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Bentz v. Hughs

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 13, 2014

DAVID ROBERT BENTZ, # S-03210, Plaintiff,
ROBERT HUGHS, ZIGLIER, [1] SERGEANT DUNN, SERGEANT SHURZT, RICK HARRINGTON, SUSAN HILL, C/O LINDENBERG, M.A. MINOR, C/O DAVIS, E. QUAND, J. BERDNER, C/O STEVE, and UNKNOWN PARTIES (John Doe Correctional Officers #1-6, [2] and John Doe Internal Affairs Officer #7), Defendants.


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), where he is serving a life sentence for murder. He has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants have conspired to deprive him of adequate clothing and bedding, and taken other actions in retaliation against him for filing complaints and lawsuits against Menard staff.

The Complaint

According to Plaintiff's reported litigation history, he has a total of six previously-filed federal lawsuits pending in the Illinois federal district courts (Doc. 1, pp. 2-3). Two of those pending cases are in this district: Bentz v. Bledsol, et al., Case No. 13-cv-573-JPG-DGW (filed June 17, 2013); and Bentz v. Atchinson, et al., Case No. 13-cv-1259-JPG-PMF (filed Dec. 5, 2013). One of the defendants in Case No. 13-cv-573 is "J. Berner." Plaintiff asserts that this is the same individual he names as a Defendant in the instant case, although he spells the name here as "J. Berdner" (Doc. 1, p. 4).

On September 20, 2013, while Plaintiff was returning to his cell from the chow hall, Defendant Berdner spit in his face and called him a "bitch" (Doc. 1, p. 4). Plaintiff asserts that he did not provoke Defendant Berdner in any way. Later that day, while conducting a security check on Plaintiff's gallery, Defendants Quand and Steve made verbal threats to Plaintiff in reference to his filing of lawsuits and complaints against Menard correctional officers. Plaintiff reported these incidents to Defendant Sgt. Dunn, but he refused to talk to Plaintiff about the matter. Plaintiff filed an emergency grievance to Defendant Harrington (the warden) on September 25.

Two days later, on September 27, 2013, Plaintiff was told he would be moved to a different cell, and to pack up all his property. Plaintiff packed everything; this included all his clothing other than what he had on, plus his linens, towels, and legal materials. Defendants Quand, Berdner, Miner, Steve, and John Does #1 and #2 then confiscated all these items. Plaintiff protested that he needed his legal materials for ongoing litigation, and had been left with only the clothes he was wearing. These Defendants responded that they did not care, and he should file another lawsuit because he was not going to get anything; adding that if he did sue there would be repercussions (Doc. 1, p. 5).

Defendants Quand, Miner, Steve, and John Doe #1 threatened to assault Plaintiff as they walked to the new cell house. Defendant Miner then shoved Plaintiff hard into the door jamb to the East cell house, injuring Plaintiff's right leg (Doc. 1, p. 6). Defendants Berdner, Quand, Steve, Dunn, and John Does #1 and #2 observed this assault, and followed it up by surrounding Plaintiff and pushing him back and forth while threatening to beat him because he had filed lawsuits. Plaintiff was then escorted to his new cell. On the way, he passed by the personal property dumpster, where he saw that all of his legal material, clothing, and other items had been thrown away (Doc. 1, p. 6).

After Plaintiff arrived in the new cell, he asked the gallery officer (Defendant John Doe #3) if he could have some clothing and bedding. The Defendant replied that Plaintiff should not have let the other officers take his property, and there was nothing he could do, adding, "What did you expect to happen when you filed your lawsuit?" (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff repeated his request to Defendant C/O J. Hood (referred to in the complaint as John Doe. #4), who refused to do anything. Plaintiff sent in a clothing request form the same day (September 27) but never got a response.

On October 9, 2013, Plaintiff sent a letter to his family asking them to contact prison officials to request clothing and bedding for him. On October 14, after speaking to Defendant Hill (counselor) about the lack of clothing/bedding, he filed a grievance directed to her as she requested.

On November 14, in response to an email from Plaintiff's family, Defendant C/O Lindenberg came to Plaintiff's cell and told him not to write anybody else or file more grievances about the lack of clothing or sheets. Plaintiff filed another grievance to Defendant Hill over this incident. The next day, Plaintiff's family received a written response to their inquiry, which stated that the cell house major had checked into the matter, and that "Inmate Bentz has a mattress, two sheets, pillow/pillow case, blanket, state blue pants and shirt, t-shirt and jacket" (Doc. 1, p. 8). However, this statement was not true; he had no linens, blanket, or jacket. Plaintiff did not speak to the cell house major (Defendant Ziegger) until November 20, when he and Defendant Shurzt made rounds. He requested them to provide him with the needed items, but they refused to address the problem. Plaintiff also asked Defendants Phillip and Rednour (identified in the complaint as John Does #5 and #6) for bedding and clothing during October and November. As with the other Defendants, they refused to provide Plaintiff with these items. He asserts that this ongoing denial of necessary clothing and bedding was a result of the Defendants' conspiracy to retaliate against him for his pursuit of the aforementioned lawsuits and institutional grievances (Doc. 1, p. 8).

As a result of the refusal of Defendants John Doe #3, Hood, Lindenberg, Ziegger, Shurzt, Phillip, and Rednour to replace any of the clothing that was confiscated and destroyed by Defendants Quand, Berdner, Miner, Steve, Dunn, and/or John Does #1 and #2, Plaintiff has been without adequate attire (jacket, hat, gloves) to protect him from the winter weather. Nor has he had even one change of clothing to put on while he washes the one set of clothes he still possesses. He thus has had to suffer exposure to cold temperatures each time he goes outside to reach the chow hall, and has lost the opportunity for outdoor exercise or recreation in the yard because he has no coat (Doc. 1, pp. 8-10). The lack of outdoor exercise has caused him to suffer "serious health issues and chronic depression" (Doc. 1, p. 11). Aside from the weather-related problems, Plaintiff asserts that the prolonged lack of clothing and linens have deprived him of the ability to maintain basic hygiene or minimal personal cleanliness (Doc. 1, p. 11).

In addition, Plaintiff raises claims of civil conspiracy to interfere with Plaintiff's ability to pursue his litigation in the federal courts and in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985, and state tort claims of negligence and assault/battery (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 12). He seeks an injunction requiring prison officials to provide him with adequate clothing and bedding, and requests damages (Doc. 1, p. 13).

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 the following colorable federal claims, as well as the listed state-law claims which may proceed for further consideration under this Court's supplemental jurisdiction ( see 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a):

Count 1: Retaliation claim against Defendant Berdner for spitting in Plaintiff's face on September 20, 2013 after Plaintiff sued him in a previous federal civil rights case;
Count 2: State tort assault and battery claim against Defendant Berdner for the September 20, 2013 spitting incident;
Count 3: Excessive force claim against Defendant Miner for shoving Plaintiff into a door frame on September 27, 2013, and against Defendants Berdner, Quand, Steve, Dunn, and John Does #1 and #2 for failing to protect Plaintiff from Defendant Miner's action and for pushing Plaintiff;
Count 4: State tort assault and battery claim against Defendants Miner, Berdner, Quand, Steve, Dunn, and John Does #1 and #2, for ...

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