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Sprankle v. Wexford Health Sources

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

April 30, 2018

WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES Primary Health Care Provider, MARIE GRIGGS Dr., Lead Psychologist, Defendants.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court.

         I. In Forma Pauperis

         Plaintiff Robert Sprankle's motion for leave to proceed without prepaying fees, Dkt. No. 3, is granted. The Court finds that he does not have the assets or means to pay even an initial partial filing fee. Because the Prison Litigation Reform Act mandates that a prisoner will not be prohibited from bringing a civil action for the reason that he lacks the assets and means to pay an initial partial filing fee, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4), Mr. Sprankle is granted a waiver of payment of the initial partial filing fee. He is still obligated, however, to pay the full three-hundred and fifty dollar ($350.00) filing fee pursuant to the statutory formula set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). See id. § 1915(b)(1). “All [28 U.S.C.] § 1915 has ever done is excuse pre-payment of the docket fees; a litigant remains liable for them, and for other costs, although poverty may make collection impossible.” Abdul-Wadood v. Nathan, 91 F.3d 1023, 1025 (7th Cir. 1996).

         II. Plaintiff's Claims

         Plaintiff Robert Sprankle is an Indiana inmate incarcerated in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (WVCF) in Carlisle, Indiana. He filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action on April 24, 2018, concerning an incident occurring at the WVCF on November 29, 2017.

         A. Screening Standard

         Because Mr. Sprankle is a prisoner, his complaint is subject to the screening requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. This statute directs that the court shall 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)); 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)). The Court construes pro se pleadings liberally, and holds pro se pleadings to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Obriecht v. Raemisch, 517 F.3d 489, 491 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008).

         B. Claims for Relief

         Mr. Sprankle contends that on November 29, 2017, he was on a recreation yard at the WVCF when another prisoner approached him. The other prisoner called Mr. Sprankle by the wrong name and after a moment announced his intent to kill Mr. Sprankle. He grabbed Mr. Sprankle by the throat and choked him. Mr. Sprankle defended himself and broke free, but the other prisoner repeated the attack twice more, resulting in serious injuries to Mr. Sprankle's throat.

         The complaint names as defendants Wexford Health Sources, the contract medical services provider for the Indiana Department of Corrections, and Dr. Marie Griggs, a psychologist at WVCF. Mr. Sprankle contends that they were aware the other prisoner was seriously mentally ill and violent. He contends these two defendants were deliberately indifferent to his safety when they allowed the other prisoner to participate in recreation with other non-violent prisoners.

         C. Analysis

         The Eighth Amendment imposes a duty upon the state to protect prisoners from each other. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994) (internal quotation omitted); Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 909 (7th Cir. 2005). That duty, however, “does not lead to absolute liability.” Duane v. Lane, 959 F.2d 673, 676 (7th Cir. 1992) (citing McGill v. Duckworth, 944 F.2d 344, 347 (7th Cir. 1991). Id. Rather, because the Eighth Amendment speaks only to “punishment, ” prison officials who fail to prevent an injury inflicted by fellow inmates are liable “only where those officials possess the requisite mental state.” Id. The requisite mental state for liability is intent, or at the very least, deliberate indifference. Id. That is, the prison officials must want harm to come to the prisoner, or must possess total unconcern for the prisoner's welfare in the face of serious risks. Id. The prisoner must allege “recklessness” which, for Eighth Amendment purposes, involves an “actual knowledge of impending harm easily preventable, so that a conscious, culpable refusal to prevent the harm can be inferred from the defendant's failure to prevent it.” Id. (citing Duckworth v. Franzen, 780 F.2d 645, 653 (7th Cir. 1985). A prisoner who establishes negligence but fails to show either “actual knowledge of the danger, or danger objectively so great that actual knowledge of the danger can be inferred, cannot prevail.” Id.

         To state a failure-to-protect claim, Mr. Sprankle must allege facts suggesting that he faced a substantial risk of serious harm, and that defendants knew of and disregarded that risk. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 837; Santiago v. Walls, 599 F.3d 749, 756 (7th Cir. 2010). However, a generalized risk of violence is not enough, for prisons are inherently dangerous places. Brown, 398 F.3d at 909; Riccardo v. Rausch, 375 F.3d 521, 525 (7th Cir. 2004). Mr. Sprankle, to state a claim, must have alleged a tangible and credible threat to his safety or well-being. Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 777 (7th Cir. 2008); Billman v. Indiana Dep't of Corrections, 56 F.3d 785, 788 (7th Cir. 1995) (noting distinction between actual and feared exposure). Such a threat must reflect that he is subject to a substantial risk of future harm. Carroll v. DeTella, 255 F.3d 470, 472 (7th Cir. 2001); Henderson v. Sheahan, 196 F.3d 839, 846-847 (7th Cir. 1999). A substantial risk of serious harm is one in which the risk is “so great” that it is “almost certain to materialize if nothing is done.” Brown, 398 F.3d at 911. “[T]he conditions presenting the risk must be ‘sure or very likely to cause . . . needless suffering, ' and give rise to ‘sufficiently imminent dangers.'” Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35, 50 (2008) (Roberts, C.J., plurality opinion) (quoting Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 33, 34-35 (1993)).

         Knowing that a prisoner is mentally ill - not an uncommon situation in a prison - and knowing that the prisoner is also violent - also not an uncommon factor in a prison - does not, without more, create a situation that is “almost certain to materialize” into an attack on another prisoner and result in civil rights liability to all who could have been responsible for treating the offending prisoner. If it did, almost every prison fight or altercation would give rise to an ...

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