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Johnson v. Robinson

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 13, 2015

ANTHONY JOHNSON, No. 38651-044, Plaintiff,


STACI M. YANDLE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Anthony Johnson is a transgender inmate currently housed in the Greenville Correctional Institution.[1] Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and in accordance with Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), Plaintiff brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights as a consequence of his transgender status. She also contends that the privacy dictates of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA"), Pub.L. No. 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936 (1996), have been violated.

This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. 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). 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. At this juncture, the factual allegations of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

The Complaint

According to the complaint, when Plaintiff Johnson arrived at FCI-Greenville in 2012 she was screened by Unit Manager Robinson. Robinson asked whether Plaintiff was diligently taking her HIV medications. Robinson went on to explain that she had a "system" for putting an end to sexual activity among homosexual inmates. Plaintiff attempted to distinguish her transgender status from homosexuality, but Robinson apparently did not appreciate the distinction. Robinson attempted to coax Plaintiff into seeking protective custody, but Plaintiff opted to be housed in the general population-a choice approved by a supervisor.

Plaintiff was initially taken to a three-person cell occupied by two gang members (at whose behest is unknown). Those inmates explained that their gang would not permit them to be celled with a transgender inmate. Consequently, Plaintiff was temporarily placed in an eight-person cell until Unit Manager Robinson could straighten out the placement issue. Plaintiff ended up staying in that cell for two months until she could speak with Robinson. During that time, Plaintiff's relationship with her cellmates deteriorated. She and had to urinate multiple times per night but was assigned to a top bunk-she did not always make it to the toilet.

Robinson was outwardly hostile toward homosexuals and transgender inmates. She made of point of explaining that from her perspective Plaintiff was male (which upset Plaintiff). As a possible solution to her privacy and housing problems, Plaintiff proposed that she be allowed to participate in a reentry program that would entail being housed in a unit with two-person cells. A month passed and Robinson did not take any action on the proposal; when Plaintiff asked again, Robinson said she would look into the matter. Plaintiff's relatives even called the warden to explain Plaintiff's "transgender privacy situation." Plaintiff was eventually admitted to the reentry program. She was initially celled alone but was subsequently told by her counselor that Unit Manager Robinson insisted that Plaintiff have a cellmate-which was easier said than done particularly since Robinson had announced that she did not condone Plaintiff or homosexuality.

Plaintiff's counselor selected a homosexual male, inmate Davis, to be celled with Plaintiff. That pairing worked; however, Robinson began encouraging Davis to move out. After Davis indicated he wanted to continue to cell with Plaintiff, Robinson revealed to Davis that Plaintiff was HIV, which still did not dissuade Davis from living with Plaintiff. According to Plaintiff, Robinson then conspired with others to get Davis fired from his prison job, and caused Davis to lose good time credit.

In what Plaintiff characterizes as retaliation, attempts were made (by whom is unclear) to cell Plaintiff with transsexual inmates, who do not always get along with transgender individuals, like Plaintiff. Counselor Lirios, Unit Manager Robinson's subordinate, attempted to house Plaintiff with two gang members who were not open to celling with Plaintiff. On another occasion, Lirios called Plaintiff a "male" in front of the whole unit, and had gang members approach Plaintiff about vacating the cell she had been occupying by herself. Plaintiff perceived that Robinson and Lirios were "trying to make [Plaintiff] have a female mental breakdown."

When Plaintiff tried to get a psychologist and the chaplain to intervene, Robinson and Lirios had Plaintiff set-up to be caught with contraband and punished, and to be issued multiple other incident reports. Warden Cross denied at least two of Plaintiff's grievance regarding his disciplinary conviction on the contraband charge. According to Plaintiff, each time she complained about retaliatory acts, she was threatened with more retaliation for having complained to the warden. It is further alleged that Robinson conspired with other unit teams to interfere with Plaintiff's mail.

Plaintiff claims that Unit Manager Robinson and Counselor Lirios, with the approval of Warden Cross, have caused her to suffer and lose good conduct time and unspecified "opportunities." She claims that: (1) the procedures in her disciplinary proceedings did not afford her due process; (2) she has been subject to retaliation; (3) she has been discriminated against; and (4) the release of her HIV status violated HIPAA. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief in the form of expunging her record, restoring her good time credits, and relief from further retaliation.

Based on the allegations in 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: Multiple decisions by Defendants Robinson and Lirios regarding Plaintiff's cell assignment endangered Plaintiff's safety, in violation of the Eighth Amendment;
Count 2: Multiple decisions by Defendants Robinson and Lirios regarding Plaintiff's cell assignment denied him equal protection, in violation of the Fifth Amendment;
Count 3: Defendant Warden James Cross denied Plaintiff due process in connection with discipline proceedings, in ...

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