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Teen v. Robinson-Davis

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 10, 2018

ANTRELL TEEN, #461504 Plaintiff,
v.
MARY ROBINSON-DAVIS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge

         This case was severed on April 18, 2018 from Teen v. John Doe #1, No. 18-cv-568-JPG-RJD (S.D. Ill.). (Doc. 1). It contains the claim designated as Count 2 in the original case, described as follows:

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. .

         Plaintiff Antrell Teen, a pretrial detainee confined at the St. Clair County Jail (“the Jail”), filed the original civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on March 13, 2018. In the original action, among other things, Plaintiff alleged that various officials were retaliating against him for having brought complaints and lawsuits against Jail staff. This severed action pertains to alleged acts of retaliation by Mary Robinson-Davis, the Jail's kitchen supervisor. Plaintiff's claims are now before the Court for a preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         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). Courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id. 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).

         The Complaint (Doc. 2)

         Plaintiff's factual allegations relating to Count 2 are as follows.

         Beginning in January 2016, Plaintiff submitted a number of captain complaints, raising concerns about several problems in the Jail. One of Plaintiff's complaints pertained to maggots in the food at the Jail. In addition, Plaintiff has sued various Jail officials during his imprisonment, including Robinson-Davis. (Doc. 1, p. 4). As a result of these complaints and lawsuits, Plaintiff asserts that Robinson-Davis has retaliated against him by repeatedly denying Plaintiff access to hot food trays. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Specifically, Plaintiff claims that 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. Id.

         Discussion

         Prison officials may not retaliate against inmates for filing grievances, lawsuits, or otherwise complaining about their conditions of confinement. See, e.g., Gomez v. Randle, 680 F.3d 859, 866 (7th Cir. 2012); Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005 (7th Cir. 2002); DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607 (7th Cir. 2000); Babcock v. White, 102 F.3d 267 (7th Cir. 1996); Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139 (7th Cir. 1988). A “prisoner can state a claim for retaliatory treatment by alleging a chronology of events from which retaliation can be inferred.” Jellis v. Hulick, 422 Fed.Appx. 548, 550 (7th Cir. 2011). However, the Seventh Circuit has rejected the notion that prisoners are required to allege a chronology of events at the pleading stage. See McElroy v. Lopac, 403 F.3d 855, 858 (7th Cir. 2005) (“we note that the district court required far too much of [the prisoner] in the first place. Our recent cases have rejected any requirement that an inmate allege a chronology of events in order to state a claim of retaliation because such a requirement is contrary to the federal rule of notice pleading.”); Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1009 (7th Cir. 2002) (prisoner need not allege a chronology of events in order to state a claim for retaliation). “Instead, a plaintiff must allege only enough to put the defendants on notice and enable them to respond.” McElroy, at 858. In this regard, allegations describing the defendant's retaliatory conduct and the constitutionally protected activity that motivated the retaliatory conduct are sufficient. Id.

         Plaintiff claims that, after filing complaints (including complaints about food at the Jail) and after naming Robinson-Davis as a defendant in one or more civil rights lawsuits, he was repeatedly denied access to hot food trays and charged for food he never received. Plaintiff also asserts that Robinson-Davis was responsible for the alleged retaliatory actions. Even if these allegations would not be actionable in and of themselves, if the acts were taken in retaliation for the exercise of a constitutionally protected right, then they are actionable under § 1983. See Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 552 (7th Cir. 2009) (discussing Howland v. Kilquist, 833 F.2d 639, 644 (7th Cir. 1987) (“[A]n act in retaliation for the exercise of a constitutionally protected right is actionable under Section 1983 even if the act, when taken for different reasons, would have been proper.”).

         At issue here is whether Plaintiff experienced an adverse action that would likely deter First Amendment activity in the future, and if the First Amendment activity was “at least a motivating factor” in Defendant's decision to take the retaliatory action. Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 551 (7th Cir.2009). This is a question that cannot be resolved at the pleadings ...


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