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Merritt v. Zeigler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 2, 2014

KELVIN MERRITT, No. B-78207, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Kelvin Merritt, an inmate in Menard Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on events surrounding his ongoing hunger strike. As of April 18, 2014, when the complaint was signed, Plaintiff was in a cell without water, and also without clothing or hygiene products. Plaintiff asserts that his life is in imminent danger. He prays for a court-ordered State Police investigation into his situation, issuance an injunctive relief, and monetary damages.

The complaint is construed as including a motion for a temporary restraining order, which requires immediate review. The Court will simultaneously perform 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. At this juncture, the factual allegations of the 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 complaint, Plaintiff Merritt and his cellmate began a hunger strike on April 9, 2014. The two men refused to consume food and water. The reason for, or aim of the strike is not revealed in the complaint.

During the evening on April 12, Plaintiff's cellmate passed out. After taking Plaintiff's vital signs, Med. Tech. Rebecca Stefani and Nurse Reva Engelade declared Plaintiff to be "fine, " which he contends was not the case. In any event, the two inmates reaffirmed their hunger strike the next morning, on April 13. The inmate's vital signs, urine and blood were all checked on April 13. Plaintiff's blood pressure was hypertensive at 160/90. See www. -Blood-Pressure-Readings_UCM_301764_Article.jsp (last accessed April 30, 2014). According to Plaintiff, his protein and T4 (thyroxine) levels were also elevated. Rather than being kept in the Health Care Unit, Plaintiff and his cellmate were sent back to their cell-the decision was apparently made by officials who are not named defendants.

On April 14, Plaintiff awoke feeling weak. Plaintiff and his cellmate were taken back to the Health Care Unit and their vital signs, blood and urine were checked again-all remained elevated. Plaintiff's cellmate passed out and was kept in the infirmary. Plaintiff, however, was returned to his cell, purportedly because there was no room for him in the infirmary. While in the Health Care Unit, Plaintiff told a doctor (who is not a named defendant) that he needed to see the warden because his life was in danger and he was in pain. The doctor replied that the warden was never going to see Plaintiff. Despite his condition, Plaintiff again reiterated he was on a hunger strike.

Either April 14 or the next day (the complaint is not clear), C/O Goetz and Internal Affairs C/O Phelps removed Plaintiff from his cell and interviewed him about an incident that had occurred a few months earlier. When C/O Phelps returned Plaintiff to his cell there was a food tray in the cell. Plaintiff asked that it be removed, but Phelps refused, instead telling Plaintiff to just throw it away. Plaintiff contends Phelps was trying to "trick" him-apparently trying to entice Plaintiff to eat. C/O Flemming then threw the food tray on the floor.

After Flemming and Phelps left the cell, Plaintiff attempted to drink some water, but the water supply had been turned off. Having been told that he could die if he did not drink water, Plaintiff apparently abandoned that aspect of his hunger strike. Plaintiff describes feeling lightheaded and passing out. He awoke with a knot on his head. Plaintiff told Med. Tech. Amy Lang what had happened and he asked for help, but Lang ignored him.

Plaintiff passed out again shortly after Lang refused to treat him. When he awoke, people were kicking Plaintiff, twisting and pulling his limbs and dragging him. Plaintiff was taken to the shower, where a bucket of water was poured in his mouth. Plaintiff feared he was going to be killed. Plaintiff identifies those involved in the assault as: Amy Lang; C/O Lindenberg; C/O Goetz; C/O Flemming; C/O Sulser; Lt. Horton; and C/O Henry, who is not named defendant).[1]

Dr. Nwabasi arrived at the shower area and directed that Plaintiff be taken to the Health Care Unit because he needed an I.V. However, Lt. Holt and Major Zeigler asked repeatedly if Plaintiff could just be placed in a cell in that area. Dr. Nwabasi relented and Plaintiff was not taken to the Health Care Unit.

C/O Goetz and C/O Susler then threw Plaintiff into a wheelchair, wheeled him down some steps, assaulting him along the way, until they dumped Plaintiff onto the floor of a cell. After the guards left, nearby inmates told Plaintiff to check the water in his cell because it had been turned off on the previous occupant. There was no water in the cell. Plaintiff was left naked and thirsty.

Plaintiff was next dragged from his cell to see Med. Tech. Rebecca Stefani and Nurse Reva Engelade. Med. Tech. Stefani then threated Plaintiff and told him he had to eat and drink. Lt. Kroke choked Plaintiff, telling him to eat. When Plaintiff did not relent, he was dragged back to his cell without medical treatment.

For the next three days, April 15-17, Plaintiff continued to assert that he was on a hunger strike, but he simultaneously asked for medical treatment and that his water be turned on. Plaintiff identifies the following individuals as denying him treatment and/or water: C/O Lindenberg; Lt. Holt; Amy Lang; Nurse Reva Engelade, as well as C/O Baumer and Psychologist Dana Delani, who are not named as defendants. It appears that Plaintiff remains in this cell-the injuries from his ...

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