Submitted May 6, 2016 [*]
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 13 CV 8622 -
Manish S. Shah, Judge.
Flaum, Manion, and Williams, Circuit Judges.
Williams, Circuit Judge.
Anderson, an Illinois prisoner, alleges that he fell and was
knocked unconscious after guards at Stateville Correctional
Center ordered him to walk handcuffed down stairs covered
with milk and garbage. In his complaint under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, Anderson claims that the guards violated the
Eighth Amendment by subjecting him to this hazard. The
district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss,
ruling that slippery stairs do not pose a sufficiently
serious risk of harm to state a claim under the Eighth
Amendment. Because Anderson faced not only stairs slicked
with milk, but also scattered trash and guards who required
him to negotiate his descent while unaided and cuffed behind
his back, the risk of serious harm was substantial.
Therefore, we vacate and remand.
reviewing a complaint dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), we "tak[e] all well-pleaded
allegations of the complaint as true and view them in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff." Arnett v.
Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). During a
"shakedown" of several cells, the defendants
handcuffed Anderson behind his back and ordered him to walk
down a set of stairs to wait in a holding area while his cell
was searched. These stairs were "covered [with] food,
milk, and other garbage, and had been for several days."
The defendants refused Anderson's request to help him
walk. He slipped and fell down a flight of thirteen stairs.
He was knocked unconscious and suffered "continuing and
sued the two guards who had ordered him down the stairs. He
alleged that by cuffing him, leaving the greasy surface and
debris in place, and refusing his request for help, they were
deliberately indifferent to the obvious risk of harm the
stairs posed. The district court granted the defendants'
motion to dismiss. It recognized that prison conditions
violate the Eighth Amendment if they pose a substantial risk
of serious harm and prison officials are deliberately
indifferent to the risk. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511
U.S. 825, 837 (1994). It also acknowledged that Anderson
adequately alleged that the guards were deliberately
indifferent to a risk of harm. But, the district judge ruled,
the risk was not substantial enough. He relied heavily on our
ruling in Pyles v. Fahim, 771 F.3d 403 (7th Cir.
2014), where an inmate slipped on stairs wet with water from
prisoners' shower shoes. We held that "slippery
surfaces and shower floors in prison, without more, cannot
constitute a hazardous condition of confinement" that
violates the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 410-11.
appeal, Anderson persuasively distinguishes Pyles by
supplying the "more." Unlike the prisoner in that
case, who was uncuffed, Anderson faced a hazard that posed,
in three respects, a significant risk of severe harm. First,
the stairs were not only slippery with milk, but also clogged
with several days' of accumulated food and rubbish,
creating an obstacle course. Second, by handcuffing him
behind his back, the guards prevented Anderson from steadying
himself to avoid tripping, slipping, or tumbling down the
flight of stairs. Third, even though they knew that Anderson
could not steady himself, the guards refused to assist him.
Anderson has thus alleged circumstances perilous enough to
constitute "an unreasonable risk of serious damage to
his future health, " Helling v. McKinney, 509
U.S. 25, 35 (1993), and to state an Eighth Amendment claim,
see Powers v. Snyder, 484 F.3d 929, 932 (7th Cir.
2007) (prison conditions that recklessly "endanger
" a prisoner's health state an Eighth Amendment
claim); Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d 469, 478 (7th
Cir. 2005) ("known or obvious dangers" to health
state a claim under Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments).
defendants respond by arguing, unhelpfully, that the risk of
slipping in a prison shower does not violate the Eighth
Amendment. They cite cases in which our sister circuits have
ruled that keeping a violent prisoner shackled while he uses
the shower, see LeMaire v. Maass, 12 F.3d 1444, 1457
(9th Cir. 1993), and failing to drain standing water in a
shower area used by an inmate on crutches, see Reynolds
v. Powell, 370 F.3d 1028, 1031 (10th Cir. 2004), do not
pose sufficient risks of harm to state a claim. But these
cases are distinguishable for two reasons. First, plummeting
down a flight of 13 steps presents a far greater risk of
physical injury than does slipping on a shower floor. Second,
the floors in LeMaire and Reynolds and the
stairs in Pyles were unavoidably wet: showers
necessarily produce wet floors, and in Pyles, the
water on inmates' shower shoes inevitably tracked onto
the exit stairway, see Pyles, 771 F.3d at 405. But
here, stairs slicked with milk and cluttered with garbage are
not a necessary condition of prison. And by cleaning
the stairs, the high risk of serious harm would ebb.
are not required to provide a "maximally safe
environment, " Carroll v. DeTella, 255 F.3d
470, 472 (7th Cir. 2001), but they must address easily
preventable, observed hazards that pose a significant risk of
severe harm to inmates, see Withers v. Wexford Health
Sources, Inc., 710 F.3d 688, 689 (7th Cir. 2013);
Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 420 (7th Cir. 2011);
Gates v. Cook, 376 F.3d 323, 338 (5th Cir. 2004).
Forcing someone to walk handcuffed and unaided down stairs
needlessly strewn with easily removable milk, food, and
garbage, as Anderson alleges, poses an unreasonable peril.
course, these are only allegations. Further proceedings must
determine their truth. We encourage the district court on
remand to consider recruiting counsel for Anderson. Cf.
Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768, 784 (7th Cir. 2015)
("[W]hether there has been deliberate indifference on
the part of a defendant is an issue that requires the subtle
appreciation of legal causation and of the duties imposed
upon state prison officials by the Eighth Amendment. Even a
pro se litigant with a meritorious claim may fail to grasp
these subtleties." (citation and internal quotation