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Cotton v. Correctional Officer Walters

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 28, 2015

LEONARD C. COTTON, SR., # 16347, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECTIONAL OFFICER WALTERS, SHERIFF RICHARD WATSON, MAJOR PHILLIP McLAURIN, and CAPTAIN THOMAS TRICE, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the St. Clair County Jail ("the Jail"). He has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He claims that Defendant Walters used excessive force against him. Further, he complains about unsanitary conditions at the Jail.

According to the complaint, on February 5, 2015, Plaintiff and his cellmate were about to leave their cell to go to breakfast, when Defendant Officer Walters closed the cell bars. He cursed them, saying they should have already been out of the cell. He then told them the bars were stuck, and told them to push on the bars. Plaintiff did so, and Defendant Walters opened the bars. However, he closed the bars again, trapping Plaintiff's arm and wrist. Defendant Walters left the bars closed on Plaintiff while he was screaming, "My arm, my arm!" (Doc. 1, p.

5). Defendant Walters ultimately opened the bars, and sent another officer to take Plaintiff to the health care unit.

On a separate matter, Plaintiff claims that the county has stopped providing toilet paper to the inmates, and he now has to purchase his own. Plaintiff does not have money to buy toilet paper, and claims he does not have any (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). He blames Defendant Sheriff Watson for this policy. Finally, he claims that the Jail showers are contaminated with black mold, which makes his skin itch every time he takes a shower.

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.

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: Excessive force claim against Defendant Walters for closing the cell bars on Plaintiff's arm and wrist, injuring him;
Count 2: Unconstitutional conditions of confinement claim against Defendant Watson, for adopting a policy that deprives Plaintiff of toilet paper, and against Defendants McLaurin and Trice, for failure to provide Plaintiff with toilet paper;
Count 3: Unconstitutional conditions of confinement claim against Defendants McLaurin and Trice, for subjecting Plaintiff to health risks from the black-mold contamination in the showers.

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Count 1 survives threshold review under § 1915A, and shall receive further consideration in this action. Count 2 also survives threshold review at this stage. Count 3, in combination with Count 2, indicates a possible constitutional violation. However, Counts 2 and 3 cannot proceed in the same action as Count 1. Therefore, Counts 2 and 3 shall be severed into a separate lawsuit. Plaintiff shall be allowed an opportunity to withdraw those claims and voluntarily dismiss the new severed case if he does not wish to incur the additional filing fee.

Count 1 - Excessive Force

Plaintiff does not say whether he is a pretrial detainee or whether he is serving a sentence in the Jail following a conviction. Although claims brought pursuant to § 1983, when involving detainees, arise under the Fourteenth Amendment and not the Eighth Amendment, see Weiss v. Cooley, 230 F.3d 1027, 1032 (7th Cir. 2000), the Seventh Circuit has "found it convenient and entirely appropriate to apply the same standard to claims arising under the Fourteenth Amendment (detainees) and Eighth Amendment (convicted prisoners) without ...


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