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Hempstead v. Spiller

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 7, 2015

CALVIN HEMPSTEAD, # B-31386, Plaintiff,


J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville"), where he is serving a six-year sentence. He has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that Defendants have retaliated against him, housed him under unconstitutional conditions, and were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs.

According to the complaint, Plaintiff was transferred from Vienna Correctional Center to Pinckneyville on February 6, 2014 (Doc. 1 p. 6). He was on segregation status because he had been charged with a disciplinary infraction for assaulting a staff member at Vienna, a charge he claims was false. Defendant Miller handled Plaintiff's entry to Pinckneyville, and had been informed of the reason for Plaintiff's transfer. Defendant Miller called out to other guards, including Defendant Roelandt, "we got us a staff assaulter here." Id. Plaintiff claims that on the basis of his identification as an alleged "staff assaulter, " Defendant Miller decided to "retaliate" against Plaintiff and punish him by knowingly placing him in an obviously contaminated cell.

When Defendant Roelandt saw where Defendant Miller was going to house Plaintiff, he cautioned Defendant Miller not to put him in the cell that they both knew was contaminated. Defendant Miller responded, "Plaintiff is tough' he's a f***ing staff assaulter" (Doc. 1, p. 6). Both Defendant Miller and Roelandt then proceeded to place Plaintiff in the cell anyway.

Plaintiff soon began to experience extreme itching and irritation on his scalp (Doc. 1, pp. 7, 12-13). The first night, he had no mattress and was forced to sleep on the bare bunk. Defendants Miller and Roelandt then deliberately gave him a dirty mattress, as well as dirty sheets and pillowcase. Plaintiff's scalp continued to itch so badly that his scratching drew blood. He remained in that cell under those conditions for over a month (Doc. 1, p. 13). He was released from segregation on May 13, 2014. The itching and irritation continued, and he attempted to treat his condition on his own, with cream and soap. However, his symptoms continued to worsen. Id.

On May 30, 2014, Plaintiff saw Defendant Nurse Farris, and explained his consistent pain, itching and scratching. However, she "totally disregarded" his plea for help. At some point, Plaintiff learned that he had caught a fungus infection (Tinea) (Doc. 1, p. 7). Over the next few months, Plaintiff was interviewed by the other medical-provider Defendants. He saw Defendant Nurse Hill on July 30; Defendant Nurse Long on August 14; Defendant Nurse Practitioner Rector on August 18; and Defendant Dr. Shah on August 22, 2014. On each of these occasions, Plaintiff asserts that each Defendant examined him and was informed of his symptoms, yet "totally disregarded [his] plea and cry for help." Id. He specifically notes that Defendant Farris wrote on May 30 that the tinea fungus was "questionable, " and that Defendant Shah "chose to diagnose/treat the injury without an exam to directly clarify the medical issue" (Doc. 1, p. 8). As a result of the denial of treatment and the delay in allowing him to be "properly examined by a doctor, " Plaintiff continued to suffer pain, and now has permanent scar tissue on his scalp. Id.

Plaintiff attaches several pages of medical records documenting his visits to the health care providers (Doc. 1, pp. 16-23). These reflect that on May 30, Plaintiff was given hydrocortisone cream, and "possible tinea" was noted (Doc. 1, p. 16). The August 14 notes (signed by Defendant Long) indicate Plaintiff would be referred to the doctor, and that he had earlier been treated with anti-fungal cream and Selsun Blue shampoo (Doc. 1, p. 21). Defendant Rector's notes on August 18 indicate he would see the M.D. regarding "concerns about permanent disfiguration' to [his] scalp from fungus" (Doc. 1, p. 22). The August 22 notes indicate Plaintiff was seen on "MD Call Line" and was given Selsun shampoo (Doc. 1, p. 23).

Plaintiff concludes that each of the medical Defendants knowingly denied him the right to adequate medical care because he had been stigmatized as a "staff assaulter" (Doc. 1, p. 8). He seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant.

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).

Based on the allegations of the complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into the following counts. 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: Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Miller and Roelandt, for knowingly housing Plaintiff in a contaminated, unsanitary cell which put his health at risk and caused him to become physically ill;
Count 2: Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Farris, Hill, Long, Rector, and Shah for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs, in that they failed to treat and/or delayed treatment of his scalp condition;
Count 3: First Amendment retaliation claim against all Defendants, for deliberately mistreating Plaintiff on the basis that he had ...

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