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Allen v. Unknown Party

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 3, 2015

RODERICK T. ALLEN, #N94327, Plaintiff,
UNKNOWN PARTY, John Doe, Inmate Cell Assignment, and Jane Doe, Inmate Cell Assignment, Defendants.


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Roderick T. Allen, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), filed the instant pro se complaint (Doc. 1) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on claims of retaliation by Menard officials. He also filed a motion for temporary restraining order ("TRO") and preliminary injunction (Doc. 2). He seeks reinstatement of his one-man cell status or a prison transfer.

According to the complaint, Plaintiff has been confined in segregation for much of the past four years, based, in part, on his refusal to submit to a tuberculosis skin test ("TB skin test") (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 8). Each day, he is asked to take the TB skin test, and each day he refuses (Doc. 1, p. 8). Every three months, he receives a disciplinary ticket and punishment with continued confinement in segregation. This process has enabled Plaintiff to avoid placement with a cellmate. But his one-man cell status was revoked on February 17, 2015, in retaliation for filing a lawsuit against Menard officials the same month. Since that date, he has not been asked to take a TB skin test. He has not received a disciplinary ticket for refusing, and he has not been punished with continued placement in segregation.

Instead, Plaintiff has been assigned a series of aggressive cellmates, who, upon learning that Plaintiff refused the TB skin test, have expressed concern to prison staff about their continued placement in a cell with him (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7). When prison officials ignore these concerns, the cellmates have become aggressive toward Plaintiff, threatening to harm him until prison officials separate them. Since February 2015, Plaintiff has endured three iterations of this scenario. On May 5th, he was finally placed in a cell with Inmate Stephen Couch (#B12125), who "voiced concerns" about his placement with Plaintiff but did not threaten him (Doc. 1, p. 7).

Prison officials have allegedly retaliated against Plaintiff in three other ways since February 20th. Plaintiff claims that his navy beans were poisoned on March 1st, and he became ill after eating them (Doc. 1, p. 4). Although medical staff provided temporary relief for his pain, they performed no tests to determine the cause of the illness. Plaintiff sustained wrist injuries on May 20th, when he was dragged to his cell in handcuffs (Doc. 1, p. 9). He requested medical care repeatedly before filing this action one week later. Plaintiff also claims that prison officials refuse to acknowledge any connection between his weight loss and his health (Doc. 1, p. 5).

In connection with these retaliatory acts, Plaintiff sues two unidentified defendants ("John and Jane Doe"), both of whom are allegedly responsible for cell assignments at Menard. He seeks a TRO and a preliminary injunction, in the form of an order requiring Menard officials to reinstate Plaintiff's single-man cell status (Doc. 2). Alternatively, he seeks a prison transfer.

The case was opened without payment of a filing fee or the filing of a Motion and Affidavit to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs ("IFP motion"). Out of concern for Plaintiff's immediate safety, the Court will consider the merits of the complaint and Plaintiff's request for a TRO. See Wheeler v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 689 F.3d 680 (7th Cir. 2012).


1. The Complaint (Doc. 1)

As a threshold matter, the Court must determine whether a viable claim has been stated before deciding whether injunctive relief should be granted. See FED. R. CIV. P. 3; Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 681-82 (1946); Greater Chicago Combine and Ctr. v. City of Chicago, 431 F.3d 1065, 1069-70 (7th Cir. 2005). This requires the Court to conduct a preliminary review of the pleading under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Pursuant to Section 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 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). The allegations in the complaint must "actually suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, by providing allegations that raise a right to relief above a speculative level." Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1084 (7th Cir. 2008) (emphasis in original). At the same time, 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 articulates no viable claim against the defendants. Only two defendants are named in the case caption, i.e., "John Doe" and "Jane Doe." These are generic terms used for the unknown officials who are responsible for making cell assignments at Menard. Plaintiff's use of generic names for unknown defendants at this early stage is not fatal to his claims against them. Where a prisoner's complaint states specific allegations describing conduct of individual prison staff members sufficient to raise a constitutional claim, but the names of those defendants are not known, the prisoner is generally allowed to undertake limited discovery in order to ascertain the identity of those defendants. Id. at 832. Had Plaintiff included allegations in the complaint suggesting that these individuals violated his constitutional rights, his claims could proceed against them.

What is fatal to Plaintiff's claims against "John Doe" and "Jane Doe" is that he did not. These defendants are involved in this action in name only. Both are listed as defendants in the case caption, but the substantive allegations mention neither. Where a plaintiff has done nothing more than list the name of a defendant in the case caption, that individual cannot be said to be adequately put on notice of which claims in the complaint, if any, are directed against him. Furthermore, merely invoking the name of a potential defendant is not sufficient to state a claim against that individual. See Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 334 (7th Cir. 1998). The Seventh Circuit has made this clear: "A plaintiff cannot state a claim against a defendant by including the defendant's name in the caption." Id. Having failed to mention either "Doe" defendant in connection with any alleged constitutional deprivation, Plaintiff's complaint states no viable claim against either one of the two defendants. Without a viable claim, the complaint is subject to dismissal.

This is true, despite the fact that numerous other individuals are discussed in the statement of claim. In fact, Plaintiff includes allegations that might be sufficient to support First Amendment retaliation and Eighth Amendment failure to protect claims against some of these individuals under Section 1915A. He simply chose not to name them as defendants in this action. This practice is not at all uncommon in pro se complaints. Plaintiffs often mention the names of nonparties in their statement of claim. From this, the Court cannot assume that Plaintiff intended to sue these individuals, particularly here where no monetary damages are requested against any individuals. In most instances, the Court considers this narrative style of pleading to offer little more than background information about a ...

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