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Harris v. Brown

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

September 30, 2014

LARRY HARRIS, et al., Plaintiffs.
v.
DR. LOWELL BROWN, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

HAROLD A. BAKER, District Judge.

The plaintiffs are current or former inmates of the Illinois Department of Corrections. They contend that too much soy is served in the prison food, exposing them to a serious threat to their current and future health. Cross-summary judgment motions are pending on that issue, along with competing motions to strike experts and various other motions.

The Court has read all of the parties' submissions. In sum, the Eighth Amendment standard is a high hurdle, and the plaintiffs' evidence falls short. A jury could not find that the soy in the prison diet presents a substantial risk of serious harm to the plaintiffs' current or future health, even accepting the opinions of the plaintiffs' experts that soy can cause or exacerbate some health problems. The defendants' motions for summary judgment will therefore be granted. A status conference will be scheduled to discuss what issues remain in the case, if any.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "In a ยง 1983 case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof on the constitutional deprivation that underlies the claim, and thus must come forward with sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material fact to avoid summary judgment." McAllister v. Price, 615 F.3d 877, 881 (7th Cir. 2010). At this stage, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, with material factual disputes resolved in the nonmovant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

ANALYSIS

In the case management order of November 16, 2011, the court identified the following pivotal issues, which are the court's road map for this order:

1. As articulated by plaintiffs' counsel, that while soy is generally regarded as nutritious in limited quantities, in diets that contain soy in large quantities, the soy has a toxic effect on the human body that is a serious threat to the health and safety of the plaintiffs, and the defendants are deliberately indifferent to that harm;

2. The plaintiffs have an allergy to soy products that gives rise to a serious medical need and the defendants are deliberately indifferent to that need;

3. There is an available medical test for a soy allergy that the defendants do not and will not administer to determine if an inmate indeed is allergic to soy.

I. The plaintiffs have not established that the soy in the prison diet, as a general matter, presents a substantial risk of serious harm to their current or future health absent an existing, serious medical condition that contraindicates soy, as determined by current and generally accepted professional practices.

"[T]he Eighth Amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishments; it does not require the most intelligent, progressive, humane, or efficacious prison administration.'" Lee v. Young, 533 F.3d 505, 511 (7th Cir. 2008)(perfection was not required in eliminating exposure of asthmatic inmate to second-hand smoke)( quoting Anderson v. Romero, 72 F.3d 518, 524 (7th Cir.1995)(prisons not required to take "the best" approach of instituting universal precautions to prevent the spread of HIV). In order to prevail, the plaintiffs must have evidence that the soy in the prison diet presents a substantial risk of serious harm to their current or future health. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)(being "incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm" states an Eighth Amendment claim).

This case is based on the allegation that the soy served is excessive. Calculating that amount seems like it should be easy, but apparently not so. The two experts differ wildly on their estimates. They do seem to agree that the most precise way to calculate the amount of soy served in the prison would be to take each meal and burn it under controlled conditions for a chemical analysis. (Braunschweig Dep. p. 156.) That was not done.

The plaintiff's expert, Sylvia Onusic, puts the number at 53-72 grams of "soy protein" per day and 55-120 grams of "soy product" per day. (Onusic expert report, d/e 441, p. 1.) But then later in the same paragraph she estimates the amount of soy as "100 grams minimum, " though what she means is not explained. 100 grams of soy protein per day? Or, 100 grams of soy product per day? A soy "product" has ...


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