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Cunningham v. Lewis

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 27, 2015

BENNIE CUNNINGHAM, No. A62152, Plaintiff,


STACI M. YANDLE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Bennie Cunningham is an inmate currently housed in Lawrence Correctional Center. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights with respect to excessive and unnecessary force used against him by the defendant correctional officers.

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, on July 10, 2014, the "Orange Crush" tactical team searched every cell at Lawrence. As part of the process, Plaintiff Cunningham's housing unit, Unit 5, was taken to the dining hall and ordered to sit-hands cuffed behind them-looking down at the table tops. Plaintiff complied as best he could "for a 57 year old." C/O Korte singled Plaintiff out and tried to force Plaintiff to lay his face down on the table top. Dissatisfied with Plaintiff's effort, in a "violent rage, " Korte forced Plaintiff's face down on the table. C/O Korte, along with C/O Lewis, C/O Ralston and C/O Zollers, then lifted Plaintiff up from the table by his cuffs and bent Plaintiff over at an angle that was extremely uncomfortable, given Plaintiff's age.[1] He was walked away from the table, thrown to his knees, and then kneed in the side as the defendants forced his head down to the floor.

Lewis, Ralston and Zollers subsequently lifted Plaintiff up from the ground by his handcuffs and secured him to a wall. Plaintiff again had to bend at the waist in a stress position. While in that bent-over position, he was then walked to segregation by Lewis, Ralston and Zollers, who ignored the pain they were causing Plaintiff. Upon arrival at the segregation unit, Plaintiff was pushed into a shower, still handcuffed behind his back and with Lewis holding a long chain connected to the cuffs.

While in the shower, Plaintiff told C/O Lewis that they-presumably Lewis, Ralston and Zollers-were racist and running a plantation that mistreats black men. Rather than merely write Plaintiff a disciplinary ticket, Lewis, assisted by Ralston and Zollers, "maliciously and sadistically" pulled Plaintiffs cuffed hands and arms through an opening in the shower door, using the chain as a weapon and the door to brace their own hands and feet, causing Plaintiff mental and physical injury. Medical records reflect that Plaintiff incurred a 4 cm laceration on his arm that reached the muscle, and another notable laceration, both of which required stitches. He also complained of bruising, swelling and numbness.

Based on the allegations in the complaint and Plaintiff's own characterization of his legal claims, the Court construes the complaint as asserting the following single, overarching claim.

Count 1: Defendants Lewis, Korte, Zollers and Ralston used excessive force against Plaintiff without penological justification, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The complaint goes on to detail how proper procedures were not used to promptly record Plaintiff's injuries and to investigate the incident, and grievances were not responded to. However, there is no indication Plaintiff intended to assert claims regarding those matters. Furthermore, the four named defendants were not involved. Any intended claims not recognized by the Court should be considered dismissed without prejudice as inadequately pleaded under the Twombly standard.


The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects prisoners from being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. U.S.CONST., amend. VIII. See also Berry v. Peterman, 604 F.3d 435, 439 (7th Cir. 2010). The intentional use of excessive force by prison guards against an inmate without penological justification constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S.1, 6 (1992)); DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 619 (7th Cir. 2000).

Taking the allegations as true, substantial physical force was used against Plaintiff, even though he was complying with the officers' directives, cuffed behind his back and not physically asserting himself. That scenario sufficiently ...

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