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Trainor v. Illinois Correctional Industry

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 14, 2017

COREY TRAINOR, # B-51552, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS CORRECTIONAL INDUSTRY, JOHN BALDWIN, GLADYSE TAYLOR, MICHAEL P. RANDLE, DONALD SNYDER, and UNKNOWN PARTY John/Jane Doe Wardens, Dietary Managers, and Illinois Correctional Industry Superintendents, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DAVID R. HERNDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, 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 .

         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 some of Plaintiff's claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff 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).

         Plaintiff 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.

         Plaintiff 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 acid.” Id.

         Plaintiff 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”[1] 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).

         Plaintiff 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.

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. (Doc. 11, p. 8).

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

         Based 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 benzene;
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 benzene.

         Accepting 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 ...


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