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Lamb v. Harrison County Sheriff Department

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

August 22, 2017

CALEB LAMB, Plaintiff,
v.
HARRISON COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT, SHERIFF ROD SEALY, CAPT. CUNDALL, CPL ROBERT SCHRAM, OFFICER LANDFORD, Defendants.

          ENTRY SCREENING COMPLAINT, DISMISSING INSUFFICIENT CLAIMS AND DIRECTING FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         I.

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

         II. Screening Standards

         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, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (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. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Obriecht v. Raemisch, 517 F.3d 489, 491 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008).

         The plaintiff's federal claim is 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). He seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief.

         III. Discussion of Complaint

         A. Factual Allegations

         Here, the plaintiff is incarcerated at the Harrison County Jail. He alleges that he made a joke about clogging the toilet with a trash bag that jail officials interpreted as a threat to flood a cell. Cpl. Schram informed Capt. Cundall of the plaintiff's alleged “threat.” Capt. Cundall ordered the plaintiff to be placed in a dry cell for the remainder of his incarceration. This caused the plaintiff to be segregated from the general population. The plaintiff grieved his placement in segregation and Capt. Cundall threatened him disciplinary action if he further grieved. He states Sheriff Sealy was aware of this treatment.

         The plaintiff also alleges Capt. Cundall threatened him with disciplinary action for complaining.

         B. Insufficient Claims

         1. Sheriff Sealy.

         “A damages suit under § 1983 requires that a defendant be personally involved in the alleged constitutional deprivation.” Matz v. Klotka, 769 F.3d 517, 528 (7th Cir. 2014); see Minix v. Canarecci, 597 F.3d 824, 833 (7th Cir. 2010) (“[I]ndividual liability under § 1983 requires ‘personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivation.'”). Whether supervisory personnel at a prison are sufficiently involved in an alleged constitutional violation such that they may be liable for damages often depends on that person's knowledge of, and responsibilities regarding, the alleged harm. The Seventh Circuit has recently discussed what factual circumstances are sufficient to make such a person legally responsible for an alleged constitutional violation.

         Mere “knowledge of a subordinate's misconduct is not enough for liability.” Vance v. Rumsfeld, 701 F.3d 193, 203 (7th Cir. 2012) (en banc). Indeed, “inaction following receipt of a complaint about someone else's conduct is [insufficient].” Estate of Miller by Chassie v. Marberry, __ F.3d __, 2017 WL 396568, *3 (7th Cir. 2017); see Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 595 (7th Cir. 2009) (“[The plaintiff's] view that everyone who knows about a prisoner's problem must pay damages implies that he could write letters to the Governor . . . and 999 other public officials, demand that every one of those 1, 000 officials drop everything he or she is doing in order to investigate ...


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