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Teen v. Smith

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 18, 2018

ANTRELL TEEN, # 461504, Plaintiff,


          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge

         Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee, confined at the St. Clair County Jail (“the Jail”). He has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff raises a number of claims in this action, including retaliation against him for having brought complaints and lawsuits against Jail staff, and deliberate indifference to his health and safety. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Additionally, the Court must consider whether all of Plaintiff's claims may appropriately proceed together in the same lawsuit. This initial review reveals that several of Plaintiff's claims are not properly joined in this action. These improperly joined claims shall therefore be severed into separate cases, where they shall undergo the required § 1915A evaluation.

         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, one claim that shall remain in this action survives threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         Beginning in January 2016, Plaintiff submitted a number of captain complaints, raising concerns about several problems in the Jail. In addition, Plaintiff has sued various Jail officials during his imprisonment, including the superintendent, nurses, and kitchen supervisor Robinson-Davis (who is also named as a Defendant herein). (Doc. 1, p. 4). As a result of these complaints and lawsuits, Plaintiff asserts that he has been the target of retaliatory actions by some Defendants.

         Plaintiff submitted multiple complaints In January 2016 over blankets not being washed for months. He also lodged complaints about maggots in the food. (Doc. 1, p. 4). In March 2016, an unidentified official told Plaintiff to “bunk and junk, ” indicating that he would be released from custody. In response, Plaintiff gave away about $150.00 worth of personal property. Instead of being released, however, he was re-housed in a different wing of the Jail (J-Block), where he was unable to access the law library, was denied medical and dental treatment, and where he believed his safety was at risk from aggressive inmates. (Doc. 1, p. 5). John Doe #1 was the supervisor who transferred Plaintiff to J-Block. Plaintiff asserts that normally, inmates are re-housed for disciplinary reasons. In Plaintiff's case, however, there was no reason to move him other than to retaliate against him for making complaints, since he had no disciplinary or behavior problems at that time.

         At a later date, Plaintiff was moved again, this time to H-Block. That wing was also unsafe as the individual cell doors did not lock, and fights broke out almost daily. While in H-Block, Plaintiff was repeatedly denied the privilege of ordering hot food trays. He would place a hot tray order and his account would be charged, but no tray would be delivered to him, while other inmates received their hot trays without a problem. Plaintiff had to file complaints before his money was eventually refunded. Plaintiff claims that Robinson-Davis (kitchen supervisor) denied him the hot trays while charging him for trays not delivered, as retaliation for his complaints. (Doc. 1, p. 5).

         H-Block was placed on a 30-day lockdown in November-December 2016 because of a fight, in which Plaintiff was not involved. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff did not receive a hearing over this punishment, was denied access to the law library, and was not allowed to obtain hygiene items, envelopes, or cleaning supplies. He submitted daily complaints over these deprivations, and was finally moved to a different block before the lockdown ended. Supervisor John Doe #2 disregarded Plaintiff's complaints for weeks until Plaintiff was transferred to AB-Block.

         On AB-Block, Plaintiff regained some access to the law library, and began to receive “legal mail.” Sgt. Nichols and others improperly opened and read Plaintiff's legal mail before giving it to him. (Doc. 1, p. 6). As Jail staff realized Plaintiff was seeking redress in the courts, Plaintiff was frequently told that the law library was “down.” On one occasion, Sgt. Cook told Plaintiff that the library was “down, ” but the next day, Plaintiff observed another inmate in the law library using the computer. Id. Plaintiff believes the opening of his mail and the denial of law library access were in retaliation for his attempts to bring his complaints in court.

         Plaintiff ordered and was charged for commissary items that were not delivered. C/O Everett (who is not named as a Defendant) refused to reimburse Plaintiff's account, despite Plaintiff's complaints to Everett and his supervisor. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Other inmates' accounts have been quickly reimbursed for mistakes, but Plaintiff is still waiting for a refund dating back to November 2016.

         In November 2017, C/O Carter (who is not a Defendant) delayed delivering Plaintiff's legal mail to him for over 2 weeks. (Doc. 1, p. 7). C/O Jerry (also not a Defendant) delayed Plaintiff's outgoing mail in October 2017, relating to a case that was then pending in this Court (Teen v. Peebles, No. 17-cv-593). Plaintiff claims the delay caused his amended complaint to reach the Court too late to be considered, and the case was dismissed. Sgt. Masse was responsible for handling the mail, and Plaintiff alleges that the delays were retaliatory and aimed at preventing Plaintiff's civil complaints from succeeding. (Doc. 1, p. 7).

         On November 7, 2017, while Plaintiff was on AB-Block, he was speaking with a nurse through a small window about his medical concerns. (Doc. 1, p. 10; Doc. 1-1, p. 21). Sgt. Masse slammed the window shut in Plaintiff's face, preventing Plaintiff from receiving help or information from the nurse. Plaintiff asserts that Masse's action was discriminatory and retaliatory.

         On or about January 25, 2018, C/O Smith (who Plaintiff had sued in a 2017 civil action involving a boil order), targeted Plaintiff with a disciplinary action. (Doc. 1, pp. 7-8; Doc. 1-1, pp. 19-20). Smith falsely claimed that Plaintiff interrupted an investigation and was disrespectful. As a result, Plaintiff was moved to a restrictive area and then to L-Block. This punishment was much harsher than the typical outcome for a disciplinary ticket. Although Plaintiff contested the matter as retaliatory and offered witnesses who testified that Smith had not been truthful, Sgt. Shoeberg (a/k/a Shuberg)[1] refused to investigate the matter. Plaintiff alleges that the disciplinary record will negatively affect his classification in the future. Further, Shuberg/Shoeberg punished Plaintiff excessively by restricting his commissary beyond the date that the restriction should have been lifted. (Doc. 1, p. 8).

         On February 1, 2018, hazardous fumes started pouring into Plaintiff's cellblock (L- Block) through the ventilation system. (Doc. 1, p. 8). C/O Taylor (not a Defendant) discovered that the fumes were coming from a box truck outside the building that had a bad exhaust leak. Taylor opened a door and placed a fan to remove the fumes from the block. Plaintiff wrote a complaint asking the supervisor (Botnak, or possibly Boujack)[2] to address the problem so it would not recur. However, nothing was done, and on February 8, 2018, the same thing happened. (Doc. 1, p. 9; Doc. 1-1, p. 2). This time, C/O Germain refused to open the door to bring in fresh air. Plaintiff yelled for a supervisor, but Germain and C/O Zante again refused to help. Another officer (Miller) finally opened the door. Again, on February 15, 2018, exhaust fumes began pouring in through the ventilation system. Plaintiff suffered headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, burning eyes, and stomach pains from the fumes. Supervisor John Doe #3 failed to remedy the situation despite Plaintiff's complaints. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 2-4). Plaintiff concludes that the “blatant disregard” of his complaints “seem[s] retaliatory in nature.” (Doc. 1, p. 9).

         On February 3, 2018, a mentally ill inmate was incorrectly placed on L-Block instead of on the wing where inmates with mental illnesses are normally housed. (Doc. 1, pp. 9-10). Plaintiff alerted C/O Kempt to the problem, but Kempt failed to respond or summon a supervisor. This inmate threatened other prisoners, talked of stabbing others or himself, and eventually a fight broke out where Plaintiff's hand was injured. Plaintiff submitted a captain complaint on February 9, 2018, when Sgt. Nichols was the supervisor on duty, but Nichols did nothing. Much later, on February 27, 2018, the mentally ill inmate was moved to the correct location. Plaintiff concludes that the officers who disregarded his concerns did so out of retaliation. (Doc. 1, p. 10).

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory, punitive, and special damages for the violations of his rights. (Doc. 1, p. 11).

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

         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 as to their merit. Any other claim that is mentioned in the Complaint but not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice.[3]

Count 1: First Amendment retaliation claim against Supervisor John Doe #1, for transferring Plaintiff to J-Block in March 2016 in retaliation for Plaintiff's complaints about Jail conditions;
Count 2: First Amendment retaliation claim against Robinson-Davis, for charging Plaintiff for food trays that were never delivered, after Plaintiff made complaints about the food service and/or filed a lawsuit against Robinson-Davis;
Count 3: Fourteenth Amendment due process and conditions claims against Supervisor John Doe #2, for maintaining Plaintiff's placement in a locked-down cellblock (H-Block) where he was denied access to the law library, and denied hygiene items, cleaning supplies, and envelopes, when Plaintiff had committed no infraction;
Count 4: First Amendment retaliation claim against Nichols for opening and reading Plaintiff's legal mail, after Plaintiff attempted to file case(s) in court while Plaintiff was housed on AB-Block;
Count 5: First Amendment retaliation claim against Cook, for denying Plaintiff access to the law library, after Plaintiff attempted to file case(s) in court while Plaintiff was housed on AB-Block;
Count 6: First Amendment retaliation claim against Masse, for delaying Plaintiff's outgoing and incoming legal mail in November 2017, in an attempt to interfere ...

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