United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
M. YANDLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Joseph Harris, currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville
Correctional Center (“Pinckneyville”), brings
this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983. He raises claims of excessive force,
denial of medical care, and retaliation. The Complaint is now
before the Court for a preliminary review pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915A.
§ 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner
Complaints to filter out non-meritorious claims. See
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). 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 must be
dismissed. 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.
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).
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). Additionally, Courts “should not
accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a
cause of action or conclusory legal statements.”
Id. At the same time, 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).
these standards, the Court finds that some of Plaintiff's
claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.
Joseph Harris makes the following allegations in the
Complaint: On August 17, 2017, Plaintiff was locked inside
his cell when Lt. Belford arrived and ordered him to
“cuff up.” (Doc. 6, p. 6). Plaintiff
characterizes this as an “impossible and confusing
order.” Id. Plaintiff responded by pointing to
the locked door and stating, “I'm riding it out
with my homie on cuffing-up. We do not have keys or
cuffs.” Id. Without giving Plaintiff any
further orders or instructions, Belford opened the cell's
chuckhole and sprayed Plaintiff with mace in his face, nose,
and eyes. Plaintiff claims that this action violated IDOC
policy which requires an officer to notify a shift commander,
the Health Care department, obtain security staff support,
and give 3 warnings before using mace on an inmate. (Doc. 6,
mace spray caused Plaintiff to suffer pain, partial
blindness, difficulty breathing, and fear. (Doc. 6, p. 7). He
stumbled to the door and stuck his hands through the
chuckhole “to comply with the second order to
cuff-up.” Id. Plaintiff then went to face the
back of the cell as ordered. While Plaintiff stood with his
back to Belford, Belford sprayed more mace on the back of
Plaintiff's head, neck, ears, hands, and arms.
after these events, Plaintiff was “engaged in the
protected conduct of meaningfully accessing the court,
” when Belford forced Plaintiff's cuffed arms far
above his head. Belford jerked Plaintiff's hands and
continued to hold them high in the air while moving Plaintiff
from his cell in 4 House to 5 House, which was a long
distance away. (Doc. 6, p. 7). When they arrived at 5 House,
Plaintiff asked Belford for a grievance form. Belford
threatened that if Plaintiff filed a grievance, he would
“falsely accuse Plaintiff of refusing a direct order to
‘cuff-up' and of grabbing [Belford's] arm
through the chuck-hole.” (Doc. 6, pp. 7-8). Belford
further threatened to have other officers “drown
Plaintiff in mace and stomp his brains out.”
House, Mendez directed Belford to place Plaintiff into a
“make-shift” holding cell, where Plaintiff spent
the next hour. (Doc. 6, p. 8). The cell lacked a sink,
toilet, towels, and soap, making it impossible for Plaintiff
to clean the mace off his body. The odor of mace, in addition
to his gasping for air, the flow of tears and mucous from his
eyes and nose, and his bruised and swollen wrists alerted the
officers to his need for medical attention.
Jane Doe Nurse briefly attended to Plaintiff while he was in
the holding cell. She saw his condition but only gave him 2
gauze pads, and did not refer him to a doctor. (Doc. 6, p.
Ackers reviewed the disciplinary report filed against
Plaintiff after the mace incident noticed that it failed to
comply with IDOC policy (Plaintiff does not explain the
flaw). (Doc. 6, p. 8). Ackers gave Belford approval to place
Plaintiff in disciplinary segregation.
in the evening of August 17, 2017, Belford wrote a
disciplinary report charging Plaintiff with disobeying a
direct order. (Doc. 6, pp. 8, 11). This report did not
include any charge that Plaintiff grabbed Belford's arm.
filed a grievance against Belford over the mace incident.
(Doc. 6, pp. 11-12). When Belford responded to the grievance
on October 12, 2017, he accused Plaintiff of having grabbed
his arm, as he earlier threatened to do. (Doc. 6, p. 9).
Belford's threats deterred Plaintiff from accurately
reporting the full details of the incident, hindering his
ability to use the grievance process. Id.
took the adverse actions against Plaintiff “in direct
response to Plaintiff's protected conduct.” (Doc.
6, p. 9). He raises constitutional claims as well as
statutory claims of assault and battery pursuant to 720 ILCS
5/12-1 and 5/12-3. He seeks compensatory, punitive, and
nominal damages, as well as unspecified injunctive relief.
(Doc. 6, p. 10).
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 excessive force
claim against Belford, for spraying Plaintiff with mace, and
forcing Plaintiff's cuffed arms into a painful position;
Count 2: First Amendment retaliation claim
against Belford for physically injuring Plaintiff because
Plaintiff attempted to access the courts, and for falsely
claiming that Plaintiff grabbed his arm because Plaintiff
filed a grievance over Belford's conduct;
Count 3: Eighth Amendment deliberate
indifference claim against Belford and Ackers for placing
Plaintiff in a holding cell where he was unable to clean the
mace from his body, and for failing to obtain ...