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Hardeman v. Curran

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 12, 2019

Tapanga Hardeman, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,
Sheriff Mark Curran, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued March 25, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 17 C 8729 - Sharon Johnson Coleman, Judge.

          Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and Flaum and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          Wood, Chief Judge.

         Water is vital for both health and sanitation. Dehydration affects practically every life function, including temperature regulation, digestion, brain function, toxin elimination, and oxygen distribution. See Jon Johnson, "Effects of having no water," MEDICAL NEWS TODAY, (last visited July 19, 2019). After a few days, total deprivation of water can be fatal. Id. Basic sanitation is also essential.

         The plaintiffs in this case, all pretrial detainees at the Lake County Adult Correctional Facility, allege that they were forced to learn this lesson the hard way. For approximately three days in 2017, the jail officials shut off all water in their jail without any warning. With no running water, the plaintiffs had only limited water that the defendants provided for their personal and sanitation uses. As a result, they became ill and feces built up and festered in the jails' toilets, attracting insects. When plaintiffs asked for more water, they were locked down in their cells as punishment. The pretrial detainees responded with this putative class action, in which they alleged that the defendants violated their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. Defendants moved to dismiss on the ground of qualified immunity. The district court denied their motion, and this interlocutory appeal followed. We agree with the district court's decision and affirm.


         Because this case comes to us as a motion to dismiss asserting qualified immunity, we accept all well pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs' favor. Reed v. Palmer, 906 F.3d 540, 546 (7th Cir. 2018).

         Defendants Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran and Chief of Corrections David Wathen oversee the Lake County Adult Correctional Facility. (We refer to them, as well as the various yet-unnamed defendants, collectively as "Wathen.") At the time of these events, plaintiffs (all pretrial detainees) were housed there. On November 7, 2017, Wathen shut off the water at the jail. He did not forewarn any of the detainees that this shutoff was going to happen. The complaint does not reveal why Wathen shut off the water, although he avers in his briefing that he did so in order to replace a water booster pump.

         During the shutoff, the detainees were not totally without water. Wathen provided them with five bottles (of indeterminate size) of water per day for their personal use. These five bottles were all that the detainees were given to drink, brush their teeth, wash their hands and faces, and take medication. When individual detainees asked for more water, they were refused. If a person repeatedly asked for more water, he was put on lockdown.

         Wathen also provided a barrel of water (again, of unclear size) to each communal area, called a pod, within the jail. The barrel of water in each pod was to be used for bathing, cleaning the pod's cells, and flushing toilets within the cells. But not all flushing: the detainees were instructed to flush only when feces were present. They were forbidden to flush at all during the night.

         Unfortunately, these arrangements for flushing were a failure, in that they often did not clear the toilets. This led to feces and urine sitting in toilets throughout the jail for prolonged periods of time. This was no small issue, as the jail has a capacity of approximately 740 inmates. There were thus hundreds of toilets holding feces and urine. Unsurprisingly, the continuous presence of excrement produced a powerful and putrid smell. Insects were also attracted to the unflushed feces.

         The plaintiffs and other detainees say that these conditions were disgusting and caused them tangible harm. They allege that they became "sick, sleep deprived, and agitated" because of the continuous presence of excrement in their cells; that they were not provided with enough water to take needed medications; and that the lack of drinking water and unsanitary conditions caused numerous ailments, including "dehydration, migraine headaches, sickness, ...

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