United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. REAGAN CHIEF JUDGE
currently incarcerated at Shawnee Correctional Center
(“Shawnee”), has brought this pro se
civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Plaintiff claims that Defendants have knowingly housed him in
unsanitary and unhealthy living conditions at Shawnee, and
have failed to mitigate those conditions. Along with the
Complaint, Plaintiff has filed a motion seeking a temporary
restraining order (“TRO”) and preliminary
injunction. (Doc. 3). This case is now before the Court for a
preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 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).
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).
these standards, the Court finds that some of Plaintiff's
claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.
10, 2016, Baldwin (Director of the Illinois Department of
Corrections - “IDOC”) ordered Plaintiff
transferred from the Big Muddy River Correctional Center to
Shawnee. This was an emergency transfer prompted by an
external investigation against a correctional officer at Big
Muddy. (Doc. 1, p. 2). Plaintiff has been held at Shawnee in
8 different cells during the course of his confinement there.
Each cell had serious deficiencies which were not remedied by
corrections officers or by the Defendants, despite
Plaintiff's requests, grievances, and letters. Plaintiff
states he has been incarcerated for 34 years, and has never
before been held in such inhumane conditions as he has
endured over the past year and a half at Shawnee.
of the cells, the ventilation vents were clogged with rust
and dust, preventing fresh air from entering the room. Floor
tiles, allegedly composed of asbestos, were loose and/or
broken, posing a health hazard from friable asbestos fibers.
(Doc. 1, p. 10). Windows were broken in several of the cells,
exposing Plaintiff to rain in the summer, cold air in the
winter, and vermin. The cloth mattresses were contaminated
with feces, urine, and rust, and smelled bad. (Doc. 1, pp.
2-4, 9, ). No mattress cover was provided, and Plaintiff was
given stained and torn sheets. (Doc. 1, pp. 2-4). The prison
has had an outbreak of scabies, staph infections, and bed
bugs due to the unsanitary conditions. (Doc. 1, pp. 8, 14).
Plumbing problems were common, including an inoperable cold
water tap (Doc. 1, p. 3), a sink that shot out hot and cold
water (Doc. 1, p. 9), and toilets that would not properly
flush (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 9, 12-13). The showers were
contaminated with mold and dirt, provided cold water which
only rarely warmed up, and also had vents clogged with dust
and rust. (Doc. 1, pp. 9, 13, 15, 20).
was fortunate to have funds to purchase new sheets and a
pillow, to replace the torn and stained sheets he was issued
upon his arrival. However, he was also charged a fee for the
torn sheets, because he was wrongly blamed for having damaged
them. (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 8). The prison-issued clothing was also
worn out and inadequate. (Doc. 1, p. 7).
2016, in Cell 4-D-21, Plaintiff had to stay in his cell for 6
days without a working toilet. (Doc. 1, p. 9). The smell of
human waste was not contained by the plastic bag he was given
to cover the toilet bowl.
8, 2016, Plaintiff was moved to Cell 4-D-77. (Doc. 1, p. 11).
In addition to the clogged vents, contaminated mattresses,
and broken floor tiles, the light fixture cover was broken,
with dangling pieces of rusty metal that could be made into a
weapon. Plaintiff reported the conditions to an officer, but
was told not to be concerned because “the entire prison
is falling apart.” (Doc. 1, p. 11).
October 2016, Plaintiff was placed in Cell 1-D-17, where he
stayed for 4 months. This cell had all the problems listed
above, and in addition, had an inoperable window which could
not be closed. (Doc. 1, p. 12). The screen had been
intentionally cut by prison officials to allow an inmate to
reach through and pull the window up. Cold air came in
through the window, and there was no heat. After about a
month, a maintenance worker screwed the window shut and
covered it with a plastic bag, but cold air still came in.
(Doc. 1, p. 13). In late November, the heat was turned on,
and then the cell became oppressively hot, dry, and stuffy
because of the clogged vents.
January 31, 2017, Plaintiff was moved to cell 4-A-25, where
he stayed for 4 days. (Doc. 1, p. 14). He was then moved to
Cell 4-A-53 on February 6, 2017. (Doc. 1, p. 15). In both
cells, the mattresses were moldy, smelled of urine, and
contaminated with rust. Vents were clogged, floor tiles were
loose or missing, and light covers were broken. The 4-House
cell windows were functional, but the showers were dirty and
moldy. (Doc. 1, p. 15).
2017, Plaintiff was moved to Cell 3-C-53, where he still
remains as of the time he filed this suit. (Doc. 1, p. 15).
The floor tiles are intact and the mattresses are in good
shape. However, this cell has a broken window knob and a hole
in the screen. (Doc. 1, p. 15-16). During September and
October 2017, freezing air came in through the broken window.
On October 31, 2017, when the weather happened to be warm,
the window was sealed shut by maintenance workers and the
heat was turned on. (Doc. 1, pp. 17-18). As in the previous
winter, Plaintiff's cell is now unbearably hot and stuffy
because of the sealed window and clogged vent. Plaintiff
alleges that after funds ran out to replace windows, Dennison
and Baldwin ordered prison workers to cut the screens on the
broken windows throughout the facility to allow the windows
to be opened in summer, and likewise ordered those broken
windows to be fastened shut during winter, cutting off fresh
air to the affected cells. (Doc. 1, pp. 18-19). Plaintiff
suffers frequent nosebleeds because of the dry air, which
aggravates his migraine headaches. (Doc. 1, pp. 18-19, 29).
the door access button is broken in Plaintiff's current
cell. This means that when officers in the control center
activate the door access to allow prisoners out for meals,
dayroom, yard, gym, or any other activity, Plaintiff is
unable to use his button to exit the cell like all the other
inmates on his wing. The only way Plaintiff can get out of
his cell is by persuading another prisoner to alert an
officer to let him out. Often, Plaintiff has not been let out
until 30 minutes or an hour had passed. Plaintiff asked for
the button to be repaired, but officers told him that
“maintenance does not fix anything around here.”
(Doc. 1, p. 16). Consequently, over the last 6 months,
Plaintiff has missed many meals, as well as recreation,
showers, telephone, chapel, and other activities which the
other prisoners routinely access. (Doc. 1, pp. 16-17, 21).
These deprivations have affected his mental and physical
health, and the time he has been forced to stay in the cell
rather than engage in out-of-cell activity has increased his
exposure to the stale, hot, and dry air in the cell.
has notified Defendants of the broken door button and other
problems, but they have failed to take any steps to correct
the conditions so that Plaintiff's regular access to
meals, exercise, showers, and other privileges may be
restored. (Doc. 1, pp. 22, 34-42). Recently, other inmates
have been attempting to extort money from Plaintiff in
exchange for informing officers that Plaintiff needs to be
let out of his cell. (Doc. 1, p. 28-29).
also complains that the cellhouse is infested with spiders,
insects, mice, and bats; he deals with spider bites and mice
on a daily basis. (Doc. 1, pp. 20, 29). The showers are moldy
and dirty. The laundry room where Plaintiff must take his
soiled clothes and linens twice a week is constantly flooded
with sewage water due to backed up plumbing. Id.
Food is undercooked and contaminated. (Doc. 1, pp. 20-21). He
has been exposed to scabies, bed bugs, and other diseases
from the 8 different soiled mattresses in his various cells.
(Doc. 1, p. 21). The sinks by the dayroom toilets do not
work, so inmates cannot clean their hands after using the
toilet, and hand sanitizer dispensers are never filled. Those
inmates then go on to use the telephones, kiosk machines, and
doorknobs in the dayroom, spreading germs. (Doc. 1, p. 23).
Power outages are frequent, during which the cell locks may
be opened by inmates, creating a security threat. (Doc. 1, p.
24). Plaintiff perceives this issue as a particular threat to
him, because he is classified as a vulnerable inmate due to
being openly gay and having been assaulted in the past. (Doc.
1, p 25). Finally, he complains that the law library is
inadequately staffed. (Doc. 1, pp. 26-27).
has informed both Defendants of the allegedly
unconstitutional conditions at Shawnee, including the denial
of access to meals, recreation, etc., because of the broken
cell door access button. He filed emergency grievances to
Dennison in October and November 2017, which detailed the
problems with his current cell. (Doc. 1, pp. 39-42).
Dennison, however, deemed these not to be emergency matters.
(Doc. 1, p. 27). Plaintiff wrote a detailed letter to Baldwin
complaining about these issues as well. (Doc. 1, pp. 5, 27,
34-38). However, neither Defendant has taken any action to
remedy the unhealthy conditions or the broken door access
button. (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6, 27-28).
sues both Warden Dennison and Director Baldwin in their
official capacities only. (Doc. 1, pp. 1, 5). He seeks
compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief in
the form of an order to immediately repair the dangerous
conditions at Shawnee, and to transfer Plaintiff to a prison
of his choice. (Doc. 1, pp. 29-30).
Review Pursuant to 28 ...