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Sinn v. Lemmon

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

January 24, 2017

DYLAN SINN, Plaintiff,
v.
BRUCE LEMMON, et al., Defendants.

          ENTRY ON STATE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

         This cause is before the Court on the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the State Defendants: Bruce Lemmon; Jackie Helderman, II; Stanley Knight; Lieutenant Wiggins; Hartsock[1]; Paul Hoskins; Beau Michael Judd; John Murry; C. Penfold; Tim Phegley; Ty Robbins; Sgt. R. Myers; Scott Rogers; Quentin Storm; Linda Vannatta; Chris Williams; and D.

         Wilson.[2] Dkt. No. 20. The motion is fully briefed, and the Court, being duly advised, GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the motion for the reasons set forth below.[3]

         I. STANDARD

         In reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), the Court applies the same standard that is applied when reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Pisciotta v. Old Nat'l Bancorp., 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007). The Court “must accept all well pled facts as true and draw all permissible inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Agnew v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 683 F.3d 328, 334 (7th Cir. 2012). For a claim to survive the motion for judgment on the pleadings, it must provide the defendant with “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007)) (omission in original). A complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Agnew, 638 F.3d at 334 (citations omitted). A complaint's factual allegations are plausible if they “raise the right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007).

         II. BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiff, Dylan Sinn, has filed a lawsuit against several employees of the Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”). For purposes of this motion, the Court accepts the following well-pleaded allegations as true.

         Sinn was in the custody of the IDOC from June 2011 until he was released on February 6, 2015. In June 2013, Sinn was transferred from Pendleton Correctional Facility to Putnamville Correctional Facility. While in Putnamville, he was housed in various dormitories, including 11 South and 18 South. Each dormitory houses approximately 150 inmates and has one correctional officer to monitor activities after 4 p.m.

         On April 24, 2014, Sinn was robbed of personal property and assaulted by several black inmates. Sinn believes that the people who assaulted him are members of the Vice Lords, a criminal prison gang. One correctional officer was assigned to 11 South at the time Sinn was assaulted. The officer sounded an alert, but no assistance arrived until several minutes later. Sergeant Scott Rogers and C.O. Paul Hoskins responded with additional officers. They moved Sinn to 18 South but did not segregate the attackers. Rogers and Hoskins viewed the video recording and considered what to do before taking Sinn to 18 South. Sinn heard the correctional officers who viewed the video state that it was too close to shift change to deal with all that, which he took to mean that because there were several black inmates who were seen on the video and could be identified, the officers did not want to expend additional time and effort before their shift ended to address the incident.

         During the first attack, Sinn was beaten up but not seriously injured. Two other white inmates were also attacked, and they were also moved. Despite being moved, the other two inmates were attacked again by black gang members a few days later. Sinn alerted the administration and unit staff that he was afraid for his safety.[4]

         On April 30, 2014, Sinn was again assaulted by black inmates. He believes that the people who attacked him were members of the Vice Lords. They forced him into the shower area and severely beat him. Sinn's leg was broken in two places, and he also suffered a fractured jaw, a broken nose, and several contusions to his face and body. Sinn was taken by ambulance to a hospital and then transferred to a different hospital, where he underwent two surgeries. During the April 30 attack, only one guard was assigned to Dorm 18 South. This attack was also video recorded.

         Sinn alleges that there is a systemic problem of understaffing at the DOC facility in Plainfield, and this understaffing is due to a statewide policy of understaffing prisons to save money. Sinn alleges that gangs, especially “black gangs, act with little consequence to steal, assault, subjugate, and dominate individual inmates-most frequently white inmates.” Dkt. No. 1-2 at 25.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Sinn's Section 1983 claim is based on his assertion that the Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments by imposing cruel and unusual punishment.[5] The Complaint indicates that the following Defendants are sued in both their official and individual capacities: Lemmon, Knight, Phegley, Hartsock, Vannatta, and D. Wilson. The complaint indicates that the following Defendants are sued only in their individual capacities: D. Wilson, Quentin Storm, Chris Williams, Jackie Helderman II, John Brush, John Murry, Sgt. Scott Rogers, Paul Hoskins, Beau Michael Judd, R. Myers, Ty Robbins, Lt. Wiggins, and C. Penfold.

         A. Sinn's Claims Against Defendants in Their Official Capacities

         Sinn seeks both monetary damages and a declaratory judgment. The Eleventh Amendment generally precludes a citizen from suing a state or one of its agencies or departments for money damages in federal court. Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 592 (7th Cir. 2001); Moore v. Indiana, 999 F.2d 1125, 1128 (7th Cir. 1993) (quoting Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984)). Moreover, “[t]his bar remains in effect when State officials are sued for damages in their official capacity . . . [as] a judgment against a public servant in his official capacity imposes liability on the entity that he represents.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169 (1985) (quotations and citations omitted).

         IDOC is a state agency. Wynn, 251 F.3d at 592. There are three exceptions to Eleventh Amendment immunity: (1) suits against state officials seeking prospective equitable relief for ongoing violations of federal law are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) individuals may sue a state directly if Congress has abrogated the state's immunity from suit; and (3) individuals may sue the state if the state waived its sovereign immunity and consented to suit in federal court. MCI Telecommunications Corp. v. Ill. Commerce Comm'n, 183 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Marie O. v. Edgar, 131 F.3d 610 (7th Cir. 1997)).[6]

         Indiana has not consented to this suit. Nor did Congress abrogate the State's immunity through the enactment of Section 1983. See Joseph v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Wis. Sys., 432 F.3d 746, 748 (7th Cir. 2005). As such, the Eleventh Amendment bars Sinn's Section 1983 claim for money damages against the Defendants in their official capacity. See Wynn, 251 F.3d at 592 (finding that IDOC is a state agency and thus is immune from suit in federal court for money damages).

         Sinn also seeks a declaratory judgment against Defendants Lemmon, Knight, Phegley, Hartsock and Vannatta, in their official capacities, [7] alleging that “the current practice of understaffing the prison facility at Plainfield” is “unconstitutional and/or negligent, causing or leading to the inevitable and foreseeable suffering and injury of inmates from other inmate ...


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