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Dismukes v. Baldwin

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 7, 2018

JARREL DISMUKES, # M41864, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN BALDWIN, S.A. GODINEZ, GLADYSE C. TAYLOR, MICHAEL P. RANDLE, ROBERT MUELLER, SUSAN WALKER, PATTY THULL, and JOHN/JANE DOE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          David R. Herndon United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, 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).

         This 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).

         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).

         Applying these standards, the Court finds that some of Plaintiff's claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff 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).

         According 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).

         In 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).

         Plaintiff 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).

         Plaintiff 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).

         Plaintiff 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.

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         Based 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 produce benzene;
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.

         Accepting 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 ...


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