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Spates v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 24, 2018

WILLIE SPATES, # R-50820, Plaintiff,
v.
KIM BUTLER, JACQUELINE LASHBROOK, OFFICER SMITH, OFFICER JAMES, SGT. JOHN DOE, KELLY PIERCE and OFFICER MEADE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff 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).

         This 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 such relief.

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).

         The Complaint

         According 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.

         On or 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. Id.

         Plaintiff 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.

         Officer 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.

         Plaintiff 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, [1] who stated that he would “note” the problem and inform a sergeant about it. (Doc. 1, p. 7).

         As 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).

         On July 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.

         Additional 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).

         He 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).

         On 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.

         Plaintiff 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 ...


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