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Harris v. Dart

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

January 6, 2020

Jerrell Harris, Plaintiff,
Thomas J. Dart, Gerald Moore, Brent S. O'Hearn, Patrick Fitzpatrick, Scott Knefel, Geno Muskat, Jacek Brylewski, Nurse Obuli, and County of Cook, Defendants.


          Honorable Thomas M. Durkin United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jerrell Harris, who is represented by recruited volunteer counsel, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against defendants Sheriff Thomas J. Dart, Sergeant Gerald Moore, Nurse Obuli, Officers Brent O'Hearn, Patrick Fitzpatrick, Scott Knefel, Geno Muskat and Jacek Brylewski, and the County of Cook (collectively, “Defendants”). Defendants moved to dismiss Harris's operative complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). R. 36. For the reasons that follow, that motion is granted in part, but the Court takes under advisement certain aspects of that motion pending additional briefing ordered below.


         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the “sufficiency of the complaint.” Berger v. Nat. Collegiate Athletic Assoc., 843 F.3d 285, 289 (7th Cir. 2016). A complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), sufficient to provide defendant with “fair notice” of the claim and the basis for it. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While “detailed factual allegations” are not required, “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' ” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “ ‘A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.' ” Boucher v. Fin. Sys. of Green Bay, Inc., 880 F.3d 362, 366 (7th Cir. 2018) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In applying this standard, the Court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Tobey v. Chibucos, 890 F.3d 634, 646 (7th Cir. 2018).


         The facts giving rise to this lawsuit are straightforward, the procedural history less so. The Court begins with the facts alleged in the operative complaint.

         Factual allegations.

         Harris was an inmate at Cook County Jail at all times relevant to this lawsuit. R. 35 ¶ 2. On February 29, 2016, Harris was in maximum security segregation because of overcrowding when Nurse Obuli announced medication time would be at 6:00 p.m. in the dayroom. Id. ¶¶ 16, 25-27. Because only two inmates are permitted in the dayroom at a time, Sergeant Moore directed Officers Knefel, Fitzpatrick, O'Hearn, Muskat, and Brylewski to lock Harris in a janitor's closet, where he remained for fifteen minutes. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. Before doing so, Knefel told Harris “This is how we treat savages, ” and Fitzpatrick said “This is how we treat animals.” Id. ¶¶ 15, 28. Harris repeatedly yelled “Let me out, ” and complained to Knefel that it was hot and he was having difficulty breathing. Id. ¶ 29. Eventually, Harris lost consciousness and fell backward, hitting his head, causing a half-inch-high raised bump. Id. ¶¶ 30, 33. Harris claims that his lower back was also injured from the fall, apparently because the shackles and padlock that held his arms behind his back were in the general vicinity of bullet fragments lodged in his back from an incident years before. Id. ¶¶ 31-32.

         When Harris regained consciousness, Officers Knefel and Fitzpatrick roughly pulled him to his feet. The officers laughed at his request for medical care, id. ¶¶ 34-35, and Sergeant Moore stated “We really f***ed up, ” id. ¶ 36. Nurse Obuli was summoned and took Harris's pulse but did not examine his head or lower back. She recommended that Harris walk to the infirmary (a distance of approximately 25 feet) for further medical treatment. Id. ¶¶ 28-30. Harris complained of dizziness and lower back pain. Id. ¶ 41. Sergeant Moore refused to obtain a wheelchair for Harris after Nurse Obuli said he did not need one. Id. ¶¶ 7, 19. Officer Knefel walked Harris to the infirmary, where Nurse Obuli gave him ten Tylenol or Advil pills for his headache and back pain, but refused to set up an appointment with the staff doctor. Id. ¶¶ 20, 40, 42.

         According to Harris, the bump on his head remained for at least four days after the incident, he experienced headaches and lower back pain for a week, and continues to experience lower back pain on occasion. Id. ¶¶ 43-44. Harris also alleges he suffered embarrassment, outrage, fear and emotional trauma from the incident. Id. ¶ 48.

         First lawsuit.

         In May 2016, Harris filed a federal case captioned Harris v. Moore, et al., 16 C 5233 (N.D. Ill.) regarding the same events that underlie this lawsuit (“First Lawsuit”). 16 C 5233, R. 1. Harris named “SG. Moore/Nurse Ms. Obuli, ” “C'O' O'Hearn, ” “C'O' Fitzpatrick, ” “C.O. Knifeel, ” “C.O. Muskat, ” and “C.O. Brylewski” as defendants. Id. The case was assigned to this Court, and counsel was recruited. Harris subsequently amended his complaint through counsel to name Sergeant Moore, Correctional Officer Knifeel, Correctional Officer Fitzpatrick, Nurse Obuli and “Unknown Correctional Officers” as defendants, and terminate O'Hearn, Brylewski and Muskat. 16 C 5233, R. 8. Ultimately, in November 2016, Harris voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit because he could not determine the full names of the individual defendants. 16 C 5233, R. 15; R. 46 at 2.

         This case.

         A year later in November 2017, Harris filed a complaint in state court through the same counsel, naming by last name Moore, Fitzpatrick, Knefel and Obuli as defendants. In May 2018, Harris amended the complaint to add Sheriff Dart and replace Moore, Fitzpatrick, Knefel and Obuli with “Unknown Cook County Correctional Officers” and “Unknown Cook County Correctional Nurse.” On July 31, 2018, Dart filed a notice of removal and the case was assigned to this Court. R. 1. On December 10, 2018, Harris filed a Second Amended Complaint naming as defendants: Sheriff Dart; Sergeant Moore and Officers O'Hearn, Fitzpatrick, Knefel, Muskat and Brylewski (identifying each by badge number); “First Name Unknown (F/N/U) Nurse Obuli;” and Toni Preckwinkle as President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. R. 16. The Second Amended Complaint eliminated the reference to unknown correctional officers. Id. Harris filed a Third Amended Complaint the next day, substituting Cook County for Preckwinkle. R. 18. Finally, on March 18, 2019, Harris filed his Fourth Amended Complaint-the operative ...

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