United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
R. HERNDON, DISTRICT JUDGE
Mitchell Morrow, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at
Centralia Correctional Center (“Centralia”),
brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983. In the Complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendants have
been deliberately indifferent to the health risks posed by
juice served to inmates in the Illinois Department of
Corrections. (Doc. 3, pp. 3-7). Plaintiff claims that the
juice contains high levels of benzene, a carcinogen that may
also cause other health problems. Id.
to the allegations, Defendants knowingly served Plaintiff
this juice for more than ten years. (Doc. 3, pp. 3-7). During
this same time period, he experienced hypertension,
dizziness, headaches, and an irregular heartbeat, all of
which he attributes to his involuntary consumption of
benzene. Id. Plaintiff now brings Eighth Amendment
claims against the defendants. (Doc. 3, pp. 7-8). He seeks
declaratory judgment and monetary damages against these
individuals. (Doc. 3, pp. 8-9). Plaintiff originally filed
this action with another inmate, Sean Wilkins. Wilkins,
et al.Baldwin, et al., No. 18-cv-00471-DRH (S.D. Ill.)
(“original case”). Plaintiff Morrow's claims
were severed into the instant action at his request on April
11, 2018. (Doc. 1, instant case). Although Wilkins and Morrow
opted to proceed in separate actions, they relied on the same
Complaint in support of their Eighth Amendment claims against
the defendants. (Doc. 1, original case; Doc. 3, instant
case). In addition, both Plaintiffs filed motions to
consolidate their cases with a 2017 case filed by another
Centralia prisoner-plaintiff, TrainorBaldwin, No.
17-cv-00369-DRH-DGW. (Doc. 7, original case; Doc. 6, instant
case). All three cases address virtually the same claims.
case is now before the Court for preliminary review of the
Complaint (Doc. 3) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which
(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
action or claim is frivolous if “it lacks an arguable
basis either in law or in fact.”
NeitzkeWilliams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989).
Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim
that any reasonable person would find meritless.
LeeClinton, 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.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
survives screening under these standards.
Complaint, Plaintiff brings claims against the current and
former Directors of the Illinois Department of Corrections
(“IDOC”), including Director John Baldwin and
former Directors S. A. Godinez, Michael P. Randle, and
Gladyse C. Taylor. (Doc. 3, pp. 1-2). He also names Robert
Mueller (Centralia's warden), Susan Walker (grievance
officer), and Debbie Knauer (Administrative Review Board
(“A.R.B.”) official), as well as a No. of unknown
Superintendents of the Illinois Correctional Industry
(“ICI”), dietary managers, and wardens
(“John/Jane Doe”) who distributed contaminated
juices to IDOC prisons. (Doc. 3, p. 2).
to the allegations in the Complaint, the Food and Drug
Administration issued a report in 1991 which indicated that
benzene had been found in products containing a combination
of sodium benzoate, ascorbic acid, citric acid, and/or
erythorbic acid. (Doc. 3, p. 3). Because this combination of
ingredients can produce benzene, the FDA “called on
manufacturers to take measures to impede the formation of
benzene in their products.” Id. The
Environmental Protection Agency reported that 5 parts per
billion was the maximum acceptable level of benzene in
drinking water. Id. Individuals exposed to higher
levels of benzene, even for short periods of time, were at
risk of developing anemia, nervous system disorders, and
immune system depression. (Doc. 3, pp. 4-5). A report
published by the Center for Disease Controls stated that
exposure to benzene may cause dizziness, rapid or irregular
heartbeat, vomiting, convulsions, sleepiness, and stomach
irritation. (Doc. 3, pp. 4, 19-20).
2008, union members working within the IDOC raised concerns
about benzene in drink products served to IDOC employees.
(Doc. 3, p. 3). Defendants Randle, Godinez, Baldwin, Mueller,
or the John/Jane Doe (wardens and dietary managers) never
investigated these concerns. Id. Defendants
John/Jane Doe (ICI Superintendents) continued to use the
combination of ingredients listed above in beverages served
to IDOC inmates. Id.
consumed the allegedly contaminated juices for more than ten
years during his confinement at Menard, Lawrence, and
Centralia Correctional Centers. (Doc. 3, p. 5). During this
time period, he experienced hypertension, dizziness,
headaches, and an irregular heartbeat, among other symptoms.
(Doc. 3, pp. 5, 7). Plaintiff alleges that these symptoms may
have resulted from his involuntary consumption of benzene.
(Doc. 3, p. 5). He was diagnosed with and treated for several
of these symptoms. Id. He still receives treatment
for them. Id.
Plaintiff learned about the risks associated with the
excessive consumption of benzene, he filed a grievance
seeking an investigation. (Doc. 3, pp. 3-5). Plaintiff asked
Grievance Officer Walker to discontinue these beverages
because they contain benzene, which is a carcinogen. (Doc. 3,
p. 4). Although the grievance officer acknowledged that the
juices contain ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate, a
combination that produces benzene, she nevertheless denied
the grievance and stated that the juices are “not
harmful.” Id. Warden Mueller affirmed her
decision. Id. Plaintiff appealed the decision to
Defendant Knauer, who denied the appeal. (Doc. 3, pp. 6).
the same time, the prison temporarily stopped serving juices
containing the benzene-producing ingredients. (Doc. 3, pp.
5-6). However, the change was short-lived. Id.
Defendants Mueller and John/Jane Doe (dietary manager) soon
resumed the practice of serving the juices to inmates.
claims that Defendants Baldwin, Godinez, Taylor, Randle, and
all John/Jane Does “have known since 1998 about the
research on the formation of benzene through the combination
of sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid, yet they failed to
ensure that their products did not contain benzene.”
(Doc. 3, p. 6). The John/Jane Does deliberately manufactured
and distributed the juice products to prisoners, despite
knowing that they “would tend to contain unsafe benzene
levels, placing prisoners at risk.” Id.
Defendants Baldwin, Godinez, Taylor, and Randle did nothing
to address the health risks. Id. Plaintiff maintains
that he was involuntarily exposed to benzene in the juices
served with prison meals without any warning of the hazard.
(Doc. 3, p. 7). His juice consumption allegedly created an
unreasonable risk to his present and future health.
asserts that Defendants' actions violated the Eighth
Amendment. He seeks declaratory and monetary relief. (Doc. 3,
Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A
on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it
convenient to divide the pro se action into the following
Count 1: Eighth Amendment claim against the Defendants
John/Jane Doe (ICI Superintendents) for deliberate
indifference to the present and future health risks to
Plaintiff from consuming its juice drinks, ...