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Balle v. Kennedy

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

October 18, 2019

WILLIE BALLE, Plaintiff,
TERI KENNEDY, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, files a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that, due to unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the Pontiac Correctional Center (“Pontiac”), he was injured in the course of his prison employment. The case is before the Court for a merit review pursuant to 28U.S.C. § 1915A. In reviewing the Complaint, the Court accepts the factual allegations as true, liberally construing them in Plaintiff's favor. Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 649-51 (7th Cir. 2013). However, conclusory statements and labels are insufficient. Enough facts must be provided to “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Alexander v. United States, 721 F.3d 418, 422 (7th Cir. 2013)(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). While the pleading standard does not require “detailed factual allegations”, it requires “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Wilson v. Ryker, 451 Fed.Appx. 588, 589 (7th Cir. 2011) quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).


         Immediately prior to the events at issue, Plaintiff had a job working in the dining room of the Pontiac Medium Security Unit where he is confined. On December 27, 2018, Officer Deal, not a party, told him that he was being reassigned to work as a dishwasher. Plaintiff was unhappy with the assignment and complained to an unidentified kitchen supervisor. The kitchen supervisor told him that Defendant Dietary Manager Danny Hobart had made the change. On January 2, 2019, Plaintiff reported to the kitchen where he spoke with supervisor Susie Hobart. Plaintiff informed Ms. Hobart that he did not want to work in the dish room where he would have to carry hot water. Ms. Hobart believed that a mistake had been made but indicated that Plaintiff would have to work in the dish room until the matter was sorted out.

         Ms. Hobart also told Plaintiff that there had been no hot water in the kitchen sink for over four months. She told Plaintiff that she had personally placed 10 or more work orders and that the other food supervisors had done the same. As there was no hot water, Plaintiff had to carry water from large kettles setting on the floor. Plaintiff estimates that each kettle held 65 to 70 gallons of water. Plaintiff had to dip buckets, some without handles, into the boiling water and carry the water 40-50 feet to the sink. Plaintiff asserts that the floor in front of the kettles had missing tiles and there were divots in the concrete flooring underneath, some 4 to 5 inches deep.

         Several hours later, while Plaintiff was carrying a 5-gallon bucket of boiling water, his boot became stuck in a divot on the floor. Plaintiff fell onto his back, spilling boiling water onto the lower portion of his left arm. Plaintiff alleges that he sustained second and third degree burns to his lower arm and well as injury to his legs and back, from the fall.

         Ms. Hobart responded, and ran to get the First Aid kit mounted on the wall only to find it was empty. Plaintiff states, without explaining the basis for this belief, that the First Aid kit had been empty for many years. Defendant Susie Hobart called an emergency code and left the unit to inform the overseeing officer of the medical emergency. Plaintiff indicates that he was eventually seen by a nurse and immediately taken to the healthcare unit.

         Plaintiff alleges that Warden Teri Kennedy, Dietary Manager Danny Hobart, Food Supervisors Mr. Harbarger and Susie Hobart, and a Doe Maintenance Supervisor all had direct knowledge of the conditions in the kitchen and that “an accident would eventually occur…” He asserts that, despite this knowledge, Defendants “implemented, enforced, created, and authorized policies and practices requiring the Plaintiff to carry boiling hot water from the kettles to the sink…”. He also asserts a claim against the identified Defendants and an additional Doe Health Care Employee for the delay in treating his burns due to the lack of equipment in the First Aid kit.


         To prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim based on inadequate conditions, a prisoner must show that (1) the conditions in the prison were objectively “sufficiently serious so that a prison official's act or omission results in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, ” and (2) prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to those conditions. Shannon v. Stegemiller, No. 16-01725, 2018 WL 3753496, at *3 (S.D. Ind. Aug. 8, 2018). (internal citations omitted). “Deliberate indifference” requires a showing of the official's subjective awareness of the risk. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 829 (1994). This is, that “Defendants were aware of the harm and deliberately indifferent to [plaintiff's] health and safety.” Haywood v. Hathaway, 842 F.3d 1026, 1031 (7th Cir. 2016) (per curiam).

         Generally speaking, “slip-and-fall accidents almost never support a constitutional claim.” Pyles v. Fahim, 771 F.3d 403, 410 at n. 25 (7th Cir. 2014). This is so as “[a]n accident is not punishment because it is unintentional. Only injury resulting either from a defendant's intentional actions or his or her deliberate indifference-conscious disregard of a known, serious risk to the prisoner-can be considered punishment. Blankenship v. Kittle, No. 03-3573, 2003 WL 22048712, at *1-2 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 6, 2003) (internal citations omitted). Here, however, Plaintiff claims that, despite his protests, he was required to carry boiling water in a 5-gallon bucket across a divoted and uneven floor. This is enough to state a colorable deliberate indifference claim at this stage. See Shannon, 2018 WL 3753496, at *4 (summary judgment denied where Defendants were aware of defect in machinery used in plaintiff's prison job and did not take reasonable measures to prevent the harm).

         Plaintiff, however, names Food Supervisors Harbarger and Hobart who apparently submitted multiple work orders to have the problem fixed. Plaintiff does not assert that either had the authority or expertise to fix the sink, or otherwise indicate what action they could have taken. See Jackson v. Duckworth, 955 F.2d 21, 22 (7th Cir. 1992) (emphasis in original) (to be liable defendants must have had “actual knowledge of impending harm easily preventable.”) See also, McGill v. Duckworth, 944 F.2d 344, 348-49 (7th Cir. 1991) (prison employees not to be taxed “with the effects of circumstances beyond their control”). Defendants Harbarger and Susie Hobart are DISMISSED.

         It is unclear whether Dietary Manager Danny Hobart or the Doe Maintenance Supervisor had the authority to remedy the situation, but they may reasonably be expected to have had knowledge of the problem. This particularly, as it is presumed that the series of work orders had been directed to the Doe Maintenance Supervisor. These two Defendants will remain, pending a more fully developed record.

         Plaintiff also names Warden Teri Kennedy but does not establish that she had personal knowledge of these conditions. He, in fact, appears to implicate Warden Kennedy only due to her supervisory position. The doctrine of respondeat superior (supervisor liability), however, does not apply to actions filed under 42 USC §1983. Pace ...

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