United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Walter Stokes, a prisoner without a lawyer housed at the
Westville Correctional Facility, has filed a lawsuit against
Sgt. Flairalty, Sgt. Franklin, Ms. Hart, and Mr. Hart. 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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. 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).
allegations in the complaint are somewhat
confusing. It is clear that Mr. Stokes believes he
has been and remains in danger (ECF 1, 4 and 6), but it is
less clear why he believes this or why he believes the steps
that have been taken to protect him are inadequate. Mr.
Stokes alleges that at some time, he was “put
out” of his cell by his cellmates. After that, Sgt.
Flairalty and Sgt. Franklin interviewed Mr. Stokes in the
dayroom in front of his cellmates. Mr. Stokes was immediately
labeled as a snitch because he gave information about a shank
and about who was responsible for removing him from his cell.
Sgt. Franklin ordered Mr. Stokes to return to his cell and
not to let his cellmates put him out again. He refused to
return to the cell, and was told to remove his clothing
except his boxers. He was placed in a holding cell and given
an opportunity to fill out a security complaint. Sgt.
Franklin told him to say nothing about the shank because
“it was beforehand and could not be used.” (ECF 1
at 13.) Sgt. Franklin told Mr. Stokes that the lieutenant
that reviewed the security request said it wasn't good
enough. Mr. Stokes was again told to go back to his cell and
not let anyone put him out of his cell. He again refused and
sat in the day room for about thirty minutes. An inmate then
helped move his belongings into an empty cell. He slept on
the bottom bunk. He suffered a hard blow to the head while he
slept. The cell was dark, and his complaint doesn't
identify an assailant. Mr. Stokes went to dinner and reported
the attack to Lt. Palmaroy, who placed Mr. Stokes in a
holding cell, had him complete another security request, and
moved him to another cell.
one inmate attacks another, the Eighth Amendment is violated
only if “deliberate indifference by prison officials
effectively condones the attack by allowing it to
happen.” Haley v. Gross, 86 F.3d 630, 640 (7th
Cir. 1996). The person to be held liable “must both be
aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a
substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also
draw the inference.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511
U.S. 825, 837 (1994). General requests for help and
expressions of fear are insufficient to alert guards to the
need for action. Klebanowski v. Sheahan, 540 F.3d
633, 639-640 (7th Cir. 2008). By contrast, “a complaint
that identifies a specific, credible, and imminent risk of
serious harm and identifies the prospective assailant
typically will support an inference that the official to whom
the complaint was communicated had actual knowledge of the
risk.” Gevas v. McLaughlin, 798 F.3d 475, 481
(7th Cir. 2015). “Even if an official is found to have
been aware that the plaintiff was at substantial risk of
serious injury, he is free from liability if he responded to
the situation in a reasonable manner.” Fisher v.
Lovejoy, 414 F.3d 659, 664 (7th Cir. 2005). Mr. Stokes
hasn't identified a specific, credible, imminent risk of
harm, and the complaint - albeit confusing - seems to
indicate that he was ultimately placed in a cell alone where
an unknown assailant attacked him. If the court understands
the allegations correctly, reasonable steps were taken to
ensure Mr. Stokes's safety. The complaint hasn't
plausibly alleged facts from which it can be inferred that
any defendant was deliberately indifferent to Mr.
Stokes's safety before this attack.
January 21, 2019, Officer Hart told one of Mr. Stokes's
cellmates that Mr. Stokes had personally told her that
contraband found in the cell was his. This resulted in a
verbal and physical conflict between Mr. Stokes and the
cellmate in the shower. It's not clear exactly what
happened, but the cellmate told Mr. Stokes not to do it
again, Mr. Stokes agreed and left the shower. There is no
indication that Mr. Stokes told any defendant named in this
action that he believed he was in imminent risk of being
harmed between Officer Hart's actions and the incident
that occurred in the shower. Further, Mr. Stokes hasn't
described the nature of any physical conflict. Mere fear of
an attack that doesn't occur does not state a claim for
monetary damages. See Doe v. Welborn, 110 F.3d 520,
523-524 (7th Cir. 1997) (“An allegation that prison
officials exposed a prisoner to a risk of violence at the
hands of other inmates does not implicate the Eighth
Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause.”
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). Mr. Stokes
hasn't plausibly alleged facts from which it can be
inferred that Officer Hart was deliberately indifferent to
his safety before the incident in the shower.
point (the timeline is again unclear) Mr. Stokes confronted
Officer Hart and asked why she would put Mr. Stokes in
harm's way by lying and telling his cellmate that Mr.
Stokes had implicated him. Officer Hart, whom Mr. Stokes
believes was intoxicated, became angry and called Mr. Stokes
a snitch. Mr. Stokes believed she told the cellmate that Mr.
Stokes had implicated him in retaliation for earlier
conflicts, although it's not clear what those conflicts
were. “To prevail on his First Amendment retaliation
claim, [Mr. Stokes] 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). These allegations don't state a claim
of retaliation against Officer Hart because they do not
satisfy any of these requirements.
Mr. Stokes's exchange with Officer Hart, Mr. Stokes
threatened to write Officer Hart up. She told Mr. Stokes that
nothing would be done about it if he did. It's not clear
if Mr. Stokes filed a complaint about Officer Hart, but Mr.
Stokes alleges that Officer Hart now harasses him daily. He
provides very little information about the nature of the
daily harassment he allegedly endures. He does provide the
following example - she “clothes lined” him at
the door, asking to see his identification, even though it
was visible on his pocket. (ECF 1 at 3.) This isn't the
kind of deprivation that would deter future First Amendment
activity. Mr. Stokes hasn't stated a retaliation claim
against Officer Hart based on these allegations either.
ceiling caved in on Mr. Stokes. Before the ceiling fell, Mr.
Stokes reported that it was wet to two officers. Mr. Stokes
does not identify these officers by name. He was told that
the ceiling was not a hazard. Before the ceiling collapsed,
small pieces fell to the floor. Office Hart had Mr. Stokes
sweep up these pieces. When the ceiling did fall, it hit Mr.
Stokes in the head and he was injured. He had double vision,
headaches, straining hernia, and blood in his stools. Mr.
Stokes indicates that he didn't think he could submit a
report of the incident or get any medical care because of his
previous encounters with Officer Hart. Still, he eventually
submitted an emergency medical request. It is unclear why he
changed his mind about requesting help or how much time
passed between the incident and his request for medical care.
Mr. Stokes claims he was moved due to the situation with
Officer Hart, but the nature of that situation is unclear.
Without more, these allegations don't support an
inference that Officer Hart was deliberately indifferent to
Mr. Stokes's safety or medical needs.
Stokes also claims he was wrongfully moved on February 15,
2019, although it isn't clear who was responsible for the
move. He had just been moved three days earlier, and this
time there was no cart available. Despite his injuries, he
had to carry his things to his new cell. He felt that the
move was unjust because he was in school and the area he was
being moved to was for those that are idle or have
disciplinary problems. Prison staff ultimately determined
that he was right, and someone (maybe Sgt. Franklin, or maybe
someone else) directed him to move yet again. He refused and
was told that if he didn't move he would be handcuffed
and dragged to his new cell or placed in lockup. So, he
carried his things to a new cell yet again. After the move,
Mr. Stokes had a headache, and he had blood in his stool
again. It's unclear which defendant Mr. Stokes believes
is responsible for him being wrongly moved or being required
to carry items despite his injuries. It's also unclear if
a medical provider ordered that Mr. Stokes limit his lifting,
what his lifting restrictions were, or whether any defendant
named in this lawsuit knew that his injuries kept him from
lifting. These allegations don't state a claim for
deliberate indifference against any defendant.
Stokes had a meeting with Head Supervisor Saddelberg after
the attack in his cell. It is unclear when this meeting took
place in relationship to the other events Mr. Stokes
complains about. After the meeting, he was again called a
snitch by several inmates. Head Supervisor Saddelberg
indicated he would remove Mr. Stokes from school and move
him. Mr. Stokes asked that he instead simply be moved from
the afternoon GED class to the morning GED class to reduce
conflict. A couple weeks later, Mr. Stokes was moved to the
morning GED class, as he requested. Head Supervisor
Saddelberg is not a defendant here, and even if he were,
these allegations don't demonstrate deliberate
indifference to Mr. Stokes's suffering.
last week in January of 2019 was brutally cold in Indiana.
Mr. Stokes was told that the heating system had only two
working coils. His cell was very cold, and, while staff
members were checking the temperature of the cells, they
measured the temperature only near the floor where the
heating pipes are located. Mr. Stokes says he would wake up
with numb limbs because of the cold, go to the bathroom, and
sit in the shower where the heat worked better. On January
29, 2019, Sgt. Flairalty found him there and told him that he
was had to stay in his rack after lights out. Mr. Stokes
explained that he was filling out a request for blankets
because he was so cold. She said that there were no
exceptions and sent him back to his bunk. These allegations
don't support an inference that Sgt. Flairalty was
deliberately indifferent to Mr. Stokes's serious medical
point, Mr. Stokes filed an informal grievance about something
(it is unclear what the grievance was about or when it was
filed). Mr. Stokes later asked Sgt. Franklin to check the
temperature in his cell. She “went off” on Mr.
Stokes and put him in a hold. Mr. Stokes told her he had
already written her up “for the same well being and
life or death M.O. she was using again.” (ECF 1 at 8.)
She became angrier, and she said she was going to write Mr.
Stokes up. He countered by telling Sgt. Franklin that a write
up would be retaliation. It isn't clear whether Mr.
Stokes was written up, but at some point in the grievance
process, Mr. Stokes provided Sgt. Franklin with evidence of
how he suffered due to her actions. Rather than responding
with remorse for his suffering, she responded by calling him
a liar. But Mr. Stokes has no constitutional right to access
the grievance process, much less a satisfactory outcome.
See Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 770 (7th
Cir. 2008) (noting that there is not a Fourteenth Amendment
substantive due-process right to an inmate grievance
February 1, 2019, signs were posted indicated that inmates
could only take showers between six and nine p.m. Three days
later, inmates were told that the water had been shut off and
they could not use water to wash their hands or flush the
toilets until further notice because a large amount of snow
was melting and filling the sewer drains and causing sewage
backups. Mr. Stokes doesn't say how long these
limitations were in effect. He also does not indicate that
any of the defendants he named in his complaint were
responsible for causing the situation or implementing the
policy. Accordingly, this does not state a claim on which
relief can be granted.
Stokes claims that he has had difficulty getting appointments
to the law library. 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 harm resulted. Lewis v.
Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996). 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. Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d
965, 968 (7th Cir. 2006). Mr. Stokes hasn't adequately
alleged that he was denied access to the courts. While Mr.
Stokes views the restrictions on his law library access as a
form of retaliation, he doesn't indicate which of the
defendants here is responsible for his difficulty ...