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Martin v. O'Neil

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 8, 2018

RON O'NEIL, et al., Defendants.



         Anthony C. Martin, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a second amended complaint (ECF 29)[1] naming 72 defendants and making numerous allegations about events which occurred from March 10, 2015, to July 5, 2016. “A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quotation marks and citations omitted). Nevertheless, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court must review the merits of a prisoner complaint and dismiss it if the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         As a preliminary matter, Martin lists unnamed defendants in many of his claims. But, “it is pointless to include lists of anonymous defendants in federal court; this type of placeholder does not open the door to relation back under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15, nor can it otherwise help the plaintiff.” Wudtke v. Davel, 128 F.3d 1057, 1060 (7th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). Therefore, each unnamed defendant will be dismissed without further discussion.

         Martin alleges that on March 10, 2015, Unit Manager Pam Bane, Assistant Warden Gann, Lt. Hough, Counselor Sherry Hatchel, Counselor Jones, Case Manager Wilson, Sgt. Jonnas, and Lt. St. Martin retaliated against him for filing numerous grievances and complaints between January and March of 2015 by putting him in a cell without a working toilet or running water for 17 days. The cell smelled of feces from the toilet, and he had to use the restroom in styrofoam containers and empty water bottles. His cell was freezing at times, and at other times he was subjected to excessive heat. Martin was provided with limited amounts of water. And, from March 10, 2015, to March 19, 2015, he was denied access to a shower. “To prevail on his First Amendment retaliation claim, [Martin] must show that (1) he engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment; (2) he suffered a deprivation that would likely deter First Amendment activity in the future; and (3) the First Amendment activity was at least a motivating factor in the Defendants' decision to take the retaliatory action.” Gomez v. Randle, 680 F.3d 859, 866 (7th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks and citations omitted). Martin may proceed against these eight defendants on this claim.

         Next Martin alleges that the actions of these same eight defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights. “[T]he Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons....” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981). Conditions that merely cause inconveniences and discomfort or make confinement unpleasant do not rise to the level of Constitutional violations. Adams v. Pate, 445 F.2d 105, 108-109 (7th Cir. 1971).

Conditions of confinement must be severe to support an Eighth Amendment claim; “the prison officials' act or omission must result in the denial of ‘the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'” Farmer [v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)] (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). See also, Lunsford v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1574, 1579 (7th Cir. 1994) (the Eighth Amendment only protects prisoners from conditions that “exceed contemporary bounds of decency of a mature, civilized society.”); Jackson [v. Duckworth, ] 955 F.2d [21, ] 22 [(7th Cir. 1992)].

Morissette v. Peters, 45 F.3d 1119, 1123 (7th Cir. 1995) (parallel citations omitted). He has stated an Eighth Amendment claim against these eight defendants.

         Martin alleges that Officer Zimmerman, Officer Houston, and three unknown officers called him names while he was housed in this cell. But mere verbal harassment does not state a claim. See DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 612 (7th Cir. 2000) (rude language or verbal harassment by prison staff “while unprofessional and deplorable, does not violate the Constitution.”).

         Martin alleges that on March 26, 2015, Officer Zimmerman and Lt. Hough sprayed him with a chemical agent while he was in his cell and not being combative or otherwise resisting. The “core requirement” for an excessive force claim is that the defendant “used force not in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, but maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Hendrickson v. Cooper, 589 F.3d 887, 890 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal citation omitted). “[T]he question whether the measure taken inflicted unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering ultimately turns on whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.” Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320-21 (1986) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Martin states a claim against these two defendants for excessive use of force in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

         Martin alleges that Lt. Wilson, Lt. Hough, Capt. Yancy, Capt. Easton, Lt. Tatum, Sgt. Phillips, Sgt. Henney, Officer Zimmerman, Officer Robee (male), Dawn Nelson, Nurse Sandy, Nurse Morgan, and Jennifer Chapman did not properly decontaminate him after he was sprayed with the chemical agent and, as a result, he suffers permanent loss of vision. Martin will be permitted to proceed against these defendants on his claim that they are liable to him under the Eighth Amendment for his loss of vision.

         Also on March 26, 2016, Martin alleges that Officer Zimmerman, Officer Pete (IDU), Officer Kapica, Officer Potrictri, Officer Hedgewood, Officer Bolton, Officer Houston, Sgt. Conley, Sgt. Phillips, Sgt. Henney, Officer Tiderman, Officer Morsby, Officer Stuber, Officer Robee (male), Lt. Tatum, Lt. Wilson, Lt. Hough, Capt. Yancy, Major Tibbles, and seven Unknown E-Squad (CERT) Officers used physical force against him. Martin did not provide many details about this event, but it is plausible to infer he is alleging that he was not resisting or threatening the officers and that they maliciously and sadistically assaulted him for the purpose of causing harm. With that inference, he states a claim against these nineteen named defendants for an excessive use of force in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

         Martin alleges that Lt. Wilson, Lt. Watson, Lt. Tatum, Lt. Hough, Sgt. Henny, Sgt. Conley, Officer Zimmerman, Officer Pete (IDU) shackled him to a concrete block with four-way restraints from March 26, 2015, until March 29, 2015. He alleges this was done at the direction of Capt. Yancy, Capt. Shriner, Major Tibbles, Assistant Warden Gann, Dr. Matis, Dawn Nelson, Nurse Morgan, and Jennifer Chapman. During those four days, he was not provided with any food or water. He alleges he soiled himself because he could not get up. He alleges he was ultimately released and taken to the hospital because he was unresponsive. These are extreme and disturbing allegations. The use of four-way restraints can be justifiable for purposes of control in response to specific instances of misbehavior. Bruscino v. Carlson, 854 F.2d 162, 164 (7th Cir. 1988). However, “while some form of temporary restraint may be necessary against those who pose a threat to themselves and others, [some] methods are ‘too close to the rack and the screw to permit of constitutional differentiation.'” French v. Owens, 777 F.2d 1250, 1253-54 (7th Cir. 1985) (citations omitted).

[O]nce restraints are initially justified, it becomes somewhat problematic as to how long they are necessary to meet the particular exigent circumstances which precipitated their use. The basic legal principle is that once the necessity for the application of force ceases, any continued use of harmful force can be a violation of the [Constitution], and any abuse directed at the prisoner after he terminates his resistance to authority is [a Constitutional] violation. How long restraint may be continued calls for the exercise of good judgment on the part of prison officials. Once it is established that the force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain discipline and not maliciously or sadistically for the purpose of causing harm, the courts give great deference to the actions of prison officials in applying prophylactic or preventive measures intended to reduce the incidence of riots and other breaches of prison discipline.

Williams v. Burton, 943 F.2d 1572, 1576 (11th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). Martin's allegations that he was continuously held in four-way restraints without food, water, or medical care while injured and ultimately unresponsive state a claim against these sixteen individuals. Martin will be permitted to proceed against these sixteen individuals on his Eighth Amendment claim that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

         Martin further alleges that while in restraints Dawn Nelson, Nurse Sandy, Nurse Morgan, Nurse Domonique, LPN Jennifer Chapman, Director of Nursing Anne, and Dr. Thompson each knew he was injured from having been beaten and that he was in need of medical treatment, which they refused to provide. “For a medical professional to be liable for deliberate indifference to an inmate's medical needs, he must make a decision that represents such a substantial departure from accepted professional judgment, practice, or standards, as to demonstrate that the person responsible actually did not base the decision on such a judgment.” Jackson v. Kotter, 541 F.3d 688, 697 (7th Cir. 2008) (quotation marks and citations omitted). These allegations state a claim against these seven defendants for denying him medical care. Martin does not mention what these seven defendants did in response to their knowledge he was in four-way restraints, but it is reasonable to infer that he is alleging they failed to intervene to stop the improper use of four-way restraints. A prison official “can be held liable under § 1983 if [he] (1) had reason to know that a fellow officer was . . . committing a constitutional violation, and (2) had a realistic opportunity to intervene to prevent the act from occurring.” Lewis v. Downey, 581 F.3d 467, 472 (7th Cir. 2009). These allegations state a claim against these seven defendants for failure to intervene.

         Martin alleges that on April 11, 2015 and April 12, 2015, he was denied food by Officer Pete (IDU), Officer Redden, and unknown officers. And, on April 18, 2015, these same officers either denied him food or spat in his food before giving it to him.[2] Not every denial of food violates the Constitution. Reed v. McBride, 178 F.3d 849, 853-54 (7th Cir. 1999). The amount and duration of the denial must be considered, but two continuous days without any food is sufficient to state a claim. Martin will be permitted to proceed against Officer Pete (IDU) and Officer Redden on this claim.

         Martin alleges that from March 11, 2015, to April 24, 2015, Unit Manager Pam Bane, Counselor Sherry Hatchel, Case Worker Wilson, Counselor Moniham, Counselor Jones, Vicky Long, Pam James, Officer Hedgewood, Officer Zimmerman, Officer Potrictri, Officer Stuber, Officer Morsby, Officer Anton, Officer Houston, Officer Slaughterman, Officer Tiderman, Officer Kapica, Officer Bolton, Officer Pete (IDU), Officer Robee (male), Officer Selas, Officer Crawford, Officer Redden, Sgt. Jonnas, Sgt. Henney, Sgt. Wilson, Sgt. Henry, Sgt. Conley, Sgt. Phillips, Lt. St. Martin, Lt. Cavanar, Lt. Tatum, Lt. Watson, Lt. Wilson, Lt. Hough, Capt. Easton, Capt. Shriner, Capt. Yancy, and Major Tibbles destroyed his property (including legal materials) and denied him access to the court. He alleges that entire client files and transcripts were destroyed, and that the public defender will only give him one copy for free. The Fourteenth Amendment provides that state officials shall not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . ..” But, a state tort claims act that provides a method by which a person can seek reimbursement for the negligent loss or intentional depravation of property meets the requirements of the due process clause by providing due process of law. Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 533 (1984) (“For intentional, as for negligent deprivations of property by state employees, the state's action is not complete until and unless it provides or refuses to provide a suitable post deprivation remedy.”) Indiana's tort claims act (Indiana Code § 34-13-3-1 et seq.) and other laws provide for state judicial review of property losses caused by government employees, and provide an adequate post-deprivation remedy to redress state officials' accidental or intentional deprivation of a person's property. See Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 593 (7th Cir. 2001) (“Wynn has an adequate post-deprivation remedy in the Indiana Tort Claims Act, and no more process was due.”). Even the destruction of legal materials is merely a property loss if the papers are replaceable. Hossman v. Spradlin, 812 F.2d 1019 (7th Cir. 1987). While Martin has alleged that he cannot obtain new copies of the materials for free, that does not make the materials irreplaceable because he can bring a lawsuit to recover damages sufficient to purchase a replacement copy.

         Neither has he stated a claim for a denial of access to courts. Prisoners are entitled to meaningful access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 824 (1977). The right of access to the courts is the right of an individual, whether free or incarcerated, to obtain access to the courts without undue interference. Snyder v. Nolen, 380 F.3d 279, 291 (7th Cir. 2004). The right of individuals to pursue legal redress for claims that have a reasonable basis in law or fact is protected by the First Amendment right to petition and the Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process. Id. (citations omitted). Denial of access to the courts must be intentional; “simple negligence will not support a claim that an official has denied an individual of access to the courts.” Id. at 291 n.11 (citing Kincaid v. Vail, 969 F.2d 594, 602 (7th Cir. 1992)). To establish a violation of the right to access the courts, an inmate must show that unjustified acts or conditions (by defendants acting under color of law) hindered the inmate's efforts to pursue a non-frivolous legal claim, Nance v. Vieregge, 147 F.3d 591, 590 (7th Cir. 1998), and that actual injury (or harm) resulted. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996) (holding that Bounds did not eliminate the actual injury requirement as a constitutional prerequisite to a prisoner asserting lack of access to the courts); see also Pattern Civil Jury Instructions of the Seventh Circuit, 8.02 (rev. 2017). In other words, “the mere denial of access to a prison law library or to other legal materials is not itself a violation of a prisoner's rights; his right is to access the courts, ” and only if the defendants' conduct prejudices a potentially meritorious legal claim has the right been infringed. Mars ...

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