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Foster v. Roeckman

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 3, 2014

SIDNEY FOSTER, #C50335, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN ZACHARY ROECKMAN, ASST. WARDEN CREGG, and LT. BROWDARD, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Big Muddy River Correctional Center ("BMR"), brings this action for constitutional deprivations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). In the complaint, Plaintiff claims that BMR officials, at Defendant Browdard's behest, refused to move Plaintiff to a different cell after he was repeatedly choked by his cellmate. The cellmate also stole several of Plaintiff's personal possessions. Plaintiff now sues three BMR officials, including Defendants Browdard (lieutenant), Cregg (assistant warden), and Roeckman (warden), for failing to protect him from his violent cellmate. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages (Doc. 1, p. 6).

This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court is required to dismiss any portion of the complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

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). 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

During two weeks in January 2013, Plaintiff's cellmate repeatedly choked him (Doc. 1, pp. 2, 5). The cellmate also stole Plaintiff's property, including an extension cord, adapter, and several cassette tapes (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 13). At the time, Plaintiff was recovering from surgery and was particularly vulnerable (Doc. 1, p. 5).

Plaintiff reported the incidents to several BMR officials (Doc. 1, p. 2). He explained that he feared for his life. He requested placement in a different cell. BMR officials denied his requests. According to the complaint, "Lt. Browdard told all [of] the officers not to move [Plaintiff] no matter what shift, and no matter how many times [Plaintiff] tried to get out [of] that cell" (Doc. 1, p. 2).

On one occasion, Plaintiff sought help from an older lieutenant (Doc. 1, p. 2). Plaintiff explained that he refused to return to his cell because his cellmate was trying to kill him. Plaintiff stated that he feared for his life. When the older lieutenant accompanied Plaintiff to his cell, Defendant Browdard became upset. Plaintiff was placed in segregation for two weeks. Upon his release, Plaintiff was again placed in the cell with his perpetrator (Doc. 1, p. 2).

Plaintiff now sues Defendants Browdard, Cregg, and Roeckman for failure to protect him from the violent cellmate. He seeks $5, 000, 000.00 in monetary damages.

Discussion

After carefully considering the allegations in the complaint, the Court finds that it states a colorable claim under the Eighth Amendment (Count 1) against Defendant Browdard for failing to protect Plaintiff. It is well-settled that the treatment a prisoner receives in prison is subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993)). "In its prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments, ' the Eighth Amendment places restraints on prison officials, who may not, for example, use excessive physical force against prisoners." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832 (citing Hudson v. McMillan, 503 U.S. 1 (1992)). The Eighth Amendment also imposes a duty on prison officials to "take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of inmates." Id. (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). To state a claim for failure to protect, a plaintiff needs to allege that (1) the prison's denial of his request for protection posed a substantial risk of serious harm and (2) the prison acted with deliberate indifference to that risk. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Dale v. Poston, 548 F.3d 563, 569 (7th Cir. 2008). The complaint satisfies this standard with respect to Defendant Browdard.

However, the complaint fails to state a failure to protect claim against Defendants Cregg and Roeckman. Beyond naming both defendants in the case caption, the complaint includes no allegations against them. The complaint does not allege, for example, the either defendant was aware of a substantial risk of serious harm to Plaintiff and also disregarded the risk. Merely naming a defendant in the caption is insufficient to state a claim against a defendant. See Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 334 (7th Cir. 1998). Accordingly, Plaintiff shall be allowed to proceed with Count 1 against Defendant Browdard, but not Defendants Cregg and Roeckman.

The complaint fails to articulate a colorable property claim (Count 2). To state a claim under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Plaintiff must establish a deprivation of liberty or property without due process of law. If the state provides an adequate remedy, Plaintiff has no civil rights claim. Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 530-36 (1984) (availability of damages remedy in state claims court is an adequate, post-deprivation remedy). The Seventh Circuit has found that Illinois provides an adequate post-deprivation remedy in an action for damages in the Illinois Court of Claims. Murdock v. Washington, 193 F.3d 510, 513 (7th Cir. 1999); Stewart v. McGinnis, 5 F.3d 1031, 1036 (7th Cir. 1993); 705 ILL. ...


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