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Morris v. Moreci

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

November 6, 2013



JAMES E. SHADID, Chief District Judge.

This cause is before the Court for a merit review, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, of Plaintiffs Robert Morris and Esteban Calderon's claims.



Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A, the Court is required to carefully screen a complaint filed by a plaintiff who seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. The Court must dismiss a complaint, or a portion thereof, if the plaintiff has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious, " that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. The test for determining if an action is frivolous or without merit is whether the plaintiff can make a rational argument on the law or facts in support of the claim. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A complaint fails to state a claim for relief if the complaint does not allege "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); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).

In reviewing the complaint, the Court accepts the factual allegations as true and liberally construes them in plaintiff's favor. Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2013). Conclusory statements and labels are insufficient. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8; Schatz v. Republican State Leadership Comm., 669 F.3d 50, 55 (1st Cir. 2012)(holding that, in order to determine if a complaint states a plausible claim, the court must take non-conclusory, non-speculative facts as true, draw all reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor, and isolate and ignore statements that simply rehash claim elements or offer only legal labels and conclusions). Instead, sufficient facts must be provided to "state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Alexander v. United States, 721 F.3d 418, 422 (7th Cir. 2013)(internal quotation omitted).



Plaintiffs are pre-trial detainees at Cook County Department of Corrections and are awaiting trial. Prior to their stay at Cook County, Plaintiffs were held at the Moultrie County Illinois Detention Center. While they were being detained at the Moultrie County Illinois Detention Center, Plaintiffs claim that they were strip searched by Moultrie County Sheriff Thomas and Sergeant Kidd. Plaintiffs state that the search was necessary because a metal object went missing at the Detention Center, and officials needed to recover the object before it was used to injure anyone. Plaintiff Morris claims that, during his strip search, Sergeant Kidd placed his finger inside of Morris' anus. When he turned around, Morris saw Officer Burdick standing behind him smiling. Plaintiffs claim that the strip search violated their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

Because Plaintiffs were pretrial detainees, their "claim arises under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause but is governed by the same standards as a claim for violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment." Smith v. Sangamon County Sheriff's Dept., 715 F.3d 188, 191 (7th Cir. 2013); Rosario v. Brawn, 670 F.3d 816, 820-21 (7th Cir. 2012)("Although the Eighth Amendment applies only to convicted persons, pretrial detainees... are entitled to the same basic protections under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause, and we apply the same deliberate indifference standard in both types of cases.")(internal quotation omitted). "The Eighth Amendment prohibits punishments which involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, are grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime for which an inmate was imprisoned, or are totally without penological justification." Meriwether v. Faulkner, 821 F.2d 408, 415 (7th Cir. 1987)(citing Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 346 (1981); Caldwell v. Miller, 790 F.2d 589, 600 (7th Cir. 1986)). In evaluating Eighth Amendment claims, courts conduct both an objective and a subjective inquiry. The objective prong asks whether the alleged deprivation or condition of confinement is "sufficiently serious" so that "a prison official's act or omission results in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (quotations omitted). If the conditions complained of pass this threshold, courts then must determine the prison official's subjective state of mind; that is, whether "he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it." Id. at 847; Johnson v. Phelan, 69 F.3d 144, 149 (7th Cir. 1995).

In the context of bodily searches performed upon those incarcerated in the prison system, only those searches that are "maliciously motivated, unrelated to institutional security, and hence totally without penological justification' are considered unconstitutional." Meriwether, 821 F.2d at 418 (quoting Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 346); Calhoun v. DeTella, 319 F.3d 936, 939 (7th Cir. 2003). In other words, the search must amount to "calculated harassment unrelated to prison needs, '" Meriwether, 821 F.2d at 418 (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 530 (1984)), with the intent to humiliate and inflict psychological pain. Fillmore v. Page, 358 F.3d 496, 505 (7th Cir. 2004)(citing Calhoun, 319 F.3d at 939).

Here, Plaintiffs have not alleged that Defendants engaged in a strip search of the detainees, including Plaintiffs, in a calculated harassment unrelated to prison needs. Id. On the contrary, Plaintiffs specifically allege that prison officials were attempting to locate a missing metal object that could be used as or fashioned into a weapon to cause bodily harm if not located. Moreover, Plaintiffs have not alleged any external conditions, factors, or actions taken by Defendants that would indicate that they performed Plaintiffs' strip search maliciously, with the intent to humiliate or inflict psychological pain upon them, or without penological interests. Whitman v. Nesic, 368 F.3d 931, 934 (7th Cir. 2004)(finding a strip search constitutional). Thus, Plaintiffs' claim that their strip search in-and-of-itself constituted a constitutional violation is incorrect and cannot proceed.

However, a distinction exists between Plaintiff Morris and Plaintiff Calderon. Plaintiff Morris alleges that Sergeant Kidd placed his finger inside of Morris' anus. Although a body cavity search may have been necessary under the circumstances, this is not a determination that the Court can make at this juncture. Jackson v. Gerl, 622 F.Supp.2d 738, 753-54 (W.D. Wis. 2009)(denying summary judgment because a question of fact existed as to whether the body cavity ...

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