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Ganaway v. C/O Phillips

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 18, 2013

TARIUS D. GANAWAY, # M08848, Plaintiff,


J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Tarius Ganaway, an inmate currently incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville"), brings this action pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-2680 (Doc. 1). He also asserts a civil rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that during his incarceration at Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville"), Defendants facilitated his suicide attempt, in violation of the FTCA and his constitutional rights. Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment and monetary damages.

This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court is required to dismiss any portion of the complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

The Complaint

According to the complaint, Plaintiff decided on February 11, 2012, that he "wanted and need[ed] to kill [him]self" (Doc. 1, p. 2). At the time, Plaintiff was already on "suicide watch" in a cell that was stripped of any tools for use in committing suicide. Still, Plaintiff notified staff about his suicidal thoughts. He asked to speak with Pinckneyville's crisis team.

Defendant Phillips, a gallery officer, was the first to respond. He initially dismissed Plaintiff's plea for help as a joke. When Plaintiff requested the assistance of Pinckneyville's crisis team, Defendant Phillips responded by asking, "Why... would I do that when I know you['re] just trying to leave your cell" (Doc. 1, p. 2).

As they spoke, Defendant Phillips rummaged through a box of Plaintiff's confiscated property. Defendant Phillips told Plaintiff that he found a razor and would issue Plaintiff a disciplinary ticket for possession of contraband.[1] As Defendant Phillips said this, he slipped the razor into Plaintiff's cell and tossed it onto the floor. Defendant Phillips then stated, "If you wan[t to] die so bad[, ] here you go" (Doc. 1, p. 2).

Plaintiff took the razor and began to cut himself as Defendant Phillips watched. Realizing that Plaintiff was serious about committing suicide, Defendant Phillips demanded the return of the razor. Undeterred, Plaintiff covered the window of his cell and "began the process of killing [him]self [by] cutting deeper and harder" into both of his arms. Defendant Phillips called for assistance. The crisis team arrived 5-10 minutes later and took Plaintiff to Pinckneyville's health care unit (Doc. 1, p. 4).

Plaintiff now sues Defendants Pinckneyville and Phillips under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-2680, based on claims of negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness (Doc. 1, pp., 1, 5). He also raises a civil rights claim against them, based on Defendants' alleged violation of Plaintiff's rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6).


After fully considering the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated a colorable claim against Defendant Phillips under the Eighth Amendment for deliberate indifference to his serious mental health needs (Count 1). Prison officials are obligated to provide for the psychiatric care of inmates pursuant to their constitutional obligation to address an inmate's serious medical needs. Rice ex rel. Rice v. Correctional Medical Services, 675 F.3d 650, 669 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 734 (7th Cir. 2001)). Accordingly, Plaintiff shall be allowed to proceed with his claim that Defendant Phillips displayed deliberate indifference to his mental health needs by supplying Plaintiff, who was admittedly suicidal at the time, with a razor.

Plaintiff shall also be allowed to proceed at this early stage with his Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim (Count 2) against Defendant Phillips. A prison official cannot be held liable "for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must be both aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Sanville, 266 F.3d at 734 (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)). The allegations in the complaint meet this basic pleading requirement. Accordingly, Plaintiff shall be allowed to proceed with Count 2 against Defendant Phillips.

The allegations in the complaint fail to state a claim for relief under the Fourteenth Amendment (Count 3) (Doc. 1, pp. 1, 5). The complaint does not develop any factual or legal basis for a Fourteenth Amendment claim, under the Equal Protection Clause, the Due Process Clause, or otherwise. An action 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). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross "the line between possibility and plausibility. Id. at 557. 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). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Plaintiff alludes to "equal protection" in the complaint (Doc. 1, p. 5). However, this reference is so sketchy that it does not put Defendants or the Court on notice of a claim. Accordingly, Count 3 shall be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

Plaintiff has also failed to articulate a colorable FTCA claim (Count 4). The FTCA provides jurisdiction for suits against the United States regarding torts committed by federal officials, not state officials. Plaintiff sues a state agency and a state official. Therefore, Count 4 must be dismissed ...

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