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Lyons v. A. Vergara

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

August 26, 2016

Cortez Lyons #R-47483, Plaintiff,
v.
A. Vergara, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          James B. Zagel Judge

         Plaintiff Cortez Lyons, an Illinois state prisoner, has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that Defendants, officials at the Stateville Correctional Center, violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights by denying him due process, by denying him equal protection, and by subjecting him to cruel and unusual conditions of confinement. More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he received a harsher punishment for fighting than the cellmate who had allegedly attacked him; he additionally maintains that he endured inhumane living conditions in the segregation unit. This matter is before the Court for ruling on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied altogether, and Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted only in part.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         “The Court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Hanover Ins. Co. v. Northern Bldg. Co., 751 F.3d 788, 791 (7th Cir. 2014). In determining whether there are factual questions, the Court must view all the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Weber v. Univ. Research Assoc., Inc., 621 F.3d 589, 592 (7th Cir. 2010). The Court does not “judge the credibility of the witnesses, evaluate the weight of the evidence, or determine the truth of the matter. The only question is whether there is a genuine issue of fact.” Gonzalez v. City of Elgin, 578 F.3d 526, 529 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986)).

         To survive summary judgment, the nonmoving party must make a sufficient showing of evidence for each essential element of his case on which he bears the burden at trial. Kampmier v. Emeritus Corp., 472 F.3d 930, 936-937 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Blythe Holdings, Inc. v. DeAngelis, 750 F.3d 653, 656 (7th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted). “A genuine issue of material fact arises only if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists to permit a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Egonmwan v. Cook County Sheriff's Dept., 602 F.3d 845, 849 (7th Cir. 2010) (quoting Faas v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 532 F.3d 633, 640-41 (7th Cir. 2008)).

         II. Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1

         Neither Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment nor his response to Defendants' motion for summary judgment comports with Local Rules. “Under the Local Rules of the Northern District of Illinois, a party filing a motion for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 must serve and file ‘a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue and that entitle the moving party to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Judson Atkinson Candies, Inc. v. Latini-Hohberger Dhimantec, 529 F.3d 371, 382 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Koszola v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chicago, 385 F.3d 1104, 1107-08 (7th Cir. 2004)). The opposing party must then “file ‘a response to each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement, including, in the case of any disagreement, specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon.'” Cracco v. Vitran Exp., Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 632 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing N.D.Ill. R. 56.1(b)(3)(B)); Fabiyi v. McDonald's Corp., No. 11 CV 8085, 2014 WL 985415, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 13, 2014) (Kim, Mag. J.) (aff'd 595 F.App'x 621 (7th Cir. 2014)). The opposing party may also present a separate statement of additional facts that requires the denial of summary judgment. See Ciomber v. Coop. Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 635, 643-44 (7th Cir. 2008). A plaintiff's pro se status does not excuse him from complying with these rules. Morrow v. Donahoe, 564 F.App'x 859, 860 (7th Cir. 2014) (unpublished opinion) (citing Pearle Vision, Inc. v. Romm, 541 F.3d 751, 758 (7th Cir. 2008) (inter alia)).

         Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment does not include a statement of undisputed material facts. And even if Plaintiff was unfamiliar with Local Rules governing summary judgment despite having brought two prior civil rights actions in this district, Defendants made him aware of summary judgment requirements when they filed their cross-motion. Defendants filed and served on Plaintiff a Local Rule 56.2 Notice in conjunction with their own motion for summary judgment. See Dkt. No. 54, “Notice Pursuant to Local Rule 56.2.” That notice explained in detail the obligations of a party opposing summary judgment, as well as the consequences of failing to comply with the rules.

         Notwithstanding Defendants' admonition, Plaintiff's statements of facts suffer from multiple deficiencies. First, many of Plaintiff's factual assertions are unsupported by citations to the record. The Local Rules require the parties, in pertinent part, to make “specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon.” L.R. 56.1(a)(3) (N.D. Ill.) The Court is not required to comb the record to locate relevant information. Delapaz v. Richardson, 634 F.3d 895, 899 (7th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted); see also Hemsworth v. Quoteswmith.com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 490 (7th Cir. 2007) (“In considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court is not required to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat the motion; the nonmoving party must identify with reasonable particularity the evidence upon which the party relies.”).

         Second, Plaintiff's motion and his response to Defendants' Statement of Facts impermissibly blend facts with legal arguments. Legal arguments, suppositions, and conclusions of law are not “facts.” See Judson Atkinson Candies, Inc. v. Latini-Hohberger Dhimantec, 529 F.3d 371, 382 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008) (“It is inappropriate to make legal arguments in a Rule 56.1 statement of facts.”). Nor is the “response to a statement of facts ... the place for purely argumentative denials, and courts are not required to ‘wade through improper denials and legal arguments in search of a genuinely disputed fact.'” Almy v. Kickert Sch. Bus Line, No. 08 CV 2902, 2013 WL 80367, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Jan 7, 2013) (Dow, J.) (internal citation omitted) (quoting Bordelon v. Chi. Sch. Reform Bd. of Trs., 233 F.3d 524, 529 (7th Cir. 2000)).

         Third, the Court has disregarded Plaintiff's factual assertions that conflict with his sworn deposition testimony. “[L]itigants cannot create sham issues of fact with affidavits that contradict their prior depositions.” Janky v. Lake Cnty. Convention & Visitors Bureau, 576 F.3d 356, 362 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. A&E Oil, Inc., 503 F.3d 588, 592 (7th Cir. 2007)). “A deponent may not use an affidavit sworn to after a deposition to contradict deposition testimony without giving a credible explanation for the discrepancies.” Abraham v. Washington Group Intern., Inc., 766 F.3d 735, 741 (7th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted). Consequently, Plaintiff cannot now deny, for example, that his cellmate sustained numerous stab wounds in the course of the altercation at issue.

         Fourth, in responding to Defendants' statement of facts, Plaintiff sometimes added information that should have been set forth in a separate statement of additional facts pursuant to Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(c) See, e.g., McGuire v. United Parcel Serv., 152 F.3d 673, 675 (7th Cir. 1998); De v. City of Chicago, 912 F.Supp.2d 709, 714-15 (N.D. Ill. 2012) (collecting cases). In several instances it is not even clear whether Plaintiff is admitting or disputing Defendants' asserted facts.

         Fifth, a layperson may not testify about matters involving medical, technical, or other specialized knowledge. See Fed. R. Evid. 701, 702. Thus, the Court has taken into account Plaintiff's basic representations that, for example, he vomited immediately after drinking F-House tap water. But the Court has discounted those statements that call for a medical or technical expert, such as that the mold on the wall caused headaches or that Stateville's pipes somehow contaminate the facility's drinking water. Plaintiff lacks the necessary qualifications to express his personal analysis of such specialized matters.

         With the above standards in mind, the Court has incorporated Plaintiff's factual assertions to the extent that he could properly testify about the matters asserted, so long as those representations would be admissible at trial and have bearing on the Court's analysis. The following facts, all supported by the record, are undisputed for purposes of the summary judgment motion [or the Court has noted instances of conflicting evidence]:

         III. Relevant Facts

         Plaintiff Cortez Lyons is an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (hereinafter, “IDOC”). (Defendants' Exhibit A to their Motion for Summary Judgment, Complaint, at p. 2.) Plaintiff has been incarcerated at the Stateville Correctional Center since September 2013. (Id.; Defendants' Exhibit B, Deposition of Cortez Lyons, at p. 12.) Defendants Ambosis Vergara, William Shelvin (or Shevlin), Jerry Baldwin, and Charles Best were all correctional officers at Stateville at the time of the events giving rise to this action. (Complaint, p. 2.) Defendant Terry Williams was Stateville's warden at all times relevant. (Id.) Defendant Salvador Godinez was the Director of the IDOC during the relevant time period. (Id.)

         On April 24, 2014, Plaintiff had a row with his cellmate, Hector Santiago. (Lyons Dep., p. 13.) Plaintiff contends that Santiago was the aggressor, and that Santiago was bigger and stronger than he.[1] (Complaint, p. 4.) According to Plaintiff, Santiago choked him, pushed him up against a wall, and tried to stab him in his hand with an ink pen, although the pen admittedly caused no damage. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that he only defended himself from attack. (Id.)

         During the struggle, Santiago sustained approximately thirteen stab wounds from the pen. (Lyons Dep., pp. 14, 19-20.) Following the altercation, the inmates were taken to the health care unit for medical treatment. (Id., p. 14.) Santiago received medical attention for his wounds, while Plaintiff declined medical attention, as he had sustained no injuries in the fight. (Id., pp. 14-15.)

         About five to ten minutes later, Defendant Vergara, an Internal Affairs officer, interviewed Plaintiff about the incident. (Id., pp. 15, 19.) During the interview, Vergara advised Plaintiff of the allegations against him, informed him about the extent of Santiago's injuries, and gave Plaintiff the opportunity to recount his version of the events that had taken place. (Id.) This interview was Vergara's only contact with Plaintiff in connection with this matter. (Id.) Defendant Shelvin was present during Plaintiff's interview with Vergara. (Id., p. 21.)

         Following the interview, Shelvin issued Plaintiff a disciplinary ticket charging him with fighting and assault. (Id., pp. 20-21.) As a result of the pending disciplinary proceedings, correctional officials transferred Plaintiff to the segregation unit's F-House. (Id., p. 24.)

         On May 5, 2014, Plaintiff appeared before a prison disciplinary committee. (Defendants' Exhibit C, Adjustment Committee Final Summary Report.) Defendants Best and Baldwin served on the hearing committee. (Id.) At the hearing, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to fighting, but not guilty to the assault charge. (Lyons Dep., p. 35-36.) Plaintiff again related his account of what had transpired with Santiago. (Id.) Plaintiff admitted that he had stabbed Santiago an unknown number of times, but stated that he had done so only after Santiago tried to stab him first. (Id., p. 36.) Plaintiff requested no witnesses. (Defendants' Exhibit C.)

         After hearing the evidence, Best and Baldwin found Plaintiff guilty of both fighting and assault. (Id.) The hearing officers imposed a penalty of one year in segregation, a one-year demotion to “C-grade, ” and one year of commissary restriction. (Id.) Plaintiff gathers, based on a conversation with Santiago in the segregation unit, that the latter had to spend only thirty days in segregation for fighting. (Lyons Dep., pp. 20, 38.) Plaintiff makes this admitted “assumption” based on his general knowledge that the “standard” IDOC penalty for fighting is thirty days in segregation. (Id., p. 39.) Plaintiff spent the next year in F-House segregation other than when he had a furlough in May 2014 for an operation. (Id., pp. 28, 62.)

         Plaintiff's first cellmate in segregation, from Aril 25, 2014, until the middle of August 2014, was Marvin Molina. (Id., p. 31.) Normally, inmates who arrive in segregation are issued a “bedroll” that contains bedding, socks, and underwear. (Id., p. 41.) But when Plaintiff moved in, he did not receive a bedroll or fresh sheets. (Id.) Authorities provided Plaintiff only with a blanket and mattress upon his assignment to segregation. (Defendants' Exhibit A-1, Grievance Dated August 19, 2014.) Plaintiff found that there were already sheets on his bed in his new cell. (Lyons Dep., pp. 32, 40.) Plaintiff believes that Molina's previous cellmate had slept on the sheets left for him. (Plaintiff's Exhibit 3, Offender Grievance, at p. 2.) Plaintiff has sensitive skin. (Lyons Dep., p. 41.) He thought that the dirty sheets caused his ...


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