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Gully v. Goines

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 29, 2017

RONNIE GULLY, Jr., Plaintiff,


          HERNDON, District Judge

         Plaintiff Ronnie Gully, Jr., an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center (“Lawrence”), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivations of his constitutional rights. In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that C/O Houser, C/O Hundley, and Assistant Warden Goines retaliated against him for filing grievances to complain about inappropriate sexual comments that Officer Houser made to him in July 2016. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-11). He brings claims against all three defendants under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. 1, p. 12). In connection with these claims, Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment, monetary damages, and injunctive relief. (Id.).

         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 the supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A; portions of this action are subject to summary dismissal. The Complaint (Doc. 1) otherwise survives screening under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that three Lawrence officials participated in a campaign of retaliation against him after he reported being sexually harassed by one of them in July 2016. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-11). Plaintiff filed grievances to complain about the incident and the conditions of his confinement beginning in mid-August. (Doc. 1, p. 6). In response, he was threatened by staff and issued false disciplinary tickets. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-11).

         In July 2016, an unidentified officer conducted a strip search of Plaintiff before visitation. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Approximately one hour into the visitation period, Plaintiff requested permission to use the restroom. Id. Officer Houser granted his request and escorted Plaintiff to the restroom. Id. Before returning to the visitation area, Officer Houser conducted another strip search of Plaintiff. Id.

         In the process, Officer Houser made inappropriate sexual comments to Plaintiff. (Doc. 1, p. 6). The officer allegedly encouraged Plaintiff to masturbate in front of him. Id. Plaintiff refused to do so, telling the officer that “he had the wrong one.” Id. Plaintiff was allowed to return to the visitation area without further incident. Id.

         In mid-August, Plaintiff wrote a grievance to complain about Officer Houser's conduct. (Doc. 1, p. 7). He addressed the grievance to Warden Goines but heard nothing from the warden for “months.” Id. When the warden finally responded, he appeared at Plaintiff's cell in segregation and told him that “internal affairs was looking into it.” Id.

         In the meantime, Plaintiff received a “subtle threat” from Officer Houser. (Doc. 1, p. 7). On August 20, 2016, Officer Houser approached Plaintiff in the chow hall and informed Plaintiff that he “got wind of the grievances.” Id. The officer told Plaintiff that he “was getting by, but would never get away.” Id.

         On August 22, 2016, Officer Reeves, a longtime colleague of Officer Houser, issued Plaintiff a disciplinary ticket for unauthorized movement. (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff's movement outside of his cell was allegedly lawful because he was visiting his attorney at the time. Id. Even so, he was found guilty of the rule violation and disciplined. Id. Plaintiff offers no details regarding his disciplinary hearing or punishment. Id.

         While confined in “solitude, ” Plaintiff filed several grievances to complain about the conditions of his confinement. (Doc. 1, p. 7). In the same grievances, Plaintiff expressed “fear” of “more fabricated disciplinary reports.” Id. He requested protective custody or a prison transfer. Id. Plaintiff filed the grievances with Warden Duncan, Warden Goines, and Lieutenant Wheeler “to no avail.” (Doc. 1, p. 8).

         Sarah Johnson, a member of the Administrative Review Board, received several of Plaintiff's grievance appeals between August 27, 2016 and January 25, 2017. (Doc. 1, pp. 7-8). She indicated that each grievance would be investigated by internal affairs. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Plaintiff was interviewed prior to his release from segregation, but his request for protective custody or a prison transfer was denied. Id. The internal affairs officers told Plaintiff “not to worry” about his reintegration into the general population because he “would be fine.” Id.

         After returning to the general population, Plaintiff had several “run-ins” with Officer Houser. (Doc. 1, p. 8). The officer initially seemed to follow or stalk Plaintiff and then began making more overt threats toward him. Id. On November 15, 2016, the officer conducted a “harassing” pat down of Plaintiff in his cell. Id. Plaintiff requested permission to speak with a crisis team, counselor, and/or zone lieutenant. Id. Plaintiff was then transferred to a different area of the prison on November 26, 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 9).

         On November 28, 2016, Officer Hundley approached Plaintiff and said that “he's been hearing [Plaintiff's] name throughout the institution.” (Doc. 1, p. 9). Officer Hundley asked Plaintiff to tell him about his problems with Officer Houser before commenting that Plaintiff “din't (sic) understand the can of worm's [he'd] opened by fucking with (Houser).” Id. Officer Hundley warned Plaintiff to “lay off him or he'd make [Plaintiff's] life a living hell.” Id.

         The following day, Officer Hundley called Plaintiff out of his cell for a medical sick call pass. (Doc. 1, p. 9). While escorting Plaintiff back to his cell, Officer Hundley suddenly exclaimed in a loud voice, “[I]f you ever do that again I'll walk your ass, no you know what pack your shit your going to seg (sic).” (Doc. 1, p. 9). Plaintiff asked the officer to explain what he was talking about. Id. Officer Hundley then accused Plaintiff of elbowing him. Id. Plaintiff was taken to segregation and issued a disciplinary ticket for assaulting an officer. Id. This offense allegedly carries significant penalties “consistent with a new criminal charge.” (Doc. 1, pp. 9-10). Penalties include up to three years of additional time in custody, one year of lost privileges and good time, and one year of solitary confinement. Id.

         On December 8, 2016, Plaintiff was interviewed by internal affairs. (Doc. 1, p. 10). The officers indicated that the ticket was “faulty and unrealistic.” Id. They told him “not to worry” because they would recommend dismissal of the ticket. Id. Plaintiff was released from segregation the following day. Id. However, he discovered that his personal property items, which were inventoried by Officer Hundley, were missing. Id.

         On December 12, 2016, Plaintiff was found guilty of insolence. (Doc. 1, p. 10). It is unclear whether this guilty finding related, in any way, to the incident involving Officer Hundley or was an entirely separate incident. Id. Plaintiff was punished with a loss of gym, commissary, phone, job, and transfer privileges. Id. This was particularly harsh punishment for Plaintiff, given that it occurred just before the holiday season. Id. Plaintiff filed a grievance to complain about the guilty finding for a rule violation he was never charged with in the first place. Id. He characterized it as “retaliatory.” Id.

         Plaintiff has since been “continuously . . . harassed [and] threatened with physical violence due to [his] perpetual filing of grievances.” (Doc. 1, p. 9). He has kept a log of these incidents. (Doc. 1, p. 10). His exhibits include a number of grievances addressing the allegations of harassment and retaliation already described herein. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 1-59).

         Plaintiff also complains that his grievances were improperly handled. (Doc. 1, p. 11). He blames this on a “structural error” in the in-house grievance process, which allows prison officials to manipulate the process in order to prevent inmates from obtaining relief in prison or in the courts. Id. Plaintiff challenges the ...

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