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Towns v. C/O Deathrow

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 13, 2014

SHERRELL C. TOWNS, No. B20513, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sherrell C. Towns, an inmate in Menard Correctional Center, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on a series of allegedly retaliatory incidents triggered by Plaintiff being refused access to the prison barbershop, culminating in Plaintiff receiving a disciplinary conviction that landed him in segregation.

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 128-page complaint, on October 23, 2011, C/O Deathrow was making a list of inmates who wanted to be placed on the call line to go to the barbershop. When Deathrow did not specifically ask Plaintiff, Plaintiff took offense. When Plaintiff asked to be placed on the list, C/O Deathrow told Plaintiff he would not be placed on the list because he did not need a haircut; he still looked like the picture on his identification card.

In response to Plaintiff's request to speak to a supervisor, Sgt. Roy Grathler and C/O L. Maue approached Plaintiff in an "an angry and aggressive" manner (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff felt that the two officers were questioning him in order to "elicit an ill reaction"-accusing Plaintiff of having giving C/O Deathrow "problems" (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff asserted that his request for clarification of the haircut policy was not "causing problems", to which Maue responded, "Now see, that right there is whats going to give me and you some problems." (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff then cut off the conversation (Doc. 1, p. 5). Sgt. Grathler warned, "Say something else about our policy, you're going to seg." (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff contends Deathrow, Maue and Grathler violated his right under the Illinois Code of Corrections to access the barbershop.

A week later, on October 30, 2011, Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the barbershop incident and Maue and Grathler's threat of placement in segregation. The next day, "C/O Maue rampaged through 3 gallery... forcefully pounding on the cell bars with a steel rod[1] in a fit of rage creating for a cacophony of extremely loud and nerve wrecking noise. The force applied sent paint chips flying into Towns' assigned cell. Consequently, Towns was struck in the eye by paint chips." (Doc. 1, p. 10 (spelling and grammatical errors in the original)). C/O Maue stated, "I am going to do this every day until they shut the fuck up." (Doc. 1, p. 10).[2] Plaintiff alleges that Maue was acting in retaliation for the October 30 grievance, and in a way designed to intimidate Plaintiff and discourage him from filing grievances. In addition to the timing of the bar rap, as evidence of Maue's retaliatory intent and furtherance of a conspiracy with Grathler, Plaintiff notes that Maue was not assigned to gallery 3 and should not have bar rapped, let alone bar rapping an hour ahead of a shift change.

On November 1, 2011, Plaintiff mailed a second grievance to the warden (rather the transmitting the grievance through the internal mail system), alleging that C/O Maue had engaged in retaliatory, threatening bar rapping. On November 6, Plaintiff discovered a note on his bunk, written on paper issued to guards, stating:

Dearest Shell, I am hopeful this finds you well & healthy enough to carry out my recommendation. After a careful & through review of your grievance, the following is my recommendation as per grievance procedure dated 1/79. Be advised that you may kindly fellate yourself. After fellation if you may aslo fornicate with yourself to completion. Stay up.

(Doc. 1-2, p. 45 (grammatical and spelling errors in original)). According to Plaintiff, "the anonymous letter amounted to an intellectual, albeit badly elocuted [sic] invitation for [him] to go fuck himself for the filing of grievances." (Doc. 1, p. 29).

On November 8, C/O Deathrow asked Plaintiff how he had managed to get his grievance through-in effect acknowledging that prison staff tampers with grievances sent through the prison mail system. Deathrow then commented, "Well, I'm the kind of person that gives a person what they got coming." (Doc. 1, p. 30).

Days later, on November 11, 2011, C/O Travis Lindsey bar rapped his way down gallery 3 while Plaintiff was sleeping. Fifteen minutes later, C/O Deathrow appeared and told Plaintiff to pack his property because he was being moved. Deathrow stated that she did not know why, but she speculated that Plaintiff had received a disciplinary ticket. C/O Deathrow, C/O B. Chandler, and another officer cuffed Plaintiff and escorted him from the cell; as they reached the shower area, C/O Maue and C/O Todaro confronted Plaintiff. Maue stated, "I should fuck you up, " "take you into that shower and beat the shit out of you." (Doc. 1, p. 25). Maue continued, "You think you're smart, don't you, using those big words...." "Who are you going to write to when your cellie is fucking you in the ass?" (Doc. 1, p. 25). Todaro and Chandler also commented that Plaintiff was not on deathrow any more, where Plaintiff could ...

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