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Morrison v. McLauren

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 16, 2014

GARY MORRISON, JR., # B-26659, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), where he is serving a 14-year sentence for a drug offense. He brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, to seek redress for violations of his constitutional rights while he was a pretrial detainee at the St. Clair County Jail ("the Jail").

In his complaint, Plaintiff claims that he was subjected to "poor and inadequate living conditions" while he was a prisoner at the Jail (Doc. 1, p. 1). These conditions included overcrowding, filthy floors, infestation of mice and insects, foul odors of human feces from the toilet areas, rusty showers, and peeling paint (Doc. 1, pp. 1, 3). Defendants did not provide Plaintiff with adequate cleaning supplies or materials to mitigate these conditions. Plaintiff had to sleep on the filthy floors due to the overcrowded jail population.

In addition, Plaintiff was denied recreational time in the yard or gym because of the overcrowded conditions, and indicates he could not engage in physical exercise as a result (Doc. 1, pp. 1, 3). He claims that the food portions were too small and that the menu was not being followed properly (Doc. 1, p. 3). He was not given adequate access to the law library (Doc. 1, p. 1). He was "subjected to medical issues" due to the filthy conditions, and Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical issues (Doc. 1, pp. 1, 4).

Plaintiff asserts that he complained about these conditions to each of the Defendants as well as to other Jail staff, but nothing was done to correct the problems. He now seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the claimed constitutional violations (Doc. 1, p. 4).

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant.

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). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that "no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit." Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). 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).

Claims brought by pretrial detainees pursuant to § 1983 arise under the Fourteenth Amendment and not the Eighth Amendment. Weiss v. Cooley, 230 F.3d 1027, 1032 (7th Cir. 2000). However, the Seventh Circuit has "found it convenient and entirely appropriate to apply the same standard to claims arising under the Fourteenth Amendment (detainees) and Eighth Amendment (convicted prisoners) without differentiation.'" Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d 469, 478 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Henderson v. Sheahan, 196 F.3d 839, 845 n.2 (7th Cir. 1999)). Thus, for cruel and unusual punishment' claims brought by a detainee, the plaintiff must show that the jail officials knew that the plaintiff was at risk of serious harm, and that they disregarded that risk by failing to reasonably discharge the risk. Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 771-72, 777-79 (7th Cir. 2008).

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that the following claims survive review under § 1915A, and shall proceed for further consideration:

Count 1: Fourteenth Amendment claim against all Defendants for subjecting Plaintiff to unconstitutional living conditions which posed a danger to his health, including a filthy living and sleeping area, vermin infestation, exposure to the odor of human waste, and denial of adequate cleaning supplies;
Count 2: Fourteenth Amendment claim against all Defendants for denying Plaintiff adequate opportunity for physical exercise to maintain his health.

However, Plaintiff's allegations regarding the small portions of food (Count 3), inadequate access to the law library (Count 4), and deliberate indifference to his medical needs (Count 5) fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and shall be dismissed.

Plaintiff's complaint does not disclose the dates or duration of his confinement at the Jail. The length of time that an inmate is subjected to unsanitary conditions, as well as the degree of risk posed by those conditions, are factors for the Court to consider in evaluating whether the conditions rose to the level of a constitutional violation. See Thomas v. Illinois, 697 F.3d 612, 614-15 (7th Cir. 2012) (depending on severity, duration, nature of the risk, and susceptibility of the inmate, prison conditions may violate the Eighth Amendment if they caused either physical, psychological, or probabilistic harm). Similarly, a short-term deprivation of the ability to exercise or engage in physical activity while imprisoned may not amount to a constitutional violation. See Harris v. Fleming, 839 F.2d 1232, 1236 (7th Cir. 1988) (28-day denial not unconstitutional). However, longer periods without exercise may state a constitutional claim. See Delaney v. DeTella, 256 F.3d 679, 683-85 (7th Cir. 2001) (6-month denial states a claim; a ...

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