United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
R. Herndon United States District Judge
currently incarcerated at Centralia Correctional Center, has
brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983. He claims that Defendants knowingly
served beverages which were contaminated with unsafe levels
of benzene with deliberate indifference to the risks to
inmates' health. Plaintiff alleges that as a result, he
has developed GERD and other physical symptoms. Plaintiff has
pointed out that the claims raised herein are largely
duplicative of those raised in a 2017 case by another
Centralia prisoner-plaintiff, Trainor v. Baldwin,
No. 17-cv-369-DRH-DGW. (Doc. 3).
case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the
Complaint 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).
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).
these standards, the Court finds that some of Plaintiff's
claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.
brings his claims against current Director of the Illinois
Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) Baldwin, as
well as former IDOC Directors Godinez, Randle, and Taylor.
(Doc. 1, pp. 1-2). Other Defendants include Centralia Warden
Mueller, Grievance Officer Walker, Administrative Review
Board official Thull, and a number of John/Jane Does. This
group of Unknown Defendants encompasses Superintendents of
the Illinois Correctional Industry (“ICI”) who
distributed contaminated juices to IDOC prisons and dietary
managers who served the juices. (Doc. 1, p. 3).
to Plaintiff, in 1991 the FDA reported that benzene had been
found in products that contained sodium benzoate along with
ascorbic acid, citric acid, or erthoribic acid. This
combination of ingredients can produce benzene, so 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. Further, people exposed to
higher levels of benzene, even for short periods of time, may
develop anemia, nervous system disorders, and immune system
depression. Id. A published CDC report states that
exposure to benzene may cause dizziness, rapid or irregular
heartbeat, vomiting, convulsions, sleepiness, and stomach
irritation. (Doc. 1, pp. 5, 13).
2008, union members working within the IDOC raised concern
about benzene in drink products served to IDOC employees.
(Doc. 1, p. 3). This concern was never investigated by
Randle, Godinez, Baldwin, Mueller, or the Illinois
Correctional Industry John/Jane Doe defendants. The Dietary
Manager John/Jane Doe defendants continued to use the
combination of ingredients listed above in beverages served
to IDOC inmates. (Doc. 1, pp. 3-4).
consumed the allegedly contaminated juices during his
confinement. (Doc. 1, p. 4). In fact, he “worked in the
Dietary for over a year and consumed 10-15 juices per day
during that time.” (Doc. 1, p. 5). He developed GERD
and experienced “several symptoms related to the
combination [of] ingredients that formed benzene in the
drinks.” (Doc. 1, p. 4). When Plaintiff learned about
the risks from excessive consumption of benzene, he filed a
grievance about the issue, seeking an investigation. Walker
(grievance officer) denied the request, and Warden Mueller
affirmed that denial. (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5). Plaintiff appealed
the grievance to Thull, who also denied it, noting that the
prison properly addressed his issue. (Doc. 1, p. 5). At some
unspecified time, for about 4-5 months, the prison stopped
serving the juices containing the benzene-producing
ingredients, but then began to serve them to inmates again.
(Doc. 1, p. 4).
claims that Baldwin, Godinez, Taylor, Randle, and all
John/Jane Does “knew about the concerns of the juices
since 1998 and the formation of benzoate and ascorbic acid
forming benzene, yet they failed to ensure that these
products did not contain these ingredients.” (Doc. 1,
p. 6). The John/Jane Does deliberately manufactured and
distributed the juice products to prisoners, despite knowing
that they “would tend to contain unsafe levels, placing
prisoners at risk.” Id. Baldwin, Godinez,
Taylor, and Randle did nothing to address the health risks,
of which they were aware. Id. Plaintiff was
involuntarily exposed to benzene in the juices served with
prison meals, without any warning of the hazard. Id.
The juice consumption created an unreasonable risk to his
health. Id. He alleges that benzene can cause
cancer. (Doc. 1, p. 7).
asserts that Defendants' actions violated the Eighth
Amendment. He seeks declaratory relief, as well as
compensatory and punitive damages. (Doc. 1, p. 8). He also
requests that Defendants discontinue manufacturing the juices
in question. Id.
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 counts. The parties and the Court will use these
designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless
otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The
designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as
to their merit. Any other claim that is mentioned in the
Complaint but not addressed in this Order should be
considered dismissed without prejudice.
Count 1: Eighth Amendment claim against the John/Jane Doe ICI
Superintendents, for deliberate indifference to the present
and future health risks to Plaintiff from consuming its juice
drinks, which contain ingredients that may produce benzene;
Count 2: Eighth Amendment claim against Baldwin, Godinez,
Taylor, and Randle, for deliberate indifference to the
present and future health risks to Plaintiff from consuming
ICI-produced juice drinks, which contain ingredients that may
Count 3: Eighth Amendment claim against Mueller and the
John/Jane Doe Dietary Managers, for deliberate indifference
to the present and future health risks to Plaintiff from
consuming ICI-produced juice drinks, which contain
ingredients that may produce benzene;
Count 4: Eighth Amendment claim against Walker and Thull, for
deliberate indifference to the present and future health
risks to Plaintiff from consuming ICI-produced juice drinks,
which contain ingredients that may produce benzene.
Plaintiff's allegations as true, Counts 1, 2, and 3 shall
proceed for further review. Plaintiff shall note that his
claims against the John/Jane Doe Defendants cannot go forward
until one or more of these Unknown Party Defendants is
identified by name. Count 4 ...