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Allen v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 6, 2017

RICHARD G. ALLEN, # B-02617, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center (“Pinckneyville”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His claims arose during his imprisonment at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”). Plaintiff claims that he was attacked by a cellmate who was known to have attacked his previous cellmates. Officers allowed the assault to continue, and Plaintiff's injuries were not adequately treated. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Under § 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out non- meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss any portion of the Complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         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 “no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit.” 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. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Applying these standards, the Court finds that some of Plaintiff's claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         On or about November 4, 2015, Plaintiff's cellmate (Sankey) attacked and severely beat him. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff alleges that Sankey was mentally ill and had physically attacked his 2 prior cellmates, facts which were known to the John Doe Placement Officer and other administrative officials including then-Warden Butler. (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 15). Plaintiff was placed into the cell with Sankey some 2-3 weeks before the attack. (Doc. 1, p. 7). When Plaintiff was first brought to the cell, Sankey warned officers that he did not want a cellmate and they should not put anyone else in with him. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Hearing these threats, Plaintiff asked not to be forced into the cell, but the officers told him they had no other cell, and the tactical team would force him in if he refused to enter - so Plaintiff complied. This was a segregation cell with a steel door and plexiglass covering the door and windows, which had no “panic button, ” and was located at the back of the gallery, lengthening officers' response time in the event of a problem.

         As soon as Plaintiff was in the cell, nearby inmates began yelling to warn Plaintiff that Sankey was crazy and attacks his cellies. Later that day, Sankey began talking to himself about wanting to kill somebody, then threatened to kill Plaintiff. During the night Sankey would jump up screaming, talking to the walls, and punching the walls and air.

         The next day, Plaintiff informed Hanks of his safety concerns. Hanks told Plaintiff to write a grievance and walked away. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff wrote several emergency grievances to the warden (presumably Butler), but got no response.

         The following day, Plaintiff alerted several officers of the death threats. In response, Hanks told Plaintiff he wasn't the placement officer and Plaintiff should “quit being a pussy.” (Doc. 1, p. 7). Mental health workers Coffee and Meyer documented Plaintiff's fears and his request to move, but told him they could not do anything. After this, Sankey repeated his death threats and began pushing and shoving Plaintiff. While Plaintiff was on the yard, he told Bebout and other John Doe Officers about the threats. Bebout responded, “this is survival of the fittest … unless it's physical we ain't moving your ass. So, you know what you gotta do.” (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff remained in the cell for 2-3 more weeks. During that time, Hanks observed Sankey pushing Plaintiff, and told him to “knock it off.” Id. Plaintiff again asked to be moved, but Hanks responded that was “not [his] call.” Id.

         On November 4, 2015, Sankey attacked Plaintiff, punching his face, stabbing him with an ink pen, brutally kicking him, and choking him. (Doc. 1, pp. 7-8). Mercer sounded a panic alert. Officers Braking, Narup, James, Childs, Berner, and several John Doe Officers responded. Plaintiff bit Sankey during the attack, and got Sankey's blood in his mouth. The Defendants began spraying mace into the cell, while making comments including, “Ooh, I got that fucker in the mouth . . . in the eyes! Ooh! Get him again!” while the attack continued. (Doc. 1, p. 8).

         While Plaintiff was pleading for help, he heard an officer say to “cuff up” and they would open the door. He broke free and ran to the chuckhole, where he allowed himself to be cuffed behind his back. Sankey then resumed the attack. Instead of opening the door, the officers continued to watch the beating. Mercer said, “We don't open the door until both individuals ‘cuff up' willingly. That's our policy.” Id. They refused Plaintiff's entreaties to open the door, telling him that's what he gets “for being a dumb ass and cuffing up first, ” and “take it like a man.” Id. One officer said they should at least take Plaintiff's cuffs off to let him fight; Mercer responded, “I'm gonna let the other guy have a little fun with him.” Id. While the officers watched, Sankey banged Plaintiff's head against the steel bed and cell wall. Each time Plaintiff was able to run to the door, officers would spray him in the face, eyes, and mouth with mace. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Eventually, Sankey was overcome by the mace and cuffed up.

         Plaintiff was taken to a holding cell and was seen by a Jane Doe Nurse. She refused to give Plaintiff anything to counteract the burning effects of the mace, and gave him only Motrin for pain. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Plaintiff asked for an antibiotic shot because he had bitten Sankey on the neck, but the Jane Doe Nurse refused. Plaintiff asserts that Sankey was given a tetanus shot, but he did not get one.

         Plaintiff was moved to another cell, which was dirty, smelled of urine, and had feces smeared on the walls. (Doc. 1, p. 10). The mattress was damaged and impossible to sleep on. His skin was red and beginning to peel, and he suffered eye problems including black spots in his eyes, but he never received any treatment to counteract the mace or the pain. Some 20 days after the attack, Plaintiff saw another nurse, who told him that the skin redness would “burn itself out” and did nothing else for him. Id.

         On November 10, 2015, Plaintiff was called to a disciplinary hearing, but he had never been given prior notice or a copy of the ticket. (Doc. 1, p. 10). Plaintiff told Adjustment Committee members Brookman[1] and Jackson about the lack of notice, but they refused to believe him. Brooks said that they had “gotten the word on you already and no matter what you say your [sic] gonna be guilty.” (Doc. 1, p. 11). Brooks and Jackson found Plaintiff guilty of fighting; their summary of the proceeding falsely stated that he admitted guilt. (Doc. 1-1, p. 11). He was punished with 1 month in segregation, and 1 month of C-grade and commissary restriction. Id. Plaintiff complains that the lack of notice and the panel's pre-judgment of the disciplinary matter violated his due process rights. Plaintiff wrote numerous grievances over the disciplinary matter; all but 1 were never answered. (Doc. 1, p. 12). He complains that the mishandling of grievances is an ongoing problem at Menard, and gives an example of Menard officers tearing up 2 of his grievances in front of Plaintiff's cell while he watched. (Doc. 1, p. 13).

         On or about December 30, 2015, Plaintiff was transferred from Menard segregation to Pontiac Correctional Center's Maximum Segregation Unit (“Pontiac”). (Doc. 1, p. 13). While there, he filed a grievance directly to the Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) over the events at Menard.

         Plaintiff received some treatment at Pontiac for the physical injuries he suffered during the attack at Menard, as well as the psychological effects, which included nightmares, hearing voices, and insomnia. Plaintiff was ultimately diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and borderline schizophrenia. Plaintiff was prescribed Risperdol and other psychiatric medications (for the first time in his life) to help him sleep. (Doc. 1, p. 14). He is still receiving psychiatric care, and still suffers from fear of officers and other inmates. (Doc. 1, p. 15.)

         On or about April 20, 2016, Plaintiff was transferred to Stateville. He continues to have problems with his eyes, including seeing black spots. He still has shoulder pain. (Doc. 1, p. 14).

         Plaintiff asserts that Butler and the John Doe Placement Officer must have been aware of Sankey's history of attacking his cellmates, because the warden (Butler) is responsible for signing off on cell placements and disciplinary tickets. Further, these officials had been placed on notice of the long history of violence at Menard as well as the deficient grievance system, based on the reports of the John Howard Association (which Plaintiff attaches to the Complaint). (Doc. 1, pp. 15-16; Doc. 1-1, pp. 25-26; Doc. 1-2; Doc. 1-3, pp. 1-7).

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a “policy change” to Menard officers' procedure of refusing to intervene in an attack until both cellmates voluntarily cuff up. (Doc. 1, p. 17; Doc. 1-3, p. 25).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         Based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the prose 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 as to their merit. Any other claim that is ...

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