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Dorsey v. Washington

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

October 20, 2017

JAMES DORSEY, Plaintiff,
v.
TIMOTHY WASHINGTON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         James Dorsey is an inmate at Stateville Correctional Center. He claims to have written letters to two prison counselors, Timothy Washington and Ada Johnson, in which he described problems with his cellmate and requested a new cell assignment. Dorsey claims that Washington shared the letters with other inmates and that the letters have earned him the reputation of being a "snitch, " a dangerous reputation to hold in prison. Dorsey argues Washington's decision to share the letters violated the Eighth Amendment by showing deliberate indifference to his safety.

         Washington denies all of this: he says he never received the letters, did not distribute them to other inmates, and did not know that snitches fare poorly in prison. He has moved for summary judgment. Because a genuine dispute of material fact exists for Dorsey's claim, the Court denies Washington's motion for summary judgment.

         Background

         Dorsey is serving a life sentence at Stateville Correctional Center for kidnapping and murder. In 2012, Cornelius Brown was assigned to Dorsey's cell. Dorsey and his cellmate began to argue, but Dorsey claims he did not want their arguments to become physical. Instead, Dorsey wrote two letters: one to Ada Johnson and another to Timothy Washington, both counselors at the prison. To ensure that the letters were only seen by their intended recipients, Dorsey claims he folded and taped the letters, addressed them properly, and watched to ensure that each was collected by prison staff. Inmates play no role in collecting or distributing mail. Dorsey claims that, after he sent the letters, Washington spoke to him about his cellmate assignment.

         Several weeks after preparing the letters, Dorsey was surprised to learn that his letters were in the possession of other inmates, who read them aloud. For attempting to resolve his problems through prison administrators, Dorsey gained the reputation of being a "snitch." Dorsey alleges that Washington shared the letters because he was affiliated with the Vice Lords gang, as was Dorsey's cellmate. Washington denies any affiliation with the gang. Now that the letters have been released, Dorsey claims that he spends his days in fear of being assaulted or killed in retaliation.

         Washington denies he ever received Dorsey's letters. Accordingly, he denies ever giving the letters to the other inmates. He also denies knowing whether there is animosity towards snitches or whether a snitch may be subject to retaliation by other inmates.

         Discussion

         Dorsey claims that Washington's decision to share his letters with other inmates violated the Eighth Amendment by showing "deliberate indifference" to the "substantial risk of serious harm" to which he exposed Dorsey. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 842 (1994). Washington has moved for summary judgment on Dorsey's claim. A party is entitled to summary judgment if it "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the evidence of the nonmovant is to believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014).

         Washington has moved for summary judgment on three grounds. First, Washington argues Dorsey has not offered evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that he received the letters, chose to share the letters, or knew that sharing the letters would expose Dorsey to a risk of harm. Second, he argues Dorsey's claim for monetary remedies is barred by Eighth Amendment doctrine and the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e). Third, Washington contends Dorsey has named the wrong party for injunctive relief, as he lacks the authority to transfer Dorsey to another prison.

         For reasons that follow below, the Court denied Washington's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Deliberate indifference

         Washington argues that summary judgment is warranted because Dorsey failed to present enough evidence to permit a reasonable jury to find that he received Dorsey's letters or that he distributed the letters to other inmates with deliberate indifference to the risks this posed to Dorsey. A prison official acts with deliberate indifference if he or she acts despite knowing of a substantial risk of serious harm to the prisoner. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 843. Prisoners may face a "substantial risk" if the risk is "attributable to detainees with known 'propensities' of violence toward a particular individual or class of individuals" or to "'highly probable' attacks." Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 911 (7th Cir. 2005). "Serious harm" must be objectively serious enough as to amount to a "denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834.

         First, Washington argues that Dorsey has not offered evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that he ever received Dorsey's letters. The Court disagrees. A reasonable jury could infer that Dorsey sent his letters to Washington and Johnson; Washington received his letter; and ...


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