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Aguilar v. Davis

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 18, 2017

RENE AGUILAR, B69509, Plaintiff,


          Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         This is a prisoner civil rights lawsuit involving events that occurred at Vienna Correctional Center (“Vienna”), a facility within the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) prison system. Plaintiff Rene Aguilar was an inmate at Vienna (he is now out on parole) and the Defendants are IDOC employees. Aguilar states in his complaint that he was seriously injured on October 19, 2012, after he fell off the back of a moving dump truck while on work duty at Vienna. Aguilar asserts that Defendants Todd Walsh (the IDOC employee driving the dump truck) and Jeff Moore (the prison warehouse supervisor) were deliberately indifferent to his safety in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Defendants moved for summary judgment, and the Plaintiff responded. The Motion for Summary Judgment is now before the Court.

         II. Facts

         Aguilar entered IDOC custody in 2012 and was transferred to Vienna on May 30th of that year (Aguilar deposition, Doc. 47-1, pp. 7-8). On September 5, 2012, Vienna prison officials assigned Aguilar to work in the “general store area” (prison warehouse) (Id. at p. 13). In that position Aguilar performed tasks such as loading and unloading trucks, moving pallets of food items and sweeping the floor (Id.). Defendant Todd Walsh was Aguilar's immediate supervisor and Defendant Jeff Moore was the head warehouse supervisor (Id.).

         On the morning of October 19, 2012, Walsh instructed Aguilar and the other prison workers in the warehouse to load up a dump truck with pallets of food items (Id. at p. 14; Piper declaration, Doc. 52-1, p. 2). After vendors delivered supplies (food, toiletries and so forth) to the warehouse, prison officials and inmate workers would distribute the items throughout the facility (Aguilar deposition, Doc. 47-1, p. 13). This task primarily involved transporting food items from the warehouse to “dietary” (the prison chow hall) (Id. at p. 15). The Vienna chow hall is located above the warehouse in the same building (Id. at p. 17). However, the building elevator had been out of service since July of 2012 (Walsh deposition, Doc. 47-2, p. 47). So, in order to avoid dragging pallets of food up a flight of stairs, prisoners were directed to load the food items from the warehouse onto a dump truck (Id.). The dump truck was then driven around to the front of the building and unloaded on the same level as the chow hall (Id.). The drive is approximately 200 to 250 yards in total over asphalt and concrete roads (Id. at p. 56).

         Defendants Moore and Walsh directly supervised the loading of the dump truck (Aguilar deposition, Doc. 47-1, p. 19; Piper declaration, Doc. 52-1, p. 1-2). After the truck was loaded, Walsh got into the cab. Moore then directed Aguilar to ride along in the back of the truck (Id.). Aguilar hopped into the truck along with two other inmate workers named Piper and Swan (Id.). Moore stayed back in his office as the truck drove off (Aguilar deposition, Doc. 47-1, p. 21). While Walsh drove the truck, the prisoners in the back held down the pallets and crates. (Id.; Piper declaration, Doc. 52-1, p. 2). There was no tailgate on the back of the dump truck; the prisoners were not wearing any seatbelts or safety equipment; and, the food containers were not tied down (Aguilar deposition, Doc. 47-1, p. 20; Piper declaration, Doc. 52-1, p. 2).

         According to Piper, on previous dump truck trips product had fallen out of the truck, which angered Moore and Walsh (Piper declaration, Doc. 52-1, p. 2). Piper and Aguilar both described the back of the truck as lacking much space for the inmate workers, or sufficient equipment to tie down or secure the contents of the truck (Piper declaration, Doc. 52-1, p.2; Aguilar deposition, Doc. 47-1, p. 20-22). Aguilar did not feel that he had a choice about whether or not to ride in the back of the dump truck because Moore had pointed to him and said “get this out of here” (referring to the contents of the truck) and then asked which other inmates were going to accompany Aguilar in the truck bed (Aguilar deposition, Doc. 47-1, p. 27-29). Piper indicated that if the inmates did not comply with directions from Vienna officers they would be sent to solitary confinement or would suffer other adverse consequences (Id., p. 3).

         Aside from lacking a rear gate, the dump truck was also missing the driver's side mirror (Walsh deposition, Doc. 47-2, p. 45) and it was raining that day (Aguilar deposition, Doc. 47-1, p. 9). As the truck proceeded around the building they began to drive up a hill (Id.). As the vehicle ascended the hill, Walsh downshifted the truck (Id.; Piper declaration, 52-1, p. 3). The downshift jerked the vehicle, causing Aguilar to lose his balance and fall off the back of the truck (Aguilar deposition, Doc. 47-1, p. 9; Piper declaration, Doc. 52-1, p. 3).

         As Aguilar lay on the ground he felt a pain in his back (Aguilar deposition, Doc. 52-1, p. 9). Walsh did not have a functioning radio with him (the batteries were dead), so he directed Piper to run inside for assistance (Id.)[2]. Prison health care unit employees arrived shortly thereafter and placed Aguilar on a stretcher (Id.). After arriving at the health care unit, Dr. Santos examined Aguilar and ordered that he be taken by ambulance to an outside hospital for treatment (Aguilar deposition, Doc. 47-1, p. 10). Aguilar was transported to Heartland Regional Medical Center and later diagnosed with a compression fracture in his T12 vertebrae. (Id.). Aguilar's back started to improve approximately a year after the injury occurred but he stated at his deposition that he continues to experience occasional back pain (Id., p. 11).

         III. Procedural Posture

         On March 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants Randy Davis, Larue Love, Todd Walsh, and Jeff Moore for injuries he sustained while working as an inmate at Vienna. The Court screened his initial Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and dismissed Defendants Davis and Love (Doc. 6). On September 15, 2015, the Court approved the appointment of counsel for the Plaintiff, and on October 6, 2015, counsel entered an appearance (Dkt. entry 25; Doc. 28). The case proceeded through discovery.

         This matter is now before the Court for consideration of the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 46), and the Plaintiff's response opposing summary judgment (Doc. 52). In support of summary judgment, the Defendants argue that the Plaintiff cannot show they were actually aware of a risk to his safety or that they acted in deliberate indifference to such a risk. Additionally, they argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity, because their actions did not run afoul of a clearly established right.

         In response, Plaintiff argues that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether or not the work conditions were unsafe and whether or not the Defendants knew of said conditions (Doc. 52 at 9-14). In support of his response, the Plaintiff agrees with many of the Defendants' undisputed facts, but also supplements additional facts via the sworn declaration of a fellow inmate (Piper) (Doc. 52-1). Plaintiff also argues against qualified immunity on the premise that he need not identify a specific factually similar case delineating the right he claims was violated, ...

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