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Couch v. Young

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 12, 2014

STEPHEN R. COUCH, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

I. Introduction and Procedural History

In this pro se civil rights lawsuit filed under 28 U.S.C. 1983, Stephen Couch ("Plaintiff, " now an inmate at Menard Correctional Center) asserted claims against various correctional officials at three prisons within the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"). Plaintiff's complaint was filed in August 2012 in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, while he was confined at Western Illinois Correctional Center. It presented claims arising from incidents which occurred at Lawrence Correctional Center and Pinckneyville Correctional Center. The allegations precipitated transfer of the case to this Court, because Lawrence and Pinckneyville Correctional Centers are located in the Southern District of Illinois.

Once the suit was here, the undersigned District Judge granted Plaintiff pauper status and conducted threshold review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915A. In that threshold review Order (Doc. 15), the undersigned organized Plaintiff's allegations as follows:

Count 1 - a retaliation claim against Eric Nutall;
Count 2 - a conspiracy to retaliate claim (retaliation based on Plaintiff's filing of grievances) against Defendants Salvador Godinez, Gladyse Taylor, Derwin Ryker, Donald Gaetz, and Richard Young;
Count 3 - a failure to protect claim (protection from a fellow inmate named Phillip Dotson) against Defendants Ryker and Nutall; and
Count 4 - a medical neglect claim against unnamed medical personnel.[1]

Service was ordered, and the case was referred to the Honorable Stephen C. Williams, United States Magistrate Judge, to handle pretrial proceedings through final pretrial conference. Answers were filed, and in January 2013, Judge Williams entered a Trial Practice Schedule setting various deadlines. Defendant "Unknown Medical Personnel" was dismissed via May 2013 Order of the undersigned District Judge (Doc. 58), and the case proceeded against the six identified Defendants - Eric Nutall, Salvador Godinez, Gladyse Taylor, Derwin Ryker, Donald Gaetz, and Richard Young (collectively in remainder of this Order, "Defendants").

Now before the Court is a motion for partial summary judgment filed with supporting brief by Defendants (Docs. 71-72). The motion seeks summary judgment on Plaintiff's conspiracy to retaliate (Count 2) and failure to protect (Count 3) claims, but not on Plaintiff's retaliation claim against Defendant Nutall (Count 1). Plaintiff responded to the motion in late October 2014 (Doc. 92). For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment.

II. Summary of Key Allegations and Related Facts

In his August 2012 complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Nutall retaliated against Plaintiff for filing grievances by disposing of his legal documents and personal possessions (Count 1) (Doc. 15 at pp. 1-2). He further alleged that current and former IDOC directors and wardens, including Defendants Godinez, Taylor, Ryker, Gaetz and Young, conspired to retaliate against Plaintiff - the retaliation being failure to respond to his grievances and investigate his complaints (Count 2) ( Id. at p. 2). He also alleged that Defendants Ryker and Nutall failed to protect him from assault by another inmate, Phillip Dotson, while housed at Lawrence Correctional Center (Count 3) ( Id. at pp. 2-3). Because the pending motion seeks summary judgment only on Counts 2 and 3, the Court focuses on the facts related to those two claims.

The claims which make up Plaintiff's complaint are based on events which took place while he was housed at Lawrence Correctional Center, Pinckneyville Correctional Center, and Western Illinois Correctional Center. Plaintiff was housed at Lawrence from May 26, 2010 through April 20, 2011; at Pinckneyville from April 20, 2011 through February 15, 2012; and at Western from February 15, 2012 through January 9, 2013.

While at Lawrence, Plaintiff was assaulted by his cellmate, Phillip Dotson, and he alleges that Nutall failed to protect him from that assault. In an April 2014 deposition taken in this case (the transcript of which was presented with Defendants' motion), Plaintiff testified that between February and April 5, 2011, he spoke to his counselor about Dotson (Doc. 72-3 at p. 51). Plaintiff stated that he told his counselor that Dotson was trying to start fights with him ( Id. at p. 59), and also spoke with his gallery officers and "mental health people" ( Id. at p. 61). Inmate Dotson informed Plaintiff that he had assaulted staff in the past, and he threatened to beat Plaintiff ( Id. at pp. 61-62).

Plaintiff further testified as follows. On April 5, 2011, Plaintiff was assaulted by Dotson ( Id. at pp. 58-59). He had been housed with Dotson for 50 days at that point ( Id. at p. 59). Although Plaintiff told numerous officers and his counselor in his housing unit about his concerns regarding Dotson, he did not tell Nutall because Nutall (at that time) was in another housing unit ( Id. at p.62). Plaintiff did see Nutall in his housing unit on occasion. Nutall had friends there. Plaintiff believes that Nutall influenced the situation, because the guards in his unit became more aggressive with shakedowns of Plaintiff's cell ( Id. at pp. 65-66). Plaintiff also spoke to Defendant Ryker in the chow hall once about his concerns with Dotson, and Ryker said he would look into it ( Id. at p.62). Plaintiff wrote grievances on the issue, and his counselor informed Plaintiff that the matter had been sent to Internal Affairs ( Id. at p. 63).

In addition to his failure to protect claim, Plaintiff alleges that numerous IDOC officials failed to respond to his grievances in retaliation for Plaintiff filing prior grievances. Plaintiff alleges a retaliation claim against the directors of IDOC and the wardens of the three facilities that he was housed at from 2010 to 2012. Defendant Taylor was the acting director of the IDOC from September 2010 to May 2011; Defendant Godinez has been the director since May 2011. Defendant Ryker was the warden at Lawrence Correctional Center when Plaintiff was housed there, and Defendant Gaetz was the warden of Pinckneyville Correctional Center from December of 2011 until after Plaintiff was transferred. Defendant Young was acting warden and warden of Western Illinois Correctional Center from August 2011 to July 2012.

As directors of the IDOC, Defendants Taylor and Godinez delegated the responsibilities of reviewing inmate grievances on appeal to the Administrative Review Board (ARB), and Terri Anderson, Chairperson of the ARB, reviewed ARB decisions on behalf of the directors (Doc. 72-1 at p. 1 ¶¶ 4-6; 72-1at p. 3 ¶¶ 4-6). Neither director read or reviewed inmate grievances or ARB decisions; nor did they sign off on the ARB's review of the grievances (Doc. 72-1 at p.1 ¶¶7-8; 72-1 at p. 3 ¶¶ 7-8). Plaintiff maintains that Defendant Godinez has denied every grievance Plaintiff has written to the ARB (Doc. 72-3 at p. 4). According to Plaintiff, Godinez should have investigated the claims ...

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