United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
M. YANDLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Willie Spates, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at
Stateville Correctional Center (“Stateville”),
brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for
alleged violations of his constitutional rights at Menard
Correctional Center (“Menard”). According to the
Complaint, Plaintiff's legal materials were damaged when
the defendants stored his excess property boxes under a
leaking water pipe. (Doc. 1, pp. 5-12). The defendants then
exposed Plaintiff to mold when they allowed him to search the
boxes for salvageable items. Id. Plaintiff brings
claims against the defendants for interfering with his access
to the courts in violation of the First Amendment, depriving
him of property in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and
exhibiting deliberate indifference to his health in violation
of the Eighth Amendment. Id. He seeks monetary
relief. (Doc. 1, p. 13).
matter is now before the Court for preliminary review of the
Complaint 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
Id. 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 in the pro se complaint are to be
liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance
Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).
to the allegations in the Complaint, Plaintiff lost most of
his legal materials when a pipe burst in the room where his
excess legal property boxes were stored at Menard. (Doc. 1,
pp. 5-12). He blames the defendants for failing to move his
boxes to a new storage area after learning about the leak and
the damage it caused to his property. Id. Plaintiff
also claims that the defendants exposed him to dangerous mold
when they allowed him to look through the boxes for
salvageable materials. Id.
around July 16, 2016, Plaintiff discovered that his legal
property boxes were seriously damaged by water or sewage.
(Doc. 1, p. 5). At the time, Plaintiff faced an impending
court deadline in his federal habeas action. Id. He
was allowed access to his excess legal materials that were
stored near 7 Gallery. Id. The boxes contained
original transcripts and legal records, among other things.
Id. When Plaintiff opened the first box, he
discovered “waterlogged” and
“damaged” contents and also noticed mold.
immediately reported the damage to Officer Smith. (Doc. 1, p.
5). He asked to speak with a sergeant or lieutenant.
Id. Plaintiff explained that he wanted to file a
formal report, and he also wanted a high-ranking officer to
observe the damage firsthand. Id.
Smith denied Plaintiff's request and told him to file a
grievance instead. (Doc. 1, p. 5). He said that nothing could
be done to save the property. Id. The officer told
Plaintiff that he should “take what papers [he] could
save back to [his] cell to [dry out].” Id.
Despite the extensive water damage, the presence of mold, and
the foul odor, Plaintiff acted “[i]n desperation and
panic” by reaching into the “stinking sodden mess
and tried to retrieve whatever salvageable legal work [he]
could at the time.” (Doc. 1, p. 6). While doing so,
Plaintiff noticed that the ceiling directly above his
property boxes was damaged and allowed water or sewage to
leak directly onto his property. (Doc. 1, p. 6). He observed
damage to legal paperwork in the three boxes he had time to
check, and he noticed damage to other inmates' boxes as
well. Id. When Plaintiff reported the leak to
Officer Smith, the officer said that “they were already
aware of the problem.” Id.
returned to his cell and immediately contacted Officer Meade
to report the incident. (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff showed
Officer Meade the damage to his legal paperwork, and asked to
meet with a sergeant. Id. When no sergeant
responded, Plaintiff prepared a list of damaged items. (Doc.
1, pp. 36-38). He also reported the damage to Officer
Shelton,  who stated that he would
“note” the problem and inform a sergeant about
it. (Doc. 1, p. 7).
Plaintiff reviewed his legal papers, he and his cellmate
began to sneeze and “react badly to the contaminated
papers.” Id. He turned the materials over to
Officer Shelton for disposal. Id. Plaintiff also
spoke with Officer James about the issue. (Doc. 1, pp. 7-8).
Despite his numerous requests, however, no high-ranking
official ever spoke with Plaintiff about the destroyed
property. (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff filed a grievance to
complain about the lost and/or damaged property on July 16,
2016. (Doc. 1, pp. 8, 18-19).
23, 2016, Plaintiff was allowed to return to the property
storage room to retrieve documents for his federal habeas
appeal. (Doc. 1, p. 8). When he arrived, Plaintiff noticed
that his boxes were still stored in the same spot where he
originally found them - directly below the damaged ceiling.
Id. He also noticed that nothing had been done to
repair the ceiling. Id.
rainfall resulted in “egregious” damage to his
property boxes, rendering much of his property severely
damaged or destroyed. Id. What was originally
hundreds of pages of damaged property now amounted to
thousands of pages of documents, photos, film, files, legal
correspondence, motions, and briefs. (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9).
Plaintiff found at least five boxes of his property
“covered with black toxic mold-‘reeking and in
varying advanced stages of putrefaction and
decomposition.'” (Doc. 1, p. 9).
reported the additional damage to Officer Smith, who
“noted” the problem. (Doc. 1, p. 8). When
Plaintiff again asked to speak with a supervisory official,
the officer denied his request and told him to file a
grievance. Id. Plaintiff filed a second grievance on
July 24, 2016. (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9, 20-21).
August 11, 2016, Plaintiff was again allowed to return to the
storage room to salvage whatever property that remained.
(Doc. 1, p. 9). Officer Smith, Grievance Officer Pierce,
Sergeant John Doe, and “others” were present at
the time. (Doc. 1, p. 10). Plaintiff was given a mask and
gloves to wear, only after begging for them. (Doc. 1, p. 9).
The stench of mold was overpowering. Id. Even with
the mask and gloves, Plaintiff could only stand to rummage
through his boxes for less than an hour. Id. During
this time, Plaintiff complained to staff about the health
risks posed by his exposure to mold. (Doc. 1, p. 10). He
requested professional mold remediation. Id.
However, his request was denied. Id.
was unable to fully account for all of his property that was
lost. Id. He declined offers to take the damaged and
destroyed legal materials back to his cell because of the
health risks posed by the mold. Id. Plaintiff claims
that the loss of his legal property boxes impeded his present
and future ability to appeal his conviction in court, among