United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
STACI M. YANDLE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Omar Grayson, currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville"), brings this pro se civil rights action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Spiller (Warden at Menard) and Godinez (Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections) subjected Plaintiff to conditions of confinement that violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff seeks injunctive and monetary relief.
The complaint comes now 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. At the same time, 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). At this preliminary stage, the Court finds that Plaintiff's complaint passes threshold review.
Plaintiff was transferred from Stateville Correctional Center to Pinckneyville in September 2013. (Doc. 1, p. 7). In November 2013, Plaintiff states that the temperature outside dropped dramatically, but the heat was not turned on inside the prison for two weeks. Id. During that time, Plaintiff wrote a slip to his counselor informing him of the cold cell conditions; the counselor responded that the warden receives daily reports on the cell temperatures and the thermostat was set to 72 degrees. Id. However, Plaintiff alleges that when the heat was finally turned on, only the casing along the heater warmed up, which did not provide any radiant heat in the cell. Id. Plaintiff estimates the true temperature in the cell was around 30 degrees. Plaintiff asserts that inmates who do not own thermal underwear prior to being sent to segregation are not allowed to purchase them since "loss of commissary privileges" is one of the sanctions imposed on inmates during their time in segregation. Although inmates were issued two blankets, Plaintiff maintains that they were so thin and threadbare that he had to sleep in his coat to stay warm. Id. Plaintiff maintains that from late fall to early spring the cells were "inhumanely, unbearably cold" and as a result, inmates were constantly sick. Id. Plaintiff notes that Defendant Spiller, as Warden of Pinckneyville, is in charge of the facilities at Pinckneyville, and also signed the grievance denying Plaintiff's request to address the heating issue. Likewise, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Godinez signed the decision denying Plaintiff's appeal. Id.
The Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment is applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. It has been a means of improving prison conditions that were constitutionally unacceptable. See, e.g., Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 666 (1962); Sellers v. Henman, 41 F.3d 1100, 1102 (7th Cir. 1994). As the Supreme Court noted in Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 346 (1981), the amendment reaches beyond barbarous physical punishment to prohibit the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain and punishment grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime. Id., (quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976)). The Constitution also prohibits punishment that is totally without penological justification. Gregg, 428 U.S. at 183.
Not all prison conditions, however, trigger Eighth Amendment scrutiny - only deprivations of basic human needs like food, medical care, sanitation, and physical safety. Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 346; see also James v. Milwaukee Cnty., 956 F.2d 696, 699 (7th Cir. 1992). In order to prevail on a claim attacking the conditions of confinement, a plaintiff must allege facts that, if true, would satisfy the objective and subjective components applicable to all Eighth Amendment claims. McNeil v. Lane, 16 F.3d 123, 124 (7th Cir. 1994); see also Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 302 (1991). The objective analysis examines whether the conditions of confinement exceeded the contemporary bounds of decency of a mature civilized society. Id. The condition must result in unquestioned and serious deprivations of basic human needs or deprive inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities. Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981); accord Jamison-Bey v. Thieret, 867 F.2d 1046, 1048 (7th Cir. 1989); Meriwether v. Faulkner, 821 F.2d 408, 416 (7th Cir. 1987).
In addition to showing objectively serious conditions, a plaintiff must also demonstrate the subjective component to an Eighth Amendment claim. The subjective component of unconstitutional punishment is the intent with which the acts or practices constituting the alleged punishment are inflicted. Jackson, 955 F.2d at 22. The subjective component requires that a prison official had a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298; see also McNeil v. Lane, 16 F.3d 123, 124 (7th Cir. 1994). In conditions of confinement cases, the relevant state of mind is deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety; the official must be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he also must draw the inference. See, e.g., Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994); Wilson, 501 U.S. at 303; Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976); DelRaine v. Williford, 32 F.3d 1024, 1032 (7th Cir. 1994). The deliberate indifference standard is satisfied if the plaintiff shows that the prison official acted or failed to act despite the official's knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842. A failure of prison officials to act in such circumstances suggests that the officials actually want the prisoner to suffer the harm. Jackson v. Duckworth, 955 F.2d 21, 22 (7th Cir. 1992).
It is well-established that inmates, under the Eighth Amendment, "have a right to protection from extreme cold." See Dixon v. Godinez, 114 F.3d 640, 642 (7th Cir. 1997). To assess whether cold cell temperatures constitute cruel and unusual punishment, courts must consider factors including "the severity of the cold; its duration; whether the prisoner has alternative means to protect himself from the cold; the adequacy of such alternatives; as well as whether he must endure other uncomfortable conditions as well as cold." Id. at 644; see also Henderson v. DeRobertis, 940 F.2d 1055, 1058 (7th Cir. 1991) (finding that deprivation of blankets for four days in extreme cold could constitute Eighth Amendment violation). Here, Plaintiff alleges that the temperature in his cell was below freezing for weeks on end. Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, as the Court must do at this preliminary stage, the Court finds that Plaintiff has adequately alleged facts suggesting that the conditions in his cell were "sufficiently serious." He has also alleged facts that, if true, would suggest that the conditions were caused by the acts or omissions of prison officials.
A civil rights action against state officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is "a cause of action based upon personal liability and predicated upon fault; thus, liability does not attach unless the individual defendant caused or participated in a constitutional deprivation." Sheik-Abdi v. McClellan, 37 F.3d 1240, 1248 (7th Cir. 1994) (citing Wolf-Lillie v. Sonquist, 699 F.2d 864, 869 (7th Cir. 1983)); see also Pepper v. Village of Oak Park, 430 F.3d 809, 810 (7th Cir. 2005). Typically, an official who rules "against a prisoner on an administrative complaint does not cause or contribute to the violation. A guard who stands and watches while another guard beats a prisoner violates the Constitution; a guard who rejects an administrative complaint about a completed act of misconduct does not." George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609-10 (7th Cir. 2007) (emphasis added). In other words, the official "must know about the conduct and facilitate it, approve it, condone it, or turn a blind eye...." Gentry v. Duckworth, 65 F.3d 555, 561 (7th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted).
Plaintiff contends that Defendants Spiller and Godinez are liable for the unconstitutional conditions because each Defendant was informed about the inadequate heat through Plaintiff's grievances, yet denied that it was a problem. At this juncture, more facts are needed to determine whether that was in fact the case. Therefore, at this time, Plaintiff may proceed on his claim against Defendants Spiller and Godinez, in their individual capacities.
In addition, because Plaintiff is seeking injunctive relief, and the Court finds that Plaintiff has alleged facts at this stage sufficient to support a conditions of confinement claim, Defendant Spiller shall remain in this action in his official capacity as well. See Gonzalez v. Feinerman, 663 F.3d 311, 315 (7th Cir. 2011) (proper defendant in a claim for injunctive ...