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Stoecker v. LT. Hoppenstedt

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 6, 2018

RONALD L. STOECKER, #K67356, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Ronald Stoecker, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivations of his constitutional rights that allegedly occurred at Pinckneyville Correctional Center. In his Complaint, Plaintiff claims the defendants violated his First, Fourteenth, and Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from other inmates, retaliating against him for filing grievances, and issuing him a false disciplinary ticket. (Doc. 1).

         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).

         Upon careful review of the Complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to allow this case to proceed past the threshold stage.

         The Complaint

         In his Complaint (Doc. 1), Plaintiff makes the following allegations, which are divided below as Plaintiff divided them in his Complaint:

         Claim 1 - Failure to Protect, Intimidation, Cruel and Unusual Punishment

         Plaintiff worked at Pinckneyville as “clean up” on both the 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shifts. (Doc. 1, p. 4). He had no issues working both shifts for nearly a year. Id. After Defendant Hoppenstedt became the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift lieutenant, he approached Plaintiff in a hostile and aggressive manner after attempting to have him removed from his job without success. Id. Hoppenstedt accused Plaintiff “of trying to go over his head about a night job.” Id. He threatened Plaintiff with a disciplinary ticket and termination from his job if he spoke to anyone above him about job assignments. (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5).

         Plaintiff did not speak to anyone about Hoppenstedt's behavior, and he told Hoppenstedt as much. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Hoppenstedt did not believe him, however, and continued to threaten Plaintiff and attempt “to intimidate him by intentionally placing his life and safety in jeopardy.” Id. He did this by telling Plaintiff “in a loud voice so that the whole wing could hear him say it: ‘The only reason I don't let you come out at night is because you work for I-A and you're a sex offender bitch.'” (Doc. 1, p. 6). Hoppenstedt knows that prison life is more dangerous than normal for an inmate labeled a snitch or sex offender. Id. He yelled these things about Plaintiff “because he wanted another inmate to hear this statement and do something harmful to Plaintiff.” Id. At least six inmates heard what Hoppenstedt yelled about Plaintiff. Id.

         As a result of Hoppenstedt's statements, Plaintiff was struck in the face and head by another inmate. (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff notified Internal Affairs of what Hoppenstedt told his wing. Id. He also told them he did not feel safe because of what was said, particularly because he was attacked by an inmate because of it. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Internal Affairs Officers Bennitte and Uraski were made aware of the statements made by Hoppenstedt and that Plaintiff “had been attacked by an inmate” because of them, and “they did nothing to protect him from future threats and harms.” Id.

         Plaintiff wrote a grievance about Hoppenstedt's actions, notifying Defendant Hess about the threat to Plaintiff's safety. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Hess “turned a blind eye to this clear threat to Plaintiff's safety and made the threat even worse by informing Defendant Hoppenstedt that Plaintiff had written a grievance on him for labeling him a snitch and sex offender.” Id. The grievance angered Hoppenstedt, so he lied and told Hess that Plaintiff was disrespectful toward him and the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. staff. Id. Had that actually happened, Hoppenstedt would have written Plaintiff a ticket for insolence, and he would have been removed from his job assignment. Id. Hess did not investigate Plaintiff's claims about Hoppenstedt's behavior and the threat it posed to him, even though there were witnesses available. (Doc. 1, pp. 10-11).

         Claim 2 - Retaliation

         After Plaintiff wrote the grievance about Hoppenstedt loudly calling him a sex offender and snitch, “he was stopped from coming out on 3 to 11 shift.” (Doc. 1, p. 12). This was in retaliation for his grievance, because before the grievance, Plaintiff got to work on both shifts. Id. After Plaintiff wrote the grievance, he “was constantly harassed by Lt. Hoppenstedt.” (Doc. 1, p. 13). Bennitte told Plaintiff that Hoppenstedt “would not let the fact that Plaintiff had [written] a grievance on him go.” Id. Plaintiff also was told that if he “squashed” the grievance, he could be transferred to Big Muddy Correctional Center, otherwise he would be placed in segregation. Id.

         On January 16, 2018, Hoppenstedt approached Plaintiff and told him that if he did not drop his grievance, Lieutenant Baker had already told him that he could fire Plaintiff from his remaining work shift. (Doc. 1, p. 14). Plaintiff gave Bennitte an emergency grievance about Hoppenstedt's threats, and Bennitte assured Plaintiff that he would forward his grievance to the proper person. (Doc. 1, p. 14-15). To this day, Plaintiff has not heard back about the status of that grievance. (Doc. 1, p. 14). He believes Baker and Bennitte's actions were retaliatory and designed to help Hoppenstedt. (Doc. 1, pp. 14-15). When Plaintiff refused to drop the grievance, Bennitte placed him in segregation to frustrate him, though he claimed that it was for Plaintiff's protection. (Doc. 1, p. 15). This move did not protect Plaintiff, however, because correctional officers “can come and go anywhere” and “they have friends, family members, and co-workers that work at the facility and are willing to retaliate against the inmate for them or on their behalf.” (Doc. 1, p. 16). Bennitte, Baker, Uraski, and Frank “all approached Plaintiff with a threat of some form of punishment if he didn't squash the grievance.” Id.

         Defendants Uraski and Frank told Plaintiff to sign a statement indicating that he did not feel unsafe or fear for his life. (Doc. 1, p. 17). They also told Plaintiff that if he did not sign it, he would be moved to a different house or protective custody, and this move would make other inmates believe that he was a snitch. Id. Plaintiff signed the form because of these threats and because he did not want to be punished for writing the grievance. Id. Frank also wrote a disciplinary ticket on Plaintiff for “304 - Insolence” and “211 - Possession or solicitation of unauthorized personal information” in retaliation for Plaintiff writing the grievance against Hoppenstedt. (Doc. 1, p. 18). Frank knew that writing a ticket with these charges would result in Plaintiff being placed in segregation and losing his job, which is what Hoppenstedt threatened him with if he did not ...

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