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Renee v. Neal

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

September 18, 2018

ANASTAISA RENEE, also known as Elmer D. Charles, Jr., Plaintiff,
RON NEAL, et al., Defendants.


          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge

         Anastaisa Renee, also known as Elmer D. Charles, Jr., a prisoner without a lawyer, filed an amended complaint against Ron Neal and Robert Carter. “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). Nevertheless, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, this court must review the complaint and dismiss it if the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. “In order to state a claim under [42 U.S.C.] § 1983 a plaintiff must allege: (1) that defendants deprived him of a federal constitutional right; and (2) that the defendants acted under color of state law.” Savory v. Lyons, 469 F.3d 667, 670 (7th Cir. 2006).

         In the amended complaint, Ms. Renee alleges that she is an individual who identifies as a woman and is incarcerated at the Indiana State Prison. She alleges that the defendants ordered male correctional officers to conduct strip searches of kitchen employees, and, as a result, she was searched one hundred sixty times from October 26, 2017, to January 14, 2018. Specifically, she alleges that on each occasion:

• One or two male correctional officers conducted the strip search;
• The officers became excited and sexually aroused as Ms. Renee approached the restroom where the strip searches were conducted;
• Once Ms. Renee entered the bathroom and the door was locked, she could see that the officers had full erections; . The officers required Ms. Renee to strip and present herself naked in front of them and prevented her from covering herself;
• The officers touched themselves in a sexual manner during the strip search;
• The officers asked Ms. Renee to touch herself in a sexual manner in front of them;
• When Ms. Renee asked to speak with a supervisor, officers told her that Commissioner Carter and Warden Neal authorized use of force against her if she did not comply with their orders;
• Ms. Renee reported this misconduct but was told to take it up with Warden Neal.

         According to the amended complaint, when she contacted Warden Neal about the strip searches, he responded that the correctional officers' conduct was simply a normal reaction to seeing naked women and that he believed they had acted professionally. She also contacted Commissioner Carter, but he refused to respond. Instead, he had the acting regional director respond, and the acting regional director refused to take any action.

         Ms. Renee further alleges that, throughout her time at the Indiana State Prison, she has been regularly subjected to sexual abuse and harassment from inmates and correctional officers. She reported these incidents to the defendants, but they refused to send her to a women's correctional facility. Instead, they told her that she doesn't deserve to be treated as a woman, blamed her for deciding to present as a woman and exciting the men at the Indiana State Prison, and refused to take any measures to protect her. In addition to money damages, she seeks a transfer to a women's correctional facility and to be searched only by female correctional officers.

         Ms. Renee asserts a failure to protect claim against the defendants. The Eighth Amendment imposes a duty on prison officials “to take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of inmates.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). “[I]n order to state a section 1983 claim against prison officials for failure to protect, [a plaintiff] must establish: (1) that he was incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm and (2) that the defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his health or safety. Santiago v. Walls, 599 F.3d 749, 756 (7th Cir. 2010). In the context of failure to protect cases, our court of appeals has equated “substantial risk” to “risks so great that they are almost certain to materialize if nothing is done.” Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 911 (7th Cir. 2005). In such cases, “a prisoner normally proves actual knowledge of impending harm by showing that he complained to prison officials about a specific threat to his safety.” Pope v. Shafer, 86 F.3d 90, 92 (7th Cir. 1996). The amended complaint clearly states a failure to protect claim against the defendants.

         Ms. Renee also alleges that the defendants don't let her buy feminine clothing, feminine hygiene products, make-up, and other items that are available to inmates at a women's correctional facility. She asserts that this deprivation violates her freedom of expression under the First Amendment. “[A] prison inmate retains those First Amendment rights that are not inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system.” Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974). “[W]hen a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, ...

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