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Adams v. Smith

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 18, 2013

BYRON E. ADAMS, # A-60952, Plaintiff,


J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is serving a 60-year sentence for murder.

Plaintiff claims that he has been denied placement in protective custody, after Defendant Smith disclosed the information that formed the basis for Plaintiff's request for protection - that Plaintiff had testified as a witness in a gang killing of a prison guard. This revelation that Plaintiff had been a "snitch" put him in danger of attack by his cellmate, who was a gang member.

According to the complaint, on June 14, 2013, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Ms. Morrison, a prison mental health worker, asking for help in moving him back into a one-man cell (Doc. 1, p. 4). Plaintiff wrote the letter because he did not feel safe talking to Ms. Morrison when she visited his cell, because Defendant Smith was also present. Plaintiff knew that Defendant Smith had placed another inmate in danger by revealing that the other inmate had snitched to the administration by filing complaints about other prisoners (Doc. 1, p. 5).

Plaintiff had just been placed into a cell with inmate Vaughn, who revealed to Plaintiff that he was a member of a gang. Plaintiff explained in his letter to Ms. Morrison that during a prior incarceration in Stateville Correctional Center, he had witnessed the killing of Lieutenant Burd by a Gangster Disciple. He feared for his safety if he were made to share a cell with any gang member.

Plaintiff's letter was read by a nurse, and it was also apparently revealed to Defendant Smith. Plaintiff's cellmate Vaughn claimed that Defendant Smith allowed him to read it (Doc. 1, p. 8). In addition, on June 15, 2013, Vaughn read another letter Plaintiff was writing to the shift commander regarding his safety concerns (Doc. 1, p. 7). Vaughn snatched that letter out of Plaintiff's hands, and told Plaintiff he knew about Plaintiff's June 14 letter which stated Vaughn was in a gang. Vaughn then yelled out to all the nearby inmates that Plaintiff is a stool pigeon. This prompted Plaintiff to request placement in protective custody. Vaughn overheard Plaintiff talking to a correctional officer about this request, and Vaughn made a verbal threat to harm Plaintiff (Doc. 1, p. 8). The officer heard Vaughn make the threat. However, Plaintiff was not moved until the following morning (June 16, 2013), after he told a nurse he was going to harm himself (Doc. 1, p. 9). Plaintiff made this claim in desperation to get out of the cell with Vaughn, because no staff had taken action on his protective custody request, even though he had renewed his request to another officer after the first guard witnessed Vaughn's threat.

Plaintiff had sought protective custody at Menard one other time (in January 2013) after an inmate asked for his name, then asked if he had been at Stateville in 1977. He was given protection and housed in a single cell for a time, but eventually was placed back with a cellmate (Doc. 1, p. 12).

Plaintiff's June 15 request to remain in protective custody based on the disclosures by Defendant Smith and the threat by inmate Vaughn was denied on June 27, 2013, and he appealed that decision (Doc. 1, p. 11). An officer on the protective custody unit (where Plaintiff remained during the appeal) told Plaintiff that he would "have a very hard time" there. Plaintiff took this as a threat, because Plaintiff was trying to expose Defendant Smith's misconduct of informing inmate Vaughn that Plaintiff had requested protection from Vaughn (Doc. 1, p. 12). On September 9, 2013, Plaintiff's protective custody request was denied by Illinois Department of Corrections Director Godinez (Doc. 1, p. 13). Plaintiff fears that his life will be in danger if he is returned to general population at Menard, because he has been labeled as a snitch and other inmates now know that he was a witness in the Stateville killing.

Plaintiff requests damages from Defendant Smith, and injunctive relief in the form of a transfer to the protective custody unit at Pontiac Correctional Center for the duration of his sentence. Plaintiff names "Menard Correctional Center" as a Defendant in this action, apparently in connection with his request for injunctive relief.

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 Plaintiff has articulated a colorable Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Smith, for placing Plaintiff in danger of bodily harm by revealing information that may prompt another inmate to attack him.

However, Plaintiff cannot maintain his suit against the Defendant Menard Correctional Center, because it is a division of the Illinois Department of Corrections, a state government agency. The Supreme Court has held that "neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are persons' under § 1983." Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). See also Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 592 (7th Cir. 2001) (Eleventh Amendment bars suits against states in federal court for money damages); Billman v. Ind. Dep't of Corr., 56 F.3d 785, 788 (7th Cir. 1995) (state Department of Corrections is immune from suit by virtue of Eleventh Amendment); Hughes v. Joliet Corr. Ctr., 931 F.2d 425, 427 (7th Cir. 1991) (same); Santiago v. Lane, 894 F.2d 219, 220 n. 3 (7th Cir. 1990) (same). Based on this authority, the Menard Correctional Center is not a "person" within the meaning of the Civil Rights Act, and shall be dismissed from this action. See Will, 491 U.S. at 71.

The Menard Warden, however, would be a proper party to this lawsuit, because Plaintiff is seeking injunctive relief. Therefore, the Clerk shall be directed to add the Menard Warden (in his official capacity) as a party Defendant in this action. See FED. R. CIV. P. 21; FED. R. CIV. P. 17(d);[1] Gonzalez v. Feinerman, 663 F.3d 311, 315 (7th Cir. 2011) (proper defendant in a claim for ...

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