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Johnson v. Kruse

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 10, 2017

ANTHONY JOHNSON, # 38654-044, Plaintiff,
v.
DOUGLAS KRUSE, ZELDA BELL, S. MICKELSON, M. WARREN, LIEUTENANT HORZEWSKI, JAMES CROSS, OFFICER MILES, J. ASHMORE, and S. WHITE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff is a transgender individual[1] who was an inmate in the FCI-Greenville when she brought this action for alleged violations of her constitutional rights by persons acting under the color of federal authority. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). She was recently transferred to the FCI-Terre Haute, Indiana. (Doc. 4). This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Under § 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out non-meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must 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).

         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 “no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit.” 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. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         After fully considering the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint, the Court concludes that this action is subject to summary dismissal. However, Plaintiff shall be given an opportunity to submit an amended complaint in order to cure the defects in her pleading.

         Background

         Plaintiff has a previously-filed action now pending in this Court, Johnson v. Robinson, et al., Case No. 15-cv-298-JPG-RJD. That case involves allegations that Plaintiff was put at risk of harm by several cell placements, in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and was denied equal protection in her cell assignments, in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Defendants in that action are Greenville officials Rosalind Robinson and Waleska Lirios. Neither of these individuals is named as a Defendant in the case at bar. However, the statement of facts in the present Complaint includes a number of allegations against Robinson, presumably as background, which duplicate the matters already before this Court in Case No. 15-298.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria (GD), and has serious medical needs that require regular medication. She was deprived of some necessary medication/products for hair removal or to prevent hair growth while at Greenville. (Doc. 1, p. 3). Her transgender status makes her vulnerable to assault, abuse, and discrimination, particularly in the prison environment. “Defendants” (whom Plaintiff refers to collectively throughout the Complaint) knew Plaintiff was diagnosed with GD and was a transgender individual. Defendants also knew that Plaintiff was HIV-positive and asked her whether she was taking her HIV medication as prescribed.

         Rosalind Robinson (a Defendant in Case No. 15-298, who is not named as a Defendant herein) screened Plaintiff upon her arrival at Greenville in July 2012 and was responsible for making Plaintiff's housing assignments. The first cell chosen by Robinson put Plaintiff in danger from two gang-member cellmates who threatened Plaintiff with physical harm if she entered the cell. (Doc. 1, p. 4). Next, Plaintiff spent 2 months in an 8-man cell, where her top-bunk placement led to threats and attacks by cellmates because Plaintiff had to use the bathroom frequently at night due to her medical condition. She often did not make it to the toilet in time, and accidentally urinated and/or defecated on the inmate who occupied the lower bunk. Robinson ignored Plaintiff's privacy concerns about being housed with 7 other male inmates. Plaintiff also fell off the top bunk and damaged certain implants placed in her body. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff was denied a bottom-bunk pass by some unidentified prison official. (Doc. 1, p. 4).

         Plaintiff was eventually admitted into Greenville's reentry program and was then placed in a 2-man cell. (Doc. 1, p. 5). In that placement, Plaintiff was celled with a homosexual male inmate (Davis), which was satisfactory to her and Davis. Robinson, however, tried to cause problems between them and encouraged Davis to move out, by disclosing Plaintiff's HIV status to Davis, and causing Davis to be fired from his job and lose good-time credit.

         “Defendants” told Plaintiff that “they considered her a male and did not condone or approve of her transgender status.” (Doc. 1, p. 5). Such comments, including Defendants' disclosure of Plaintiff's HIV status, were made in the presence of other inmates, “in an attempt to embarrass and humiliate Plaintiff.” (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). Defendants denied Plaintiff's request that she be allowed to participate in the selection of cellmates.

         Plaintiff was singled out for cell inspections and had to undergo those inspections more often than other inmates. She asserts these inspections/searches were done in order to harass her or to retaliate against her for “filing complaints.” (Doc. 1, p. 5). She was written up for having contraband, and lost good conduct time as well as other privileges as a result.

         Plaintiff's email and regular mail has been “interfered with or diverted, including communications with his attorneys in ...


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