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Walston v. Baldwin

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 9, 2016



          MICHAEL J. REAGAN United States Chief District Judge.

         Plaintiff Timothy Walston is currently incarcerated at the Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois. (Doc. 1 at 1.) Proceeding pro se, Walston has filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Officer Benefield, a corrections officer at Menard, failed to protect Walston from an attack by another inmate that the officer had a hand in instigating. (Id. at 5.) Walston has also named two officials with the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Department of Corrections itself as defendants, maintaining that they are liable for the officer's acts. (Doc. 1-1 at 2-6.) Walston's complaint does not include a request for relief, but the memorandum attached to his complaint, which the Court will treat as incorporated into the complaint for purposes of threshold review, asks the Court for money damages and a declaration that some of the Department of Corrections' policies are unconstitutional. (Id. at 6.)

         This matter is now before the Court for a review of Walston's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the Court shall review a "complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a government entity." During the § 1915A review, the court "shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, " if the complaint "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim" or if it "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune."


         According to Walston's complaint, Walston has been incarcerated at Menard since at least 2014. (Doc. 1 at 6.) On October 23, 2014, he was told by Menard officials that he was moving from the North Upper 5 Gallery to North 2, 7 Gallery. (Id.) After he packed his property to make the move, he asked Corrections Officer Benefield why he was the one being moved when it was his cellmate, Pat Ingram, who was the one threatening Walston with violence. (Id.) Per Walston, Officer Benefield called Walston a snitch and then made him return to his cell to retrieve a cable cord. (Id.) When Walston walked towards his cell, his cellmate was standing in the doorway of the cell, waiting for him. (Id.) There were also three other "gallery workers" (seemingly other inmates) standing nearby, who yelled to "let them fight." (Id.) Officer Benefield purportedly nodded his approval but did not want the fight to happen on the gallery, so he told Ingram and Walston to take the fight to a nearby cell. (Id.) Walston claims that he refused to fight in or out of the cell, but Ingram began swinging, so Walston grabbed Ingram to stop the punches. (Id.) The fight evidently did not go well for Walston from that point on-he woke up in Menard's infirmary one-and-a-half hours later, and ultimately received fourteen stitches as a result of being knocked unconscious by Ingram. (Id.)

         Walston claims that he filed a grievance concerning the fight on November 5, 2014. (Id. at 4.) Unsatisfied with the prison's response-and convinced that the fight happened not just because of Benefield's conduct but also because of the policies of the Department of Corrections-he filed suit against Benefield, the Director of the Department, the Warden of Menard, and the Department of Corrections itself on August 5, 2016. (Doc. 1; Doc. 1-1.)


         While Walston has subdivided his complaint into three separate claims, the manner in which he has divided his claims is a bit duplicative and confusing, so the Court finds it proper to re-divide the complaint into the following counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by the Court.

COUNT 1: Corrections Officer Benefield violated Walston's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to stop Ingram's assault on Walston, and Director Baldwin and Warden Butler are also liable for that conduct.
COUNT 2: The Illinois Department of Corrections contributed to the assault by failing to properly train Director Baldwin, Warden Butler, and Officer Benefield.
COUNT 3: The Illinois Department of Corrections facilitated the assault by enacting certain investigatory and disciplinary policies that impacted Menard.

         Walston's complaint focuses on Benefield's failure to protect him, so the Court will start there (Count 1). Walston says that the defendants' conduct violated both the Eighth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, but Walston is a prisoner and not a detainee, so his cruel and unusual punishment claims are best channeled through the Eighth Amendment rather than the Fourteenth. The Fourteenth Amendment protections, after all, are coextensive with the protections of the Eighth Amendment for prisoners, Lunsford v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1574, 1583 (7th Cir. 1994), and Walston's theory under both amendments is the same, meaning that Walston gains nothing by "attracting additional constitutional labels." Conyers v. Abitz, 416 F.3d 580, 586 (7th Cir. 2005). Because Walston's Fourteenth Amendment claims are duplicative, they will be dismissed without prejudice.

         To put forth a failure to protect claim under the Eighth Amendment, a prisoner must allege that an officer was present during the application of excessive force and had "reason to know" that "excessive force was being used" or that a "constitutional violation has been committed, " and that the officer "had a realistic opportunity to intervene to protect the harm from occurring." Chavez v. III. State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 652 (7th Cir. 2001). When the Court construes Walston's complaint in a liberal fashion, he has alleged that Benefield observed the assault against him by the other inmates yet failed to intervene, and that is enough to put forth a claim at screening. Accordingly, Count 1 may proceed as to Officer Benefield.

         While Count 1 may proceed as to Benefield, it must be dismissed as to Director Baldwin and Warden Butler. To the extent that Walston is trying to loop Baldwin and Butler into his suit in their individual capacity, he should know that § 1983 creates a cause of action based on personal liability and predicated upon fault-an individual defendant "must have caused or participated in a constitutional violation" to be liable. Pepper v. Vill. of Oak Park, 430 F.3d 809, 810 (7th Cir. 2005). A prison official can "participate" in a constitutional violation if he was responsible for creating the policies, practices, and customs that caused a constitutional deprivation, Doyle v. Camelot Care Ctrs.,305 F.3d 603, 615 (7th Cir. 2002), but he cannot be held liable merely because he had supervisory authority over the prison employee who engaged in the improper acts, Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001). Walston has not alleged that Baldwin and Butler were either present for the assault or had reason to know that the assault against him would occur, nor has Walston included any developed allegations suggesting that Baldwin and Butler themselves created policies that led to ...

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