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Shearrill v. Atchison

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 15, 2013

KILSEY SHEARRILL, #B-79268, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court for review of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 9), filed in response to this Court's Order of September 18, 2013 (Doc. 7). After a merits review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court dismissed the original complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff was given leave to file an amended complaint to pursue his Eighth Amendment claim that he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement, which was designated by the Court as Count 3.

In the amended complaint, Plaintiff states that he has been held in an administrative detention cell since September 7, 2012, that had no heat or hot water through the entire winter (Doc. 9, p. 6). Plaintiff became ill several times from having to wash his body with cold water in the cold cell. In addition, the toilet leaked, causing foul odors in the cell, and the plumbing did not function properly for several months. The housing wing was also infested with cockroaches and mice (Doc. 9, p. 14). Many items in Plaintiff's property box were destroyed or damaged by mice, and the cell was contaminated with mouse feces and the smell of mouse urine. For about 90 days, Plaintiff had to rely on guards to turn the light in his cell on or off, and they often left the light on for hours while Plaintiff was trying to sleep.

Plaintiff claims that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to the health risks he experienced due to these conditions. He filed a formal emergency complaint on December 17, 2012, to Defendant Atchison, who was the warden at that time. Defendant Atchison ruled the complaint was not an emergency, and it was forwarded to the grievance officer (Defendant Oakley) for action. Her response stated that maintenance had been notified and the conditions had been fixed, so Plaintiff's grievance was denied (Doc. 9, pp. 10, 21). However, Plaintiff asserts that the problems were never fixed, and he still lacked heat and hot water.

He filed another emergency complaint on February 14, 2013, to the new warden, Defendant Harrington (Doc. 9, pp. 11, 28). He decided the matter was not an emergency and returned the grievance to Plaintiff, instructing him to go through his counselor. Defendant Oakley again denied the grievance, stating that maintenance had checked the cell and performed any needed repairs, and that a random check of temperatures in the area showed that it was adequately heated (Doc. 9, pp. 29-30). Again, Plaintiff disputes the accuracy of these statements, and claims Defendant Oakley's handling of his grievances was biased (Doc. 9, pp. 12-14).

Defendant Major Hassemeyer (a correctional officer) did not allow inmates in administrative detention to have disinfectant to clean their cells, nor did he allow them to clean the area near their cells (Doc. 9, p. 15). He had acknowledged that there were problems with the conditions in administrative detention, but stated that if inmates did not like the conditions, then they should not do anything that would get them placed there. The complaint indicates that Defendant Hassemeyer was in day-to-day control of the unit where Plaintiff was housed (Doc. 9, pp. 15-16).

Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

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

In evaluating the amended complaint under § 1915A, the Court is required 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 Plaintiff has articulated a colorable federal Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Hassemeyer for subjecting Plaintiff to unconstitutional conditions of confinement in the administrative segregation cell. However, the complaint does not show that any of the other named Defendants were personally responsible for the alleged unconstitutional conditions. Therefore, Defendants Atchison, Harrington, Oakley, and Mueller shall be dismissed from the action.

Defendants Atchison and Harrington

During Defendant Atchison's tenure as Menard Warden, Plaintiff filed one emergency grievance with him complaining about the conditions in his cell. Similarly, Plaintiff filed one emergency grievance with Defendant Harrington after he became warden. In both cases, the grievance was deemed not to be an emergency, and Plaintiff was directed to pursue his complaints up through the normal channels. Plaintiff does not indicate that he had any further contact with either warden regarding the need to correct the conditions in his cell. Thus, according to the complaint, the only role Defendants Atchison and Harrington played was to briefly review a grievance filed by Plaintiff and refer it to the designated official for further consideration. This referral of Plaintiff's grievances does not suffice to show that these Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's plight - to the contrary, they took action designed to ensure that Plaintiff's complaints were addressed within the established grievance procedure.

The complaint does not suggest that either Defendant Atchison or Harrington was involved personally in any of the misconduct that gave rise to those grievances. In other words, ensuring that the heat and hot water in Plaintiff's cell was in working order, or taking steps to combat vermin infestation, was delegated to Defendant Hassemeyer. As noted in this Court's September 18, 2013, order (Doc. 7), there is no supervisory liability in a civil rights action. Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001) (the doctrine of respondeat superior is not applicable to § 1983 actions). In order to be held individually liable, "a defendant must be personally responsible for the deprivation of a constitutional right.'" Id. (quoting Chavez v. Ill. State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 651 (7th Cir. 2001)); see also Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 596 (7th Cir. 2009) ("public employees are responsible for their own misdeeds but not for anyone else's").

Further, the Seventh Circuit instructs that 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). See also Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 772 n.3 (7th Cir. 2008); George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Cir. 2007); Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1430 (7th Cir. 1996). Plaintiff's only claim against Defendants Atchison and Harrington is that they failed to step in to address his grievances on an emergency basis. A Defendant's action or inaction in handling Plaintiff's grievances does not violate the Constitution. "[A] state's inmate grievance procedures do not give rise to a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause." Antonelli, 81 F.3d at 1430. The Constitution requires no procedure at all, and the failure of state prison officials to follow their own procedures does not, of itself, violate the Constitution. Maust v. Headley, 959 F.2d 644, 648 (7th Cir. 1992); Shango v. Jurich, 681 F.2d 1091, 1100-01 (7th Cir. 1982).

For these reasons, the amended complaint fails to state a deliberate indifference claim against Defendants Atchison or Harrington, and they shall be ...

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