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Knox v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 20, 2017

TED KNOX, #N92676, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Ted Knox, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 2). Plaintiff originally brought his claims in Knox v. Butler, et al., Case No. 17-cv-00494-SMY (S.D. Ill.) (“prior action”) on May 10, 2017. However, the Court severed that action into several separate cases pursuant to a Memorandum and Order dated May 31, 2017. (Doc. 1). The instant case addresses the claims designated as Count 4, which includes an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim and a First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendants Butler, Watkins, Susler, Best, Brooks, Trost, and Lashbrooks for exposing Plaintiff to environmental tobacco smoke between April 2015 and December 2016. (Doc. 2, pp. 9-11).

         This matter is now before the Court for a preliminary review of Count 4 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening - The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         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 any reasonable person would find meritless. 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. At this juncture, the factual allegations in the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff alleges that he was moved to Menard's North-2 Cell House on February 20, 2015, which he describes as a disciplinary housing unit. (Doc. 2, p. 14). This was despite his classification as an A-grade, medium security, and low aggression inmate. Id. He was placed in Cell #123 on 1-Gallery. Id. He was also informed that the gallery was reclassified for general population housing. Id.

         Prison officials allegedly subjected Plaintiff to “extreme hand-cuffing” procedures in the North-2 Cell House. (Doc. 2, p. 14). Plaintiff was cuffed every time he left the cell. Id. This procedure was not used in other units where Plaintiff was previously housed. Id.

         On or around April 1, 2015, Plaintiff first noticed the strong odor of environmental tobacco smoke (“ETS”). (Doc. 2, p. 14). The windows in the North-2 Cell House were opened on that date. Id. One of these windows was located directly across from Plaintiff's cell, and he could see prison guards smoking outside of the window. Id. Fumes filled the air. Id.

         Plaintiff filed regular complaints about the ETS with various Menard officials, including Defendants Butler, Watkins, Susler, Best, Brooks, Lashbrooks and Trost. (Doc. 2, p. 14). Plaintiff notified these officials that ETS entered his cell through the window and lingered. Id. He also informed them that his right lung once collapsed and remained partially collapsed after surgery. Id. He worried that ETS exposure would aggravate his respiratory condition in the future. Id.

         On June 22, 2015, Plaintiff told Defendant Butler that ETS was entering his cell through the open window and vents in his cell, and that it was allegedly causing him to suffer from severe headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath. (Doc. 2, p. 15). Plaintiff asked Defendant Butler to move him to another cell located in a smoke-free environment. Id. Defendant Butler told Plaintiff that she did not have time to discuss a move. Id. She explained that the North-2 Cell House would be empty if she moved everyone who had complaints about it. (Doc. 2, pp. 14-15).

         On July 14, 2015, Plaintiff again complained directly to Defendant Butler. (Doc. 2, p. 15). He indicated that the ETS was placing his future health in danger. Id. Plaintiff also informed Defendant Butler that Illinois Department of Correction's rules and regulations require the prison to be a smoke-free environment. Id. Defendant Butler ...

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