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Knox v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 3, 2017

VANDAIRE KNOX, Plaintiff,
v.
KIMBERLY BUTLER, CAMERON WATSON, MAJOR HASSAMEYER, LIEUTENANT MEYER, PELKER, JOHN DOE, 1, JOHN DOE, 2, JOHN TROST, MIKE, SUSAN KIRK, IDOC, and WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          David R. Herndon Judge

         Plaintiff Vandaire Knox, an inmate in Menard Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff suffers from persistent swelling and severe pain in his left knee. As a result, Plaintiff has a knee brace permit and a low bunk/low gallery permit. In June 2015, after Plaintiff was transferred to Menard's North II segregation unit, Defendants confiscated Plaintiff's knee brace for 49 days and did not honor Plaintiff's low bunk/low gallery permit. When Plaintiff filed grievances regarding this conduct, Defendants moved Plaintiff to a more restrictive cell. Additionally, in September 2015, when Plaintiff was released from segregation, Defendants housed Plaintiff in a location that made it difficult, if not impossible, for an individual with Plaintiff's disabilities to commute to the showers. As a result, Plaintiff was unable to attend showers for 390 days. Plaintiff alleges Defendants' conduct caused severe pain and exacerbated his knee injury.

         In connection with these claims, Plaintiff sues Kimberly Butler (Warden), Cameron Watson (Assistant Warden), Major Hassameyer (Cell House Major), Lieutenant Meyer (Cell House Lieutenant), Pelker (Cell House Sergeant), John Doe 1 (Cell House Gallery Officer), John Doe 2 (Cell House Gallery Officer), John Trost (Doctor), Mike (Medical Technician), Susan Kirk (Nurse), Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), and Wexford Health Sources (“Wexford”) (Corporate Healthcare Provider). Plaintiff has sued all Defendants in their official and individual capacities. He seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief.

         Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief references a preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order (“TRO”). Out of an abundance of caution, the Court construes the Complaint as including a Motion for a TRO pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(b), a Motion for Preliminary Injunction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(a), as well as a general prayer for injunctive relief.

         The Court denied the Motion for a TRO on February 2, 2017 and reserved ruling on the Motion for Preliminary Injunction. (Doc. 5). As is discussed more fully below, the Motion for Preliminary Injunction will be referred to the magistrate judge for prompt disposition.

         This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening - The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         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 any reasonable person would find meritless. 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. At this juncture, the factual allegations of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Upon careful review of the Complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A; portions of this action are subject to summary dismissal.

         Plaintiff's Prior 1983 Action Involving Left Knee Injury

         This is not Plaintiff's first action raising claims pertaining to his left knee. In 2014, Plaintiff filed a pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging 19 defendants at Menard were deliberately indifferent to his left knee injury. See Knox v. Shearing et al, Case No. 3:14-cv-193-MJR (“Prior Case”). With the exception of Butler, the instant action does not involve the same defendants.

         According to the complaint in the Prior Case, Plaintiff was transferred to Menard in January 2011 with a preexisting knee injury. Plaintiff raised deliberate indifference claims premised on allegations that the defendants either failed to provide or renew Plaintiff's pain medication, or gave him medication known to be ineffective and to cause harmful side effects. Plaintiff sought damages, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief.

         The case moved forward and, on November 1, 2016, the parties reached a confidential settlement agreement. (Prior Case, Doc. 153).[1] That same day, a 60-day order was entered. (Prior Case, Doc. 154). The 60-day order deadline was recently extended to March 7, 2017 in response to a request from the parties seeking additional time to consummate settlement. (Prior Case, Doc. 160). Accordingly, Plaintiff's Prior Case is still pending. The Court also notes that in January 2016 (shortly after the events at issue in the instant action occurred), Plaintiff made an oral motion for preliminary injunction. (Prior Case, Doc. 113). The record does not reflect the matters at issue in relation to Plaintiff's oral motion for preliminary injunction and the motion was subsequently withdrawn. (Prior Case, Doc. 120). Accordingly, the Court cannot determine if Plaintiff's oral motion for preliminary injunction involved any of the constitutional violations alleged in the instant case.

         The Court has reviewed the Prior Case in an effort to determine whether the doctrine of claim preclusion, or res judicata, precludes Plaintiff from litigating the constitutional claims raised in the instant case. See Briggs-Muhammad v. SSM Healthcare Corp., 567 F. App'x 464, 464-65 (7th Cir. 2014) (at the screening stage, it is permissible to rely on an affirmative defense, such as claim preclusion, that is “apparent and unmistakable” from the face of the complaint and the documents in the district court's possession to dismiss a case). Claim preclusion “is an affirmative defense designed to prevent the ‘relitigation of claims that were or could have been asserted in an earlier proceeding.' ” Rizzo v. Sheahan, 266 F.3d 705, 714 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). “A consent decree is res judicata and thus bars either party from reopening the dispute by filing a fresh lawsuit. Alternatively, it is a contract in which the parties deal away their right to litigate over the subject matter.” United States v. Fisher, 864 F.2d 434, 439 (7th Cir. 1988) (internal citations omitted). That “another case is pending does not raise questions of res judicata. Only a prior judgment is entitled to preclusive effect.” Canedy v. Boardman, 16 F.3d 183, 185 (7th Cir. 1994) (emphasis in original). As noted, the Prior Action remains pending. Further, although deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's knee condition is at issue in both cases, the cases involve different defendants and the violations at issue here occurred at a later time than the violations alleged in the complaint filed in the Prior Case. Finally, the Court does not have access to the parties' confidential settlement (which is not yet final) and cannot make any determinations based on its content. Accordingly, at this point in the litigation, the Court cannot say that any of Plaintiff's claims are precluded by the doctrine of claim preclusion or res judicata.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff suffers from left knee pain and wears a knee brace for stability. (Doc. 1, p. 4). In January 2015, Plaintiff was issued a low bunk/low gallery permit and a knee brace permit. (Doc. 1, p. 4; Doc. 1-1, p. 13). The expiration date for the permit was January 15, 2016. (Doc. 1-1, p. 13).

         On June 30, 2015, Plaintiff was transferred to Menard's North II segregation unit. Id. Upon arrival, Plaintiff was placed in a shower to be strip searched. Id. Doe 1, an unidentified cell house gallery officer, informed Plaintiff that he had to remove his knee brace. Id. Plaintiff explained that his knee caused him a lot of pain, the knee brace was necessary for stabilization, and he showed Doe 1 his knee brace permit. Id. Plaintiff also explained that he had a low bunk/low gallery permit and could not climb stairs due to his knee issues. Id. Doe 1 disregarded the Plaintiff, confiscated Plaintiff's knee brace, and indicated he would speak with his sergeant regarding Plaintiff's permits. Id. Plaintiff was then cuffed from the back, making it difficult for him to stand. Id. Thereafter, despite having a low bunk/low gallery permit, Plaintiff was housed in gallery 4. (Doc. 1, p. 5). As a result, Plaintiff had to climb stairs without his knee brace.

         On July 2, 2015, Doe 2, a second unidentified cell house gallery officer, informed Plaintiff he was being transferred to gallery 8. Id. Plaintiff informed Doe 2 that he could not climb that many stairs because of his knee, hip, and back problems. Id. He also informed Doe 2 that his knee brace had been taken and that he had a knee brace permit and a low bunk/low gallery permit. Id. Doe 2 asked to review Plaintiff's permits. Id. After reviewing Plaintiff's permits, Doe 2 indicated he would speak with Pelker, a sergeant. Id. Doe 2 then left to speak with Pelker. Id. Upon returning, Doe 2 informed Plaintiff that Pelker “doesn't care.” Id. Plaintiff requested to speak with a lieutenant and asked for his knee brace to be returned. Id. Doe 2 denied both requests. Id. Plaintiff was then handcuffed from the back and forced to climb stairs, from gallery 4 to gallery 8, without his knee brace. Id. The move caused Plaintiff severe pain and caused his knee to swell. Id. After reaching gallery 8, Plaintiff informed Doe 2 that he was in pain and that his knee was swelling. Id. Plaintiff asked Doe 2 to notify medical staff. Id. Plaintiff's request was denied.

         Despite repeated requests to various Defendants, Plaintiff's knee brace was not returned until August 17, 2015 (a total of 49 days). (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7). See also (Doc. 1-1 p. 8, inmate personal property receipt noting knee brace was returned on 8/17/15). Plaintiff specifically references having detailed face-to-face conversations with and/or submitting detailed letters and/or grievances to the following officials:

(1) Officer Shemoney (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7);[2]
(2) Kirk (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7; Doc. 1-1, p. 6);
(3) Pelker (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7, 11; Doc. 1-1, p. 3);
(4) Butler (Doc. 1, p. 10; Doc. 1-1, p. 1, 4);
(5) Watson (Doc. 1, p. 10; Doc. 1-1, p. 2, 5); and
(6) Hassameyer (Doc. 1, p. 11; Doc. 1-1, p. 7).

         Additionally, On August 10, 2015, Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding his confiscated knee brace and prison officials' refusal to honor his knee brace and low bunk/low gallery permits. (Doc. 1, p. 2; Doc. 1-1, p. 16).[3]

         While Plaintiff was without his knee brace, Plaintiff was in severe pain, suffered from a swollen knee, and was often restricted to his bed. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7). After Plaintiff's brace was returned, Mike, a medical technician, and Meyer, a Lieutenant, came to Plaintiff's cell and informed Plaintiff he would have to sign a new permit - even though the original permit was still valid. (Doc. 1, p. 7). The new permit did not have a low gallery authorization. Id. Plaintiff refused to sign the new permit because it did not have a low gallery authorization, his prior permit was still valid, and Meyer's explanations for why a new permit was necessary did not make any sense. Id. When Plaintiff refused to sign the new permit, Meyer got angry and said, “If you do not sign that permit you will have problems back here.” Id.

         After refusing to sign the permit, Plaintiff was escorted to the medical unit. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Trost and Mike were present. Id. Trost inquired about why Plaintiff was refusing to sign the new permit, and Plaintiff explained himself. Id. Trost indicated that he did not have any skin in the game, and he was only trying to help Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff then asked Trost why Trost had refused to help Plaintiff in the past when Plaintiff was seen regarding his knee pain. Id. Trost encouraged Plaintiff to sign the permit. Id. Trost also indicated that if Plaintiff would sign the permit, Trost would review Plaintiff's medical records and see what he could do for Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff continued to refuse to sign the permit. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Trost then offered to order Plaintiff a new brace, increase Plaintiff's naproxen dosage to 750 mg., and inquire about physical therapy. Id. See also (Doc. 1-1, pp. 11-12). However, Trost's offer was conditioned on Plaintiff signing the permit. Id. Trost also noted that if Trost followed through on his offer, Plaintiff's prior grievance[4] regarding his knee brace and low gallery permit “should be void right?” Id.

         On August 19, 2015, Plaintiff was informed by Officer Shemoney that he was being transferred to a new cell. (Doc. 1, p. 12). Plaintiff asked why he was being transferred, and Officer Shemoney stated the decision came from a “higher authority.” Id. The new cell was more restrictive than Plaintiff's previous cell. Id. The cell had solid steel across the front and did not allow any fresh air to enter the cell. Id. Plaintiff claims he was transferred to this cell in retaliation for filing grievances regarding his knee brace and/or for refusing to sign a new permit. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges additional constitutional violations after he was released from segregation on September 23, 2015.[5] (Doc. 1, p. 17). According to the Plaintiff, when he was released from segregation he was placed in a “high” aggression building in the East cell house. Id. Plaintiff claims his assigned aggression level did not warrant such a placement. Id. Because of Plaintiff's disability and low gallery permit, Plaintiff was housed in gallery 1. However, the showers in the East cell house are located on gallery 5. Id. Plaintiff alleges that his disability prevented him from walking to gallery 5 and, as a result, he was unable to attend showers for 390 days. Id. Plaintiff does not identify any particular individuals in relation to these claims.

         Plaintiff states that his August 10, 2015 grievance was deemed an emergency and ultimately resolved on March 7, 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 2). A grievance response dated March 1, 2016 is attached as an exhibit to the Complaint. (Doc. 1-1, p. 15). This grievance was signed by Butler on March 7, 2016. Id. The grievance response indicates it is in relation to Plaintiff's August 10, 2015 grievance. The resolution states as follows: “issue resolved as offender received knee brace 8/17/15 and has low gallery/low bunk permit.” Id.

         Plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive relief. ...


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