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Vargas v. Smith

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 10, 2017

JOSE A. VARGAS, #11190-089, Plaintiff,
v.
LIEUTENANT SMITH and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT United States District Judge.

         During his incarceration at the Federal Correctional Institution located in Greenville, Illinois (“FCI-Greenville”), Plaintiff Jose Vargas brought this action pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-2680, and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was attacked by a gang known as the “Latin Folks” one week after being released from protective custody into the general prison population in August 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff sustained a serious head injury, which the prison's medical staff allegedly failed to properly treat. Id. In connection with these events, he asserts a claim under the FTCA against the United States and an Eighth Amendment claim against Lieutenant Smith. Id. Plaintiff seeks monetary relief. (Doc. 1, p. 6).

         This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint (Doc. 1) 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). The Complaint survives screening under this standard.

         The Complaint

         At his request, Plaintiff was placed in protective custody in the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”) at FCI-Greenville when he transferred there in June 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff notified prison officials that the Latin Folks had targeted him for attack, and his life was in danger. Id. He remained in protective custody until August 2, 2016. Id.

         On that date, Lieutenant Smith pulled Plaintiff from his cell and notified him that he was being transferred into the general prison population. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff informed Lieutenant Smith that he would be assaulted by the Latin Folks, if he was placed in the general population. Id. But the lieutenant explained that Plaintiff's threat assessment was deemed “unverified” after members of the gang said they had no intention of harming him. Id. Plaintiff warned Lieutenant Smith that this was simply a ruse aimed at securing Plaintiff's release into the general population so that the gang could carry out its plan to attack him. Id. Lieutenant Smith was unpersuaded by these comments. Id. He transferred Plaintiff anyway. Id.

         On August 9, 2016, the Latin Folks “savagely attacked” Plaintiff. (Doc. 1, p. 5). He sustained serious head injuries during the attack. Id. Even so, prison medical personnel did not send Plaintiff to the hospital for immediate evaluation and treatment, even after he asked them to do so. Id. He does not describe what medical care was provided on site at the prison, if any. Id. However, Plaintiff alleges that he still suffers from headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision. Id.

         Plaintiff now brings a claim for money damages against the United States under the FTCA, based on the negligence of the prison officials. (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). In addition, he asserts an Eighth Amendment claim against Lieutenant Smith under Bivens. Id.

         Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         To facilitate the orderly management of future proceedings in this case and in accordance with the objectives of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(e) and 10(b), the Court has organized the claims in Plaintiff's pro se Complaint into the following counts:

Count 1 - Defendant United States, by and through the negligence of Defendant Lieutenant Smith, is liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act for failing to protect Plaintiff from an ...

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