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Brzowski v. Illinois Dept. of Corrections

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 16, 2015

WALTER J. BRZOWSKI, # M-29120, Plaintiff,


STACI M. YANDLE, District Judge.

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff raises two claims. First, he alleges that Pinckneyville inmates are being improperly double-bunked in cells designed for a single inmate, which do not provide sufficient square-footage under federal and state guidelines. Secondly, he claims that Pinckneyville's two-meal-per-day dietary plan is inadequate. Plaintiff has been housed at Pinckneyville under these conditions since approximately November 2013.

According to Plaintiff, federal court decisions (which he does not cite) have set a 60-square-foot minimum as the standard to be provided for each inmate as living space (Doc. 1, p. 5). Pinckneyville's cells provide only 55 square feet of usable area, and two inmates must share this space. Prisoners are allowed only one hour and 45 minutes per day of "day room time" out of their cells. This housing situation "wrongfully encourages, and unjustly promotes needless tensions and stress between cramped adult housed Inmates, " thus violating "controlling" federal guidelines (Doc. 1, p. 6). Additionally, because of the cramped cell conditions, the prison is not fulfilling its duty under the state constitution to rehabilitate inmates.

He further alleges that the Pinckneyville dietary supervisor has been directed by Defendant Warden Spiller to serve inmates only two meals per day, rather than the former three daily meals. These two meals consist of a "brunch" and dinner. He says that these "inadequate" meals "(most-likely), fail to even meet the set Federal nutritional and caloric daily guidelines required for each and every State housed adult inmate, causing unwarranted weight loss' and other associated biological and emotional turmoils" (Doc. 1, p. 7). The inadequate food along with the double-bunking "contradicts" the state constitution's directive to the Illinois Department of Corrections, which requires the agency to rehabilitate inmates. Id.

On both claims, Plaintiff seeks "investigative Federal measures" to address the alleged violations, and injunctive relief to correct the problems and bring Pinckneyville into compliance with federal law and guidelines (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9).

Merits 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).

After fully considering the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint, the Court concludes that this action is subject to summary dismissal for failure to state a constitutional claim upon which relief may be granted.

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).

Count I - Double-Celling and Inadequate Square Footage

Plaintiff invokes both federal case law precedent and state constitutional requirements as the basis for this claim. As to the federal law claim, the Court is unaware of any standards that mandate a minimum square foot area that must be provided for each inmate, and Plaintiff has not pointed to any relevant cases. Even if such guidelines exist, a failure to provide the minimum cell space set out in an administrative code or agency rule does not, by itself, amount to a federal constitutional violation.

Plaintiff's claim that the double-celling in Pinckneyville runs afoul of the Illinois Constitution's requirement to properly house and/or rehabilitate inmates is more properly a matter for the courts of the State of Illinois. A civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must be based on some violation of a federal constitutional right; a state constitutional claim alone is not cognizable in federal court. Therefore, the relevant inquiry here is whether the cell conditions he complains of are proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.

In a case involving conditions of confinement in a prison, two elements are required to establish a violation of the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishments clause. First, an objective element requires a showing that the conditions deny the inmate "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, " creating an excessive risk to the inmate's health or safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). The second requirement is a subjective element - establishing a defendant's culpable state of mind, which is deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to the inmate from those conditions. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837, 842.

The defining Supreme Court case addressing issues of overcrowding is Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337 (1981). In that case, the plaintiffs contended that the lodging of two inmates in a single cell ("double celling") constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court disagreed, concluding that "[a]t most... double celling inflicts pain, " id. at 348-49, but not the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" that violates the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 346. The Court found that the Constitution "does not mandate comfortable prisons, " id. at 349, and only those deprivations denying "the minimal civilized measure ...

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