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Evans v. Roeckman

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

August 12, 2014

ROBERT EVANS, Plaintiff,
v.
ZACHARY ROECKMAN, LT.
v.
JACKSON, LT. SCHUTLER, N. NALLY, UNKNOWN SORT OFFICER, and DR. DENNIS LARSON, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Robert Evans, an inmate currently incarcerated at Big Muddy River Correctional Center ("Big Muddy"), brings this pro se civil rights action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The Complaint

According to the complaint, on May 5, 2014, the Illinois Department of Corrections Special Operations Response Team ("SORT") conducted a shakedown of housing unit #3 at Big Muddy. (Doc. 1, p. 4). All inmates in the unit were strip searched, handcuffed, and then escorted to the chow hall. Id. Inmates were instructed to keep their heads and eyes down. Plaintiff Evans alleges that he was sitting at a table with other inmates when suddenly an unknown SORT officer grabbed him by the back of his neck and asked, "What do [you] find so funny?" Id. Plaintiff claims that he responded, "I was not laughing sir." The SORT officer then banged Plaintiff's head into the steel table numerous times while choking him. Id. Plaintiff states that when he informed the officer that he had epilepsy, the officer replied, "What does this do for you?" and then forced his thumb into Plaintiff's windpipe while banging Plaintiff's head against the table two more times at which point Plaintiff lost consciousness. Id. at 5. Attached to the complaint are affidavits filed by two inmates who confirm this sequence of events. Id. at 16-17.

Plaintiff awoke a few minutes later in the health care unit. Plaintiff, covered in vomit and drool, was informed that he had suffered a seizure. Id. According to the complaint, Defendant Dr. Larson treated Plaintiff. When Plaintiff informed Defendant Larson what had happened, Defendant Larson allegedly replied, "You're a tough guy. You can take a few blows to the head." Id. Plaintiff only briefly mentions the other named defendants. He states that Defendant Nally escorted him to the infirmary where Defendants Jackson and Schutler were present. It is unclear when Defendant Nally arrived on the scene and what, if anything, he witnessed. Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant Roeckman was present at the time of the incident.

Plaintiff asserts that he had knots all over his head and two months later still has numbness on the right side of his face. Plaintiff filed an emergency grievance; he received a response from Defendant Roeckman stating that it was not an emergency. Plaintiff subsequently appealed the decision, but he has yet to receive a response.

Plaintiff now sues Defendants Roeckman (Warden of Big Muddy), Lt. Jackson (correctional officer), Lt. Schutler (officer with internal affairs), Nally (SORT officer), Unknown Party (SORT officer), and Larson (medical doctor) for unspecified constitutional violations that resulted from the incident on May 4, 2014.

Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

The complaint is 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).

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, some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011); 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.

Discussion

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, as the Court must do at this preliminary stage, the Court finds that the complaint sets forth an actionable excessive force claim (Count 1), but only against Defendant Unknown Party. Plaintiff has not stated facts sufficient to implicate the remaining defendants in the incident. As such, they shall be dismissed without prejudice.

The intentional use of excessive force by prison guards against an inmate without penological justification constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and is actionable under § 1983. See Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34 (2010). An inmate must show that an assault occurred and that "it was carried out maliciously and sadistically' rather than as part of a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline.'" Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 40 (citing Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6 (1992)). Several factors are relevant to this determination, including the need for force, the amount applied, the threat a guard reasonably perceived, the effort made to temper the severity of the force used, and the extent of the injury caused to the prisoner. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992); Fillmore v. Page, 358 F.3d 496, 504 (7th Cir.2004). An inmate seeking damages for the use of excessive force need not establish serious bodily injury to make a claim, but not "every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action." Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 37-38 (the question is whether force was de minimis, not whether the injury suffered was de minimis); see also Outlaw v. Newkirk, 259 F.3d 833, 837-38 (7th Cir. 2001).

Here, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Unknown Party used excessive force against him without any apparent penological justification. The degree of force used and the reason for its use are factual determinations that cannot be resolved at the pleadings stage. Thus, Plaintiff may proceed ...


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