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Williams v. Cheatam

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 21, 2014

M. BAKER and CHEATAM, Defendants.


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, Chief District Judge.

This ยง 1983 civil rights case stems from pro se Plaintiff's allegations of constitutional deprivations that occurred during his time incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center.[1] Plaintiff alleges (1) Defendants used excessive force against him (in violation of the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishments), and (2) that they did so in retaliation for Plaintiff's previous naming of Defendant Baker in various administrative grievances (thus violating his First Amendment right of access to the courts).

Defendants filed the instant Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on March 18, 2014. The motion only addresses Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claims. (Doc. 77). After receiving several extensions of time, Plaintiff filed a Response on October 17, 2014. (Doc. 116). Defendants filed a Reply on October 31, 2014, but because they failed to point to exceptional circumstances justifying the reply, the Court will not consider it. (Doc. 118).[2] See SDIL-LR 7.1. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc. 77).


Summary judgment-which is governed by Federal Rule of Procedure 56-is proper only if the admissible evidence considered as a whole shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Dynegy Mktg. & Trade v. Multiut Corp., 648 F.3d 506, 517 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating-based on the pleadings, affidavits and/or information obtained via discovery-the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

After a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc ., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). See also Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, LLC, 656 F.3d 540, 547 (7th Cir. 2011) ("When a summary judgment motion is submitted and supported by evidence... the nonmoving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials in its pleadings"). A mere scintilla of evidence supporting the non-movant's position is insufficient to overcome summary judgment; a non-movant will prevail only when it presents definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion. Estate of Escobedo v. Martin, 702 F.3d 388, 403 (7th Cir. 2012); Parent v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 694 F.3d 919, 922 (7th Cir. 2012). Summary judgment is only appropriate if, on the evidence provided, no reasonable juror could return a verdict in favor of the non-movant. Carlisle v. Deere & Co., 576 F.3d 649, 653 (7th Cir. 2009).

The Court's role on summary judgment is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge witness credibility, or to determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether a genuine issue of triable fact exists. Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008). The Court considers the facts in a light most favorable to the non-movant-here, Plaintiff. Srail v. Vill. of Lisle, 588 F.3d 940, 948 (7th Cir. 2009).


On December 3, 2009, Defendants Baker and Cheatham-both correctional officers at Menard Correctional Center-escorted Plaintiff to sick call. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 13). As Plaintiff approached the holding cell with Defendants, he saw an allegedly homosexual inmate already in the cell. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 13). Plaintiff deponed he had had problems with that inmate in the past. (Pl.'s Dep. pp. 13-14). The inmate attempted to spit on Plaintiff, who attempted to kick him in return. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 13). The Defendants then closed the door of the holding cell for sick call and began escorting Plaintiff back to his cell. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 15). Plaintiff was cuffed behind his back, and after walking down four stairs was picked up and slammed to the ground by Defendants. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 16). Baker kneed Plaintiff in the jaw, breaking his tooth. (Pl.'s Dep. pp. 16, 23).

Plaintiff filed a grievance and lawsuit against Baker in 2007. (Pl.'s Dep. Pp. 24, 35). He testified that Baker had been harassing him since 2007 for various reasons. (Pl.'s Dep. pp. 24-27, 30-34). Plaintiff testified he has never discussed his grievances with Baker or Cheatham. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 30). Nor have Baker or Cheatham ever brought up Plaintiff's grievances with him. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 34). Defendants have never told Plaintiff to stop filing grievances. (Pl.'s Dep. p. 35).

Baker filed an affidavit in support of his Motion for Summary Judgment. The affidavit states that his is familiar with Plaintiff, but he has never discussed or reviewed Plaintiff's grievances. (Doc. 78-1). He also denies attempting to dissuade Plaintiff from using the grievance process, and denies the retaliation generally. (Doc. 78-1).Likewise, Cheatham filed an affidavit in which he denies discussing or reviewing Plaintiff's grievances, and denies retaliating against Plaintiff. (Doc. 78-2).

Plaintiff's Response includes a grievance against Baker dated May 11, 2009. (Doc. 116-2). The grievance is of poor quality and difficult to read. (Doc. 116-2). It is not signed by Plaintiff's counselor and there is no stamp indicating receipt by the grievance officer. (Doc. 116-2). Plaintiff's signature is not dated. (Doc. 116-2). It also refers to a disciplinary report that is not attached to the grievance. (Doc. 116-2).


Under the First Amendment, an inmate has a constitutional right to file a grievance as part of his right of access to the courts. DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 618 (7th Cir. 2000). Retaliatory official action violates the Constitution, even if the officer would be otherwise authorized to take that action in the absence of a retaliatory motive. Zimmerman v. Tribble, 226 F.3d 568, 573 (7th Cir. 2000). In a First Amendment case, the burden of proof is split between the parties. Mays v. Springborn, 719 F.3d 631, 634 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing Mt. Healthy Board of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977)). First, Plaintiff must show that defendant's conduct was sufficient to cause the injury; that is, that protected First Amendment conduct was a motivating factor for taking the retaliatory action. Id. at 635. The burden then shifts to defendant to rebut by showing that the action would have occurred anyway, regardless of improper ...

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