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Randle v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 17, 2017

CHARLES RANDLE, #M27372, Plaintiff,


          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Charles Randle, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against fifteen defendants who allegedly violated his constitutional rights at Menard in 2015-16. (Doc. 6). Plaintiff asserts claims against these officials under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as Illinois state law. Id. He seeks monetary damages, injunctive relief, [1] and a prison transfer. (Doc. 6, p. 30).

         This case is now before the Court for preliminary review of the First Amended Complaint (Doc. 6) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, [2] 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 in the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         First Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff asserts six sets of claims against the defendants in his First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 6). All events giving rise to these claims occurred at Menard in 2015 and 2016. (Docs. 6, 6-1). A summary of the factual allegations offered in support of the claims is followed by a brief analysis of each claim below. Any claim that is not recognized by the Court in this screening order should be considered dismissed without prejudice from this action.

         1. Conditions of Confinement

         Plaintiff describes Menard as old, dilapidated, and overcrowded. (Doc. 6, pp. 4-8). The prison was allegedly built in 1878 and has not been updated. (Doc. 6, p. 4). Currently, more than 3, 700 inmates are housed there. Id. Nonetheless, the facility and state budget cannot accommodate this inmate population. (Doc. 6, pp. 4-5).

         Cells that were originally built to house one inmate are now used to house two inmates. (Doc. 6, p. 5). The cells are so small (4' by 10') that Plaintiff can touch opposite walls at the same time. (Doc. 6, p. 6). Inmates cannot move around their cells freely. (Doc. 6, pp. 6-7). One inmate must remain in bed while the other moves about the cell. Id. Even then, Plaintiff does not have enough room to stretch or exercise. Id. Although Menard has a policy authorizing inmates to exercise outside of their cells for one hour each day, prison officials often disregard the policy.

         To accommodate two inmates, bunk beds have been installed in each cell. (Doc. 6, p. 6). The beds are only six feet in length. Id. Plaintiff is 6' 2” tall, and he does not fit in his bunk bed. Id. Further, the bunk beds have no ladder, so Plaintiff must step on the lower bunk or toilet and jump onto the top bunk. (Doc. 6, pp. 6-7). This places him at risk of injury. Id. The cramped quarters have caused Plaintiff to suffer from stiff joints, back pain, headaches, constipation, and depression. Id.

         Plaintiff names three high-ranking officials, including Governor Bruce Rauner, Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) Director John Baldwin, and Warden Kimberly Butler, in connection with this claim. (Doc. 6, pp. 4-5). Plaintiff does not allege that he ever complained directly to any of these individuals about the particular conditions of his confinement or his resulting medical issues. Id. He also does not allege that they received any written communications, grievances, or appeals from him on this topic. Id. Instead, Plaintiff alleges that they were generally aware of the conditions at Menard because of the numerous suits brought by inmates to complain about the conditions. Id. They chose to “turn a blind eye” to the conditions. Id.

         2. Denial of Medical Care

         Wexford Health Sources, Inc. is a private medical corporation that provides health care staff and services to prisons in Illinois. (Doc. 6, p. 8). Wexford is allegedly responsible for ensuring that state inmates receive adequate medical care for their serious medical needs. (Doc 6, pp. 8-9). Wexford routinely understaffs Menard's health care unit (“HCU”), however, and this decision has resulted in the denial of medical care for serious inmate medical needs. Id.

         Plaintiff's medical claim arises from the denial of medical care for a large bunion that formed on his foot. (Doc. 6, pp. 8-10). He requested treatment for the painful egg-sized growth in several letters to Doctor Trost, but his written requests were ignored. (Doc. 6, p. 10). Plaintiff also spoke with several unidentified nurses, [3] as they made rounds to pass out medication, and they told him that Wexford prohibited them from addressing any medical needs that lacked a corresponding nurse sick call request. Id. He subsequently submitted five of these slips, along with additional written requests to Doctor Trost. (Doc. 6, p. 11). Unfortunately, however, no one responded to them. Id. When Plaintiff again asked the nurses for assistance, they refused his second request for treatment because Wexford only authorized them to treat inmates during nurse sick call. Id. The nurses and officers[4] ignored Plaintiff's subsequent direct pleas for help, even when they observed the bunion on his foot and heard his complaints of the pain. Id. Plaintiff sent grievances to Nurse Gail Walls, the HCU Administrator, but she also refused to see Plaintiff. (Doc. 6, p. 10).

         At the same time, Plaintiff was denied a pair of new boots when he requested them from undisclosed prison officials.[5] (Doc. 6, pp. 7-8). This was initially because shoes were only approved for work, and ultimately because state funding for inmate shoes was cut entirely. Id. As a result, Plaintiff had no shoes that fit him comfortably. Id.

         High-ranking state officials, including Governor Rauner, Director Baldwin, and Warden Butler, were generally aware of the problems caused by understaffing and overcrowding at Menard because of the numerous civil rights actions filed by inmates to complain about the denial of medical care. (Doc. 6, p. 9). But these officials chose to turn a blind eye to the problem. (Doc. 6, pp. 9-10).

         3. Denial of Access to Courts

         Plaintiff next claims that Warden Butler denied him access to the courts. (Doc. 6, p. 12). After filing a post-conviction petition, Plaintiff's attorney attempted to set up a phone call with him, on or about April 18, 2016, to discuss legal strategies. (Doc. 6, p. 12; Doc. 6-1, p. 2). An unidentified individual at Menard “denied her request for a legal call.” (Doc. 6, p. 12). The individual told Plaintiff's attorney that Plaintiff “could not take legal calls at that point” in time. (Doc. 6, p. 12; Doc. 6-1, p. 2). Plaintiff blames Warden Butler for this single missed opportunity to speak with his attorney. (Doc. 6, p. 12). He asserts that “no set of circumstances . . . gives K. Butler or anyone on her staff permission to disregard Plaintiff's constitutional right to communicate with his attorney [and] have access to the courts.” Id.

         4. Failure to Protect

         Plaintiff also claims that Officer Bump, Officer Ward, and Warden Butler have failed to protect him from his former cellmate. (Doc. 6, pp. 13-14). Plaintiff allegedly sustained injuries from an attack by his cellmate in March or April 2016, after inadvertently grabbing his legal mail from between the cell bars. (Id.; Doc. 6-1, p. 12). After the attack, Plaintiff requested medical care for his injuries.[6] Id. While the two inmates were being cuffed and taken to the HCU, Plaintiff's cellmate threatened to “get him” or “have him ‘fucked up'” by another inmate. (Doc. 6, p. 13).

         Once in the HCU, Internal Affairs Officers Bump and Ward photographed Plaintiff's injuries and interviewed him. Id. They asked Plaintiff if he feared a future attack. Id. Plaintiff told the officers that he did, after relaying the threat he received from his cellmate. (Doc. 6, pp. 13-14). Plaintiff also expressed fear that his former cellmate would have one of his fellow gang members attack Plaintiff. Id.

         Officers Bump and Ward explained that they were aware of the cellmate's gang affiliation, however, the officers were reluctant to transfer Plaintiff away from his cellmate. (Doc. 6, p. 14). They hoped to provoke another attack and establish grounds to move him[7] to administrative segregation or Pontiac Correctional Center. Id.

         Despite these comments, the officers did separate the two inmates by placing them in “separate parts of the facility (different cell houses).” (Doc. 6, p. 14). Plaintiff's former cellmate still “got word to Plaintiff on several occasions that he hadn't forgot[ten] about him [and] . . . was gonna ‘fuck him up.'” Id. Plaintiff wrote to Officer Bump, Officer Ward, and Warden Butler to complain about these threats, but they ignored Plaintiff's letters. Id.

         5. Due Process

         Plaintiff also claims that he was denied due process of law in connection with a disciplinary ticket he received for theft and possession of contraband on October 27, 2015. (Doc. 6, pp. 15-19). On that date, Officer Kern conducted a shakedown while Plaintiff was employed as a kitchen worker. (Doc. 6, p. 15). While searching Plaintiff, the officer discovered two bottles tied to his waist that appeared to contain bleach and dishwasher soap. Id. The officer never opened the bottles, smelled them, or tested the contents. Id. Plaintiff received a ticket for what “appeared to be” bottles filled with bleach and dishwasher soap. Id.

         On or around November 4, 2015, Plaintiff attended an Adjustment Committee hearing before Officers Vasquez and Brookman. (Doc. 6, pp. 15-16). Warden Butler never appointed a hearing investigator or officer to look into the matter prior to the hearing. (Doc. 6, p. 16). The warden also failed to train Officers Vasquez and Brookman to properly investigate such matters, and they simply assumed that the bottles contained bleach and dishwasher soap. Id. Plaintiff was found guilty of both rule violations based on the statement of Officer Kern. Id. Plaintiff received one month of segregation, a one month demotion to C grade, and a one month commissary restriction. (Doc. 6, p. 16; Doc. 6-1, p. 4).

         C/O Mezzo and C/O John Doe then placed Plaintiff in segregation with a cellmate who had recently been quarantined for chicken pox. (Doc. 6, pp. 18-19). The officers disregarded the rules for double-celling contagious and non-contagious inmates. (Doc. 6, p. 19). In addition, the cell was filthy, and Plaintiff was given no cleaning supplies. Id.

         6. Denial of Mental Health Care

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges that he was denied adequate treatment for mental health issues at Menard. (Doc. 6, pp. 19-29). Plaintiff has been diagnosed with a “serious mental illness” that includes severe depression. (Doc. 6, pp. 20-21). He is required to see a mental health professional at least once a month and can request additional appointments if necessary. (Doc. 6, p. 21). He has repeatedly been denied mental health treatment for his depression at the prison, in violation of the Eighth Amendment and Illinois state law. Id.

         On an undisclosed date, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Doctor Weatherford, explaining that he was depressed and needed to meet with the doctor to work through the “breakdown.” Id. The doctor responded by writing a letter denying his request for treatment because Menard was on lockdown. Id. When he eventually met with Doctor Weatherford, Plaintiff explained that he was feeling severely depressed, helpless, and hopeless. Id. Doctor Weatherford refused to treat Plaintiff and instructed him to write to Doctor Butler instead. (Doc. 6, pp. 21-22).

         Plaintiff wrote a long letter to Doctor Butler. (Doc. 6, p. 21). There, he described his feelings of severe depression, helplessness, and hopelessness. (Doc. 6, p. 22). Doctor Butler returned the letter with a response indicating that she had read his letter. Id. She did not, however, meet with him to discuss it. Id.

         He wrote Doctor Butler a second letter, which the doctor interpreted as an “angry” communication. Id. In response, Doctor Butler met with Plaintiff in the HCU. Id. Plaintiff asked the doctor why she refused to see him after reviewing his first letter, and the doctor sarcastically responded, “I'm here now.” (Doc. 6, pp. 23, 27). Plaintiff then told Doctor Butler that “she had failed him and let him down by not seeing him.” Id.

         Doctor Butler had Plaintiff placed in a “strip cell” for five days without clothing. Id. Plaintiff asserts that the purpose of the strip cell was to punish inmates who suffer from mental illness and cause them to suffer additional emotional distress. Id. During the five days he spent in the strip cell, Plaintiff was never re-evaluated. (Doc. 6, p. 24).

         Nurse Papis then cleared him from “mental health close watch/observation status” and ordered his return to segregation. (Doc. 6, pp. 24-26). The nurse allegedly lacked the training or expertise necessary to make this decision, which Doctor Weatherford later confirmed. (Doc. 6, p. 25). Plaintiff wrote letters to complain about his continued denial of mental health treatment to Warden Butler, Doctor Trost, Doctor Butler, and Nurse Walls. Id. They ignored his letters. Id.

         At some point, Plaintiff wrote another “angry” letter to Doctor Butler. (Doc. 6, p. 27). When Doctor Butler asked Plaintiff whether he believed and meant what he said in the letter, he assured her that he did. Id. Doctor Butler deemed him to be a suicide risk and decided that he required further observation. Id. He was again placed in the strip cell for seven days pursuant to Doctor Butler's orders. Id.

         During this same time period, Plaintiff put in several requests to see Doctor Trost about chest pains. When he was finally seen, Doctor Trost ordered x-rays for a possible chest fracture. (Doc. 6, p. 28). Nurse Walls ultimately diagnosed him with stress-induced chest pains. Id. He asserts no ...

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