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Oden v. True

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 30, 2019

WILLIAM B. TRUE, Defendant.



         As narrowed by the Court at threshold review, Plaintiffs, all inmates incarcerated at United States Penitentiary Marion, allege they have been subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement by the warden, Defendant William B. True. Now before the Court are Defendant True’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff Martin Jonassen’s claims (Doc. 221) and his motion for summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion (Doc. 181). For the reasons delineated below, the Court grants True’s motion to dismiss and grants in part and denies in part his motion for summary judgment.

         I. Motion to Dismiss

         On June 2, 2016, the Seventh Circuit sanctioned Plaintiff Martin Jonassen and barred him from filing civil suits in the courts of this circuit until he paid a fine of $500 in full. See Doc. 221-1; United States v. Martin Jonassen, 7th Cir. Nos. 15-1381, 16-1040, 16-1092, 16-1214. On April 9, 2018, Jonassen filed a brief regarding required and permissive joinder, requesting that the Court add him as a plaintiff in this action. The Court, without referencing Jonassen’s status as a restricted filer, granted his motion for joinder on April 19, 2018. By motion dated July 24, 2019, Defendant True moves to dismiss Jonassen’s claims from this action because Jonassen remains a restricted filer in the Seventh Circuit, and True argues that Jonassen’s motion for joinder was granted in error.

         Jonassen is currently represented by counsel, who was directed to respond to True’s motion on his behalf. But in a flurry of pro se filings submitted by Jonassen and also in a motion to withdraw filed by his counsel, it has become clear that there has been a complete breakdown in their attorney-client relationship, and the Court GRANTS counsel’s motion to withdraw (Doc. 233).

         Generally, the Court would allow Jonassen to respond pro se to the motion to dismiss or seek out new counsel for him at this time, but Jonassen has already filed a pro se objection to the motion to dismiss (Doc. 230), in which he argues that he did not file a civil suit. He suggests that, instead, he has joined this action through a motion for joinder and that joining a civil action does not violate his bar from filing civil suits. This distinction without a difference skirts the clear ban on new civil actions by Jonassen until he has satisfied the sanction imposed by the Seventh Circuit. In his objection, Jonassen also suggests that the Seventh Circuit was incorrect in its decision to sanction and restrict him, but this Court does not have the authority to set aside or to ignore the 2016 order barring Jonassen from bringing new civil suits. Accordingly, Defendant True’s motion to dismiss Jonassen’s claims from this action is GRANTED. Jonassen’s remaining pro se motions (Docs. 226, 232, 234, 236) are DENIED as MOOT.

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment for Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         Defendant True also moves for summary judgment as to all Plaintiffs due to their alleged failure to exhaust administrative remedies. All Plaintiffs except Christopher Oden concede that they failed to exhaust their remedies prior to filing suit. As such, the Court will grant Defendant True’s motion as to all Plaintiffs except Oden. Defendant’s motion requires further consideration as to whether Oden exhausted his remedies.


         A single count of the initial complaint in this action survived threshold review. In it, Oden alleges True subjected him to unconstitutional conditions of confinement in USP Marion by overcrowding cells designed for single occupancy, which prevented cell doors from closing properly, and by failing to remedy black mold in the vents and extreme humidity in the cells. True acknowledges Oden exhausted his remedies as to his claims about triple-celling and issues with the doors in Units X, L, Y, and N only. He argues, however, that Oden did not exhaust his remedies as to his claims about mold and humidity or about cell capacity and the cell doors as to the cells in Marion’s Special Housing Unit. Oden maintains he exhausted his remedies as to all claims and all cells.

         In the Bureau of Prisons, inmate complaints are handled through the remedy process. The parties agree that three remedy cases are relevant to this action: 905967, 915386, and 918425. They also agree that each remedy case involved a remedy that was fully exhausted when Oden filed suit. They disagree as to which claims are encompassed by the contents of the three remedies.

         In remedy 905967, Oden challenged the use of three-man cells and mentioned that he had numerous medical issues including “breathing issues in heat” to stress the impact that triple-celling had on him. In his request for relief, Oden asked that the prison remove one man from his cell and remove “all” added third bunks in the facility. (Doc. 181-13, p. 109). In a response, an official at Marion characterized Oden’s claim as requesting that “USP Marion … be prohibited from housing more than two inmates per cell.” (Doc. 181-13, p. 111). Oden appealed the denial of his remedy, and in response to his remedy appeal, a regional director described the nature of his complaint, noting, “You request immediate removal of the third bunk bed from each cell at USP Marion.” (Doc. 181-13, p. 114).

         In remedy 915386, Oden complained about not being able to be open or close his cell door manually. He asked that the cell doors be unlocked so that they could be opened and closed manually by inmates at will. (Doc. 181-13, p. 119). The response to his remedy noted that he asked that the general population cell doors be modified so that inmates would be to close them but that the doors are not designed to be opened or closed by inmates at will. (Doc. 181-13, p. 120). In his appeal, Oden referenced Units L, N, X, and Y specifically. (Doc. 181-13, p. 123). Oden does not mention the Special Housing Unit or clearly make a reference to all cells in his remedy or his appeal.

         In remedy 918425, Oden again complained about cell overcrowding and its impact on his mental health caused. (Doc. 181-3, p. 128). He also mentioned having issues with stairs and excessive heat, which the response to his remedy acknowledged. (Doc. 181-3, p. 131). Other than mentioning these issues, he does not raise any other issues with his cell specifically or by ...

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