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Williams v. Armstrong

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 13, 2017

LEONARD WILLIAMS, # R-05138, Plaintiff,


          STACI M. YANDLE United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Leonard Williams, currently incarcerated at Jacksonville Correctional Center (“Jacksonville”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His claims arose while he was incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center (“Lawrence”). Plaintiff claims that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical condition, causing him injury, and that he was subjected to retaliation by Defendant Armstrong and McVey. Plaintiff's Complaint is now before the Court for a preliminary review 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

         In December 2014, Plaintiff Williams was assigned to a prison job in the dietary department, where he was supervised by Ms. Armstrong. (Doc. 1, p. 7). Williams had previously suffered a tear in his right rotator cuff, for which he underwent 2 years of physical therapy. He also had back problems. Due to these conditions, Williams was unable to perform regular activities of daily living without pain. He informed Armstrong that because of his medical problems, he could not pick up the 100-pound dining tables or the full garbage cans (also weighing over 100 pounds), which were part of his job duties. On January 2, 2015, Armstrong responded by telling Williams that she would make sure his “lazy ass” picked up the tables and garbage cans, or else he would get a disciplinary ticket for disobeying a direct order. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Faced with this threat, Williams struggled to lift the heavy tables and cans while he screamed in pain. Armstrong witnessed this, and told Williams that if he did not stop faking, she would write him a disciplinary ticket. Id.

         On January 3, 2015, Williams showed Armstrong his medical records documenting his right shoulder injury and treatment. She stated that she didn't give a “f**k” about medical records, and that this was Williams's job assignment. Id. Williams continued to do the work, enduring much pain to his injured shoulder. Armstrong dismissed Williams early from his shift on January 19, 2015 because he could not lift the garbage cans. Williams wrote an emergency grievance, but the John Doe Warden denied it and deemed the matter a non-emergency. (Doc. 1-3, pp. 1-2).

         Williams saw the prison doctor about his shoulder condition on January 29, 2015. The next day at work, Armstrong again demanded that Williams pick up the tables. He told her he could not lift them and had just seen the doctor about his shoulder injury, which had become worse due to his heavy lifting. Armstrong again threatened Williams with a ticket if he did not follow orders. Williams needed to avoid incurring a ticket, because it would thwart his planned transfer to another prison. He proceeded to pick up two tables with help from other workers, but when he lifted the third table, his shoulder gave out. The table came down hard on Williams' rib cage, causing severe pain in his ribs and shoulder.

         An officer took Williams to health care. (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9). A nurse gave Williams a medical lay-in permit until his doctor's appointment on February 3 for an x-ray. However, the next day (January 31), Williams was called out to work by Officer Webb. Williams showed his medical permit to Webb, explaining that he was not supposed to work. Webb ignored the information, stating that he did not have a copy of the permit, and told Williams that if he did not go to work, he would get a ticket. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Williams went to the dietary department and told Armstrong about the medical lay-in. She told him to either work or get a ticket, so Williams went to work, suffering pain every time he picked up the heavy tables and cans. (Doc. 1, p. 10).

         Over the next 3 days, the same thing happened - Williams showed his medical permit to Officer Lewis on February 1, to an unidentified officer[1] on February 2 and to Webb again on February 3. Each officer, as well as Armstrong, ignored the permit and Williams had no choice but to work in pain in order to avoid disciplinary action.

         Williams learned from the prison doctor on February 5, 2015 that his rib was not fractured, but was extremely bruised. The doctor issued Williams another medical permit, this time to exempt him from any heavy lifting, and prescribed physical therapy for the injured shoulder.

         On February 6, 2015, Williams reported to Armstrong for work and gave her the new medical permit. Armstrong escorted Williams to Supervisor McVey who told him to “stop bring[ing] this medical s**t over here to the dietary.” (Doc. 1, p. 11). Williams explained that Armstrong told him to get a doctor's permit, but McVey responded, “I don't give a f**k, stop bring[ing] it over here.” Id. McVey then accused Williams of trying to threaten and intimidate Armstrong with the grievance he wrote. She told him that wouldn't work, and she (McVey) could write reports too. They sent Williams back early to his housing unit.

         Williams soon received a disciplinary ticket authored by McVey, stating that he brought in an envelope with medical information and complained about his job duties. The ticket falsely stated that Williams had come from the law library to dietary. Williams asserts that the ticket was issued solely as retaliation for the grievance he wrote against Armstrong for making him lift heavy items after he told her about his medical problems. (Doc. 1, p. 11).

         Based on these facts, Williams asserts a deliberate indifference claim against Armstrong, McVey, Densmore (the Head Dietary Supervisor), Webb, Lewis and the John Doe Warden. (Doc. 1, p. 12). He brings a retaliation claim against Armstrong and ...

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