United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
SHAUN L. STEELE, Plaintiff,
PRISONER TRANSPORT SYSTEMS, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
L. Steele, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a complaint
against three defendants. He alleges that he suffered
unconstitutional conditions of confinement while being
transported from Arizona to Indiana. “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. “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).
2, 2018, Steele agreed to be extradited from Arizona to
Indiana. Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers arranged for
Prisoner Transport Services, a private company, to transport
Steele to the Elkhart County Jail. On May 16, 2018, Steele
was placed into the back of a transport van. There were seat
belts but, for some reason, they were not utilized by the
agents. Steele was handcuffed and shackled. There were no
rest rooms in the van or enough space for Steele to lay down.
The transport lasted for five days. The van stopped overnight
on two occasions. The van stopped for restroom breaks
sporadically. At points during the trip Steele felt
discomfort by having to wait for the van to stop so that he
could use the restroom. A few times, Steele urinated in a
bottle. Because he “was not seatbelted, he was tossed
around a few times and was unable to catch himself causing
him pain and a chipped tooth.” ECF 1 at 4. Since there
was little light in the back of the van, and just a small
window, he suffered panic attacks. During the trip, he was
served only fast food, which he claims was a health hazard.
Steele sues Prisoner Transport Services, Sheriff Brad Rogers
and the Elkhart County Sheriff's Office for money
threshold matter, the complaint fails to state a claim
against any of the three named defendants. The first
defendant is Sheriff Brad Rodgers. Steele sues Sheriff
Rodgers for hiring the prison transport company. However, the
simple fact that Sheriff Rogers enlisted Prisoner Transport
Services to transport Steele from Arizona to Indiana does not
state a federal claim. Notably, Sheriff Rogers was not on
that van and there is no general respondeat superior
liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. George v.
Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Cir. 2007); Burks v.
Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 596 (7th Cir. 2009). The second
named defendant is the Elkhart County Sheriff's Office.
But under Indiana law, a “sheriff's
department” has no separate corporate existence and is
therefore not a suable entity. Slay v. Marion County
Sheriff's Dept., 603 N.E.2d 877, 887 (Ind.Ct.App.
1992); Jones v. Bowman, 694 F.Supp. 538, 544 (N.D.
Ind. 1988) (“A city's police department is merely a
vehicle through with the government fulfills its policy
functions and is not a proper party defendant. The court can
find no reason why the same conclusion would not apply to a
county sheriff's department.”); Gillespie v.
City of Indianapolis, 13 F.Supp.2d 811, 816 (S.D. Ind.
1998). And, the complaint does not state a claim against the
third defendant, Prisoner Transport Systems, because it
alleges no wrongdoing on the part of the company, no failure
to train its employees, and no policy of the company that
violated his constitutional rights. See Rodriguez v.
Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 830 (7th
Cir.2009). Prisoner Transport Systems is not liable under
section 1983 for the actions of its employees under a theory
of respondeat superior. Id.
an appropriate defendant, Steele would have to name the
individuals who were personally responsible for the
conditions of his confinement during the transport. However,
based on the current allegations of the complaint, that would
not get him very far because he has not adequately plead that
he endured any unconstitutional conditions of confinement.
evaluating the constitutionality of conditions or
restrictions of pretrial detention . . . the proper inquiry
is whether those conditions amount to punishment of the
detainee.” Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535
(1979). The alleged conditions must be objectively serious
enough to amount to a constitutional deprivation, and the
defendant must possess a sufficiently culpable state of mind.
Miranda v. County of Lake, 900 F.3d 335
(7th Cir. 2018); Sain v. Wood, 512 F.3d
886, 893 (7th Cir. 2008). A constitutional
deprivation occurs when a prisoner is denied the minimal
civilized measure of life's necessities. Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). In making this
evaluation, the court is mindful that the conditions on a
prison transport vehicle are far different than the confines
of a brick and mortar prison. See e.g., Schilling v.
TransCor Am., LLC, No. C 08-941 SI, 2012 WL 3257659, at
*7 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 8, 2012) (recognizing that in evaluating
the conditions of confinement, the type of confinement must
be considered). Thus, some deprivations will naturally occur
when inmates are being transported outside of secure
facilities. With respect to the second, subjective element,
an inmate must “prove that the defendant
‘possess[ed] a purposeful, a knowing, or possibly a
reckless state of mind' with respect to the
defendants' actions (or inaction) toward the
plaintiff.” Davis v. Wessel, 792 F.3d 801
(7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Kingsley v.
Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466 (2015)).
Steele's allegations of having to wait to use the
restroom, not receiving much light, not being able to lay
down and not having a seat belt during this five-day trip,
without more, do not call to mind a plausible constitutional
claim. Schilling, 2012 WL 3257659 at *8-9;
Jabbar v. Fischer, 683 F.3d 54, 58 (2d Cir. 2012)
(the condition of being transported by jail personnel without
a seatbelt is not sufficiently serious (without more) as to
give rise to a conditions of confinement claim); Spencer
v. Knapheide Truck Equip. Co., 183 F.3d 902, 906 (8th
Cir. 1999); Smith v. Sec'y for Dep't of
Corrections, 252 Fed.Appx. 301, 304 (11th Cir. 2007).
These allegations do not establish that any officer acted
with the requisite mental state to trigger constitutional
though, this does not mean Steele could not allege a
plausible constitutional claim. He just has not done so yet.
For example, in the complaint Steele simply sets out that
seat belts were not used. He does not explain why. It may
have simply been an oversight by the officers. As explained
above, the mere fact that Steele was not seat belted does not
violate the constitution. But, if the officers decided not to
seat belt him as some sort of punishment, knowing that Steele
could be jostled around and possibly injured during the trip,
that would be another matter. Similarly, Steele alleges that
the back of the van was not illuminated at night. That alone
would not violate the constitution. But there may be more to
the story. Steele has not indicated whether he informed the
transporting officers of his need for light in the back of
the van due to his psychological condition. If the officers
knew that he needed some illumination, but nevertheless kept
the back of the van dark, that may present a problem. And,
finally, Steele complains that the van did not stop very
frequently to use the bathroom. However, he does not indicate
that any of his requests to stop were denied. If the officers
were aware of his need to stop and use the restroom, but
nevertheless improperly denied those requests, that would
present a different scenario than what is contained in the
current complaint. But, without any allegation of intent to
punish or other improper motivation, Steele's allegations
seem insufficient to plausibly allege that a constitutional
violation has occurred.
the complaint does not state a plausible claim against any
named defendant, the court will grant Steele an opportunity
to file an amended complaint. See Luevano v.
Wal-Mart, 722 F.3d 1014 (7th Cir. 2013). However, Steele
should only file an amended complaint if he can address the
deficiencies set forth in this order. If he chooses to file
an amended complaint, a copy of this court's approved
form - Prisoner Complaint (INND Rev. 8/16) - should be
available upon request from the prison law library. On the
amended complaint, he must put the cause number of this case
which is on the first page of this order, and he should
organize his narrative in numbered paragraphs.
these reasons, the court:
(1) GRANTS Shaun L. Steele, until February 25, 2019,
to file an amended complaint; and
(2) CAUTIONS Shaun L. Steele, that, if he does not respond by
that deadline, this case will be dismissed pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915A because the current complaint does not