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Williams v. Wisconsin Lock & Load Prisoner Transports, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 3, 2016

JOHNATHAN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
WISCONSIN LOCK & LOAD PRISONER TRANSPORTS, LLC and TIMOTHY J. MCCAUGHEY, driver for Wisconsin Lock & Load Prisoner Transports, LLC. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert W. Gettleman United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Johnathan Williams, an inmate at the Lake County Jail, has filed a three-count second amended complaint against defendants Timothy J. McCaughey and his employer, Wisconsin Lock & Load Prisoner Transports, LLC (“Lock and Load”), seeking recovery for injuries he sustained in a vehicle accident that he claims were caused by McCaughey’s actions. Count I alleges cruel and unusual punishment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against McCaughey. Count II alleges negligent conduct in violation of Illinois law against both defendants, and Count III alleges willful and wanton conduct in violation of Illinois law against both defendants. Defendants filed a third party complaint against Angel G. Melendez, the other party involved in the accident. Defendants have filed a joint motion to dismiss, seeking dismissal of Counts I and III for failure to state a claim. For the following reasons the motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         On December 22, 2014, plaintiff and another inmate were transported from Hennepin County Jail in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Lake County Jail in Waukegan, Illinois. Plaintiff was transported in a Wisconsin Lock & Load Prisoner Transports, LLC van driven by McCaughey. Plaintiff alleges that McCaughey put a metal chain around his waist, secured his handcuffs to the waist chain, placed him in the van in the seat directly behind the driver’s seat, and secured his waist seatbelt. According to plaintiff, McCaughey did not place the shoulder strap across plaintiff’s body. Plaintiff asked McCaughey why the shoulder strap was not being strapped across his shoulders, but McCaughey declined to use the strap. The complaint is unclear as to whether McCaughey properly secured the other inmate from Hennepin County Jail.

         According to plaintiff, it is a five or six-hour drive from Hennepin County to Lake County. During the trip, McCaughey often drove erratically in excess of 80 miles per hour, frequently looked down at his phone, and placed several calls without using a hands-free device. The van stopped near the Illinois/Wisconsin border before reaching Lake County Jail, and picked up a third inmate. Plaintiff alleges that the third inmate was shackled in the same fashion as plaintiff, but was secured with a waist and shoulder seatbelt.

         Throughout the trip there was fog and rain, and the weather became increasingly inclement causing the roadways to be slick from rain mixing with snow at near-freezing temperatures. Plaintiff claims that McCaughey drove too fast for the weather conditions, and looked down at his phone as the van approached a traffic light. The traffic light changed to red, and when McCaughey looked up he slammed on his breaks to avoid a crash with the car in front of the van. Plaintiff’s upper body was thrust forward and his neck snapped back. Plaintiff alleges this happened because he was not wearing a shoulder strap, and was unable to brace himself due to being handcuffed. The van was then struck from behind by another car, and plaintiff again thrust forward, snapping his neck and back backward.

         Following the accident, plaintiff was placed in a neck brace, secured on a stretcher, and taken by ambulance to Vista Medical Center East. Plaintiff was treated for severe neck and back pain, and claims that the crash caused severe pain in the left side of his back where a bullet from an earlier incident is lodged. Plaintiff was later released back to police custody and taken to Lake County Jail, where he was placed on bed rest for twenty-two days before being moved to a normal cell. Plaintiff complains that since the accident, he has been on pain medication including Gabapentin for nerve pain, the muscle relaxant Flexeril, and Naproxen, an anti-inflammatory. Practitioners at Lake County Jail told plaintiff that the bullet in his back tore through tissue and moved into his flesh since the accident. Finally, plaintiff alleges that he has been prescribed psychiatric medication to address emotional pain and trauma from the accident, and continues to have back and neck pain, muscle spasms, sleep disturbances, and frequent nightmares.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The purpose of a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not to rule on its merits. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). When considering the motion, the court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in plaintiff’s favor. McMillan v. Collection Professionals Inc., 455 F.3d 754, 758 (7th Cir. 2006). The complaint must plead sufficient facts to plausibly suggest that plaintiff has a right to relief and raise that possibility above the “speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Section 1983 Claim - Count I

         In Count I, plaintiff alleges that McCaughey violated the “Cruel and Unusual” and “Due Process” clauses of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution when he deliberately refused to secure plaintiff’s shoulder strap. The claim is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that McCaughey knew of a substantial risk of serious harm to plaintiff because McCaughey ignored plaintiff’s inquiry about securing his upper body in a shoulder strap. Plaintiff asserts that McCaughey’s knowledge of a substantial risk of harm is evidenced by McCaughey securing the upper body of another prisoner, and McCaughey’s use of a cell phone while driving in inclement weather.

         To state a valid claim for relief pursuant to § 1983, plaintiff must establish that he was deprived of a constitutional right or a right secured by federal law, and that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of state law. American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999); Padula v. Leimbach, 656 F.3d 595, 600 (7th Cir. 2011). The Eighth Amendment, as applied to the various states through the Fourteenth Amendment, requires prison officials to “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). An Eighth Amendment violation requires proof that the defendant acted with deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's needs (the subjective component), and that the alleged deprivations were sufficiently severe to rise to the level of a constitutional violation (the objective component). Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298-302 (1991); Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 909 (7th Cir. 2005). Mere negligence is insufficient. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835.

         Demonstrating deliberate indifference toward an inmate's safety requires a showing that the inmate was held under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, and that an individual official had subjective knowledge of the risk, which he personally disregarded. Id. Proving that an officer was deliberately indifferent to the safety of an inmate requires “more than a showing of negligence or even grossly negligent behavior.” The officer ...


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