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Atchison v. Atchison

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 23, 2015

JESUS VEGA, #R-21806, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL ATCHISON, RICHARD HARRINGTON, BARBARA MEULLER, and MAJOR HASEMEYER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jesus Vega, an inmate currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), brings this pro se civil rights action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The complaint is 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. Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011); Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, district 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).

The Complaint

On November 1, 2012, Plaintiff was transferred from Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville") to administrative detention at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"). (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff asserts that he did not receive any information regarding why he was being transferred into administrative detention. Id. at 6. Over the next several months, Plaintiff complained and made repeated inquiries into the reason for his transfer, both informally and through the formal grievance process. Plaintiff asserts that he complained directly to Defendants Mueller and Hasemeyer and that Defendants Atchison and Harrington were informed of Plaintiff's allegations through the grievance process, but that none of the Defendants attempted to resolve the issue. Id. at 6-10.

Rather than providing Plaintiff with a reason why he was placed in administrative detention, officials provided generic responses such as "placement in administrative detention is an administrative decision" and that officials could consider "the seriousness of the offenses, the safety and security of the facility or any person, [and] the committed person's behavior and disciplinary history" when making placement decisions. Id. at 26. When Plaintiff attempted to appeal the fact that he had been placed in administrative detention without due process, he was told that inmates could not grieve decisions regarding placement in administrative detention. Id. at 25.

On March 3, 2013, Plaintiff filed a second grievance on the due process issues claiming that he had been held in administrative detention for 122 days without any explanation. Id. at 66. Plaintiff requested a "reason why I was placed in [administrative detention] and be given a chance to defend myself." Id. at 66. In denying Plaintiff's grievance, Defendant Mueller stated, "You have the right to ask. We have the right to deny answers to your questions." Id. Plaintiff maintains that he was not informed of the reason he was transferred into administrative detention until July 29, 2014 - nearly 21 months after he was placed there. Id. at 6.

While in administrative detention at Menard, Plaintiff claims he was "made to endure atypical and significant hardship by being denied basic human needs." Id. at 6. Plaintiff asserts that the restrictions placed on inmates in administrative segregation at Menard are similar to the restrictions that were placed on inmates in Tamms Correctional Center, the former super-max prison in Illinois. ( See Doc. 1, Exs. D and E). Plaintiff was confined to a single-man cell and not allowed to leave for meals or other programs. According to an exhibit attached to the complaint, during the first phase of administrative detention, inmates are allowed only five hours of solitary exercise a week; two showers a week (or one, if the institution was on lock-down, as it often was); no television or audio privileges; a $15 a month spending limit at the commissary; only legal or emergency phone calls; and only two one-hour visits a month.[1] Id. at 28. In addition, Plaintiff was stripped of all of his personal property. Id. at 7.

Beyond these restrictions, Plaintiff also complains that his cell, like other cells on the administrative detention wing, lacked running hot water (for 11 months) and heat (for 7 months) in the middle of the winter. Id. at 6. Plaintiff maintains that he notified each of the Defendants about the conditions and requested that repairs be made immediately or that he be moved to another cell. Id. at 6-10. Defendant Atchison (warden of Menard) agreed that Plaintiff's grievance was "an emergency" and warranted attention, but Plaintiff claims that Atchison failed to follow-up to ensure that the repairs were made. Id. at 13. The grievance officer's report noted that the heat had been repaired and indicated that the hot water would be repaired shortly thereafter, id., but Plaintiff asserts that the repairs were not made for several months, id. at 6. Plaintiff filed additional grievances regarding the conditions. Id. at 8. Defendant Harrington (warden of Menard) and Defendant Hasemeyer (head of administrative detention unit) repeatedly responded that the problems were being addressed, Defendant Mueller (counselor on the unit) responded, "The pioneers showered, bathed, and shaved in the cold without heat. They had no hot water. Currently maintenance is working on your complaints." Id. at 70. Plaintiff maintains that it took eleven months for the issues to actually be resolved.

Plaintiff seeks monetary damages.

Analysis

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, as the Court must do at this preliminary stage, the Court finds that the complaint sets forth an actionable Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim (Count 1) ...


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