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Barbeee v. Heifner

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 27, 2018




         Plaintiff Travion Barbee, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections currently incarcerated at Robinson Correctional Center, brings this action seeking damages for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for events that occurred at Lawrence Correctional Center. This case is now before the Court for a 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.

         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 of 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

         Inmate Armfield was moved into Plaintiff's cell on December 13, 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Armfield immediately began to complain about his housing assignment to officer Heifner. Id. The next day, Armfield spoke with Heifner again and told him, “Imma beat [Plaintiff's] ass in here. Check my history, that's why I was transferred back to Lawrence from Graham.” Id. After hearing those comments, Plaintiff sent Weaver, the placement officer, a request slip noting the threats that Armfield had made against him. Id. Plaintiff believes that Armfield wrote a grievance about the situation to Lt. McCarthy. Id. On December 17, 2016, Armfield told Plaintiff “this don't have nothing to do with you, I told them to move me, they put you in the business.” Id. Plaintiff was concerned about this comment, so he spoke to Heifner and told Heifner that his immediate safety was in jeopardy. Id. Heifner told Plaintiff to refuse housing. Id. Plaintiff also told Lieutenant McCaslin about the situation, but McCaslin told him that they could not move inmates on Saturdays. Id. Armfield attacked Plaintiff after lunch; Plaintiff suffered blows to his head and face. Id.


         Based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into a single count. The parties and the Court will use this designation in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court.

         Count 1 - Heifner, Weaver, McCaslin, and McCarthy failed to protect Plaintiff from the serious threat posed by his cellmate in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

         In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the Supreme Court held that “prison officials have a duty . . . to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.” Id. at 833 (internal citations omitted); see also Pinkston v. Madry, 440 F.3d 879, 889 (7th Cir. 2006). However, not every harm caused by another inmate translates into constitutional liability for the corrections officers responsible for the prisoner's safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. In order for a plaintiff to succeed on a claim for failure to protect, he must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm and that the defendants acted with “deliberate indifference” to that danger. Id.; Pinkston, 440 F.3d at 889. A plaintiff also must prove that prison officials were aware of a specific, impending, and substantial threat to his safety, often by showing that he complained to prison officials about a specific threat to his safety. Pope v. Shafer, 86 F.3d 90, 92 (7th Cir. 1996). In other words, Defendants had to know that there was a substantial risk that Plaintiff would be attacked, yet fail to take any action. See Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 733-34 (7th Cir. 2001). Conduct that amounts to negligence or inadvertence is not enough to state a claim. Pinkston, 440 F.3d at 889 (discussing Watts v. Laurent, 774 F.2d 168, 172 (7th Cir. 1985)).

         Here, Plaintiff has alleged that his cellmate posed a threat to him because his cellmate did not want a roommate. Both Plaintiff and his cellmate made comments and wrote requests to the defendants apprising them that Armfield would attack Plaintiff if not moved. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants did not respond to these communications, other than to tell Plaintiff to refuse housing. They took no action. On these facts, ...

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