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Young v. Punke

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

December 20, 2017

CHRISTOPHER E. YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. TODD PUNKE et. al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          MICHAEL M. MIHM U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         On October 2, 2017, and continuing through October 4, 2017, this matter came before the Court for a bench trial on Plaintiff Christopher Young's (“Young” or “Plaintiff”) claims against Defendant Andrew Tilden, M.D. (“Tilden”), Paul Blackwell (“Blackwell”), Clint Ramsey (“Ramsey”), Robert Rapp (“Rapp”), Kristina Skeens (“Skeens”), and Jeff Stahl (“Stahl”). Prior to the presentation of evidence, Young dismissed his Excessive Force and Deliberate Indifference claims against Defendants Skeens, Stahl, and Ramsey related to the October 9, 2012, incident described below. As such, those Defendants and claims were dismissed with prejudice. Moreover, after the close of the Plaintiff's evidence, pursuant to Rule 52(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, this Court directed a verdict in favor of Defendant Blackwell, and against Young on his First Amendment claim related to the August 6, 2012, incident described below.

         At the end of the trial, the Court found in favor of Defendant Rapp on Plaintiff's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims for failure to provide medical attention and deliberate indifference claims related to an August 6, 2012, incident. The Court deferred ruling on Plaintiff's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims against Defendant Tilden for failure to provide medical attention. Subsequently, during the Status Conference held on October 11, 2017, this Court announced that it would be entering a ruling in favor of Plaintiff, and against Defendant Tilden on the claims of deliberate indifference for failing to provide proper medical attention. (Minute Entry dated 10/11/2017). The Court further explained that its rulings would not be final until the Court entered its written order. This Order is intended to provide the Court's Finding of Facts and Conclusions of Law as required under Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         OVERVIEW[1]

         Young is an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), and is currently housed at Statesville Correctional Center. During the relevant time period, Plaintiff was housed at Pontiac Correctional Center. Defendant Tilden is a licensed physician, and has been employed as the medical doctor at Pontiac Correctional Center since November of 2010. Plaintiff was under the medical care of Defendant Tilden while he was housed at Pontiac Correctional Center. In 1987, prior to being incarcerated, Plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident. As a result of the accident, Plaintiff had two neck surgeries in the mid-1990s. Thereafter, Plaintiff had chronic neck pain. The surgeon indicated to Plaintiff that he would continue to have problems with his neck even after the surgeries. Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Tilden center on the medical treatment he received during his incarceration at Pontiac Correctional Center.

         Defendants Blackwell and Rapp were employed by the IDOC at Pontiac Correctional Center during the timeframe relevant to Plaintiff's claims. On August 6, 2012, Plaintiff received a Disciplinary Ticket that charged him with the offense of “206 Intimidation or Threats.” The Disciplinary Report noted Plaintiff stated to staff members that: “[i]f I stay in this cell y'all gonna have to come get me, I'm trying to avoid a fight.” Defendant Blackwell was the author of the Disciplinary Report.

         On that same day, Plaintiff claims he was removed from his cell, and that once removed, he was placed in Cell 114, a cell he alleges lacked adequate ventilation. At trial, Plaintiff testified the outside temperatures on August 6, 2012, was around ninety degrees. Plaintiff claims he suffered an asthma attack, and further claims Defendant Rapp refused his request for medical treatment and instead left the correctional facility at 3:00 p.m., leaving Plaintiff in distress. Plaintiff testified he passed out and remained on the floor until the next day. The Defendant claims Plaintiff's medical records show he was evaluated by the medical staff at 5:00 P.M. that day, and there was no unreasonable delay in his care.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs a proceeding in which the court, rather than a jury, “find[s] the facts specially” and makes conclusions of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(1). “The findings and conclusions may be stated on the record after the close of the evidence or may appear in an opinion or a memorandum of decision filed by the court.” All Parties consented to a bench trial. (See ECF No. 91).

         Additionally, during a bench trial, the Court may make judgment on partial findings after a party has been fully heard on an issue. Rule 52(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides:

If a party has been fully heard on an issue during a nonjury trial and the court finds against the party on that issue, the court may enter judgment against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue. The court may, however, decline to render any judgment until the close of the evidence. A judgment on partial findings must be supported by findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Rule 52(a).

Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(c).

         FINDINGS OF FACTS AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         I. August 6, 2012 Retaliation Claim

         Plaintiff claims that Blackwell wrote him a disciplinary ticket in retaliation for reporting a potential fight between him and his cellmate. It is undisputed that Plaintiff told Blackwell “[i]f I stay in this cell y'all gonna have to come get me, I'm trying to avoid a fight.” The dispute between the Parties is over the meaning of the statement and tone used by the Plaintiff while making the statement. The following is a summary of the various testimony at trial related to this incident.

         Paul Blackwell

         Blackwell testified that when Plaintiff said “[i]f I stay in this cell y'all gonna have to come get me, I'm trying to avoid a fight, ” he appeared agitated and aggressive. Blackwell testified that when he encountered the Plaintiff, he deemed him to be agitated and aggressive because of his mannerisms, tone of voice, and his overall experience dealing with inmates. Blackwell also testified that, while making the statement, Young was packing his property on his bed. Blackwell testified, in his experience, this type of action on the part of an inmate was indicative that the inmate was preparing or expecting to be moved. Blackwell testified that he interpreted Plaintiff's statement as a threat directed towards his cellmate. He also testified the cellmate was standing on the opposite side of the cell against the wall silently with his arms crossed. In the situation, Blackwell testified he believed time was of the essence and immediately called Lieutenant Punke to the cell over the radio. Blackwell stated that Lieutenant Punke made the decision to place Young in Cell 114.

         Christopher Young

         Young admitted that he said to Blackwell “[i]f I stay in this cell y'all gonna have to come get me, I'm trying to avoid a fight” but testified that he was not agitated, and he was just packing his property on his bed. He testified he was trying to explain to Blackwell that he was verbally threatened by his roommate and was trying to avoid a fight.

         Findings of Fact and Conclusion of Law

         In order for Plaintiff to prevail, he must show that: (1) “he engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment” (2) he suffered a deprivation that would likely deter First Amendment activity in the future; and (3) “the First Amendment activity was ‘at least a motivating factor' in the Defendant's motivating decision to take the retaliatory action.” Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 46 (7th Cir. 2009). Based on the record before it, the Court finds that Defendant Blackwell did not violate the First Amendment in retaliating against Plaintiff.

         As noted above, at the close of Plaintiff's evidence the Court entered judgment for the Defendant pursuant to Federal Rule 52(c). Based on the evidence presented during Plaintiff's case-in-chief, the Court finds Plaintiff is unable to show that his statement rises to the level of speech protected by the First Amendment. In fact, based on the record ...


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