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Belk v. Staff

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 16, 2014

LARRY BELK, Plaintiff,


PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Larry Belk, an inmate at Madison County Jail ("Jail"), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). Plaintiff sues the Madison County Jail Staff ("Jail Staff") and the Madison County Jail Medical Staff ("Medical Staff") for constitutional claims arising from his alleged exposure to Hepatitis C, the conditions of his confinement, and his lack of access to the courts (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff seeks "compensation" (Doc. 1, p. 8).

The Complaint

Plaintiff's one-page complaint sets forth three claims. First, Plaintiff alleges that "the Jail knows" that another inmate has Hepatitis C, but allowed the inmate to share a razor with Plaintiff (Doc. 1, p. 7). Consequently, Plaintiff was exposed to the disease. Second, Plaintiff alleges that he has been subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the Jail. The food is unhealthy, [1] he is allowed no recreation time, the air is not fresh, and the water stops working at times (Doc. 1, p. 7). Finally, Plaintiff alleges that he cannot properly defend himself because he lacks access to the Jail's law library and legal forms. Although Plaintiff asks to visit the library on a daily basis, the complaint alleges that "[t]hey say they to (sic) busy or that one individual is already in there" (Doc. 1, p. 7). The Jail allegedly has no grievance procedure in place. When Plaintiff wrote to Jail officials about these issues, he was told to "write Springfield" (Doc. 1, p. 4). It is unclear whether he did so. Plaintiff now sues the Jail Staff and Medical Staff seeking "compensation" (Doc. 1, p. 8).

Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

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). Upon careful review of the complaint, the Court finds that all of Plaintiff's claims are subject to dismissal under § 1915A.


The complaint addresses a deliberate indifference claim based on Plaintiff's exposure to disease (Count 1), a conditions of confinement claim arising from his inadequate nutrition, exercise, air, and water (Count 2), and an access to courts claim arising from his denial of access to the law library and legal forms (Count 3). Because the complaint is fatally flawed, however, Plaintiff shall not be allowed to proceed on any of these claims.


At the outset, the Court notes that no individuals are identified in connection with Plaintiff's claims. Section 1983 creates a cause of action based on personal liability and predicated upon fault; thus, "to be liable under [Section] 1983, an individual defendant must have caused or participated in a constitutional deprivation." Pepper v. Village of Oak Park, 430 F.3d 809, 810 (7th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). The case caption lists the Jail Staff and Medical Staff as defendants, but mentions them nowhere in the statement of claim. No one else is mentioned either. Without tying an individual defendant to specific acts, the complaint fails to establish a constitutional violation on the part of any particular defendant. Plaintiffs are required to associate specific defendants with specific claims, so that defendants are put on notice of the claims brought against them and so they can properly answer the complaint. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). Where a plaintiff has not included a specific defendant in his statement of the claim, the defendant cannot be said to be adequately put on notice of which claims in the complaint, if any, are directed against him. See Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 334 (7th Cir. 1998).

In addition, the complaint mentions no policy, custom, or practice that resulted in a constitutional deprivation. A copy of various Jail rules is attached to the complaint without any explanation of them (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). Further, Plaintiff seeks only "compensation, " and not injunctive relief. Under these circumstances, the complaint sets forth no actionable claim and must therefore be dismissed.

However, the dismissal shall be without prejudice, and Plaintiff shall be granted leave to file a "First Amended Complaint" addressing the defects in his pleading noted herein, if he wishes to pursue his claims further. Plaintiff is INSTRUCTED to file a proper § 1983 complaint with this Court within 35 days of the date of this order. Failure to follow the Court's instructions will result in dismissal of this action with prejudice for failure to state a ...

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