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Swann v. Coakley

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

December 20, 2019

C. COAKLEY, et al. Defendants.


          James Patrick Hanlon United States District Judge


         Mr. Swann's motion to file an amended complaint, dkt. [22], is granted to the extent that the amended complaint was filed within the deadline set by the pre-trial scheduling order. The clerk is directed to docket the amended complaint, currently dkt. [22-1], as the docket entry immediately following this Order.


         Mr. Swann, an inmate at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, brings this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that prison staff retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights, violated his right to Equal Protection on the basis of race, and committed libel under Indiana state tort law. Because the plaintiff is a “prisoner” as defined by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(c), this Court has an obligation under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a) to screen his amended complaint before service on the defendants. This amended complaint will completely replace the original complaint filed on April 26, 2019. See Beal v. Beller, 847 F.3d 897, 901 (7th Cir. 2017) (“For pleading purposes, once an amended complaint is filed, the original complaint drops out of the picture.”).

         A. Screening Standard

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must dismiss the amended complaint, or any portion of the amended complaint, if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim for relief, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. In determining whether the amended complaint states a claim, the Court applies the same standard as when addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Cesal v. Moats, 851 F.3d 714, 720 (7th Cir. 2017).

         B. Discussion

         The amended complaint is identical to the original complaint in nearly every respect except that it narrows Mr. Swann's Indiana tort claim from “defamation of character” to “libel defamation.” Dkt. 22-1, p. 2. The amended complaint also requests a “total sum of $150, 000” in damages. Id. at 5. Like the original complaint, the amended complaint names as defendants Counselor C. Coakley, Ms. Reeves, and Deputy Warden Kevin Gilmore.

         On February 19, 2019, Mr. Swann was hired by Coakley to serve as a wheel chair pusher for inmate Brian Griggs. His housing was reclassified in order to place him in Griggs' cell, even though wheel chair pushers are not required to live with the inmates they are hired to assist. Griggs' medical condition made it difficult for him to shower and use the bathroom, which created an unpleasant odor in the cell.

         The tasks Mr. Swann performed for Griggs went beyond the requirements of a wheelchair pusher. Mr. Swann had to clean the floors, walls, and toilet area without gloves or sanitation chemicals. He made Griggs' bed, prepared his meals, wrote his letters, and helped him use the bathroom. Griggs told Mr. Swann that he should be a porter, rather than a wheelchair pusher, because that is what his doctor had ordered. Griggs brought this issue to the attention of a nurse, who promised to email Coakley about reassigning Mr. Swann to the job of porter.

         To address the discrepancy between his job classification and the work he performed for Griggs, Mr. Swann filed an informal grievance. He complained that “he was having to clean up . . . urine, make [Griggs'] bed, write his letters etc.” Reeves responded to this grievance and told Mr. Swann that she told him he would have to clean when he accepted the job as a wheelchair pusher. She also told him that he did not have to write Griggs letters for him if he did not want to.

         After his informal grievance was rejected, Mr. Swann filed a formal grievance. He complained that he was being paid as a wheelchair pusher but was effectively performing the job of a porter. He requested that he be given a porter's pay or be transferred to another cell so he would not have to perform a porter's duties.

         One day after leaving the chow hall, Mr. Swann spoke to Coakley in the day room. When he mentioned the nurse's email and inquired about becoming a porter, she became agitated and rude. She told him he would never become a porter and that the only job he was qualified for was wheelchair pusher. If he brought it up again, she warned, she would make him “idle no pay.” Mr. Swann told ...

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