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Hughes v. Godinez

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 8, 2014

ERNEST J. HUGHES, # R-40519, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Ernest Hughes, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Centralia Correctional Center ("Centralia"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his constitutional rights arising from his assault by another inmate at Robinson Correctional Center ("Robinson") on June 25, 2012 (Doc. 1). Plaintiff now sues nine defendants for failing to protect him from an unreasonable risk of assault and subjecting him to unconstitutional conditions of confinement, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. He also sues Defendants for failing to respond to his grievances about the incident for nearly eighteen months, in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law. Defendants include S. A. Godinez (Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") director), Leslie McCarty (Administrative Review Board ("ARB") member), and seven Robinson officials-Warden Grounds, Major Ford, Lieutenant Brookhart, Adjustment Committee Chair Olinger, Co-Chair Caldwell, C/O Stice, and an Unknown Party ("Major R"). Plaintiff seeks monetary damages (Doc. 1, p. 18). He also seeks to have his disciplinary record expunged.

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

According to the complaint, Plaintiff was physically assaulted by another inmate in the dayroom of Housing Unit 6-B at Robinson on June 25, 2012 (Doc. 1, pp. 6-16). A disciplinary report prepared by Lieutenant Brookhart indicates that Inmate Berry used the right footrest of his wheelchair to hit Plaintiff in the left side of the head (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff lost consciousness and was transported to a hospital for treatment by Flight for Life (Doc. 1, p. 8). He sustained a skull fracture and blood clots (Doc. 1, p. 18). Plaintiff was transferred to Centralia on July 11, 2012 (Doc. 1, p. 14).

He did not report the assault prior to his transfer because Robinson had no formal procedure in place for inmates to do so (Doc. 1, p. 9). Plaintiff waited until after his transfer to Centralia to file a grievance on July 26, 2012 (Doc. 1, p. 8). The ARB received the grievance on July 30, 2012, but failed to provide Plaintiff with a response until February 10, 2014.

Plaintiff now claims that the assault happened for the following reasons: (1) first, Robinson had no policy in place for reporting assaults and thereby condoned them (Doc. 1, p. 9); (2) second, prison staff did not monitor the dayroom on June 25, 2012, and staff[1] had an obligation to do so (Doc. 1, p. 7); and (3) third, overcrowding in the dayroom increased the risk of assault (Doc. 1, pp. 7, 12).

Plaintiff now sues all nine Defendants for failing to protect him from an unreasonable risk of assault, in violation of the Eighth Amendment (Count 1). Plaintiff sues Defendants Godinez, Grounds, and Stice for allowing the dayroom to become overcrowded, leading to unconstitutional conditions of confinement under the Eighth Amendment (Count 2). Finally, Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law by ignoring his July 26, 2012, grievance for nearly eighteen months (Count 3).


After carefully considering the allegations in the complaint, the Court finds that the complaint articulates colorable Eighth Amendment claims (Counts 1 and 2) against Defendants Stice and Grounds, based on Plaintiff's allegations that the above-referenced prison policies (attributable to Defendant Grounds) unreasonably exposed Plaintiff to an actual inmate assault, Defendant Stice was not in the dayroom at the time of the attack and failed to intervene and stop it, and overcrowding unreasonably increased the risk that the attack would occur.

However, Counts 1 and 2 shall be dismissed against all remaining defendants, including Defendants Godinez, McCarty, Ford, Brookhart, Olinger, Caldwell, and the Unknown Party ("Major R"). 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). As a result, the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to actions filed under § 1983. See, e.g., Kinslow v. Pullara, 538 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2008).

Relevant to Plaintiff's failure to protect claim (Count 1), prison officials have an obligation to protect prisoners from one another. Zarnes v. Rhodes, 64 F.3d 285, 290 (7th Cir. 1995). In order to state a failure to protect claim, Plaintiff must show that each Defendant was "deliberately indifferent" to a risk of serious harm to [P]laintiff's health or safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828 (1994). Put differently, Plaintiff must show that each Defendant knew that there was a ...

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