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Ross v. Atchison

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 17, 2014

SAMUEL ROSS, # R-10041, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL P. ATCHISON, LT. MITCHELL, TIMOTHY R. VEATH, MR. HENRY, and UNKNOWN PARTY, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Samuel Ross, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights (Doc. 1). Plaintiff claims that Defendants Atchison (warden), Mitchell (lieutenant), Henry (internal affairs officer), and Doe (counselor) failed to protect him from an assault by two inmates on May 24, 2012. He sues these Defendants for violating his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff also sues Defendant Veath for conducting an unfair hearing on a false disciplinary ticket that Plaintiff received following the assault, in violation of his right to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief in the form of a prison transfer (Doc. 1, p. 18).

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). After carefully considering the allegations, the Court finds that Plaintiff's complaint survives preliminary review under § 1915A.

The Complaint

Plaintiff was allegedly assaulted by two inmates in the prison yard on May 24, 2012[1] (Doc. 1, p. 5). As one inmate locked him in a tight chokehold, a second inmate hit Plaintiff in the face with a shank, causing him to lose consciousness. He was transported on a stretcher to the prison's health care unit, before being rushed to Memorial Hospital for treatment of his injuries (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff later returned to the prison's infirmary to recover.

An internal affairs officer interviewed Plaintiff in the hospital. After completing the interview, the officer spoke with another officer in the hallway. Plaintiff overheard one say, "Man, we fu**ed up, that's Ross, he been having his mother calling down here trying to get him in protective custody (sic)" (Doc. 1, p. 6).

According to the complaint, Plaintiff repeatedly asked for placement in protective custody in the weeks immediately preceding the assault. After receiving death threats from gang members, Plaintiff submitted requests, both in writing and verbally, to Defendants Atchison (April 13th), Mitchell (May 1st), Henry (May 5th, 10th, 14th), and Jane Doe (May 18th) (Doc. 1, pp. 9-10). On May 18th, he met with a prison psychologist, who advocated without success for his placement in protective custody (Doc. 1, p. 8). Plaintiff also turned to family members, one of whom contacted the prison on May 14th to request Plaintiff's placement in protective custody. Given these warnings, Plaintiff claims that Defendants Atchison, Mitchell, Henry, and Doe violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to take reasonable steps to prevent Plaintiff from being assaulted (Doc. 1, p. 5).

Plaintiff also asserts a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim against Defendant Veath for conducting an unfair disciplinary hearing on June 12th (Doc. 1, pp. 11-17). According to the complaint, Plaintiff was placed in segregation soon after renewing his request for placement in protective custody on May 25th (Doc. 1, p. 11). When Plaintiff asked why he was being punished with "seg, " he was issued a disciplinary ticket for impeding or interfering with an investigation and for giving false information to an employee (Doc. 1, p. 12).

Prior to his disciplinary hearing, Plaintiff was not provided with a full copy of the disciplinary report. Further, he was prohibited from speaking, calling witnesses, or asking questions at the hearing (Doc. 1, p. 13). The adjustment committee ultimately found Plaintiff guilty of the rule violations and sentenced him to one year of segregation, C-grade, and commissary restriction; the warden later reduced this to seven months of segregation and nine months of C-grade and commissary restriction. Plaintiff now sues Defendant Veath for due process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment (Doc. 1, p. 14).

Discussion

After carefully considering the allegations in the complaint, the Court finds that it states a colorable Eighth Amendment claim (Count 1) against Defendants Atchison, Mitchell, Henry, and Doe[2] for displaying deliberate indifference to an unreasonable risk of assault. Accordingly, Plaintiff shall be allowed to proceed with Count 1 against Defendants Atchison, Mitchell, Henry, and Doe at this stage.

The complaint also articulates a Fourteenth Amendment claim (Count 2) against Defendant Veath[3] for allegedly conducting an unfair disciplinary hearing on a false disciplinary ticket that resulted in Plaintiff's confinement in segregation for seven months. Further discussion of this claim is necessary. An "inmate's liberty interest in avoiding segregation is limited." Hardaway v. Meyerhoff, et al., 734 F.3d 740 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Marion v. Columbia Corr. Inst., 559 F.3d 693, 697 (7th Cir. 2009)). Under certain circumstances, however, an inmate punished with segregation can pursue a claim ...


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