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Holt v. Does

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

January 6, 2017

MAURICE HOLT, Plaintiff,
JOHN DOE #1, JOHN DOE #2, JOHN DOE #3, JOHN DOE #4, JOHN DOE #5, JANE DOE #1 and JANE DOE #2, Defendants.


          BARBARA B. CRABB District Judge

         Pro se plaintiff Maurice Holt, a prisoner at the Green Bay Correctional Institution, brought this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against seven unnamed Lincoln County Jail correctional officers. In his original complaint, plaintiff alleged that five John Doe and two Jane Doe defendants failed to protect him from a violent attack by a fellow inmate. I screened the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and dismissed it without prejudice for plaintiff's failure to provide fair notice of his claims in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. Dkt. #11. I also gave plaintiff the opportunity to file an amended complaint that complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff has filed a proposed amended complaint, dkt. ##12 and 14, which I will now evaluate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         The amended complaint provides few new details, but plaintiff now generally alleges that four unnamed county jail officials violated his rights. First, he alleges that three defendants exposed him to danger from other inmates in the general jail population. Second, he alleges that one defendant failed to provide adequate medical attention for the injury he sustained after an attack by a fellow inmate.

         After reviewing and screening the amended complaint, I find that it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff has not put forth sufficient allegations to show that any of the Doe defendants violated his constitutional rights. I am therefore dismissing plaintiff's claims and assessing him a “strike” in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

         Plaintiff's amended complaint contains the following allegations, which at this stage, I must accept as true and read in the light most favorable to him. Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768, . 774 (7th Cir. 2015).


         On April 14, 2016, plaintiff Maurice Holt was transferred from Green Bay Correctional Institution to the Lincoln County jail. During the intake process he was questioned by defendants John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1, to whom “it was known” that he was a state prisoner. Plaintiff was placed into a general population unit of the jail. Once there, plaintiff was approached by another inmate named Adam Radak, who wanted to fight him. Radak “was removed, ” but soon after, plaintiff was attacked by another inmate, Matthew White. Defendants John Doe #2 and Jane Doe #1 broke up the altercation and placed plaintiff in a holding cell. A nurse, Jane Doe #2, came to look at plaintiff's eye, which was now “cross eyed.” Plaintiff said he needed to go to a hospital, but defendant Jane Doe #2 said he looked fine, she could not feel anything broken and his “eye could have been crossed before.” An hour later, an unnamed officer came to take a statement. Plaintiff asked to be taken to the hospital, and the officer did so. At the hospital, plaintiff discovered that he had broken bones in his face around his left eye.


         In the court's prior screening order, I gave plaintiff the opportunity to file an amended complaint that provided fair notice of his claims in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, and otherwise complied with the federal rules. Dkt. #11, at 4-5. The amended complaint, consisting of a single handwritten page, sets out the factual allegations described above. It then summarizes plaintiff's claims as follows: “My rights were violated by being housed with county inmates and me being a state prisoner we should not have been housed together and I would not have been injured, as well as inadequate medical attention. I was place[d] in harm's way by Lincoln County Jail.” Am. Cpt., dkt. #14. Thus, I understand plaintiff to be raising two claims under the Eighth Amendment: claims against defendants John Doe #1, John Doe #2 and Jane Doe #1 for failure to protect him from an assault by a fellow inmate, and a claim against defendant Jane Doe #2 for failure to provide him adequate medical care. Both claims are governed by the same general standard: whether a defendant acted (or failed to act) with “deliberate indifference, ” meaning that he or she “kn[ew] of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994).

         As I informed plaintiff in the court's prior order, “[i]n and of itself, the fact that he was beat up us not a sufficient ground on which to state a claim against the prison or its personnel.” I further explained that if plaintiff wished to bring claims against particular jail officials, “he must set forth allegations in his complaint describing what those individuals did and how their actions contributed to plaintiff's injuries. . . . A prison official's failure to prevent an assault violates the Constitution only when the official ‘knows of and disregards an excessive risk' that the prisoner might be harmed.” Dkt. #11, at 3-4 (citing Gevas v. McLaughlin, 798 F.3d 475, 482 (7th Cir. 2015); Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 332 (7th Cir. 1998)). In many cases, prisoners may demonstrate such knowledge by alleging that they complained to an official in advance to warn that they were at risk. But even in such a case, “a generalized, vague, or stale concern about one's safety typically will not support an inference that a prison official had actual knowledge that the prisoner was in danger, ” whereas “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, 792 F.3d at 480-81.

         With respect to the alleged assault and failure-to-protect claims, the amended complaint provides fewer relevant details than the original complaint did. Plaintiff does not allege that any of the defendants knew of a specific risk that White, Radak or any other inmate at the jail would attack him. Of one officer (John Doe #2), nothing at all is known except that he broke up the fight and placed plaintiff in a separate holding cell away from his assailant. Of the two others (John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1) who questioned him during the jail intake process, plaintiff alleges only that “it was known” that he was a state prisoner. However, plaintiff does not explain why his status as a state prisoner would show that any of the defendants knew of and disregarded an excessive risk that plaintiff would be harmed if placed in a general population with county inmates. Cf. Gevas, 792 F.3d at 482; Dale v. Poston, 548 F.3d 563, 569 (7th Cir. 2008); Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 915-16 (7th Cir. 2005); Butera v. Cottey, 285 F.3d 601, 606 (7th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff also does not allege that there was anything defendants could have done to stop the fight sooner than they did. In the absence of any such facts or allegations, plaintiff's purported failure-to-protect claims cannot be sustained, and I will not allow them to proceed.

         Plaintiff's claim for “inadequate medical attention” against the nurse, defendant Jane Doe #2, also falls short, though it is a closer call. A nurse or other correctional official may be liable for violating an inmate's Eighth Amendment rights by acting with “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976). This standard has two elements: plaintiff must show that the defendant (1) caused a medical deprivation that is “objectively, ‘sufficiently serious, '” and (2) acted with a “sufficiently culpable state of mind” constituting “subjective recklessness.” Vance v. Peters, 97 F.3d 987, 991 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834)).

         Plaintiff alleges that as a result of the assault by White he suffered broken bones around his left eye, which no doubt constitutes a “serious” medical injury. This presumably would have been painful, although plaintiff does not say anything about how much pain he suffered or what he told the nurse who came to see him, besides “I need to go to the hospital.” Plaintiff alleges that his eye was now “cross eyed, ” but states no other facts that might have made it “obvious” to defendant Jane Doe #2 that he would face a “substantial risk” of serious harm without immediate medical attention. Estate of Cole by Pardue v. Fromm, 94 F.3d 254, 259 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842). Because plaintiff says that only an hour later an officer took him to the hospital where he was properly diagnosed, that one-hour delay in treatment becomes the key issue.

         A “significant” delay in receiving medical treatment may support a claim of deliberate indifference, “especially where the result is prolonged and unnecessary pain.” Berry v. Peterman, 604 F.3d 435, 441 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Grieveson v. Anderson,538 F.3d 763, 779 (7th Cir.2008) (guards could be liable for delaying treatment of inmate's painful broken nose for nearly two days); Gutierrez v. Peters,111 F.3d 1364, 1371-72 & n. 6 (7th Cir.1997) (collecting cases)). “To show that a delay in providing treatment is actionable under the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must also provide independent evidence that the delay exacerbated the injury or unnecessarily prolonged pain.” Petties v. Carter, 836 F.3d 722, 730-31 (7th ...

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