United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
R. HERNDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
currently incarcerated at Centralia Correctional Center
(“Centralia”), has brought this pro se
civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Plaintiff seeks class certification for this case. He raises
an Eighth Amendment claim that Defendants knowingly served
juice drinks contaminated with unsafe levels of benzene to
him and other Illinois prisoners for years, endangering their
health. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary
review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A .
§ 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).
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).
these standards, the Court finds that some of Plaintiff's
claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.
names as Defendants the current and former Directors of the
Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), the
Illinois Correctional Industries (“ICI”) program,
which manufactures processed food and beverages for use by
the IDOC, and a number of unknown parties (John/Jane Does).
(Doc. 11, pp. 2, 5). He describes the Unknown Defendants as
“wardens, dietary managers, and Illinois Correctional
Industry superintendents.” (Doc. 11, p. 2).
learned in 2016 that benzene, “a known hazardous
substance, ” had been discovered in beverages served to
prisoners in the IDOC. (Doc. 11, p. 3). According to
Plaintiff, the United States Environmental Protection Agency
has established 5 parts per billion as the maximum acceptable
level of benzene in drinking water, and has stated that
people who are exposed to benzene levels above this
concentration, even for “relatively short periods of
time, ” may develop anemia, nervous system disorders,
and immune system depression. Id. The FDA reported
in 1991 that benzene had been found in products which contain
a combination of sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid, citric
acid, or erthoribic acid, and called on manufacturers to take
measures to impede the formation of benzene in their
products. (Doc. 11, p. 4). In 2008, union members within the
IDOC raised concern about benzene in drink products, but the
IDOC continued to use the combination of benzoate
preservatives and ascorbic, citric, or erythoribic acid, in
beverages served in prisons.
filed a grievance over this issue, and was told in response
that he “can choose not to drink” the products.
(Doc. 11, p. 4). Soon thereafter, Centralia began to use
Prairie Farm juices. However, they switched back to IDOC
industry juices which included among their ingredients,
“sodium benzoate” and “ascorbic
alleges that the ICI and the John/Jane Doe ICI
superintendents have known since at least 1998 about the
research on the formation of benzene through the combination
of sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid, yet they failed to
ensure that their products did not contain benzene. (Doc. 11,
p. 5, ¶¶ 17-18). ICI and its superintendents
deliberately manufactured and distributed products to
Illinois prisoners despite their knowledge that they would
tend to contain unsafe benzene levels, placing prisoners'
health at risk. Id. Defendants Baldwin, Randle,
Snyder, and “John/Jane Doe” knew about the
health risks, but did nothing to address them. (Doc. 11, p.
5, ¶ 20). As a result, Plaintiff and other prisoners
were involuntarily exposed to benzene through the juices
served with their meals. This exposure created an
unreasonable risk to Plaintiff's and other prisoners'
health. Id. Plaintiff and other prisoners
experienced one or more of the following symptoms after
meals: vomiting, stomach irritation, dizziness, sleepiness,
convulsions, rapid or irregular heartbeat, and possibly
cancer. (Doc. 11, p. 6).
claims that the Defendants' actions and inaction created
an unreasonable risk to his health and the health of his
fellow inmates, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Doc
11, pp. 6-8). The exposure to benzene may also endanger their
future health. Prisoners were never informed by Defendants of
the health hazards they faced from consuming the juices.
seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as
declaratory and injunctive relief. (Doc. 11, p. 8).
Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A
on the allegations of the Complaint, 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: Eighth Amendment claim against Illinois Correctional
Industries, and the John/Jane Doe ICI Superintendents, for
deliberate indifference to the present and future health
risks to Plaintiff and other prisoners from consuming its
juice drinks, which contain ingredients that may produce
Count 2: Eighth Amendment claim against Baldwin, Taylor,
Randle, and Snyder, for deliberate indifference to the
present and future health risks to Plaintiff and other
prisoners from consuming ICI-produced juice drinks, which
contain ingredients that may produce benzene;
Count 3: Eighth Amendment claim against the John/Jane Doe
Wardens, and John/Jane Doe Dietary Managers, for deliberate
indifference to the present and future health risks to
Plaintiff and other prisoners from consuming ICI-produced
juice drinks, which contain ingredients that may produce
Plaintiff's allegations as true, Counts 1 and 2 shall
proceed for further review against some of the Defendants.
Count 3 also survives review under § 1915A, but cannot
go forward until one or ...