Johnson v. Godinez et al
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order. Signed by the Honorable James B. Zagel on 10/17/2016. Mailed notice(ep, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
No. 14 C 240
Judge James B. Zagel
SALVADOR GODINEZ, et al.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the Court is Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following
reasons, Defendants’ Motion is granted.
Plaintiff Opter Johnson, an Illinois state prisoner, has brought this pro se civil rights
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he was subjected to cruel and unusual
punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. At all relevant times, Plaintiff was an inmate
at the Northern Reception and Classification Center (“NRC”) in Will County, Illinois. Plaintiff
contends that the six Defendants—all of whom are current or prior Illinois Department of
Corrections (“IDOC”) officials—violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and
unusual punishment when the NRC’s hot water went out for approximately two months, which
resulted in Plaintiff taking ice cold showers during that time. At the time of the events giving rise
to this action, Defendant Salvador Godinez was the Director of IDOC; Defendants Marcus Hardy
and Michael Lemke were each formerly the Warden of Stateville Correctional Center and the
NRC; Defendants Jerry Lyte and Nikki Robinson were Assistant Wardens at the NRC; and
Defendant Tracy Engleson was the Superintendent of the NRC.
Plaintiff entered the NRC on December 3, 2012, and was transferred to another facility
on or around September 25, 2013. Throughout this ten-month period, Plaintiff was authorized a
five-minute shower once per week. Sometime in July of 2013, the hot water at the NRC went
out. Consequently, Plaintiff was given the option of either taking a cold shower or having no
shower at all. Plaintiff chose to take ice cold showers on a weekly basis until his departure from
the facility in September.
Plaintiff submitted a grievance communicating this problem to NRC staff on July 2,
2013. On July 15, 2013, a counselor notified Plaintiff that a work order had been submitted to
correct the problem. Although it is not clear from the record exactly when hot water was restored
to the NRC, it occurred sometime before October 17, 2013. According to Plaintiff, the showers
were contaminated with black mold, the spores of which Plaintiff was forced to breathe while
showering. In addition, Plaintiff alleged that the showers were being used by over 150 inmates
on a weekly basis and yet were often cleaned only bi-weekly, and sometimes only once a month.
Plaintiff alleged that he spoke to Defendants Lyte, Robinson, and Engleson on three different
occasions about these issues but was disregarded. Plaintiff alleges that these cold showers,
coupled with the fact that the showers were not cleaned adequately or consistently, led to several
medical problems including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (“MRSA”), numerous
flu-like symptoms, and a foot infection which caused his skin to itch and flake.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 248,
106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). To determine whether any genuine fact issue exists, the
court must assess the proof as presented in the record, including depositions, answers to
interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits, to view the facts in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor. Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(c); Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). The court may not weigh conflicting evidence
or make credibility determinations. Omnicare, Inc. v. UnitedHealth Grp., Inc., 629 F.3d 697, 704
(7th Cir. 2011). If a claim or defense is factually unsupported, the court should dispose of it at
the summary judgment stage. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323–24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91
L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving
there is no genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. In response, the non-moving
party cannot rest on bare pleadings but must designate specific material facts showing there is a
genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596,
598 (7th Cir.2000).
Determining whether an inmate’s constitutional rights have been violated requires a
“fact-intensive inquiry under constitutional standards.” Gillis v. Litscher, 468 F.3d 488, 492 (7th
Cir. 2006) (internal citations omitted). Where, as here, the pain inflicted on an inmate is not
formally apportioned as “punishment” by either statute or the sentencing judge, the plaintiff must
satisfy a two-prong test. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298, 300 (1991). First, the conditions
must be objectively so serious as to be considered cruel and unusual, and second, the defendants
must have acted with deliberate indifference toward the plaintiff. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. at
298. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff has failed to establish both of these prongs.
A. Shower Conditions
The state has an obligation to provide its inmates with a “healthy, habitable
environment.” French v. Owens, 777 F.2d 1250, 1255 (7th Cir. 1985) (internal citations omitted).
At a minimum, this involves providing prisoners with the “minimal civilized measure[s] of life’s
necessities”, which includes showers. Halmon v. Greer, No. 14 C 3607, 2015 WL 2357632, at *2
(N.D. Ill. May 14, 2015) (citing Gordon v. Sheahan, No. 96 C 1784, 1997 WL 136699, at *7
(N.D.Ill. Mar. 24, 1997)). However, a temporary deprivation of some necessities is not an
automatic Eighth Amendment violation. Harris v. Fleming, 839 F.2d 1232, 1236 (7th Cir. 1988)
(holding that the denial of hygiene items for ten days did not constitute an Eighth Amendment
violation); Dye v. Lomen, 40 F. App’x 993, 996 (7th Cir. 2002) (holding that the denial of toilet
paper for several days did not violate the Eighth Amendment). Instead, the deprivation must be
intolerable to the point that it does not align with “the evolving standards of decency that mark
the progress of a maturing society.” Harris v. Fleming, 839 F.2d 1232, 1236 (7th Cir. 1988).
Under some circumstances, cold showers over a prolonged period of time could become an
Eighth Amendment violation. See Halmon v. Greer, No. 14 C 3607, 2015 WL 2357632, at *2.
But, “[o]cassional cold showers due to plumbing problems are not a constitutional violation”.
Tapia v. Sheahan, No. 97 C 5737, 1998 WL 919709, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 30, 1998) (citing
Williams v. DeTella, No. 95 C 6498, 1997 WL 603884) (N.D. Ill. 1997)).
Plaintiff cites a number of cases that find potential Eighth Amendment violations
related to cold temperatures in prisons but those cases involve materially different circumstances
than those in Plaintiff’s allegations. E.g. Dixon v. Godinez, 114 F.3d 640, 642 (7th Cir. 1997)
(concerning prolonged exposure to a cell so cold that ice formed on the walls); Chandler v.
Baird, 926 F.2d 1057, 1065-66 (11th Cir. 1991) (cold cell); Gaston v. Coughlin 249 F.3d 156
(2nd Cir. 2001) (same); French v. Owens, 777 F.2d 1252, 1255 (7th Cir. 1985) (noting a number
of deplorable living conditions including, inter alia, a lack of hot water in the cells). In each of
those cases, the length of the exposure was considered important in making the determination
that an Eighth Amendment violation had occurred. See also Gibson v. Paquin, 590 F. App’x 635,
636 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 2389 (2015) (“Harm from prolonged exposure to severe
cold in a prison may state an Eighth Amendment violation.”).
In this case, however, Plaintiff does not complain of prolonged exposure to a cold
environment. Instead, Plaintiff took approximately eight showers that lasted approximately five
minutes each. Plaintiff was also not forced to take the cold showers and was able to clean himself
in his cell. Although the showers were unpleasant, the Eighth Amendment does not protect
against modest, temporary erosions of prisoner comfort. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 101 S. Ct.
2393, 2400 (1981) (holding that “the Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons”). In
light of the fact that Eighth Amendment violations for exposure to cold environments have
generally been found only where the exposure was of a significant duration, the comparatively
brief deprivation of hot showers at issue here was not repugnant to “the evolving standards of
decency that mark the progress of a maturing society”, and was therefore not unconstitutional.
Harris v. Fleming, 839 F.2d 1232, 1236 (7th Cir. 1988).
For similar reasons, the fact that the showers were cleaned infrequently does not rise to
the level of an Eighth Amendment violation. There is not an “excessive risk to inmate health or
safety” in cleaning showers somewhere between once every two weeks and once every month.
Cf. Snipes v. DeTella, 95 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825,
837 (1994)) (holding that no Eighth Amendment violation existed where the plaintiff alleged he
had to shower in standing water with an open wound on one toe). Granted, Plaintiff may have
needed to take additional precautions to limit contact with the shower floor to prevent the injury
he alleges was sustained from it, but “such needed precautions do not ignite a constitutional
claim.” Snipes v. DeTella, 95 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 1996). Consequently, neither the cold
showers nor the condition of the showering facilities rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment
B. Defendants’ State of Mind
To satisfy the second prong of the test articulated by Wilson v. Seiter, Defendants must
have acted with deliberate indifference. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991). Deliberate
indifference is determined by “looking into [the defendants’] subjective state of mind” with
regard to the conduct. Petties v. Carter, No. 14-2674, 2016 WL 4631679, at *3 (7th Cir. Aug. 23,
2016) (citing Vance v. Peters, 97 F.3d 987, 992 (7th Cir. 1996)). “A plaintiff must provide
evidence that an official (1) actually knew of and (2) disregarded a (3) substantial risk of harm.”
Id. Even objective recklessness is insufficient to make out a claim of deliberate indifference—
instead, the defendant must have actual knowledge of an unjustifiably high risk to the inmate. Id.
The record indicates that the lack of hot water was simply a plumbing problem. A work
order was submitted on or around July 15th, 2013, meaning that an attempt was being made to
rectify the problem within approximately 15 days from when Plaintiff alleged that the hot water
first went out. Thus, Plaintiff’s allegations fail the second prong of the test for deliberate
indifference: although it is evident that Defendants knew of the problem, they were actively
engaged in correcting it, not disregarding it. The fact the problem took some weeks to rectify
does not, standing alone, lead to the inference that Defendants were acting with deliberate
Plaintiff has also not demonstrated deliberate indifference with respect to the sanitation
conditions of the shower facilities. To constitute deliberate indifference, the defendant must have
committed an act so dangerous that his knowledge of the risk can be inferred or that the
defendant actually knew of an impending harm that was easily preventable. Snipes v. DeTella, 95
F.3d 586, 590 (7th Cir. 1996). On the record in this case, it is not clear that Defendants actually
knew of an impending harm, nor that a failure to clean the showers more frequently was so
dangerous that a substantial risk could be inferred.
Moreover, the record provides no causal nexus between Plaintiff’s alleged injuries and
the shower conditions. Plaintiff’s complaint puts forth a number of potential causes of his flulike symptoms other than the cold showers, including overcrowding, insufficient cleaning
supplies, the presence of disease-carrying insects, and dirty food trays. These other aspects of
his environment could have been responsible for the itchy skin that Plaintiff complained of and
nothing in the record sufficiently ties his symptoms to either the cold showers or the conditions
of the shower facilities. There is also evidence that Plaintiff was diagnosed with MRSA prior to
the hot water going out, which forecloses the possibility that the lack of hot water directly or
proximately caused Plaintiff’s MRSA. Although it may be possible that the conditions of the
facility were responsible for Plaintiff’s MRSA, the record does not provide any evidence that this
is the case.
Because the above analysis disposes of the case, I find it unnecessary to address
Defendants’ remaining arguments.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.
James B. Zagel
United States District Judge
DATE: October 17, 2016
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