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Morton v. Dart

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

October 23, 2017

THOMAS J. DART, et. al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Andrew James Morton brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by subjecting him to unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Before the Court is the motion to dismiss Plaintiff's first amended complaint for failure to state a claim [64] filed by Defendants Bilquis Jacobs-El and James Morrison (“Defendants”). Plaintiff brings claims against Defendant Jacobs-El and Morrison in their individual capacities, alleging that they unconstitutionally subjected him to cold temperatures (Count III) and mold (Count V) while he was incarcerated at Cook County Jail.[1] In the alternative, Plaintiff brings claims against Defendant Jacobs-El in her official capacity as Director of the Cook County Department of Facilities Management (“DFM”), alleging that the Cook County Department of Corrections (“CCDOC”) and DFM had the practice of exposing inmates to extreme cold (Count IV) and ignoring mold in cells and communal showers (Count VI), which were conditions of confinement objectively serious enough to be unconstitutional. Counts IV and VI are also brought against Defendant Thomas J. Dart, the Sheriff of Cook County, in his official capacity. But Defendant Dart did not move to dismiss these claims.

         Defendants Jacobs-El and Morrison both seek to dismiss the claims Plaintiff brings against them in their individual capacities (Counts III and V), arguing that Plaintiff fails to allege that either Jacobs-El or Morrison were personally involved in depriving Plaintiff of his constitutional rights. Defendant Jacobs-El further seeks to dismiss claims brought against her in her official capacity (Counts IV and VI), arguing that she cannot be sued in an official capacity because she is an official of a non-suable entity. For the reasons stated below, the motion [64] is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed his first amended complaint (the “Amended Complaint”) on March 27, 2017 bringing claims against multiple defendants for certain conditions of confinement he was forced to endure while he was a pre-trial detainee at Division 6 of Cook County Jail (“CCJ”) from February 2015 to May 2015 and from October 2015 to June 2016. [1, at ¶13.] While Plaintiff was at CCJ, he was exposed to “severe and prolonged pest infestations, mold, sustained lack of heat and cold temperatures, and excessive noise.” Id. at ¶ 17. These conditions were not isolated to one cell, but existed at the same severity regardless of the cell or housing unit in which Plaintiff was placed. Id. at ¶ 18.

         Plaintiff alleges that he and other inmates at CCJ were exposed to severe cold during the winter months, posing a substantial risk to their health and safety. Id. at ¶¶ 30-31. The temperature in Plaintiff's cell frequently fell below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and sometimes reached temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Id. at ¶ 33. Plaintiff also alleges that he and other inmates at CCJ were exposed to mold that was in their jail cells and the communal showers. Id. at ¶¶ 39, 41. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that mold was on the faucet in his cell, which was Plaintiff's only source of drinking water after his cell was locked for the night. Id. at ¶¶ 42-43. Mold was also growing on other parts of each cell inhabited by Plaintiff, including the toilets, the walls, and on the inside and outside of the air vents. Id. at ¶¶ 44-45. As a result of his constant exposure to cold temperatures and mold, Plaintiff suffered from “migraines, headaches, severe colds, swollen throats, frequent sleep deprivation, and experienced a feeling of weakness and other disease-like symptoms.” Id. at ¶¶ 38, 50.

         During the relevant time period, CCDOC and DFM were responsible for maintaining adequate heat, ventilation, and sanitary conditions at CCJ. Id. at ¶ 14. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Jacobs-El supervised DFM. Id. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Morrison was “an employee of DFM and was responsible for the maintenance of sanitary and other living conditions at Division 6 of CCJ.” Id. at ¶ 5.

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), such that the defendant is given “fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)) (alteration in original). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the “speculative level.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558. In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all of Plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor. Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007).

         III. Analysis


         Plaintiff alleges sufficient facts to show that Defendants Jacobs-El and Morrison were deliberately indifferent to systematic conditions that caused the Plaintiff's purported injuries. Defendants argue that because Plaintiff fails to describe or allege any specific action Defendants Jacobs-El and Morrison took to cause Plaintiff's purported injuries, Plaintiff fails to state a claim against these Defendants in their individual capacities. Although a § 1983 plaintiff must allege that a defendant being sued in his individual capacity was personally responsible for any alleged constitutional violation, Johnson v. Snyder, 444 F.3d 579, 583 (7th Cir. 2006), a “senior jail official who was not personally involved in the acts or omissions complained of nonetheless may be liable in his individual capacity if he can be expected to have either known of or participated in creating systemic inadequate conditions at the jail.” Warren v. Dart, 2010 WL 4883923, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 24, 2010); see also Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1429 (7th Cir. 1996) (holding that plaintiff could bring claims against senior jail officials where plaintiff alleged “systemic violations for which the [senior jail officials could] be expected to have personal responsibility”); Sanders v. Sheahan, 198 F.3d 626, 629 (7th Cir. 1999) (holding that "defendants such as the Sheriff and the Director of the Jail can realistically be expected to know about or participate in creating systematic jail conditions").

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not alleged these kinds of systemic violations. Specifically, Defendants argue that Plaintiff merely asserts that the purported constitutional violations were “systemic” without offering supporting allegations, such as allegations that other “specific detainees or divisions at CCJ” also experienced these unconstitutional conditions. But the conditions alleged here-extreme temperatures, mold in cells and communal showers-are the kinds of conditions that are by their very nature potentially systemic and not merely localized. Cf. Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 783 (7th Cir. 1999) (holding Plaintiff failed to allege systematic violations based on sporadic and short-term delays in the prisoner's receipt of his own personal mail). While a senior jail official may not be expected to have knowledge of delays in a specific prisoner's receipt of personal mail or a specific prisoner being prevented from attending religious services, senior jail officials would be expected to have knowledge of extreme temperatures or mold in the jail.

         For example, in Antonelli, the Seventh Circuit considered whether certain conditions were systemic, allowing for the inference that senior jail officials would be aware of the conditions. 81 F.3d at 1429. The court affirmed the dismissal of claims relating to allegations that jail officials prevented plaintiff from attending religious services, destroyed his personal property, and ignored his requests for psychological treatment, holding that these allegations were “clearly localized, non-systemic violations.” Id. The Court did not, however, reach the same conclusion with respect to allegations relating to excessive noise, failure to protect from cold temperatures, and pest infestations. Id. Because allegations with respect to these kinds of claims were potentially systemic, individual capacity suits with respect to these conditions could survive a motion to dismiss. Here, ...

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