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Cross v. Ziolkowsi

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 15, 2016

ALI L. CROSS, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER ZIOLKOWSI, MICHAEL C. CARR, and UNKNOWN PARTY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge

         Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee, currently in custody at the Chester Mental Health Center (“Chester”) after having been found unfit to stand trial on pending charges in Jackson County.[1]He has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A .

         Under § 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out non-meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must 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. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Applying these standards, the Court finds that some of Plaintiff's claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         Initially, the Court must examine Plaintiff's pleadings to determine which document should be evaluated as the operative complaint. The original complaint was filed on June 15, 2016 (Doc. 1). In it, Plaintiff named three Defendants: Christopher Ziolkowski, who is a private individual with whom Plaintiff had an altercation on October 4, 2015, that led to Plaintiff's arrest; Michael Carr, the Jackson County State's Attorney who brought criminal charges against Plaintiff; and the Unknown Carbondale Police Officer who arrested Plaintiff. He raised claims based on his arrest and detention in the Jackson County Jail, including false imprisonment, illegal detention, deliberate indifference, due process violations, and cruel and unusual punishment, and sought compensatory and punitive damages.

         On August 31, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a “Motion to Amend - Complaint Part 2, Part 3, Part 4” (Doc. 13). The caption of that document names the following Defendants: Carbondale Police - M. Austin; Jackson County Jail Staff; CPL Swift, and CPL Mickulas. The body of this motion reveals that Defendant Austin was the officer who arrested Plaintiff; he had been included in the original complaint only as the “Unknown Party.” However, Swift, Mickulas, and the Jackson County Jail Staff were not named as parties in the original complaint.

         Plaintiff begins with a rambling statement about “Schemes of deviousness” and a “Realm of oppression” in the jail (Doc. 13, pp. 1-2). In “Part (2.)” of the document, Plaintiff describes an “attempt on [his] life” on April 4, 2016, led by Defendant Swift, who (along with eight other deputies) shocked Plaintiff with a taser on his chest and back for eight minutes (Doc. 13, pp. 3-4). Defendant Swift and the others proceeded to beat, kick, and punch Plaintiff, breaking his jaw and nose (Doc. 13, pp. 4-5).

         Following the tasing and beating, Defendant Swift and other Jackson County Jail Staff Defendants placed Plaintiff on suicide watch from April 4 to 11, 2016, and failed to provide him with any medical treatment for his broken jaw and nose (Doc. 13, pp. 6-7). He claims they took these actions in order to take Plaintiff's legal materials away from him so they could cover up prior incidents of excessive force.

         Defendant Mickulas ruled Plaintiff's grievance as “Not Valid” (Doc. 13, p. 8). He notes that on March 17, 2016, before going to a court hearing, he was handcuffed, beaten, and electro-shocked by ten Jackson County deputies (Doc. 13, p. 9). He was then beaten in front of the judge, and beaten again when he was returned to his jail cell.

         On a page titled “Part (3.) Motion to Amend, ” Plaintiff turns to the chronology of events “concerning Arresting Officer of Carbondale Police Dept. - Name M. Austin” (Doc. 13, p. 13). While this officer was identified only as an “Unknown Party” in the original complaint, Plaintiff now states that Defendant Austin was the arresting officer (Doc. 13, p. 15). Defendant Austin showed “favoritism” by charging Plaintiff with two criminal offenses (battery and disorderly conduct), even though Christopher Ziolkowski tried to stab Plaintiff with a knife (Doc. 13, pp. 13-14). Defendant Austin arrested Plaintiff “without legal justification” (Doc. 13, p. 16).

         Plaintiff then jumps to July 10, 2016, when he complained to Chester medical staff of pain in his nose due to the incident at the Jackson County Jail (Doc. 13, p. 21). Chester staff refused to take an x-ray of Plaintiff's nose.

         “Part 4” of the document seeks to amend Plaintiff's request for monetary damages (Doc. 13, p. 27). He requests compensatory and punitive damages, and his signature is on the document (Doc. 13, p. 28).

         The “motion to amend complaint” filed at Doc. 13 may represent an attempt by Plaintiff to add to his original complaint in a piecemeal fashion, such that the two documents together would make up Plaintiff's complaint. This is not permitted. Consistent with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), all claims against all defendants must be set forth in a single document. Furthermore, when a plaintiff submits an amended complaint, the new document supersedes and replaces the original complaint, rendering the original complaint void. See Flannery v. Recording Indus. Ass'n of Am., 354 F.3d 632, 638 n.1 (7th Cir. 2004). For these reasons, Plaintiff cannot proceed in this action on both the original complaint (Doc. 1) and the amendment (Doc. 13).

         However, the “motion to amend” at Doc. 13 is sufficient to stand on its own as an amended complaint, despite being labeled as a “motion.” It lists several defendants in the caption, includes factual allegations against those defendants in the body of the document, contains a prayer for relief, and bears Plaintiff's signature. Moreover, unlike the original complaint, it articulates a civil rights claim that survives review under § 1915A.

         Accordingly, the “Motion to Amend Complaint” (Doc. 13) is GRANTED. The Clerk shall be directed to designate this motion (Doc. 13) as the First Amended Complaint. This action shall go forward based on the First Amended Complaint (Doc. 13). The original complaint (Doc. 1) has been superseded, and shall not be considered further.

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         Based on the allegations of the First Amended Complaint (Doc. 13), the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into the following counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit. Any other claim that is mentioned in the complaint but not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice.

Count 1: Fourteenth Amendment excessive force claim against Defendant Swift, for shocking Plaintiff with a taser and ...

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