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Beer v. Davis

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

August 28, 2013

JEREMY P. BEER, # S-14366, Plaintiff,
v.
RANDY DAVIS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at Vienna Correctional Center ("Vienna"), where he is serving an 18-month sentence for aggravated cruelty to animals. He brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking damages for violations of his rights which he claims have occurred during his confinement at Vienna. He also invokes the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-2680.

Plaintiff states that he was sent to Vienna on June 26, 2013. He was initially housed on the second floor of Building 19, and was moved to the third floor of that unit on July 11, 2013. His statement of claim includes a string of legalese and nonsensical statements that appear to be copied from other prisoner complaints filed recently in this Court. However, he then goes on to list eight claims which include some specific factual allegations regarding the conditions under which he is housed at Vienna.

In paragraphs 2, 6, and 7, Plaintiff states that his building contains asbestos insulation and fibers float in the air; the building lacks ventilation, the roof leaks, urinals overflow, there are too few toilets, there is mold in the shower, mold on bread, and rodent droppings in the kitchen and living quarters (Doc. 1, p. 5). These portions of Plaintiff's claim shall be designated as Count 1.

Plaintiff also complains that fire alarms go off on a random basis while living units are locked and staff do not check for danger; inmates are housed with rival gang members and with mental health patients; guards sleep on the night shift and fail to make rounds; inmates are denied grievance forms, and legal mail is improperly opened (Doc. 1, p. 5, paragraphs 1, 3, 4, 5, and 8). These claims shall be designated as Counts 2-5, as discussed below.

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant. Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Count 1 of the complaint articulates a colorable Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Davis for housing Plaintiff in conditions which place his health at risk. However, Plaintiff's remaining allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Those claims (Counts 2-5), as well as the FTCA claim (Count 6) shall be dismissed for the following reasons.

Count 2 - Failure to Segregate Inmates

Plaintiff does not indicate that he has suffered any harm due to the Defendant's policy of housing rival gang members together, or of mixing mental health patients with other inmates. These practices do not violate the Constitution in and of themselves. While "prison officials have a duty... to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners, " Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994), not all instances of inmate-on-inmate violence raise constitutional concerns. Plaintiff does not say that he has been attacked, nor does he claim that he was the target of any specific threat or that he requested protection from any prison official. This claim shall be dismissed without prejudice.

Count 3 - Lack of Staff Monitoring

As with Count 2, Plaintiff does not claim to have been harmed by the alleged failure of prison staff to check his housing unit each time a fire alarm goes off. Similarly, his complaint that the night-shift guards sleep on their shift and do not conduct rounds properly, is not connected to any injury suffered by Plaintiff. This laundry list of complaints does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation; Count 3 shall be dismissed with prejudice.

Count 4 - Opening of Legal Mail

An inmate's legal mail is entitled to protection because of the potential for interference with his right of access to the courts. Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 782 (7th Cir. 1999). Prison officials may violate an inmate's rights if they open clearly marked legal mail outside of the inmate's presence. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 577 (1974). However, an isolated incident or inadvertent opening of legal mail is insufficient to state a constitutional claim. See Rowe, 196 F.3d at 782; Bruscino v. Carlson, 654 F.Supp. 609, 618 (S.D. Ill. 1987).

In the instant complaint, Plaintiff states only that "legal mail is opened by staff" (Doc. 1, p. 5, ¶ 5). He does not say when or how often this has occurred, nor does he indicate whether any of his own legal mail was opened. This statement is too vague and general for the Court to conclude that a ...


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