problems, body aches, and stiffness (Doc. 1, p. 5). In addition, the jail is infested with roaches, mold, mildew, rats, and fruit flies. Inmates are not given proper cleaning supplies, toilets are backed up, and sinks and showers do not drain. There is no fresh air circulation. The jail is overcrowded, and at times Plaintiff has been required to sleep on the floor or on a dayroom table. Plaintiff has complained about these conditions up the chain of command to officers, the captain, and the Jail Superintendent (Defendant McLaurin), to no avail.

The complaint does not indicate whether Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee, but the Court shall presume that he is, based on the length of time he has been confined at the jail.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint. Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated a colorable federal cause of action against Defendant McLaurin for denial of recreation/exercise (Count 1) and for subjecting Plaintiff to unconstitutional conditions of confinement (Count 2). These claims shall receive further review.

However, the complaint fails to state a distinct constitutional claim upon which relief may be granted for the alleged jail overcrowding (Count 3). This claim shall be dismissed for the following reasons.

Claims brought pursuant to § 1983, when involving detainees, arise under the Fourteenth Amendment and not the Eighth Amendment. See Weiss v. Cooley, 230 F.3d 1027, 1032 (7th Cir. 2000). However, the Seventh Circuit has "found it convenient and entirely appropriate to apply the same standard to claims arising under the Fourteenth Amendment (detainees) and Eighth Amendment (convicted prisoners) 'without differentiation.'" Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d 469, 478 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Henderson v. Sheahan, 196 F.3d 839, 845 n.2 (7th Cir. 1999)). Thus, for 'cruel and unusual punishment' claims brought by a detainee, the plaintiff must show that the jail officials knew that the plaintiff was at risk of serious harm, and that they disregarded that risk by failing to reasonably discharge the risk. Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 771-72, 777-79 (7th Cir. 2008).

Overcrowded conditions, in and of themselves, do not violate the Constitution. In Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337 (1981), the Supreme Court concluded that the practice of housing two inmates in a cell designed for one does not amount to the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" that violates the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 346. 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. See also 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, and requiring detainees to sleep on mattresses on the floor was not a constitutional violation); Strickler v. Waters, 989 F.2d 1375, 1382 (4th Cir. 1993) (double or triple celling is not per se unconstitutional) (quoting Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 824-25 (4th Cir. 1991)); McCree v. Sherrod, 408 F. App'x 990, 992-93 (7th Cir. 2011) (a floor space limitation of approximately 35 square feet per inmate does not by itself amount to cruel and unusual punishment).

A constitutional claim may arise if overcrowding causes other significant deprivations, such as inadequate medical or mental health care. See Brown v. Plata, __ U.S. ___, 131 S. Ct. 1910, 1928 (2011). However, in the instant complaint, Plaintiff fails to allege any deprivation of a constitutional magnitude that is a direct result of the jail overcrowding. At most, he suggests discomfort in his sleeping arrangements. Count 3 shall thus be dismissed without prejudice.

Finally, the claims against Defendant Watson (St. Clair County Sheriff) are dismissed on initial review because the doctrine of respondeat superior is not applicable to § 1983 actions. Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). Plaintiff has not alleged that he complained to Defendant Watson about the jail conditions, or that he otherwise brought his concerns to Defendant Watson's attention. The complaint thus fails to indicate that Defendant Watson had the subjective intent to support an Eighth Amendment claim, or that he was "personally responsible for the deprivation of a constitutional right." Id. Accordingly, Defendant Watson shall be dismissed from this action without prejudice.

Pending Motion

Plaintiff's motion for recruitment of counsel (Doc. 4) shall be referred to United States Magistrate Judge Williams for further consideration.


COUNT 3 is DISMISSED without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Defendant WATSON is DISMISSED ...

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