United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
JAMES C. GLOVER, # R-71599, Plaintiff,
STEVE GRUNER, and ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT of CORRECTIONS, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. REAGAN, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at East Moline Correctional Center, has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His claims arose while he was confined at Vandalia Correctional Center ("Vandalia"). Plaintiff asserts that during the course of his employment in the prison industries, his supervisor subjected him to ongoing sexual and racial harassment, as well as physical assaults. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
According to the complaint, Plaintiff worked for Defendant Gruner in the meat plant at Vandalia. Starting in December 2014, Defendant Gruner began making comments to Plaintiff of a sexual nature; this "bullying" behavior continued throughout Plaintiff's employment. Defendant Gruner's remarks included telling Plaintiff to hold his (Defendant's) genitals and to perform oral sex on him, commenting on how good Plaintiff would be at performing oral sex, and ordering Plaintiff to refer to him as "Big Daddy" (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). At times Defendant Gruner's demeaning comments and actions took place in front of 20 or more fellow inmates (Doc. 1, p. 26). Defendant Gruner on one occasion took Plaintiff's I.D. card and used markers to draw female features and anatomy on his picture, then showed it to other prison staff members and inmate workers to embarrass and belittle Plaintiff. This behavior continued through mid-April 2015, at which time Plaintiff filed a grievance against Defendant Gruner for this and other conduct. Plaintiff's employment under Defendant Gruner's supervision "came to an end" when the grievance was filed (Doc. 1, p. 5).
Also between December 2014 and April 2015, Defendant Gruner (who is white) engaged in ongoing conduct that Plaintiff (who is African-American) describes as "racial profiling" (Doc. 1, pp. 7-8). Defendant Gruner used the terms "gigs, " "gigaboos, " and "nigger" when referring to Blacks; ran around the job site shouting, "Don't shoot, don't shoot hands up, " in reference to the Ferguson, Missouri shooting of a Black pedestrian by a white police officer; and made various demeaning comments regarding Black people's appearance, behavior, and desire for a "race war." He threatened to kill Plaintiff, and told him, "Your [sic] going to make me pull a Ferguson."
Finally, Plaintiff describes several incidents of physical assault on him by Defendant Gruner (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9). Defendant Gruner threw water in Plaintiff's face, placed him in a tight head lock, hit him with snowballs, kneed Plaintiff in the groin, sprayed him with extremely hot (over 150 degrees) water, punched him in the leg, placed his hands around Plaintiff's neck, and painfully twisted the skin on the back of Plaintiff's arm. Despite the force used by Defendant Gruner in punching and kneeing him, Plaintiff would hold his composure and not react, in order to avoid adverse consequences.
Many of these incidents were witnessed by other inmates and prison staff. Plaintiff complained to Defendant Gruner's supervisor (who also witnessed Defendant's behavior), but the supervisor took no action to halt the abuse. Several prison officials acknowledged that Defendant Gruner had treated other inmates similarly over the past 10-15 years. After leaving his employment at the meat plant, Plaintiff got another prison job mowing the lawn (Doc. 1, p. 15).
Plaintiff asserts claims only against Defendant Gruner,  seeking damages to compensate him for enduring Defendant Gruner's physical and mental abuse, and to ensure that no other inmates would be subjected to Defendant's behavior (Doc. 1, p. 26).
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.
Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated a colorable federal cause of action against Defendant Gruner for subjecting him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, both for his sexual and racial verbal harassment (Count 1), and for his physical abuse and use of excessive force against Plaintiff (Count 2). Both of these claims shall receive further review.
Plaintiff's reference to his filing of a grievance, which coincided with the end of his employment at the meat plant, raises a question as to whether Plaintiff was discharged from that job in retaliation for making his complaint against Defendant Gruner. However, Plaintiff does not assert that this was the case, and states that he obtained a different job in short order. It is equally possible that Plaintiff voluntarily left his meat plant job. Based on the complaint as pled, no retaliation claim is stated, and any such claim should be considered dismissed without prejudice at this time.
Count 1 - Sexual and Racial Harassment
Ordinarily, isolated incidents of verbal harassment do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. "[H]arassment, while regrettable, is not what comes to mind when one thinks of cruel and unusual' punishment." Dobbey v. Ill. Dep't of Corrections, 574 F.3d 443, 446 (7th Cir. 2009). See also DeWalt v. Carter 224 F.3d 607, 612 (7th Cir. 2000) ("Standing alone, simple verbal harassment does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, deprive a prisoner of a protected liberty interest or deny a prisoner equal protection of the laws.").
However, a prisoner's claim that he is being harassed by prison officials may be actionable when done maliciously. Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 528-30 (1984) (calculated harassment without penological justification may raise Eighth Amendment claim). Defendant Gruner's relentless targeting of Plaintiff with his sexual and racial verbal harassment, as well as his actions of defacing Plaintiff's photo I.D. card, subjecting Plaintiff to public ridicule, and threatening his life, go far beyond "simple" or occasional verbal harassment. The conduct Plaintiff describes indicates that Defendant Gruner engaged in a concerted, malicious campaign to bully Plaintiff ...