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Lisle v. Welborn

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 1, 2019

Steven D. Lisle, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellant,
William Welborn, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued March 29, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 3:15-CV-00965 - Michael J. Reagan, Judge.

          Before Hamilton, Barrett, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.


         This appeal presents issues stemming from a prison's discipline of a prisoner and his later suicide attempts. The story began in 2014 when correctional officers at the Menard Correctional Facility found contraband alcohol in the cell of plaintiff Steven D. Lisle, Jr. Lisle's cellmate at first took responsibility for the contraband but later recanted outside of Lisle's presence. He said instead that Lisle had been abusing him and had forced him to take the blame for the alcohol. In disciplinary proceedings, Lisle later asked to call a witness to testify about his cellmate's initial admissions. His requests were ignored. Lisle, who is black, was sentenced to four months in disciplinary segregation. His cellmate, who was white, was not disciplined.

         While in segregation, Lisle attempted to commit suicide three times. His third attempt was nearly successful, and he was placed on suicide watch in the prison infirmary. While there, Lisle claims, a nurse taunted him for his failed suicide attempts and encouraged him to try again. Lisle filed this suit alleging that he was punished based on his race, that he was deprived of liberty without due process of law, and that the prison staff's conduct in the wake of his mental health crisis- including the nurse's statements-amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

         The district court granted summary judgment on several claims but held a jury trial on Lisle's claims for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. During jury selection, defense lawyers used peremptory strikes to remove three of the four black potential jurors. After the jury was selected, but before it was sworn and the venire released, Lisle's counsel objected pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), challenging the use of peremptory strikes against the black jurors. The judge denied the objection as untimely.

         Lisle appeals the summary judgment decision and seeks a new trial based on his Batson claim. We agree that his Batson claim was timely, and we cannot find that the erroneous denial was harmless. We remand for an evidentiary hearing on the Batson claim and, if necessary, a new trial on all claims that were tried. We also reverse summary judgment for the nurse on the taunting claim. We affirm all other aspects of the judgment.

         I. Factual & Procedural Background

         A. Cell Search & Disciplinary Proceeding

         To the extent we review the partial grant of summary judgment, we review the facts in the light most favorable to Lisle as the non-moving party, giving him the benefit of conflicts in the evidence. Spaine v. Community Contacts, Inc., 756 F.3d 542, 544 (7th Cir. 2014). Steven D. Lisle, Jr. was an inmate at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois, where he shared a cell with another inmate. On August 12, 2014, when Lisle was at the prison gym, correctional officers searched his cell and found contraband: a trash bag of liquid that contained 7% alcohol. Two correctional officers took Lisle to segregation to await a disciplinary hearing.

         On the way to the segregation unit, he crossed paths with his cellmate, who had also been at the gym when the search occurred. Lisle asked his cellmate if he was going to "take his weight" (claim responsibility) for the contraband. The cellmate said yes and told Lisle that he had "already told them whatever they found" in the cell was his. Lieutenant Michael Samuel was within earshot of this conversation. Lisle told Lieutenant Samuel that he was going to call him as a witness at his disciplinary hearing. Samuel told Lisle he would testify.

         Outside of Lisle's presence, though, his cellmate later recanted. He said he had claimed the alcohol was his only because Lisle had put him "through some serious hell." The cellmate revealed extensive bruising all over his body that he claimed was the result of Lisle's physical and sexual abuse. He expressed fear for his life. The cellmate was placed in protective custody and a rape kit was used to test him. He was never placed in segregation, and the Adjustment Committee found him not guilty for the contraband. Lieutenant Brook-man testified in this case that Lisle was not informed of the allegations his cellmate made because disclosing to an alleged abuser that his victim has reported the abuse is "what gets people hurt in prison."

         Once Lisle was placed in segregation, a correctional officer provided him with a copy of the disciplinary report outlining the charged violations. Lisle asked for a pen so that he could sign the report and ask to have Lieutenant Samuel testify at the disciplinary hearing. The officer refused, so Lisle made an oral request that Samuel be called to testify. The next day, Lisle met with his counselor and again made an oral request to call Lieutenant Samuel as a witness. His counselor forwarded the request to Internal Affairs, which in turn faxed the request to the Adjustment Committee.

         Two days after the search, the disciplinary hearing was held before the Adjustment Committee comprised of Lieutenant Kent Brookman and another official whom Lisle has not sued. Lieutenant Samuel did not attend the disciplinary hearing. Brookman indicated he had already spoken with Samuel and would do so again.[1]

         The Adjustment Committee found Lisle guilty and sentenced him to four months of disciplinary segregation and four months of reduced privileges, such as commissary restrictions, and six months of contact visit restriction. Despite Lisle's request that Samuel testify at least three times, the Adjustment Committee's final report indicated that he had not requested a witness.

         B. Lisle's Mental Health Crisis

         While in segregation, Lisle attempted to commit suicide with a makeshift rope three times over the course of three days. He claimed that being denied the chance to present a witness at his hearing and the slow response to the post-hearing grievances he filed caused him to become depressed. He repeatedly asked for a mental health and crisis team but did not receive intervening assistance before his third suicide attempt.

         Lisle described his segregation cell as being poorly ventilated, with rusty bars and with corroded feces in the toilet. He was not given a brush to clean the toilet, and he had access to fewer cleaning supplies due to his loss of commissary privileges. He also had fewer privileges than when he was in general population, such as loss of access to the gym and fewer opportunities to go outside or shower. He had a cellmate throughout his entire stay in "segregation."

         Lisle described his first two suicide attempts in a deposition taken April 25, 2017. He said his first suicide attempt on September 3, 2014 failed when the makeshift rope he tied around his neck snapped under his weight. Lisle alleges Lieutenant Welborn and Nurse Reeves witnessed the attempt. Lisle claims he informed them he was attempting to kill himself and handed Reeves a suicide note. According to Lisle, they both walked away without a word.

         The next day, Lisle again attempted suicide unsuccessfully, this time, he says, in the presence of correctional officer Christopher McClure and another nurse, Jodi Hormann. Lisle again claims he handed the nurse a suicide note and told them both that he intended to kill himself. In a repeat of the day before, Lisle says, the two prison staff members simply walked away. Before Lisle attempted suicide a third time, he gave another officer, Cale Young, a third suicide note and informed the officer that he was going to attempt suicide again. According to Lisle, Young put the note in his pocket and walked away.

         The night of September 5, 2014, Lisle attempted to commit suicide a third time while his cellmate was asleep. This time, a correctional officer and a medical staff member saw him hanging in his cell and yelled for his cellmate to help. His cellmate helped the officers support Lisle by his legs to give the officers time to remove the rope from his neck. Lisle was taken to the infirmary, where the medical staff noted he had injuries on his neck that appeared several days old, consistent with prior suicide attempts. He remained in the infirmary and was placed on suicide watch.

         On the instructions of the medical director, Lisle was placed on "strip cell suicide watch," which meant he was not provided a mattress and could use only a suicide-resistant blanket. He was also checked every ten minutes, with vital signs checked every two hours. Jana South was a nurse working in the infirmary when Lisle was admitted. Lisle testified that when Nurse South evaluated him a few hours later, she repeatedly mocked him for failing to kill himself. She lamented that Lisle had not succeeded in his suicide attempts, told him he should have done it "properly," and said he should "do a better job next time." Later, Lisle also complained that his back hurt from sleeping on the steel slab without a mattress and requested a blanket because his cell was too cold. South taunted him, saying that if he wanted a mattress, he should not be on suicide watch and that he should not care about being cold or uncomfortable since he was trying to kill himself. South denied making any of these statements.

         Despite the dispute about what Nurse South said, it is undisputed that she continued to provide care to Lisle. She evaluated him several times, took his vital signs, and conducted at least one neurological examination. After her first evaluation of Lisle, South also called a mental health physician to ...

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