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Thomas v. Williams

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 22, 2018

DUEL THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
TARRY WILLIAMS, MARK RAHIMI, STANLEY JENKINS, ANNA MCBEE, and SYTERA SANDERS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Gary Feinerman Judge.

         In this pro se suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Duel Thomas, an Illinois prisoner housed at Stateville Correctional Center, alleges that Stateville officials Tarry Williams, Mark Rahimi, and Stanley Jenkins violated the Eighth Amendment by improperly subjecting him to strip searches and that Stateville officials Anna McBee and Sytera Sanders violated the First Amendment when they retaliated against him by failing to investigate and erroneously denying his grievance regarding the strip searches. Doc. 12. With discovery closed, Doc. 67, Defendants move for summary judgment, Doc. 72. The motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         Background

         The Seventh Circuit “has consistently upheld district judges' discretion to require strict compliance with Local Rule 56.1.” Flint v. City of Belvidere, 791 F.3d 764, 767 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing cases); see also Stevo v. Frasor, 662 F.3d 880, 886-87 (7th Cir. 2011) (“Because of the high volume of summary judgment motions and the benefits of clear presentation of relevant evidence and law, we have repeatedly held that district judges are entitled to insist on strict compliance with local rules designed to promote the clarity of summary judgment filings.”). Thomas's pro se status does not excuse him from complying with Local Rule 56.1. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (“[W]e have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel.”); Coleman v. Goodwill Indus. of Se. Wis., Inc., 423 Fed.Appx. 642, 643 (7th Cir. 2011) (“Though courts are solicitous of pro se litigants, they may nonetheless require strict compliance with local rules.”); Wilson v. Kautex, Inc., 371 Fed.Appx. 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2010) (“[S]trictly enforcing Local Rule 56.1 was well within the district court's discretion, even though Wilson is a pro se litigant.”) (citation omitted); Cady v. Sheahan, 467 F.3d 1057, 1061 (7th Cir. 2006) (“[E]ven pro se litigants must follow rules of civil procedure.”).

         Consistent with the local rules, Defendants filed a Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement of undisputed facts with their summary judgment motion. Doc. 73. The relevant factual assertions in the Defendants' Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement cite evidentiary material in the record and are supported by the cited material. See N.D. Ill. L.R. 56.1(a) (“The statement referred to in (3) shall consist of short numbered paragraphs, including within each paragraph specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon to support the facts set forth in that paragraph.”). Also consistent with the local rules, Defendants served on Thomas a Local Rule 56.2 Notice, which explains what Local Rule 56.1 requires of a pro se litigant opposing summary judgment. Doc. 76.

         Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) required Thomas to file a “concise response to [Defendants' Local Rule 56.1(a)(3)] statement … contain[ing] … a response to each numbered paragraph in [it], including, in the case of any disagreement, specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon.” N.D.Ill. L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(B). Thomas has not responded to Defendants' Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement in the manner prescribed by Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B). Instead, Thomas submitted two briefs, Docs. 81, 82, that respond substantively to the arguments set forth in Defendant's brief, Doc. 74, and a sworn statement of fellow inmate Rickey Robinson, Doc. 83. Because Thomas does not present Robinson's averments through a Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) response or Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) statement, they are disregarded for purposes of summary judgment. See Thorncreek Apts. III, LLC v. Vill. of River Forest, 970 F.Supp.2d 828, 838-39 (N.D. Ill. 2013) (holding that facts may be presented on summary judgment only through a compliant Local Rule 56.1 statement or response) (citing cases). And because Thomas has failed to properly address the factual assertions in Defendants' Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement, those factual assertions are deemed admitted. See N.D. Ill. L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C) (“All material facts set forth in the statement required of the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing party.”); Olivet Baptist Church v. Church Mut. Ins. Co., 672 Fed.Appx. 607, 607 (7th Cir. 2017) (“The district court treated most of the [defendant's] factual submissions as unopposed, because the [plaintiff] failed to contest them in the form required by Local Rule 56.1(b). We have held that the district court is entitled to enforce that rule in precisely the way it enforced the rule in this litigation.”); Curtis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 807 F.3d 215, 218 (7th Cir. 2015) (“When a responding party's statement fails to dispute the facts set forth in the moving party's statement in the manner dictated by the rule, those facts are deemed admitted for purposes of the motion.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         That said, the court is mindful that “a nonmovant's failure to respond to a summary judgment motion or failure to comply with Local Rule 56.1 … does not … automatically result in judgment for the movant. [The movant] must still demonstrate that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Keeton v. Morningstar, Inc., 667 F.3d 877, 884 (7th Cir. 2012) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The court therefore will recite the facts in the Defendants' Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement, viewing the facts and inferences therefrom as favorably to Thomas as the record and Local Rule 56.1 allow. See Canen v. Chapman, 847 F.3d 407, 412 (7th Cir. 2017). The court then will determine whether, on those facts, the Defendants are entitled to summary judgment. At this juncture, the court must assume the truth of those facts, but does not vouch for them. See Arroyo v. Volvo Grp. N. Am., LLC, 805 F.3d 278, 281 (7th Cir. 2015).

         Thomas is a Stateville prisoner in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”). Doc. 73 at ¶ 1. At all relevant times, McBee was Stateville's Grievance Officer; Sanders was a Correctional Counselor; Jenkins and Rahimi were Lieutenants; and Williams was the Warden. Id. at ¶¶ 2-6.

         Thomas was employed as a dietary worker in the Stateville kitchen from September 2013 through September 2017. Id. at ¶ 13. Starting in March 2015 and for approximately two months thereafter, Thomas was subjected to “daily strip searches.” Id. at ¶ 14. The strip searches would occur when Thomas and the other kitchen workers “got off work, probably between seven, eight and nine” at night. Id. at ¶ 15. Correctional officers “would walk [the kitchen workers] to the room, … they would put some on that side, some on this side, and the officers would stand in the middle and they would tell [the inmates] to start to strip, start to take [their] clothes off.” Id. at ¶ 16. In each instance, “around seven or eight” inmates were strip searched at a time by “about six” correctional officers. Id. at ¶ 17. The officers would order each inmate to “open [his] mouth … [to] stick [his] tongue out [and] up and down, ” and then would “run fingers through [his] hair, flop [his] ears, grab [his] genitals … pull [the] foreskin back on [his] penis … after that, lift up [his] scrotum … turn around, bend over at the waist, take [his] hands, spread [his] buttocks and then come back up, and [require him] to lift [his] right feet and left feet and wiggle [his] toes.” Id. at ¶ 18. During the strip searches, the officers “would crack jokes here and there about little stuff, or you catch them, they're laughing, stuff like that.” Id. at ¶ 21. Jenkins and Rahimi would observe and supervise the strip searches while standing outside the room, but would not conduct the searches or issue orders to the inmates. Id. at ¶ 22.

         The strip searches were ordered due to a substantial increase in inmates being caught with contraband from the kitchen that they would use to make homemade alcohol or “hooch, ” which posed a significant security concern. Id. at ¶ 38. It is common for inmates to be strip searched under circumstances that present an increased safety or security threat, such as when they return from a job assignment, the visiting room, or some other area where they are more likely to access contraband. Id. at ¶ 40. Williams told Thomas that he ordered the strip searches because of a “hooch problem.” Id. at ¶ 25.

         After the kitchen worker strip searches began, inmates were “still getting caught with hooch.” Id. at ¶ 28. On or about May 18, 2015, Thomas told a psychologist at Stateville that he was “starting to feel symptoms of anxiety, thinking of ways to avoid work and spending time worrying about whether or not he w[ould] be searched every night.” Id. at ¶ 29. Thomas did not attempt to seek mental health treatment after his visit with the psychologist because the strip searches started to be not “as frequent as they” had been. Id. at ¶ 30. When the strip searches occurred daily, Thomas did not ask to be reassigned or terminated from his kitchen position. Id. at ¶ 31. After two months, their frequency slowed to approximately “three, four” times per week in June 2015, and less frequently after that. Id. at ¶ 32. Thomas's biggest concern with the strip searches was that they were conducted in the presence of other inmates and in an “unsanitary environment.” Id. at ¶ 33. Prison officials “never cleaned the room, ” which had “holes in the walls, ” and the floor was “filthy” and “damp.” Id. at ¶ 34.

         Thomas filed one grievance regarding the strip searches, dated May 14, 2015, complaining that “on or about March 13, 2015 and continuing through this day I have and still am being unreasonably, unlawfully and unconstitutionally stripped and body cavity searched every day after I leave my work assignment in the inmate dietary … .” Id. at ¶ 44. Sanders responded to the grievance on May 20, 2015, writing: “[Y]our grievance is untimely you have 60 days for which to file a grievance from the date of discovery. Your date of discovery is noted on 3-13-15. Your grievance date is 5-14-2015 thus exceeding 60 days.” Id. at ¶ 45. On January 19, 2016, McBee recommended that the Warden deny the grievance because “it was not filed within 60 days of discovery of the incident, occurrence, or problem which gives rise to the grievance as required in DR 504F.” Id. at ¶ 46. The regulation cited by McBee states: “[A] grievance shall be filed within 60 days after the discovery of the date of the incident, occurrence, or problem that gives rise to the grievance. However, if an offender can demonstrate that a grievance was not timely filed for good cause, the grievance shall be considered.” Id. at ¶ 47.

         Discussion

         I. Eighth Amendment Strip Search Claim Against Rahimi, ...


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