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Brown v. Dart

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 28, 2017

ERNEST C. BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS DART, Sheriff of Cook County; BILQIS JACOBS-EL, Director of the Cook County Department of Facilities Management; and CARA SMITH, Executive Director of Cook County Department of Corrections, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John Z. Lee, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Ernest Brown was incarcerated in the Cook County Jail (CCJ) for several weeks in 2014. He brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Thomas Dart, Bilqis Jacobs-El, and Cara Smith, alleging deliberate indifference to the unconstitutional conditions of his confinement. Defendants have filed a motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6) seeking to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is denied.

         Factual Background[[1]]

         Plaintiff was incarcerated within Division 6 of the CCJ for three weeks in February and November of 2014. Am. Compl. ¶ 17, ECF No. 39. Throughout Plaintiff's incarceration, Defendant Dart was the Sheriff of Cook County, Defendant Jacobs-El was the Director of the Cook County Department of Facilities Management, and Defendant Smith was the Executive Director of the Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC). Id. ¶¶ 4-6.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Specifically, he alleges that his cell had inadequate heating, that he and other inmates had inadequate access to hygienic facilities like toilets, sinks, and showers, and that those same hygienic facilities were overrun with mold, mildew, lime, and drain flies. Id. ¶¶ 19-20, 29. Moreover, according to Plaintiff, mice and cockroaches were present throughout Division 6, including in Plaintiff's cell, id. ¶ 21, and he was provided inadequate shoes and an inadequate mattress, which caused him to sustain various stress injuries. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. In addition, Plaintiff was denied sufficient food, as well as prompt and adequate medical treatment for various injuries that occurred during his incarceration (including the stress injuries and a separate hand injury). Id. ¶¶ 24-25. Last, Plaintiff alleges that he was charged by the commissary for goods that he did not receive, that he was denied access to the law library, and that he was denied access to the religious services of his choice. Id. ¶¶ 26-27.

         During his stay in Division 6, Plaintiff filed multiple grievances detailing complaints about conditions within the CCJ. See id. ¶¶ 27, 29-30. He alleges that Defendants and the CCJ staff did not substantively respond to those grievances or remedy the referenced conditions. See id. He also asserts that “others repeatedly notified Deputy Cook County Sheriffs on many occasions” of the conditions within the CCJ. Id. ¶ 30. The other inmates received similarly inadequate responses. Id. ¶¶ 29-30.

         On November 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint bringing a single count under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Dart, Jacobs-El, and Smith in their individual and official capacities. He claims that he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement during his incarceration in Division 6, and he argues that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to these conditions in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

         Legal Standard

         A motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint. Bell v. City of Country Club Hills, 841 F.3d 713, 716 (7th Cir. 2016). Rule 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, which is sufficient to provide the defendant with fair notice of the claim and its basis.” Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). “In determining a complaint's sufficiency, [a court will] construe it in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, accept well-pleaded facts as true, and draw all inferences in [the nonmovant's] favor.” Zahn, 815 F.3d at 1087 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         A complaint, however, must still contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. Furthermore, a court need not “accept as true any legal assertions or recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements.” Zahn, 815 F.3d at 1087 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Analysis

         I. Individual Capacity Claims

         In bringing his individual capacity claims, Plaintiff alleges that each of the Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to the conditions of his confinement, in that they ignored court decrees, guidelines and directives, and inmate grievances-including Plaintiff's own grievances-describing the objectively unconstitutional conditions within Division 6. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29-31. Defendants have moved to dismiss the individual capacity claims against them, arguing that they cannot be held personally liable to Plaintiff for the conditions of his confinement. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss at 5-6, ECF No. 52. Specifically, Defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed to allege that they possessed subjective knowledge of the conditions that he faced, because he only attributed knowledge of “general facts” to them in his complaint. Id. Where those “general facts” involve systemic conditions throughout Division 6, however, Defendants are mistaken. As such, accepting the complaint's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has stated a plausible claim for relief.

         In order to state a claim for unconstitutional conditions of confinement, Plaintiff must allege that (1) there was an objectively serious deprivation “result[ing] in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, ” and (2) the defendant prison officials were “deliberately indifferent to this state of affairs.” Gray v. Hardy, 826 F.3d 1000, 1005 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted).[2] Deliberate indifference to an unconstitutional prison condition may be found where an official knows about the condition and ...


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