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Bentz v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 16, 2014

DAVID ROBERT BENTZ, BRETT SHARP, JESSE PEREZ, MARCOS GARCIA, ARMANDO GALLANDO, and JOHN LEE, Plaintiffs,
v.
KIMBERLY BUTLER, NURSE LANG, MAJOR WESTFALL, LT. JAMES BEST, LT. EOVALDI, LT. SAMUELS, SGT. N. BEBOUT, SGT. C. MAYER, C/O JOSHUA BERNER, C/O SHANE QUANDT, C/O JASON REDNOUR, C/O DONALD LINDENBERG, C/O JARED PHILLIPS, C/O McMILLAN, and UNKNOWN PARTIES, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.

Plaintiffs David Robert Bentz, Brett Sharp, Jesse Perez, Marcos Garcia, Armando Gallando, and John Lee, inmates in Menard Correctional Center, bring this action for deprivations of their constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, relative to the conditions of their confinement. Plaintiffs also seek to have this case certified as a class action on behalf of all inmates housed in the North-2 unit at Menard.

By Order dated September 17, 2014, Plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order was denied (Doc. 9). The complaint is now before the Court for a preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening.- The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal.- On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

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. At this juncture, the factual allegations of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

Put succinctly, the complaint in this case lacks specificity sufficient to adequately present any plausible claim under the Twombly standard. In apparent anticipation of proceeding as a class action, Plaintiffs have offered an over-arching narrative relative to every prisoner on the N-2 unit, while failing to offer any specific allegations linking themselves and the fourteen named defendants.

The Complaint

Plaintiffs claim that throughout the summer of 2014, whenever the heat index exceeded 90 degrees, the fourteen prison officials named as defendants, and other unidentified prison officials, did not make health and safety checks throughout the day. In addition, it is alleged that these officials failed to provide inmates in the North-2 unit with adequate ice, water, cold drinks, fans, and other means to keep cool, thereby endangering the inmates' health and safety, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. It is also alleged that Defendants acted with a retaliatory motive and with deliberate indifference and/or negligent intent.

The North-2 unit houses approximately 800 inmates; half of the inmates are "general population" and half are in segregation status. Many (if not all) of the segregation inmates are housed in cells with "solid" doors that do not allow for ventilation. Plaintiffs explain that some inmates in the unit are elderly and/or suffer from ailments that place them at even greater risk from high temperatures and insufficient airflow, such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease. It is asserted that within a three-day period (August 23-25, 2014) two inmates passed away-one due to a heart attack, the other specifically due to the extreme heat. No other dates when the heat index topped 90 degrees are referenced in the complaint.

After inmates filed grievances regarding the conditions of confinement, a staff meeting was held on August 27, 2014. Plaintiffs allege that prison staff conspired at this meeting to retaliate by passing out dirty, hot water to the inmates.

Plaintiffs seek class certification and ultimately injunctive relief, as well as nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages.

Based on the allegations in the complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into seven counts, mirroring the claims as they are presented in the complaint. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit.

Count 1: Menard has a policy and practice of deliberate indifference to the health and safety of inmates in the N-2 unit when the heat index tops 90 degrees, in violation of the Eighth Amendment;
Count 2: Nurse Lang failed to make regular rounds in the N-2 unit when the heat index topped 90 degrees, in violation of prison ...

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