United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
CODY W. PHELPS, Plaintiff,
RON NEAL, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE
Phelps, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a complaint.
“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, 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
complaint, Mr. Phelps alleges that, on January 31, 2019, the
ceiling and a shelf in his cell fell on his head as he was
standing at his sink in his cell at the Indiana State Prison.
As a result, he suffered a wound on his right temple that
required stitches, and he asked Officer Warner for medical
assistance. Lieutenant McNeal arrived and escorted Mr. Phelps
to the medical unit, where a nurse did not properly treat his
wound but instead merely cleaned it and taped it shut.
Lieutenant McNeal returned Mr. Phelps to his cell, which was
unsafe due to the continued risk of the shelf and debris
falling from the ceiling. When Mr. Phelps removed his hat,
the tape that had been holding his wound shut came with it,
and his wound began to bleed again. He asked Sergeant Gordon
to return to the medical unit, but she denied his request.
However, she moved him to a safer cell seven hours later.
When he filed a grievance about the inadequate treatment,
Lieutenant McNeal and Sergeant Gordon falsely responded that
Mr. Phelps caused the shelf to fall by tampering with the
bolt securing it to the wall and falsely reported that Mr.
Phelps had received a disciplinary conduct report. Officer
Warner later told Mr. Phelps that Sergeant Gordon had asked
him to falsify a disciplinary conduct report regarding the
incident but that he had refused.
Phelps asserts an Eighth Amendment claim against Lieutenant
McNeal for returning him to his cell despite the likelihood
that the shelf and other items would continue falling from
the ceiling. “In order to state a claim under the
Eighth Amendment for deliberate indifference to a hazardous
condition of confinement, [a prisoner] needed only to allege
that [a defendant] deliberately ignored a prison condition
that presented an objectively, sufficiently serious risk of
harm.” Pyles v. Fahim, 771 F.3d 403, 409 (7th
Cir. 2014). “Federal courts consistently have adopted
the view that slippery surfaces and shower floors in prisons,
without more, cannot constitute a hazardous condition of
confinement.” Id. Nevertheless, prison
officials “must address easily preventable, observed
hazards that pose a significant risk of severe harm to
inmates.” Anderson v. Morrison, 835 F.3d 681,
683 (7th Cir. 2016). Giving the inferences to which Mr.
Phelps is entitled at this stage, the complaint suggests that
the condition presented a more substantial risk of harm than
a slippery surface or a wet floor. The complaint states a
plausible Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference
to a hazardous condition against Lieutenant McNeal.
Mr. Phelps asserts an Eighth Amendment claim against Sergeant
Gordon for denying his request to return to the medical unit.
To establish such a claim, 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 v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). 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). Deliberate
indifference means that “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).
Based on the allegations that Sergeant Gordon denied his
request to return to the medical unit for treatment for the
reopened head wound, the complaint states a plausible Eighth
Amendment claim of deliberate indifference to a medical need
against Sergeant Gordon.
Phelps further asserts a claim against Lieutenant McNeal and
Sergeant Gordon for attempting to persuade a correctional
officer to issue a false disciplinary report against Mr.
Phelps for tampering with the shelf. He suggests that these
defendants were engaged in act of collusion intended to
conceal their negligent conduct. While the court does not
encourage such behavior from correctional staff, it is
unclear how an unsuccessful attempt to persuade a
correctional officer to issue a false disciplinary report
amounts to a constitutional violation. Therefore, Mr. Phelps
may not proceed on these allegations.
Phelps also names Warden Neal as a defendant due to his
supervisory role at the Westville Correctional Facility.
“[L]iability depends on each defendant’s
knowledge and actions, not on the knowledge or actions of
persons they supervise.” Burks v. Raemisch,
555 F.3d 592, 594 (7th Cir. 2009). Because Mr. Phelps
concedes that Warden Neal was not personally involved with
his claims, he cannot proceed against Warden Neal.
Additionally, Mr. Phelps names Wexford Medical as a defendant
due to the inadequate care he received at the medical unit.
Corporate entities “[may] not be held liable under
§ 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.”
Calhoun v. Ramsey, 408 F.3d 375, 379 (7th Cir.
2005). Rather corporate liability exists only “when
execution of a [corporation’s] policy or custom . . .
inflicts the injury.” Id. Mr. Phelps cannot
proceed against Wexford Medical because he has not identified
a policy or custom that caused the inadequate treatment for
his head injury.
these reasons, the court:
GRANTS Cody W. Phelps leave to proceed against Lieutenant
McNeal on an Eighth Amendment claim for money damages for
subjecting him to hazardous conditions by returning him to
his cell on January 31, 2019;
GRANTS Cody W. Phelps leave to proceed against Sergeant
Gordon on an Eighth Amendment claim for money damages for
acting with deliberate indifference to serious medical
needs by denying his request to return to the medical unit
on January 31, 2019;
DISMISSES Warden Neal and Wexford Medical;
DISMISSES all other claims;
DIRECTS the clerk and the United States Marshals Service to
issue and serve process on Lieutenant McNeal and Sergeant
Gordon at the Indiana Department of Correction with a copy
of this order and the complaint (ECF 1) as required by 28
U.S.C. § 1915(d); and
ORDERS, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § ...