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Davis v. Dept. of Human Services

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 9, 2014

CHRISTOPHER NOVUS DAVIS, No. L135898, Plaintiff,


J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Christopher Novus Davis, an inmate in the Lake County Jail, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on his being assaulted by staff while he was housed at Chester Mental Health Center. The complaint suggests that Plaintiff was a civil detainee while housed at Chester Mental Health Center.

This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening. - The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal. - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that "no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit." Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). 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. Conversely, 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). Additionally, Courts "should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

The Complaint

According to the complaint, on December 26, 2011-just after Plaintiff arrived at the facility-he stood up in the dining area during breakfast in order to retrieve a forgotten container of milk. Plaintiff was unaware that standing without permission is against the rules. Three security therapy aides ("STA's") approached Plaintiff. The situation escalated, with one STA indicating he/she did not want to deal with "retarded motherfuckers" that early in the morning, and another STA threatening to tie down Plaintiff. Additional staff arrived; Plaintiff was cuffed behind his back and walked back to his living unit. Along the way, Plaintiff was taunted with racial comments and threatened that the STA's had "something" for his "tough ass." Although Plaintiff was cooperating, when the group reached an area without complete camera coverage, Plaintiff was beaten about the face and choked, resulting in his eyes hemorrhaging. He was subsequently strapped down in a restraint bed for close to four hours.

The next day, upon Plaintiff's complaint, the facility's internal Office of Inspector General investigated, as did the Illinois Department of Human Services' Office of Inspector General. The Illinois Guardianship & Advocacy Commission also investigated and reported on the incident, finding "policy" violations and making recommendations regarding camera coverage, reporting, de-escalation, etc. Based on the allegations in the complaint and the documentation attached to the compliant, none of the investigations confirmed or refuted the alleged use of excessive force, but Plaintiff's eye hemorrhaging apparently was confirmed.

The Court finds that the complaint states a single colorable constitutional claim:

Count 1: On December 26, 2011, unidentified staff at Chester Mental Health Center used excessive force against Plaintiff, in violation of the Fourteenth and/or Eighth Amendment.

The reasons for recognizing only a single claim and the viability of Count 1 will be discussed below. At this juncture, even this single claim cannot proceed, as there is no ...

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