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Russell v. Mooney

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 7, 2017



          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge

         This matter is now before the Court for a merits review of Plaintiff Russell's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. This case, containing Counts 1-4, was severed on May 31, 2017, from the case jointly filed by Russell and former co-Plaintiff Corbin Jones, Jones & Russell v. Mooney, et al., Case No. 17-cv-349-JPG. (Doc. 1). Russell is currently incarcerated in the Jefferson County Justice Center (“the jail”). His pro se Complaint, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, includes claims that Russell was denied medication and treatment for his mental health conditions, was confined in a cell contaminated with another inmate's blood, was denied medical attention for possible exposure to disease, and was denied of out-of-cell recreation.

         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).

         Applying these standards, the Court finds that one of Russell's claims survives threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint (Doc. 2)

         The Complaint was submitted by Russell together with former co-Plaintiff Jones, and is presented in 2 distinct parts. The first section (Doc. 2, pp. 1-20) contains Russell's claims. The second section (containing 70 pages and found herein at Doc. 2, pp. 21-90), contains claims pertaining only to former co-Plaintiff Jones; therefore, that section of the pleading shall not be considered in this severed case. The merits review herein shall focus only on the claims presented in Russell's portion of the pleading, found at Doc. 2, pp. 1-20, and designated as Counts 1-4 in the severance order. (Doc. 1, p. 5).

         Russell alleges that on March 29, 2017, a cellmate (Joshua Heart) attempted to kill himself by cutting both his wrists (Doc. 2, pp. 13, 16, 18). Russell pressed the intercom button repeatedly to summon help, but no jail staff members responded until about 15-20 minutes later. (Doc. 2, pp. 10, 13, 16-18). While Russell was pressing the button, unnamed jail staff member(s) told him (presumably via the intercom) that he was lying, and to quit playing. (Doc. 2, pp. 10, 18). When Heart's bleeding became worse, Russell tore his underwear to make a tourniquet in an attempt to stop the bleeding. (Doc. 2, p. 18). The cell “look[ed] like a blood bath” after Heart cut himself, and Russell got Heart's blood all over his face, hands, and clothes. (Doc. 2, pp. 13, 16, 18). Heart is a “known drug addict” and intravenous meth user, so Russell asked to be tested for HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis-C, and tuberculosis. (Doc. 2, pp. 5, 13, 20). However, no such testing has been performed. Id.

         For at least 4 days after Heart's suicide attempt, the blood was not cleaned up from the cell or surrounding area, including the table where Russell and other prisoners eat their meals. (Doc. 2, pp. 5, 16). Thus, Russell's exposure to the cellmate's blood continued. Russell also mentions, without further explanation, that “they got me . . . laying on the floor where I found blood.” (Doc. 2, p. 16). Russell was allowed to shower, but was not given any cleaning supplies for the cell. (Doc. 2, pp. 14, 18).

         Russell had previously been diagnosed as bipolar, and suffers from depression, ADHD, and PTSD. (Doc. 2, pp. 17, 19). Since witnessing Heart's suicide attempt, Russell has experienced sleep disturbances, shaking, and cold sweats. (Doc. 2, pp. 16-17, 19-20). He requested Captain Mount and other staff to help him get mental health treatment, but his requests have been ignored. (Doc. 2, p. 19). Further, he has not received his regular prescription medication for his pre-existing mental health conditions. On or about March 29, 2017, Lt. Haynes laughed and joked about Heart's suicide attempt, saying he faked it, which upset Russell. (Doc. 2, p. 16).

         Russell also alleges that he “begged” to be allowed out of the cell for recreation, but Jennifer Roberts refused to let him out for 3 days in a row. (Doc. 2, pp. 14, 18). Instead, Roberts placed Russell “on lock down” for pressing the intercom, cursed him, and told him to stop pushing the button. (Doc. 2, pp. 14, 18).

         Russell seeks damages for the violations of his rights. (Doc. 2, pp. 7, 9). He also asks for “freedom.” (Doc. 2, p. 9).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         As explained in the order severing Russell's claims into the present action (Doc. 1), the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into the following counts. 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 as to their merit. Any other claim that is mentioned in the Complaint but not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice.

Count 1: Deliberate indifference claim against Mount for failing to provide Russell with treatment or medications for his diagnosed mental health conditions or for his mental health symptoms that developed after witnessing the cellmate's suicide attempt;
Count 2: Deliberate indifference claim for the failure to provide Russell with medical testing for communicable diseases following his exposure to ...

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