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Jefferson v. Guerrero

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

September 1, 2016



          Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge

         Nathaniel Jefferson ("Jefferson"), a pretrial detainee at the Cook County Department of Corrections ("County Jail"), brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") against Officers Pablo Guerrero ("Guerrero") and Geno Muskat ("Muskat") for failing to protect him from two other detainees. Now before this Court is defendants' Fed.R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 56 motion for summary judgment.

         Summary Judgment Standards

         Every Rule 56 movant bears the burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). For that purpose courts consider the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant (here Jefferson) and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor (Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir.2002)). Courts "may not make credibility determinations, weigh the evidence, or decide which inferences to draw from the facts" in resolving motions for summary judgment (Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir.2003)). But a nonmovant must produce more than "a mere scintilla of evidence" to support the position that a genuine issue of material fact exists, and "must come forward with specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial" (Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 634 (7th Cir.2008)). Ultimately summary judgment is warranted only if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmovant (Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

         Novmovants may oppose summary judgment by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record" (Rule 56(c)(1)(A)). But as Brown v. Advocate S. Suburban Hosp., 700 F.3d 1101, 1105 (7th Cir. 2012) has reconfirmed:

Mere allegations in a complaint, however, are not "evidence" and do not establish a triable issue of fact.

         Only when a plaintiff has verified his or her complaint may its allegations be considered on summary judgment -- and even then, only when the requirements of Rule 56(c)(4) as to personal knowledge, admissibility and competence are otherwise met (Ford v. Wilson, 90 F.3d 245, 246-47 (7th Cir. 1996)).

         Factual Background[1]

         Jefferson is a pretrial detainee at the County Jail (J. St. ¶ 1; G. St. ¶¶ 1-2). During the relevant period he was housed in segregation in Division 9 tier 1 (G. St. ¶ 3). Jefferson's cellmate was Dontrell Watkins ("Watkins") (J. St. ¶ 2; G. St. ¶ 6). In the cell next to theirs were two other detainees, Martese Smith ("Smith") and Thaddeus Thompson ("Thompson") (G. St. ¶ 7). Detainees in segregation are allowed out of their cell for an hour each day (G. St. ¶ 4).

         While Watkins and Smith were passing out dinner trays on February 16, 2015 they got into a fist fight for reasons Jefferson does not recall (G. St. ¶¶ 8-9). That fight stopped without the intervention of any correctional officers (G. St. ¶ 10). Once they had returned to their cells, Watkins, Smith and Thompson continued arguing while Guerrero was locking the doors (G. St. ¶¶ 11-12). Watkins was also arguing with Guerrero, who stated he had something on Watkins before telling Smith and Thompson "I got something for you all" and hurling racial slurs at Watkins (J. St. ¶ 10; G. St. ¶ 12, Ex. 1 at 27:19-28:8). Muskat was not present for those events (J. St. ¶ 13).

         Both Guerrero and Muskat were working on Division 9 tier 1H the following day, February 17, on the 3 to 11 p.m. shift (G. St. ¶ 13). That night Jefferson and Watkins were let out of their shared cell and were escorted to the shower area by Guerrero and Muskat (G. St. ¶¶ 14, 15). As Jefferson was preparing to go into the shower, he saw Guerrero exchange Thompson's handcuffs for another pair (G. St. ¶ 16). When Jefferson got out of the shower his own handcuffs were put back on (G. St. ¶ 17).

         While Jefferson was walking around talking to people through their doors, he heard an argument underneath the stairs between Watkins and Thompson -- both Smith and Thompson were also out of their cells in the dayroom (G. St. ¶¶ 17, 19). Guerrero was present for that argument as well (J. St. ¶ 9). But Guerrero had been given permission to leave at 10 p.m. that evening (he delayed taking his lunch break until his final hour of work) and was absent during the ensuing events (G. St. ¶ 27; J. St. Ex. D at 23:4-7).

         At some point Smith and Thompson got out of their handcuffs (G. St. ¶ 21). Then the four of them -- Jefferson, Watkins, Smith and Thompson -- began fighting (G. St. ¶ 20).

         After seeing the fight break out, Muskat called a "10-10" for an inmate fight over the radio (G. St. ¶ 23). Under the applicable regulations officers are not permitted to go into a dayroom when a fight is occurring until supervisors and back-up officers arrive (G. St. ¶ 24; see also J. St. ¶¶ 15-17). Once back-up officers and a sergeant did arrive, they went in and broke up the fight about five minutes after it began (G. St. ¶ 23, 25).

         Video evidence shows that Muskat and other correctional officers outnumbered the combatants by 9:52:25 p.m. and that they had more than double their number by 9:52:42 p.m. (J. St. ¶¶ 18-19). That same video evidence shows correctional officers entering the dayroom about a minute later (J. St. Ex. H at ...

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