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Adams v. Harrington

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 16, 2014

BYRON ADAMS, #A-60952 Plaintiff,


J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Byron Adams, who is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center, has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). Richard Harrington, warden at Menard, is the only named defendant. Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to unsafe conditions in his cell caused by the malfunctioning of a steam pipe under the cell floor, which resulted in severe burns on both of his feet. Id. at 5. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and an inspection of the heating system that caused the alleged unsafe conditions. Id. at 11-12.

The complaint comes now before the Court for a preliminary review 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).

The Complaint

According to the allegations in the complaint, on January 24, 2014 Plaintiff was transferred from one unit in Menard to another. (Doc. 1, ¶ 1). Upon his transfer, Plaintiff was not informed that some malfunction with the heating pipes in the new unit made the cell floor extremely hot. Id. On January 27, Plaintiff, who had been sitting on his bunk with his feet on the floor for several hours, discovered that he had burns on the bottom of his feet. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 3-4). Plaintiff is diabetic and suffers from neuropathy, a condition which interferes with his ability to sense heat. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10). The next day, Plaintiff was admitted to the health care unit and remained there until March 5. During that time he received daily treatment for the burns on his feet. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 6-7).

On January 29, an unnamed officer from internal affairs visited Plaintiff in the health care unit to inquire about the burns on Plaintiff's feet. (Doc. 1, ¶ 8). Plaintiff claims he told the officer about the hot floor in his cell and the officer said he would investigate and take a statement from Plaintiff. Id. The officer later returned and confirmed that the floor was hot, but never took a statement from Plaintiff. (Doc. 1, ¶ 9).

On March 5, Plaintiff was released from the health care unit and transferred back to the same cellhouse, but to a new cell. The new cell was four cells away from the cell where his feet had previously been burned. (Doc. 1, ¶ 12). Plaintiff claims that the floor of his new cell was hotter than the old cell. (Doc. 1, ¶ 15-16). At that time, Plaintiff maintains that his burns were not yet completely healed (Doc. 1, ¶ 13) and he continued to visit the health care unit to receive treatment for his burns (Doc. 1, ¶ 14).

On March 9, Plaintiff woke up during the night and noticed that his feet were bleeding. (Doc. 1, ¶ 18). He informed two (unnamed) guards. Plaintiff alleges that the first guard did nothing. Id. The second guard said that he would call the sergeant on duty; the second guard later told Plaintiff that he had called the nurse on duty and informed her of the situation; the (unnamed) nurse allegedly said that Plaintiff would have to wait until March 11 - his regularly scheduled appointment time - to have his dressings changed. (Doc. 1, ¶ 21). However, the next morning, March 10, a female officer on duty noticed the blood on Plaintiff's socks and sheets and took him immediately to the health care unit. (Doc. 1, ¶ 22). Plaintiff was seen by a nurse and a doctor who confirmed that Plaintiff had new burns on his feet. (Doc. 1, ¶ 24). Plaintiff received treatment and then was returned to his cell once again, despite a nurse's request that he be admitted to the health care unit. (Doc. 1, ¶ 26-27). On March 11, pursuant to an order from the assistant warden, Plaintiff was transferred back into the health care unit. (Doc. 1, ¶ 28). Plaintiff was still housed in the health care unit on March 21, the date he filed this complaint. On that date, Plaintiff still had wraps on both of his feet and was unable to wear shoes or walk on his own. (Doc. 1, ¶ 34).


Plaintiff alleges that the conditions of his confinement in late January 2014 and again in early March 2014 were so unsafe that they constituted a violation of Plaintiff's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff names Richard Harrington, warden at Menard, as the sole defendant in his complaint. The complaint does not state whether Plaintiff is suing Harrington in his individual or official capacity. ( See Doc. 1). For clarity, the Court has broken Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims into two counts: Count 1 addresses Plaintiff's claim for monetary damages; Count 2 is Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief.

The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment is applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. It has been a means of improving prison conditions that were constitutionally unacceptable. See, e.g., Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 666 (1962); Sellers v. Henman, 41 F.3d 1100, 1102 (7th Cir. 1994). As the Supreme Court noted in Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 346 (1981), the amendment reaches beyond barbarous physical punishment to prohibit the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain and punishment grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime. Id., (quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976)). The Constitution also prohibits punishment that is totally without penological justification. Gregg, 428 U.S. at 183.

Not all prison conditions trigger Eighth Amendment scrutiny - only deprivations of basic human needs like food, medical care, sanitation, and physical safety. Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 346; s ee also James v. Milwaukee Cnty., 956 F.2d 696, 699 (7th Cir. 1992). In order to prevail on a conditions of confinement claim, a plaintiff must allege facts that, if true, would satisfy the objective and subjective components applicable to all Eighth Amendment claims. McNeil v. Lane, 16 F.3d 123, 124 (7th Cir. 1994); see also Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 302 (1991). The objective component focuses on the nature of the acts or practices alleged to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Jackson v. Duckworth, 955 F.2d 21, 22 (7th Cir. 1992). 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. Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981); accord Jamison-Bey v. Thieret, 867 F.2d 1046, 1048 (7th Cir. 1989); Meriwether v. Faulkner, 821 F.2d 408, 416 (7th Cir. 1987).

In addition to showing objectively serious conditions, a plaintiff must also demonstrate the subjective component to an Eighth Amendment claim. The subjective component of unconstitutional punishment is the intent with which the acts or practices constituting the alleged punishment are inflicted. Jackson, 955 F.2d at 22. The subjective component requires that a prison official had a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298; see also McNeil v. Lane, 16 F.3d 123, 124 (7th Cir. 1994). 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); DelRaine v. Williford, 32 F.3d 1024, 1032 (7th Cir. 1994). The deliberate indifference standard is satisfied if the plaintiff shows that the prison official acted or failed to act despite ...

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