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McClatchery v. Mesey

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 18, 2014

D'MARCO P. McCLATCHERY, #B87121, Plaintiff,
v.
RICK WATSON, MAJOR McLAUREN, CAPTAIN TRI CE, OFFICER WAGNER, and OFFICER T. MESEY, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville"), brings this action against five officials at the St. Clair County, Illinois Jail ("Jail") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). In the complaint, Plaintiff claims that he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the Jail in 2013 (Doc. 1, pp. 5, 7). He now seeks compensatory and punitive damages (Doc. 1, p. 6).

The Complaint

According to the complaint, Plaintiff was "unjustly housed" in the Jail's gymnasium beginning in April 2013 (Doc. 1, p. 5). He was forced to sleep on a filthy floor. The toilet leaked "constantly, " causing a foul odor. The sink was broken and "full of rodents, roaches, spiders and insects."

Plaintiff now sues Defendants Watson (sheriff), McLauren (major), Trice (captain), Wagner (correctional officer), and Mesey (correctional officer) for exposing him to these conditions (Doc. 1, p. 5). According to the complaint, Defendant Watson allegedly ignored Plaintiff's grievances regarding the conditions on May 13th, May 30th, and August 13th, 2013. Defendant McLauren was "fully aware" of the conditions, yet failed to "answer [Plaintiff's] request for his assistance." Defendant Trice was also aware of the conditions, but denied Plaintiff's request "for a second of his time" to discuss the conditions. Finally, Defendant Wagner responded to Plaintiff's requests to repair the leaky toilet and broken sink by stating that he "didn't care." When Plaintiff asked Defendant Wagner for a grievance form, Defendant Wagner told Plaintiff that he did not carry the forms.

Plaintiff was transferred from the Jail's gymnasium to K-block on June 2, 2013 (Doc. 1, p. 7). This area of the Jail later housed convicted murderers, who were awaiting sentencing. Plaintiff, who faced 3-7 years for aggravated domestic battery, "felt that [his] life was in danger." When Plaintiff asked Defendants Mesey, Trice, and McLauren for a transfer to a different area of the Jail, his request was denied. Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the same on August 13, 2013. When Defendant Mesey took the grievance, he stated, "[L]et's see how far this get[s]." Plaintiff never received a response. He now sues Defendants for failing to protect him from dangerous inmates.

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court is required to carefully review a complaint filed by a plaintiff who seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. The Court must dismiss a complaint, or portion thereof, if the plaintiff has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious, " that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(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).

Discussion

Plaintiff now asserts claims against Defendants for subjecting him to unconstitutional conditions of confinement (Count 1) and for failing to protect him from dangerous inmates (Count 2). The applicable legal standard for these claims depends on Plaintiff's status as a pretrial detainee or inmate while he was housed at the Jail. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment governs claims of pretrial detainees, while the Eighth Amendment applies to claims of inmates. See Klebanowski v. Sheahan, 540 F.3d 633, 637 (7th Cir. 2008); see also Rice ex rel. Rice v. Corr. Med. Servs., 675 F.3d 650, 664 (7th Cir. 2012); Forest v. Prine, 620 F.3d 739, 744-45 (7th Cir. 2010). However, Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment case law can be used interchangeably in this context. Id.

After fully considering the allegations in the complaint, the Court concludes that it states a cognizable claim for unconstitutional conditions of confinement (Count 1) against Defendants McLauren, Trice, and Wagner, all of whom allegedly knew about the Jail gymnasium's unsanitary living conditions but refused to address the conditions (Doc. 1, p. 5). However, no claim has been stated against Defendants Watson and Mesey.

Claims that relate to the conditions of confinement generally fall under the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause of the Eighth Amendment. All Eighth Amendment claims have an objective and a subjective component. McNeil v. Lane, 16 F.3d 123, 124 (7th Cir. 1994); see also Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 302 (1991). The objective analysis examines whether the conditions of confinement exceeded contemporary bounds of decency of a mature civilized society. Id. The condition must result in unquestioned and serious deprivations of basic human needs or deprive inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities. Jamison-Bey v. Thieret, 867 F.2d 1046, 1048 (7th Cir. 1989); Meriwether v. Faulkner, 821 F.2d 408, 416 (7th Cir. 1987). Plaintiff's complaint states sufficient allegations to satisfy the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim at this early stage in litigation.

However, the claim against Defendants Watson and Mesey fails on the subjective prong. The subjective component requires that a prison official had a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298. In conditions of confinement cases, the relevant state of mind is deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety; the official must be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he also must draw the inference. See, e.g., Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994); Wilson, 501 U.S. at 303; Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976); Del Raine v. Williford, 32 F.3d 1024, 1032 (7th Cir. 1994). No allegations suggest that Defendant Mesey was aware of or exhibited deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's living conditions. Although Plaintiff attempted to put Defendant Watson on notice of the conditions by directing three grievances to him, the complaint does not suggest that Defendant Watson actually received the grievances. Further, Defendant Watson cannot be held liable for a violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights merely because of his role as sheriff. This is because the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to actions filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See, e.g., Kinslow v. Pullara, 538 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2008); see Crowder v. Lash, 687 F.2d 996, 1006 (7th Cir. 1982) (director of state ...


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