Hood v. Curran et al
OPINION AND ORDER. For the foregoing reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants motion to dismiss 50 . The Court dismisses Count II against Lake County. The Court grants Smith until June 16, 2017 to answer the complaint. The Court strikes the status date set for June 6, 2017 and resets it to June 21, 2017 at 9:30 AM. Signed by the Honorable Sara L. Ellis on 6/1/2017:Mailed notice(rj, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
CURTIS R. HOOD, SR.,
OFC. JACQUELINE SMITH and LAKE
No. 15 C 7945
Judge Sara L. Ellis
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Curtis Hood alleges that an attack in his cell at Lake County Jail in Lake County,
Illinois injured his finger. Hood does not yet know the identity of the wrongdoer, but he alleges
that while he was a pretrial detainee either an inmate collecting food trays from the opening in
his cell door (called a “chuckhole”) or the guard overseeing the inmates slammed the
chuckhole’s door onto Hood, breaking and partially severing his finger. Hood brings claims
against the guard, Defendant Jacqueline Smith, and her employer, Defendant Lake County, for
violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Smith and Lake County move to dismiss Hood’s Second
Amended Complaint. The Court denies in part and grants in part the motion . Hood
sufficiently states his claims against Smith, and the Court cannot find, at this time, that Smith is
entitled to qualified immunity. Hood admits, however, that his § 1983 claim against Lake
County should be against Lake County’s Sheriff instead, so the Court dismisses that claim. But
the Court does not dismiss the County in full because Hood’s claims against Smith allow his
indemnification claim to stand.
Hood was held as a pretrial detainee in a single-inmate cell at Lake County Jail. Each
cell in Hood’s cell block had a full-length, transparent door with a chuckhole in the middle for
passing food in and out of the cell. The chuckholes were three to four inches thick, made of
metal, and weighed several pounds, and Lake County Jail required them to be locked except
Smith, a correctional officer at Lake County Jail, was assigned alone to Hood’s cellblock
during breakfast. Policy allowed Smith and other correctional officers to assign inmates to
distribute and collect trays containing meals to each cell. Smith unlocked all the cells’
chuckholes and then allowed two inmates, Douglas Alexander and Andre Mason, to distribute
meal trays through each cell’s chuckhole. Smith could not monitor both Alexander and Mason at
the same time.
After receiving his meal tray and eating, Hood brought his tray back to the chuckhole.
As Hood placed the tray into the chuckhole, he blacked out, losing consciousness and vision. He
woke up on his back with a broken, bleeding, partially-severed finger. Two nurses and three jail
guards were in the cell with him. A nurse told Hood that he had suffered a seizure. Hood
eventually went to the hospital and received treatment from a surgeon. The surgeon decided that
Hood did not need surgery and instead reattached and repaired the finger with “less invasive
methods.” Doc. 43 ¶ 31. Hood’s finger is still damaged, and his injury prevents him from
working as a barber anymore, which is his preferred line of work.
The facts in the background section are taken from Hood’s Second Amended Complaint and are
presumed true for the purpose of resolving defendant’s motion to dismiss. See Virnich v. Vorwald, 664
F.3d 206, 212 (7th Cir. 2011); Local 15, Int’l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO v. Exelon Corp., 495 F.3d
779, 782 (7th Cir. 2007).
Smith and other jail guards who responded to Hood believed that Hood’s injury was
caused by the chuckhole. Hood sought an explanation from the jail’s officials for his injury, but
he only learned that an investigation had determined Hood’s injury was caused by a “medical
condition.” Id. ¶ 49.
Hood believes that Alexander or Mason intentionally slammed Hood’s chuckhole door
and hurt Hood’s finger. He alleges that Smith was aware that Hood was in potential danger but
did nothing. But because Hood blacked out at the moment of the incident, he is not sure if
Alexander or Mason actually hurt him. Other inmates told Hood that they saw Smith slamming
chuckhole doors closed around the time Hood was hurt. They also told him that when they tried
to alert Smith that Hood was unconscious, Smith ignored them and left Hood unattended for a
period of time.
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint, not
its merits. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir.
1990). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all wellpleaded facts in the plaintiff’s complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in
the plaintiff’s favor. AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer, 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011). To survive
a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must not only provide the defendant with fair notice of a
claim’s basis but must also be facially plausible. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct.
1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.
Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Hood alleges that Smith failed to protect him—or, alternatively, used excessive force
against him—and then was deliberately indifferent to his need for medical care. He also alleges
that Lake County is liable for policies and practices that caused Smith’s wrongdoing and for
indemnification of Smith.
Claims Against Smith
Failure to Protect (Count I)
Hood alleges that Smith did not protect him from danger. Because Hood was a pretrial
detainee, the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause protects him from harm, and the Court
looks to Eighth Amendment case law for guidance because “the protections of the Fourteenth
Amendment’s due process clause are at least as broad as those that the Eighth Amendment
affords to convicted prisoners.” Rice ex rel. Rice v. Corr. Med. Servs., 675 F.3d 650, 664 (7th
Cir. 2012). Smith argues that Hood’s failure to protect claim fails because he has not alleged
facts supporting such a claim and because Smith is entitled to qualified immunity.
“To state a failure to protect claim, a plaintiff-inmate must allege that (1) ‘he is
incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm,’ and (2) defendantofficials acted with ‘deliberate indifference’ to that risk.” Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 909 (7th
Cir. 2005) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S. Ct. 1970, 128 L. Ed. 2d 811
(1994)). There is an objective and a subjective component to the claim. Gevas v. McLaughlin,
798 F.3d 475, 480 (7th Cir. 2015). Hood must allege that he was exposed to an objectively
serious harm. Dale v. Poston, 548 F.3d 563, 569 (7th Cir. 2008) (noting that when there is “a
cobra lurking in the grass” of the prisoner’s cell, the objective prong is satisfied). He also must
allege that Smith knew that Hood faced the substantial risk of serious harm and disregarded the
risk by “failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. at 847.
Hood alleges that Smith “was aware of the general risks that unmonitored inmates [like
Alexander and Mason] pose” and that Smith was aware that cell block workers and the
chuckhole could cause harm to the inmates in Hood’s cell block. Doc. 43 ¶ 58. He also alleges
that Smith failed to take the necessary measures to monitor Alexander and Mason and to mitigate
the cell block workers’ risks to the other inmates in the cell block. Yes, the cell door separated
Alexander and Mason from Hood. But Hood alleges that the chuckhole was both the gap in
protection and the tool that Alexander or Mason used to hurt him. Therefore, Hood’s allegations
sufficiently allege the objective and subjective elements of a failure to protect claim.
Smith argues that these allegations only describe negligence, not intentional conduct.
Hood, however, alleges that Smith knew the danger that she created by allowing Alexander and
Mason to distribute and collect trays through the chuckhole and ignored that danger. Therefore,
Hood’s allegations of Smith’s “acts and omissions, given the knowledge of the alleged risk
posed by [Alexander and Mason, working without full supervision in the cell block], sufficiently
state a failure to protect claim.” Brown, 398 F.3d at 916.
Smith also argues that she is entitled to qualified immunity from the failure to protect
claim. Qualified immunity attaches when an official’s conduct “does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
White v. Pauly, --- U.S. ----, 137 S. Ct. 548, 551, 196 L. Ed. 2d 463 (2017) (quoting Mullenix v.
Luna, --- U.S. ----, 136 S. Ct. 305, 308, 193 L. Ed. 2d 255 (2015)). “In other words, qualified
immunity shields from liability [defendants] who act in ways they reasonably believe to be
lawful.” Ewell v. Toney, 853 F.3d 911, 919 (7th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted)
(quoting Jewett v. Anders, 521 F.3d 818, 822 (7th Cir. 2008)). Once raised by the defendant, “a
plaintiff must show: (1) that the defendant violated a constitutional right, and (2) that the right
was clearly established at the time so that it would have been clear to a reasonable officer that
her conduct was unlawful in the situation.” Id. Hood provides no meaningful response to
Smith argues that Hood’s silence disposes of the claim; but that is not so. Smith’s
argument for qualified immunity is cursory and underdeveloped. It is Smith’s initial burden to
properly put the defense before the Court. Gary v. Sheahan, No. 96 CV 7294, 1997 WL 201590,
at *10 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 18, 1997). Beyond citing the qualified immunity standard, Smith barely
addresses qualified immunity for Hood’s failure to protect claim, which is insufficient to put the
defense at issue. See Curtis v. Wilks, 704 F. Supp. 2d 771, 786–87 (N.D. Ill. 2010) (noting that
an argument that fails to apply the law to the facts “in any meaningful fashion” waives the
argument); Am. Homeland Title Agency, Inc. v. Robertson, No. 115CV02059SEBDKL, 2016
WL 5661562, at *10–11 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 30, 2016) (declining to address cursory and
undeveloped arguments on qualified immunity). Smith does not address why Hood fails to
allege the deprivation of a clearly established right. She only argues that any alleged wrong was
a mere mistake, so she is entitled to qualified immunity because qualified immunity “gives
government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open
legal questions.” Doc. 51 at 15 (quoting Ahscroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743, 131 S. Ct. 2074,
179 L. Ed. 2d 1149 (2011)). But as discussed, at this stage, Hood alleges that Smith knew of
risks substantial enough to make her indifference knowing and deliberate. Hood alleges Smith’s
deliberate failure to monitor other inmates who cause harm to another Hood by slamming
chuckhole doors. These allegations are enough to plead the violation of a clearly established
right and that Smith was on notice her behavior was likely unlawful. Alvarado v. Litscher, 267
F.3d 648, 651 (7th Cir. 2001) (noting that courts hesitate to dismiss complaints on qualified
immunity grounds “[b]ecause an immunity defense usually depends on the facts of the case”
beyond the allegations of the complaint). The Court will not grant Smith’s motion for qualified
immunity at the pleading stage.
Excessive Force (Count III)
Hood also alleges that the other inmates may not have attacked him and, instead, Smith
attacked him in an alleged use of excessive force. Smith argues that Hood cannot allege that she
intentionally closed the chuckhole door on Hood when he already alleges that Mason or
Alexander did the same thing. “[A]t the pleadings stage, plaintiffs are allowed to plead in the
alternative, even if this creates inconsistencies. . . . Plaintiffs may plead inconsistent facts . . . as
long as plaintiffs are legitimately in doubt about the facts in question.” Carlson v. Nielsen, No.
13 CV 5207, 2014 WL 4771669, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 24, 2014) (internal quotation marks
omitted) (citation omitted); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d). When a plaintiff is unsure who caused his
injury, he may allege those claims in the alternative as long as they are both plausible. 5 Charles
A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ., § 1282 (3d ed. 2017).
Although Hood did not plead the excessive force claim as an alternative to his failure to
protect claim, the Court understands that Hood has alleged an alternative claim. Hood alleges
that Alexander or Mason slammed his chuckhole door and that other inmates told him they saw
Smith slamming chuckhole doors too. These facts, at the pleading stage, do not bar either the
failure to protect claim or the excessive force claim. There is no need to require Hood to replead
where he alleges that he was unable to know who injured him at the time of his injury and his
two theories are plausible. Leis v. Davidson, No. 13 C 1106, 2013 WL 3864999, at *3 (N.D. Ill.
May 30, 2013) (collecting cases, finding that alternative claims were understood without
requiring repleading that would be “unduly formalistic”). While Smith suggests that Hood
already knows that the evidence does not support one of the alternative allegations, that is an
argument for a Rule 11 motion. At this stage, the Court denies Smith’s motion to dismiss Count
Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs (Count V)
Hood also alleges that regardless of whether an inmate or Smith harmed him, Smith was
deliberately indifferent to his medical needs after the attack. To state a claim, Hood “must
demonstrate two elements: 1) an objectively serious medical condition; and 2) an official’s
deliberate indifference to that condition.” Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 750 (7th Cir. 2011).
Smith argues that Hood fails to allege that Smith is the official he claims was deliberately
indifferent to his medical needs. Hood alleges that inmates told Smith that Hood suffered a
seizure and that she ignored these alerts, thus alleging that Smith was the prison official with the
opportunity to address his seizure and that she ignored his condition. These allegations place
Smith on notice that the claim is against her.
Smith also argues that Hood alleges she was negligent, not deliberately indifferent.
“[N]egligence, even gross negligence, does not violate the Constitution.” McGowan v. Hulick,
612 F.3d 636, 640 (7th Cir. 2010). Instead “[o]nly deliberate indifference or worse in the face of
a serious medical need will do.” Id. Hood alleges that Smith chose to ignore inmates’ warnings
that Hood had suffered a seizure and that Smith’s decision to ignore the inmates delayed Hood’s
treatment. His allegations describe deliberate indifference rather than mere negligence.
Smith also argues that Hood fails to allege the length of the delay in treatment caused by
Smith’s deliberate indifference or that the delay caused any added harm. A delay in treatment
that exacerbates an injury or unnecessarily prolongs pain may show deliberate indifference.
Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768, 777–78 (7th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). “Whether the
length of delay is tolerable depends upon the seriousness of the condition and the ease of
providing treatment” and “even brief, unexplained delays in treatment may constitute deliberate
indifference.” Id. (citations omitted). A delay to treat a finger injury may support a deliberate
indifference claim. Edwards v. Snyder, 478 F.3d 827, 831 (7th Cir. 2007) (reviewing prisoner’s
claim that he was denied treatment for two days for open-dislocation of finger). Hood alleges
that Smith prevented immediate medical care for his severed finger for a “significant period of
time.” Doc. 43 ¶ 78. Because he was unconscious the entire time that he alleges Smith delayed
his treatment, the length of the delay may be unavailable to Hood until discovery ends. Hood
also alleges that his severed finger needed significant treatment and that he can no longer work
as a barber with his hand. At the pleading stage, Hood’s allegations are enough to state a claim.
Claims Against Lake County (Counts II & IV)
Hood names Lake County as a Defendant in his Second Amended Complaint. Yet Smith
admits that Lake County is not the proper defendant for his custom, policy, and practice claim in
Count II and wants to file a new claim against Lake County Sheriff Mark C. Curran, Jr. Because
Hood concedes that he cannot bring his § 1983 claim against Lake County, the Court grants the
motion to dismiss Count II. The Court, however, declines to address Defendants’ argument that
Hood cannot bring a similar § 1983 claim against Sheriff Curran. Until Hood proposes a third
amended complaint, there is no claim against the Sheriff for the Court to review.
Hood also brings a claim in Count IV against Lake County for indemnification. Lake
County argues that the indemnification claim is moot without any valid claims against Smith.
Because the Court finds that Hood states a claim against Smith, that argument fails. Lake
County also suggests that Smith is not an employee but, instead, an independent contractor they
do not need to indemnify. But Hood alleges that Smith was Lake County’s employee, and Lake
County presents no argument to refute that allegation. Therefore the Court denies the motion to
dismiss Count IV against Lake County.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants’ motion
to dismiss . The Court dismisses Count II against Lake County. The Court grants Smith
until June 16, 2017 to answer the complaint. The Court strikes the status date set for June 6,
2017 and resets it to June 21, 2017.
Dated: June 1, 2017
SARA L. ELLIS
United States District Judge
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