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Bentz v. Lindenberg

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 27, 2017

DAVID ROBERT BENTZ, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD LINDENBERG, VIRGIL SMITH, KIMBERLY BUTLER, MICHAEL MONJE, and JOHN TROST, M.D., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.

         Plaintiff David Robert Bentz, an inmate in the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC), ” filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging his constitutional rights were violated while he was incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”). More specifically, in his complaint, Bentz alleges that he was harassed, threatened, and assaulted by correctional officers Donald Lindenberg and Virgil Smith, that these officers, as well as Dr. John Trost, failed to provide medical treatment for his injuries following the assault, and that Lieutenant Michael Monje failed to protect him. After a screening of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, Bentz was allowed to proceed on the following claims:

Count One: Defendants Lindenberg and Smith conspired to retaliate against Bentz for filing grievances and lawsuits by using threats, intimidation, and physical force against him, in violation of the First Amendment;
Count Two: Defendants Lindenberg and Smith used excessive force against Bentz on August 29, 2014 and December 10, 2014, in violation of the Eighth Amendment;
Count Three: Defendants Lindenberg, Smith, Trost, and Doe #1 displayed deliberate indifference toward Bentz's medical needs when they denied his requests for medical care for obvious head injuries following the assault on August 29, 2014, in violation of the Eighth Amendment;
Count Four: Defendant Monje failed to protect Bentz from an excessive risk of assault, in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and
Count Five: Defendants Lindenberg and Smith are liable under Illinois tort law for assault and/or battery.

         The warden of Menard, Kimberly Butler, was also added as a defendant, but only in her official capacity for purposes of securing injunctive relief (Doc. 8, p. 6).[1] Bentz failed to file an amended complaint identifying John Doe #1, despite being advised to do so by October 23, 2015 (see Doc. 52, p. 3). As such, Bentz has failed to properly prosecute his case as to John Doe #1 and, pursuant to Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, this defendant will be dismissed with prejudice. See Lucien v. Breweur, 9 F.3d 26, 28 (7th Cir. 1993) (dismissal is a “feeble sanction” if it is without prejudice). The remaining Defendants, Dr. John Trost, Donald Lindenberg, Kimberly Butler, Michael Monje, and Virgil Smith, all filed motions for summary judgment that are now before the Court (Docs. 81 and 94, respectively).

         After carefully considering the briefs and all of the evidence submitted by the parties, Defendant Trost's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 81) is granted, and Defendants Lindenberg, Butler, Monje, and Smith's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 94) is granted in part and denied in part.

         Factual Background

         Bentz's claims in this case date back to November 2013 when Bentz asserts he began enduring ongoing and continuous harassment by Defendant Correctional Officers Donald Lindenberg and Virgil Smith (Deposition of Plaintiff David Robert Bentz, [2] Doc. 82-1, p. 14). Bentz, unable to cite specific occurrences, testified generally that Defendant Lindenberg threatened to “beat his ass” on a daily basis, and Defendant Smith tried to incite him or flip him off due to Bentz's filing lawsuits (Id.).

         This harassment seemingly culminated on August 29, 2014, when Bentz contends he was assaulted by Defendants Lindenberg and Smith (Id. at pp. 15-16). According to Bentz, this assault transpired in the healthcare unit at Menard while Bentz was waiting on a bench outside of the lab room to be seen by Defendant Dr. Trost for injuries sustained to the left side of his head and neck in a separate assault that occurred on May 11, 2014 (Id. at pp. 6, 17). More specifically, on August 29, 2014, after Defendant Lindenberg assaulted another inmate in the lab room, he came to the bench where Bentz was seated, asked Bentz what he was looking at, and then proceeded to punch Bentz in the chest, grab him by the throat, and drag Bentz outside of the healthcare unit (Id. at p. 21). As Defendant Lindenberg began dragging Bentz by the throat, Defendant Smith assisted, and the two pushed and shoved Bentz down the hall, outside the healthcare unit, causing Bentz to hit his head on various objects, including a crank box (Id. pp. 21-24). Once Bentz was outside of the healthcare unit, Defendant Smith retreated back, and Defendant Lindenberg proceeded to hit Bentz's head on the bars in “the flag” area (Id. at p. 26). Defendant Lindenberg then let Bentz go and, as Bentz proceeded down the stairs to his cell, he told Defendant Lindenberg that he wanted to see someone for medical care (Id.). Bentz never spoke to Defendant Smith on the date of the assault (Id.).

         Following the assault on August 29, 2014, Bentz suffered pain in his neck, and the right temple area of his head was bruised and red (Doc. 82-1, p. 26). Bentz also asserts that the injuries sustained in the August 2014 assault re-aggravated injuries sustained in the May 2014 assault, as the injuries were inflicted on the left side of Bentz's head, neck, and shoulder (Id. at pp. 4-6).

         With regard to his medical treatment, Bentz complains that Defendant Dr. Trost rendered care for the injuries sustained in the May assault, but failed to provide necessary care for the injuries sustained in the August assault (see Id . at pp. 4, 7). Bentz asserts that he was examined by Defendant Dr. Trost on October 3, 2014, and Defendant Dr. Trost noted Bentz's complaints of left neck pain, swelling, and weakness since May 2014 (Id. at p. 7; see Bentz's Medical Records, Doc. 82-3, p. 4).

         Bentz also complained about the injuries sustained in the August 2014 incident; however, there is no notation regarding his complaints in Bentz's medical records (Doc. 82-1, p. 7; see Doc. 82-3, p. 4). While there are disputes as to what occurred at this examination, the Court must construe the facts in Bentz's favor, because he is the non-movant. See Chaib v. Geo Group, Inc., 819 F.3d 337, 341 (7th Cir. 2016) (citations omitted). At his deposition, Bentz testified that Defendant Dr. Trost “didn't really examine anything, ” but indicated that Dr. Trost looked at both sides of his neck, visually examined him, [3] prescribed Ibuprofen, and scheduled him for an x-ray of his neck (Doc. 82-1, pp. 7-8). Defendant Dr. Trost then ordered that he follow up in two weeks (Id. at p. 7; see Doc. 82-3, p. 4). Bentz complains that Defendant Dr. Trost ignored his jaw issues after he explained that it had been popping and causing him pain (Doc. 82-1, p. 8). Per Defendant Dr. Trost's orders, Bentz received an x-ray of his cervical spine on October 10, 2014, which did not reveal any abnormalities (Id. at p. 9; see Doc. 82-3, p. 17). Bentz was not examined by Defendant Dr. Trost again during the relevant time period regarding his August 2014 injuries; however, Bentz was regularly examined by other medical providers throughout 2014 and 2015 for other conditions (see generally Doc. 82-3).

         Bentz had another run-in with Defendant Lindenberg on December 10, 2014, while he was exiting the healthcare area (Doc. 82-1, p. 27). During this encounter, Defendant Lindenberg grabbed Bentz's head and tried to slam it into the bars in the “flag” area outside of the healthcare unit (Id.).

         Bentz asserts that he informed Defendant Monje, a lieutenant in internal affairs, about Defendant Lindenberg's harassment and threats to “beat his ass” on June 27, 2014, prior to the alleged assaults, but that his complaints were ignored (Doc. 82-1, p. 28; Doc. 143, p. 10). Bentz also contends that he wrote grievances regarding the harassment and threats being made by Defendant Lindenberg. These grievances were forwarded to internal affairs and would have gone to Defendant Monje, because they involved staff assaults (Doc. 82-1, p. 29).

         Defendants' motions for summary judgment are now ripe for review. The Court notes that Defendants Lindenberg and Smith do not seek judgment as a matter of law as to Counts 2 or 5, Bentz's claim of excessive force and his Illinois state law claim for assault and/or battery. As such, these claims will not be discussed further.

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper only if the moving party can demonstrate “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); see also Ruffin-Thompkins v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2005); Black Agents & Brokers Agency, Inc., v. Near North Ins. Brokerage, Inc., 409 F.3d 833, 836 (7th Cir. 2005). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no material facts are in genuine dispute; any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue must be resolved against the moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress &Co., 398 U.S. 144, 160 (1970); see also Lawrence v. Kenosha County, 391 F.3d 837, 841 (7th Cir. 2004).

         A moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law where the non-moving party “has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. The Seventh Circuit has stated that summary judgment “is the put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of events.” Steen v. Myers et. al, 486 F.3d 1017, 1022 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hammel v. Eau Galle Cheese Factory, 407 F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2005) (other citations omitted)).

         Discussion

         I. Count 1: Conspiracy to retaliate in violation of the First Amendment

         While civil conspiracy claims are cognizable under § 1983, see Lewis v. Washington, 300 F.3d 829, 831 (7th Cir. 2002) (recognizing conspiracy claim under § 1983), conspiracy is not an independent basis of liability in § 1983 actions. See Smith v. Gomez, 550 F.3d 613, 617 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Cefalu v. Village of Elk Grove, 211 F.3d 416, 423 (7th Cir. 2000)). “For liability under § 1983 to attach to a conspiracy claim, defendants must conspire to deny plaintiffs their constitutional rights.” Hill v. Shobe, 93 F.3d 418, 422 (7th Cir. 1996).

         Here, Bentz argues that Defendants Lindenberg and Smith conspired to retaliate against him for filing grievances and lawsuits by threatening him, intimidating him, and ultimately assaulting him, in violation of the First Amendment. In order to succeed on his conspiracy claim, Bentz must demonstrate: (1) Defendants Lindenberg and Smith had an express or implied agreement to deprive him of his constitutional rights, and (2) he was deprived of his constitutional rights by Defendants' overt actions in furtherance of ...


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