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Teen v. Germaine

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 21, 2018

ANTRELL TEEN, #461504 Plaintiff,
GERMAINE, ZANTE, and JOHN DOE #3, Defendants.


          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge.

         This case was severed on April 18, 2018 from Teen v. John Doe #1, Case No. 18-cv-568-JPG-RJD (S.D. Ill.). (Doc. 1). It contains the claim designated as Count 9 in the original case, described as follows:

Count 9: Fourteenth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against Germaine, Zante, and John Doe #3, for repeatedly exposing Plaintiff to harmful exhaust fumes in February 2018 and March 2018.[1].

         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. This severed action pertains to Plaintiff's exposure to hazardous fumes and certain officials' allegedly deficient response to Plaintiff's complaints regarding the same. 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 9 are as follows.

         On February 1, 2018, hazardous fumes started pouring into Plaintiff's cellblock (L-Block) through the ventilation system. (Doc. 2, p. 8). C/O Taylor (not a Defendant) discovered that the fumes were coming from a box truck outside the building that had a bad exhaust leak. Id. The fumes were particularly strong because “[t]here is a switch [an air handler] that sucks the outside air into L-Block” and L-Block “is small, approximately 30 feet by 10 feet.” (Doc. 2, p. 8; Doc. 2-1, p. 2). Plaintiff compares the experience to being confined in a “garage with a running car.” (Doc. 2-1, p. 2). Taylor opened a door and placed a fan to remove the fumes from the block.

         Plaintiff wrote a complaint asking the supervisor (Botnak, or possibly Boujack)[2] to address the problem so it would not recur. However, nothing was done, and on February 8, 2018, the same thing happened. (Doc. 2, p. 9; Doc. 2-1, p. 2). This time, C/O Germain refused to open the door to bring in fresh air. Plaintiff yelled for a supervisor, but Germain and C/O Zante again refused to help. Another officer (Miller) finally opened the door. Again, on February 15, 2018, exhaust fumes began pouring in through the ventilation system. Plaintiff suffered headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, burning eyes, and stomach pains from the fumes. Supervisor John Doe #3 failed to remedy the situation despite Plaintiff's complaints. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 2-4).

         The exhibits attached to the Complaint indicate that inmates are exposed to strong exhaust fumes every Thursday between 7:00 am and 9:00 am for anywhere from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. (Doc. 2-1, pp. 2-4). The exhibits also suggest that, with few exceptions, the on-duty correctional officers and supervisors are aware of the problem but failed to take action. Id.

         Applicable Standard

         Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee rather than a convicted prisoner. Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims derive from the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of due process, not the Eighth Amendment's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. See Hughes v. Farris, 809 F.3d 330, 334 (7th Cir. 2015). In the past, the Seventh Circuit applied the deliberate-indifference standard derived from the Eighth Amendment to conditions claims raised by pretrial detainees. Burton v. Downey, 805 F.3d 776, 784 (7th Cir. 2015). The deliberate indifference standard “includes both an objective and subjective component and thus is more difficult to satisfy than its Fourth ...

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