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Easley v. Clark County Jail

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

July 13, 2017

HENRY WILLIAM EASLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CLARK COUNTY JAIL, C/O BILLINGSLEY, LT. KEATING, CPT. BOLEY, CPT. NUTTER, DETECTIVE SNELLING, Defendants.

          ENTRY SCREENING COMPLAINT, DISMISSING INSUFFICIENT CLAIMS AND DIRECTING FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis [dkt. 2], motion for counsel [dkt. 3] and for Screening. The Court will address each matter in turn.

         I. In Forma Pauperis

         The plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, [dkt. 2], is granted. The assessment of even a partial filing fee is not feasible at this time.

         II. Motion For Counsel

         The plaintiff's motion to appoint counsel, [dkt. 3], is denied as premature. The complaint has not been screened and the defendants have not been served. The Seventh Circuit has found that “until the defendants respond to the complaint, the plaintiff's need for assistance of counsel cannot be gauged.” Kadamovas v. Stevens, 706 F.3d 843, 845 (7th Cir. 2013).

         III. Screening

         The complaint is now subject to the screening requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). This statute directs that the Court dismiss a complaint or any claim within a complaint which “(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” Id. To satisfy the notice-pleading standard of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” which is sufficient to provide the defendant with “fair notice” of the claim and its basis. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) and quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). The purpose of this requirement is “to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); see also Wade v. Hopper, 993 F.2d 1246, 1249 (7th Cir. 1993) (noting that the main purpose of Rule 8 is rooted in fair notice: a complaint “must be presented with intelligibility sufficient for a court or opposing party to understand whether a valid claim is alleged and if so what it is.”) (quotation omitted)). The complaint “must actually suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, by providing allegations that raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Windy City Metal Fabricators & Supply, Inc. v. CIT Tech. Fin. Servs., 536 F.3d 663, 668 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1084 (7th Cir. 2008)).

         Mr. Easley is a pretrial detainee at the Clark County, Indiana jail. His claims are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A cause of action is provided by 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against “[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” of the United States. Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights; instead, it is a means for vindicating federal rights conferred elsewhere. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). The initial step in any § 1983 analysis is to identify the specific constitutional right which was allegedly violated. Id. at 394; Kernats v. O'Sullivan, 35 F.3d 1171, 1175 (7th Cir. 1994); see also Gossmeyer v. McDonald, 128 F.3d 481, 489-90 (7th Cir. 1997).

         Mr. Easley sues the Clark County Jail, the Sheriff of Clark County and others pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his federally secured rights while the plaintiff was confined in the Clark County Jail. This implicates the Eighth Amendment. Because Mr. Easley was a pretrial detainee, it is the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment rather than the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment which is the source of this right. Estate of Miller, ex rel. Bertram v. Tobiasz, 680 F.3d 984, 989 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535-37 (1979)). However, courts still look to Eighth Amendment case law in addressing the claims of pretrial detainees, given that the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause are at least as broad as those that the Eighth Amendment affords to convicted prisoners. Rice ex rel. Rice v. Correctional Medical Services, 675 F.3d 650, 664 (7th Cir. 2012).

         Here, Mr. Easley alleges a mold and rodent infestation throughout the jail that has resulted in him sleeping on the floor and no shower curtains in the showers, problems with the mail delivery and the mail being delivered opened, and a denial of his request for a hair-cut. He also alleges that he needed emergency medical attention but was made to wait two to three days for care. He grieved these issues within the jail grievance system and Cpt. Boley responded the jail would be sprayed for the infestation problem. Lt. Keating responded that the delay in receiving and sending mail was the fault of the United State Post Office. Cpt. Nutter responded to Mr. Easley's grievance regarding the denial of his request for a hair-cut stating the hair clippers were broken. Cpt. Nutter also told Mr. Easley that the jail would be cleaned properly. Detective Snelling threatened Mr. Easley with solitary confinement.

         IV. Insufficient Claims

         “Section 1983 does not establish a system of vicarious responsibility. Liability depends on each defendant's knowledge and actions, not on the knowledge or actions of persons they supervise. . . . Monell's rule [is that] that public employees are responsible for their own misdeeds but not for anyone else's.” Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 593-94 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978)). “Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to . . . § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1948 (2009).

         The claims against Sheriff Billingsley, Lt. Keating, Cpt. Boley, and Cpt. Nutter are dismissed as legally insufficient because there is no allegation of wrongdoing on their part. “Where a complaint alleges no specific act or conduct on the part of the defendant . . . the complaint is properly dismissed.” Potter v. Clark, 497 F.2d 1206, 1207 (7th Cir. 1974); see Black v. Lane, 22 F.3d 1395, 1401 and n.8 (7th Cir. 1994) (district court properly dismissed complaint against one defendant when the complaint alleged only that defendant was charged with the administration of the institution and was responsible for all persons at the institution). The only allegation against Sheriff Billingsley is that she responded to Mr. Easley's complaint with the remark, “you[r] in jail.” Similarly, Lt. Keating, Cpt. Nutter, and Cpt. Boley only responded to Mr. Easley's grievances. He does not allege they ...


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