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Cook v. Neal

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

December 27, 2018

NATHAN C. COOK, Plaintiff,
v.
RON NEAL, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE

         Nathan C. Cook, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a motion to amend his complaint. The court already explained to Cook that he did not need to file a motion for leave to amend his complaint because, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1)(B), he may amend “once as a matter of course . . ..”

         Cook's amended complaint alleges that he was subjected to inhumane conditions while housed at the Indiana State Prison, that the conditions caused him to become ill, and that he received inadequate treatment for his illnesses. A filing by an unrepresented party “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.

         Inhumane Conditions

         Cook alleges that pigeons, insects, and mice have taken up residence in the facility where he is being housed, and that there are droppings everywhere. These unsanitary conditions and the way cleanup was attempted have caused Cook to suffer from a fungal rash on his back and scalp, extreme tiredness, night sweats, back pain, and knee pain. Cook asserts that the “dust suppression method” should have been used to clean up the feces. According to Cook, this includes carefully wetting the feces to reduce the number of fungal spores that become airborne. Cook has sued Warden Ron Neal, Deputy Warden Kenneth Gann, Executive Director of Construction Services Kevin Orme, Major Jason Nowatzke, DCH Lieutenant Dylan Cabanaw, DCH Sergeant Jefferey Fizer, Sanitation Supervisor Adrianne Gordon, and Sanitation Lieutenant Derek Boyan for monetary damages and injunctive relief. He further alleges that each of these defendants knew the dangers posed by removing the droppings inappropriately but still did not take appropriate precautions.

         The Eighth Amendment prohibits conditions of confinement that deny inmates “the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Townsend v. Fuchs, 522 F.3d 765, 773 (7th Cir. 2008). In evaluating an Eighth Amendment claim, courts conduct both an objective and a subjective inquiry. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). The objective prong asks whether the alleged deprivation is “sufficiently serious” that the action or inaction of a prison official leads to “the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Id. Although “the Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, ” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981), inmates are entitled to adequate food, clothing, shelter, bedding, hygiene materials, and sanitation. Knight v. Wiseman, 590 F.3d 458, 463 (7th Cir. 2009); Gillis v. Litscher, 468 F.3d 488, 493 (7th Cir. 2006). On the subjective prong, the prisoner must show the defendant acted with deliberate indifference to the inmate's health or safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. As the Seventh Circuit has explained:

[C]onduct is deliberately indifferent when the official has acted in an intentional or criminally reckless manner, i.e., the defendant must have known that the plaintiff was at serious risk of being harmed and decided not to do anything to prevent that harm from occurring even though he could have easily done so.

Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d 469, 478 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); see also Reed v. McBride, 178 F.3d 849, 855 (7th Cir. 1999) (where inmate complained about severe deprivations but was ignored, he established a “prototypical case of deliberate indifference”).

         Here, Cook alleges that he has intermittently resided in a facility infested with pigeons, insects, and mice since April of 2014, [1] resulting in physical injuries. Prolonged exposure to infestations such as this can amount to an Eighth Amendment violation. See Davis v. Williams, 216 F.Supp.3d 900, 907-08 (N.D.Ill. 2016). Cook's allegations satisfy the objective prong of the inquiry. With respect to the subjective prong, Cook alleges that Warden Neal, Deputy Warden Gann, Kevin Orme, Major Nowatzke, Lieutenant Cabanaw, Sergeant Fizer, Adrianne Gordon, and Lieutenant Boyan were each aware of this situation, but they took no action to fix it. These allegations permit an inference that these defendants were each deliberately indifferent to Cook's right to sanitary living conditions, as required by the Eighth Amendment. Giving Cook the inferences to which he is entitled, he may proceed on this claim against these defendants in their official capacities for injunctive relief and in their individual capacities for compensatory and punitive damages.

         Cook also alleges that Sergeant Fizer and Lieutenant Cabanaw failed to remove him during fires, and that he was subjected to harmful amounts of smoke that placed him in danger of asphyxiation. He does not indicate when the fires occurred, where they occurred in relationship to his cell, or that he suffered any actual harm from the exposure. Likewise, Cook alleges that the showers at the facility contain toxic black mold, but he says little more about this allegation or how the mold harmed him. These vague allegations do not state a claim.

         Cook's complaint includes unnamed defendants responsible for the conditions at Indiana State Prison. However, as a practical matter Cook's case cannot proceed against unnamed defendants. See Wudtke v. Davel, 128 F.3d 1057, 1060 (7th Cir. 1997)(“[I]t 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.”). If he determines the identity of the unknown defendants, he may seek leave to file an amended complaint that includes them.

         Inadequate Medical Care

         Cook alleges that he has received inadequate medical care for his medical conditions caused by exposure to fungus, which include skin rashes, tiredness, night sweats, back pain, and knee pain. Under the Eighth Amendment, inmates are entitled to adequate medical care. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). To establish liability, a prisoner must satisfy both an objective and subjective component by showing: (1) his medical need was objectively serious; and (2) the defendant acted with deliberate indifference to that medical need. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. A medical need is “serious” if it is one that a physician has diagnosed as mandating treatment, or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention. Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 653 (7th Cir. 2005). On the subjective prong, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant “acted in an intentional or criminally reckless manner, i.e., the defendant must have known that the plaintiff was at serious risk of being harmed and decided not to do anything to prevent that harm from occurring even though he could have easily done so.” Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d 469, 478 (7th Cir. 2005). For a medical professional to be held liable for deliberate indifference to an inmate's medical needs, he or she 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). Although the Eighth Amendment does not entitle an inmate to a specific form of treatment, prison medical staff cannot simply continue with a course of treatment that is known to be ineffective. Greeno, 414 F.3d at 654-55. Furthermore, a delay in providing treatment can constitute deliberate indifference when it causes unnecessary pain. Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 752-53 (7th Cir. 2011); Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 779 (7th Cir. 2008). Cook has sued Dr. Joseph M. Thompson for monetary damages, and Dr. Nancy Marthakis for both monetary damages and injunctive relief.

         Dr. Joseph M. Thompson

         Sometime after the sanitation crew power washed the walls and ranges, Cook developed a rash on his back and scalp. He filled out a health care request form and was seen by Dr. Thompson. Dr. Thompson prescribed Miconazole Nitrate (an antifungal creme) for his back, but nothing for his scalp. The medication did not help so he saw Dr. Thompson again. Dr. Thompson prescribed Selenium Sulfide Topical Suspension USP, lotion for the scalp, but nothing for his back, which continued to get worse. The new medication made his hair fall out. He saw Dr. Thompson again, told him about his hair falling out, and told him that he now had sores and cracks on his scalp and skin. He also told Dr. Thompson that he was extremely tired, having night sweats, and had pain in ...


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