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James v. Baldwin

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 19, 2017

NED JAMES, # K-91930, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN BALDWIN, KIM BUTLER, C/O GARNER, C/O BARKER, NANCY TOVAR, and MINH T. SCOTT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) currently incarcerated at Pontiac Correctional Center (“Pontiac”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His claims arose while he was confined at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”). Plaintiff claims that he was sexually assaulted and denied due process in the proceedings over a disciplinary ticket. He also raises a state law tort claim based on the assault. The Complaint is now before the Court for a preliminary review 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

         On June 14, 2016, Plaintiff was ordered by unidentified Menard officers to terminate the telephone call he was on because he was going to segregation. (Doc. 1, p. 3). He was not given a reason for this move. When he was placed in punitive segregation on that day, Plaintiff went on crisis watch. He told the crisis watch officer to “put down his witness which was Plaintiff['s] call log to his pin number.” Id.

         Fifteen days later, on June 29, 2016, the Adjustment Committee held a hearing on Plaintiff's disciplinary ticket. Plaintiff objected because the hearing was not held within the 14-day time limit required by IDOC rules, and he asked for the ticket to be expunged. The Committee declined to expunge the ticket and found Plaintiff guilty of (107) sexual misconduct. (Doc. 1, p. 4). The hearing report was falsified to state that the hearing was held on June 21, 2016. Plaintiff's telephone call log was never investigated, and his witness was not called. He blames Lieutenant Scott for these failures. (Doc. 1, p. 6).

         Plaintiff filed a grievance over the disciplinary action. The Administrative Review Board agreed with Plaintiff's assertion that the hearing had actually been held on June 29 hearing date, but nonetheless denied his grievance. Plaintiff claims that these events violated his right to due process.

         On July 8, 2016, C/O Garner and C/O Barker came to Plaintiff's cell, handcuffed him, and told him he was “moving behind the cell door on 6 Gallery.” (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5). While Plaintiff's hands were cuffed, Garner pulled down Plaintiff's boxers and stuck his fingers in Plaintiff's anus several times. Plaintiff was yelling and screaming during this incident, but nobody came to his assistance. Plaintiff immediately requested medical attention, but he was not allowed to see a nurse until several days later. (Doc. 1, p. 5).

         Based on the incident with Garner and Barker, Plaintiff asserts an Eighth Amendment claim for cruel and unusual punishment, as well as an Illinois state law claim for assault and battery. (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6).

         Plaintiff states that he suffers from a serious mental illness (he does not elaborate further). He claims that due to this condition, he has suffered mental anguish and loss of sleep following the alleged assault and due process violation. (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 6).

         Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and an order of protection from Menard staff. (Doc. 1, p. 9).

         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: Fourteenth Amendment due process claim against Scott for failing to call Plaintiff's witness or investigate his call log in connection with Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing of June 29, 2016, and ...

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