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Solano v. Bailey

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 22, 2017

ALLEN SOLANO, Plaintiff,


          David R. Herndon Judge.

         Plaintiff Allen Solano, an inmate currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center (“Pinckneyville”), brings this pro se action for alleged violations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that defendants conspired to violate his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by serving him a soy-based diet. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and fees.

         This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under Section 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court is required to 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). Upon review of the complaint, the Court will exercise its authority under § 1915A and summarily dismiss this action.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff entered the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) on April 2, 2015. (Doc. 1, p. 5). He started eating a soy-based diet at that time, to which he attributes headaches, constipation, gas, depression, and other mental injuries. (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). Plaintiff alleges that the named defendants conspired to violate plaintiff's rights when they instituted a policy to serve inmates a soy-based diet, refused to provide adequate medical care for the effects of consuming too much soy, refused to provide adequate nutrition, refused to serve inmates fresh fruit, and intentionally misplaced grievances. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff alleges that the defendants profit off the soy-based diet. (Doc. 1, p. 6).


         Based on the allegations, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se complaint into the following enumerated claims. 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 regarding their merit.

Count 1 - Eighth Amendment claim against defendants for deliberate indifference to plaintiff's health by serving him a soy diet;
Count 2 - Defendants conspired to serve plaintiff a soy diet in deliberate indifference to his health in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and,
Count 3 - Fourteenth Amendment claim against defendants for failing to respond to grievances regarding the soy diet.

         All three claims shall be dismissed at this time. As to Count 1, the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. Const., amend. VIII; see also Berry v. Peterman, 604 F.3d 435 (7th Cir. 2010). Prison conditions that deprive inmates of basic human needs, such as inadequate nutrition, health, or safety, may constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 346 (1981); see also James v. Milwaukee Cnty., 956 F.2d 696, 699 (7th Cir. 1992). Prison officials also violate the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment when their conduct demonstrates “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). A medical condition need not be life-threatening to be serious; rather, it can be a condition that would result in further significant injury or unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain if not treated. Gayton v. McCoy, 593 F.3d 610, 620 (7th Cir. 2010). The deliberate indifference standard is satisfied if the plaintiff shows that the prison official acted or failed to act despite the official's knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 842, 847 (1994).

         A number of courts have rejected inmates' claims that a soy diet puts them at risk of serious harm. In Harris v. Brown, the court appointed both attorneys and experts for the plaintiffs, but ultimately concluded after reviewing the expert reports and noting the ubiquity of soy in the American diet that “society today simply does not see soy protein as a risk to the general population, much less a serious risk.” No. 07-CV-3225, 2014 WL 4948229 at *4 (C.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 2014). The court granted summary judgment to the defendants, noting that even if it accepted the plaintiffs' expert opinions, they did not conclusively establish that soy protein created a risk, only that “the safety of soy is a topic of current debate and study.” Id. Other courts have also come to the same conclusion, albeit on a less developed record. See Riley-El v. Godinez, No. 13 C 8656, 2015 WL 4572322 at *4 (N.D. Ill. July 27, 2015) (“[T]he alleged risks posed by consuming a soy-rich diet to not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation.”); Munson v. Gaetz, 957 F.Supp.2d 951, 954 (S.D. Ill. 2013) (finding that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because no court has found soy to be harmful); Smith v. Rector, No. 13-cv-837, 2013 WL 5436371 (S.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 2013)(dismissing claim on vague allegations that prison meals contained too much soy); Adams v. Talbor, No. 12-2221, 2013 WL 5940630 (C.D. Ill. Nov. 6, 2013) (dismissing prisoner's claim that a soy based diet caused him to experience stomach problems).

         The court in Riley-El v. Godinez took a particularly nuanced approach: they permitted the plaintiff's claim that he had a serious medical condition for which soy was contraindicated to proceed, but dismissed plaintiff's claim regarding a soy diet as a condition of confinement. 2015 WL 4572322 at *4-*5. Here, plaintiff has only pleaded a conditions of confinement claim. While he has alleged that he suffered various medical symptoms, plaintiff has not alleged that any of the defendants even knew about his symptoms, much less that they were deliberately indifferent. He has not alleged that he suffers from any allergy or condition for which soy is contraindicated. The Court therefore construes plaintiff's claim strictly as a conditions of confinement claim. As a conditions of confinement claim, it fails. The alleged risks of a soy diet do not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation.

         Alternatively, the Court finds that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on the alleged general health risks of consuming soy. Qualified immunity shields government officials from liability where “their conduct does not violate ‘clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Hardaway v. Meyerhoff, 734 F.3d 740, 743 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). Court use a 2 part test to determine whether a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity: 1) whether the conduct complained of violates the constitution; 2) whether the right was clearly established ...

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