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Morris v. Trost

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 24, 2017

ROBERT E. MORRIS, #R-71372, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Robert E. Morris, an inmate currently housed at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff's allegations can be divided into three sets of claims: (1) Plaintiff's chronic back pain and related medical permit for two mattresses; (2) Plaintiff's placement in segregation in connection with refusing a tuberculosis test in December 2016; and (3) constitutional violations stemming from Plaintiff's suicide attempt. In connection with these claims, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages. (Doc. 1, p. 15).

         This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint (Doc. 1) 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 of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         As a part of screening, the Court is also allowed to sever unrelated claims against different defendants into separate lawsuits. See George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). In George, the Seventh Circuit emphasized that the practice of severance is important, “not only to prevent the sort of morass” produced by multi-claim, multi-defendant suits “but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Id. This practice is encouraged. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has recently warned district courts not to allow inmates “to flout the rules for joining claims and defendants, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 18, 20, or to circumvent the Prison Litigation Reform Act's fee requirements by combining multiple lawsuits into a single complaint.” Owens v. Godinez, 860 F.3d 434, 436 (7th Cir. 2017). See also Wheeler v. Talbot, No. 15-3325, 2017 WL 2417889 (7th Cir. June 5, 2017) (district court should have severed unrelated and improperly joined claims or dismissed one of them). Consistent with George, Owens, and Wheeler, improperly joined parties and/or claims will be severed into new cases, given new case numbers, and assessed separate filing fees.

         The Complaint

         As noted above, Plaintiffs Complaint can be divided into three sets of claims: (1) Plaintiffs chronic back pain and related medical permit for two mattresses; (2) Plaintiffs placement in segregation in connection with refusing a tuberculosis test in December 2016; and (3) constitutional violations stemming from Plaintiffs suicide attempt. Facts relevant to these claims are summarized more fully below.

         Back Pain and Double Mattress Permit

         The Complaint suggests Plaintiff suffers from chronic back pain. (Doc. 1, p. 10). Because of his back pain, Dr. Obasi, the medical director at Stateville Correctional Center, issued a permit that allowed Plaintiff to have two mattresses. (Doc. 1, pp. 10, 17). The permit was issued on March 15, 2016, and it did not expire until March 15, 2017. Id.

         Plaintiff was transferred to Menard on November 26, 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 10). On December 7, 2016, Plaintiff was seen by Trost, a physician. Id. Trost “deliberately” disregarded Plaintiffs prior permit and did not authorize use of two mattresses. Id. Plaintiff contends this constitutes “malpractice” and caused him to suffer in pain. Id.

         On December 5, 2016, Plaintiff filed a grievance pertaining to, among other things, Dr. Trost's decision to deny the double mattress permit. (Doc. 1, pp. 18-19). The grievance was subsequently denied. (Doc. 1, p. 20).

         Tuberculosis Test and Segregation

         On December 31, 2016, Plaintiff was seen by Engelage, an EMT.[1] Engelage attempted to complete a tuberculosis test. Id. Plaintiff refused to comply because Engelage wanted to perform the test using the “chuckhole” in Plaintiffs cell. Id. Plaintiff contends that conducting a tuberculosis test in this manner (1) is unsanitary - because both Plaintiff and his cellmate receive their food through the chuckhole and thus the chuckhole could contain “micro-miniature blood splatter” and (2) violates prison procedures for medical/forensic examinations. Id.

         When Plaintiff refused, Engelage issued a disciplinary ticket for failure to submit to medical/forensic testing. (Doc. 1, pp. 10, 23-25). In connection with this disciplinary ticket, Plaintiff spent between four and six days in segregation. (Doc. 1, p. 10 (alleging four days in segregation) and Doc. 1, p. 24 (alleging six days in segregation)). Eventually, Plaintiff was seen by Brookman, the adjustment committee/hearing board chairman. (Doc. 1, p. 10). Thereafter, Plaintiff was released from segregation. Id. The disciplinary ticket was subsequently expunged. (Doc. 1, pp. 23-25).

         Although it is not entirely clear what type of claim Plaintiff intended to allege with respect to the disciplinary ticket, the Complaint suggests that Plaintiff is alleging issuance of the disciplinary ticket was unjustified. (Doc. 1, p. 10). The Complaint does not address what, if any, procedural protections Plaintiff was afforded in connection with the disciplinary ticket and his time in segregation.

         Claims Stemming from Plaintiffs Suicide Attempt

         On April 12, 2017, Plaintiff attempted to commit suicide in his cell by hanging himself. (Doc. 1, p. 11). Other inmates sought help from correctional officers. Id. Lee, a crisis officer, and McGhee, a sergeant, responded. Id. Upon arriving at Plaintiffs cell, McGhee yelled, “Untie yourself dumbass. Don't think we are unaware of that stunt you tried to pull with the hitting your head with the breakfast tray. We know your crazy ass is a suicide risk. Now untie yourself and comply with these orders.” Id. Plaintiff was incoherent and unable to comply. Id. McGhee then sprayed Plaintiff in the eyes, nose, and mouth with pepper spray. Id. At that point, Plaintiff lost consciousness. Id. McGhee and Lee then entered the cell and untied Plaintiff. Id. Lee and McGhee handcuffed Plaintiff and laid him on his stomach. Id. While Plaintiff was on his stomach, one of the officers pulled Plaintiffs pants down and inserted an object into Plaintiffs rectum. Id. Plaintiff speculates that the object was the bottom of a pepper spray can. Id. Plaintiff screamed at the officers to stop. Id. Leigh and McGhee then dragged Plaintiff to the healthcare unit (“HCU”). Id.[2]

         The Complaint suggests that while in the HCU, Plaintiff reported the incident as a sexual assault and filed a grievance under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”). (Doc. 1, p. 12).[3]At some point, Plaintiff was transferred to the crisis watch division. Id. While in the crisis watch division, Plaintiff was interviewed by Ms. Masterson, an internal affairs officer. Id. Plaintiff informed Ms. Masterson that a nurse denied his request for a rape kit in connection with the incident and that a lieutenant breached confidentiality in connection with Plaintiffs PREA grievance. Id. According to the Complaint, Plaintiffs PREA grievance was denied due to lack of proof. Id.

         Following the suicide attempt, Plaintiff was placed in segregation for approximately five days. (Doc. 1, p. 13). On April 17, 2017, when Plaintiff was released from segregation, two officers-Lindenberg (a sergeant) and Felipo (not a defendant in this action)-”roughly” escorted Plaintiff to a holding cell. Id. Two or three additional officers were waiting in the holding cell. When Plaintiff arrived in holding cell, he was attacked. Officers took turns kicking, biting, and beating Plaintiff. Id. One officer placed a plastic bag over Plaintiffs head and suffocated Plaintiff for 12-15 seconds. Id. According to the Complaint, Lindberg ordered the involved officers to use the plastic bag to suffocate Plaintiff. (Doc. 1, p. 3). Then, Lindberg ordered the officers to remove the bag and continue to beat Plaintiff. Id. After the beating was over, the officers brought Plaintiff to his feet and dragged him to a new cell. (Doc. 1, p. 13).

         For several days, Plaintiff repeatedly asked officers and nurses for medical treatment. His requests were denied. Id. The officers and nurses he spoke to stated, “Stop fucking filing PREA investigations. We don't tolerate all that non-sense.” Id.

         Undeterred by these warnings, Plaintiff pursued his PREA grievance and the grievance process. (Doc. 1, p. 14). Plaintiff contends he wrote letters to Lashbrook and Baldwin regarding the assault on the day he attempted suicide and the subsequent assault when he was released from segregation. Id. Plaintiffs grievances were denied and/or the requests in his letters were denied (Plaintiff indicates he asked to be transferred to another facility). Id.

         Designation of Counts

         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 regarding their merit. Any claims not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice from this action.

Count 1:Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against Trost for failing to honor the two mattress medical permit issued when Plaintiff was incarcerated ...

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