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Posey v. Lemmon

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

August 26, 2016

SEAN E. POSEY, Plaintiff,


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge

         Plaintiff Sean Posey (“Mr. Posey”) is currently incarcerated by the Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”) at the New Castle Correctional Facility (“New Castle”). He brings this civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his First, Fourth, and Eighth Amendment rights have been violated by the defendants. He has named 11 defendants: 1) Bruce Lemmon, Commissioner; 2) John Doe, IDOC Director of Classification;[1] 3) Case Manager Daloney; 4) Sgt. Lanier; 5) Lt. Washington; 6) Officer Ruel; 7) Lt. Creasy; 8) Sgt. Alonzo Burris; 9) Sgt. Refuge Curtis; 10) Captain Larry Steinbeck; and 11) Sgt. Daniel Palmroy. All of the defendants except Commissioner Lemmon and the IDOC Director of Classification were employees of the Westville Correctional Facility (“Westville”). Mr. Posey alleges that the defendants are named in their official capacities. He seeks compensatory damages in the amount of 15 million dollars, 25 million dollars in punitive damages, and injunctive relief including an investigation, disciplinary action, and his release from custody. Mr. Posey alleges that the defendants failed to protect him from assault by other inmates and retaliated against him for having filed an earlier civil rights action against them.

         I. Complaint Screening

         Because the plaintiff is a “prisoner” as defined by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h), the complaint is subject to the screening requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). Pursuant to this statute, “[a] complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim if the allegations, taken as true, show that plaintiff is not entitled to relief.” Jones v. Bock, 127 S.Ct. 910, 921 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. . . . 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quotations omitted). Pro se complaints such as that filed by the plaintiff, are construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Obriecht v. Raemisch, 517 F.3d 489, 491 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008). Applying this standard to this action certain claims must be dismissed.

         A. Statute of Limitations

         Claims which accrued before April 26, 2014, (more than 2 years before this action was filed) are dismissed as barred by the statute of limitations. Thus the relevant allegations are the following. On February 19, 2015, the plaintiff was returned to IDOC custody after having violated the terms of his community transition program. He spoke with a classification specialist at Reception Diagnostic Center on March 5, 2015, and stated that he did not want to be placed at Westville because he feared retaliation by the defendants named in his prior civil action.[2] The classification specialist told the plaintiff that he recommended that the plaintiff be sent to New Castle.

         On March 9, 2015, the plaintiff was transferred to Westville. He was harassed, threatened and forced to participate in sexual conduct at Westville. He was transferred to New Castle on April 19, 2015, where the alleged abuse ceased.

         B. Statewide Defendants

         The only claim against the statewide defendants is that they should have known that violence and terror exists at Westville and that they should not have allowed the plaintiff to be placed there. But there is no plausible basis to conclude that Commissioner Bruce Lemmon, or the unidentified IDOC Director of Classification caused or participated in the alleged constitutional deprivation. The Seventh Circuit has explained:

Iqbal held that knowledge of subordinates' misconduct is not enough for liability. The supervisor must want the forbidden outcome to occur. Deliberate indifference to a known risk is a form of intent. But Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994), holds that, to show scienter by the deliberate-indifference route, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the public official knew of risks with sufficient specificity to allow an inference that inaction is designed to produce or allow harm. A warden's knowledge that violence occurs frequently in prison does not make the warden personally liable for all injuries. See McGill v. Duckworth, 944 F.2d 344 (7th Cir.1991). Prisons are dangerous places, and misconduct by both prisoners and guards is common. Liability for wardens would be purely vicarious. Farmer rejected a contention that wardens (or guards) can be liable just because they know that violence occurs in prisons and don't do more to prevent it on an institution-wide basis. To get anywhere, [the plaintiffs] would need to allege that [the defendant] knew of a substantial risk to [the plaintiffs] and ignored that risk because he wanted plaintiffs (or similarly situated persons) to be harmed. The complaint does not contain such an allegation and could not plausibly do so.

Vance v. Rumsfeld, 701 F.3d 193, 204 (7th Cir. 2012) (knowledge of subordinates' misconduct is not enough for liability). In this case, the complaint fails to contain sufficient factual allegations upon which to conclude that these statewide defendants knew that the plaintiff faced a substantial risk if he was placed at Westville and ignored that risk because they wanted the plaintiff to be harmed. Accordingly, the claims against the statewide defendants Bruce Lemmon and John Doe are dismissed.

         C. Official Capacity Claims

         In addition, the complaint is deficient because all of the claims are brought against the defendants in their “official capacities” (instead of their individual capacities). An official capacity claim against the defendant individuals as employees of the IDOC would in essence be against the State of Indiana. Such claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the doctrine of sovereign immunity. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-67 and n.14 (1985) (suit for damages against state officer in official capacity is barred by the Eleventh Amendment); see also Omosegbon v. Wells, 335 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2003) (the state is not a “person” that can be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Although, there are circumstances under which the plaintiff could seek prospective injunctive relief from an individual defendant in his official capacity, those circumstances are not present in this case because no ongoing violation of the plaintiff's constitutionally protected rights could be identified given that the plaintiff has been transferred to New Castle. Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services v. Indiana Family and Social Services Admin., 603 F.3d 365, 371 (7th Cir. 2010)(J. Hamilton). Accordingly, the official capacity claims are dismissed.

         D. ...

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