Donelson v. Atchison et al
ORDER: Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 276 ) is DENIED with respect to Count 4 against Defendant Baker, but GRANTED in all other respects and as to all other defendants. It is Further ORDERED that Plaintiffs claims against the J ohn Doe defendants are DISMISSED. The Clerk of Court shall enter judgment for Defendants Kevin Cartwright and George Holton and against Plaintiff Charles Donelson at the close of the case. Count 4 against Defendant Michael Baker will proceed to trial. Signed by Judge Staci M. Yandle on 12/4/2017. (njh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
MICHAEL ATCHISON, et al.,
Case No. 14-CV-1311-SMY-RJD
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
YANDLE, District Judge:
Pending before the Court is Defendants Michael Baker, Kevin Cartwright, and George
Holton’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 276). For the following reasons, the Court
DENIES summary judgment with respect to Count 4 but GRANTS Defendants’ motion in all
On November 25, 2014, Plaintiff commenced an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging several constitutional violations (Docs. 1, 18). On January 29, 2015, the Court severed
Plaintiff’s claims into separate actions. The instant action pertains to Plaintiff’s claim that
Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment and First Amendment rights at Menard Correctional
Center by denying access to the yard and failing to remedy the conditions of his confinement.
Specifically, Plaintiff’s claims are as follows:
Count 1: Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Holton and Cartwright for
denying Plaintiff access to the yard, thus preventing him from engaging in
physical activity necessary to maintain his health;
Count 2: Eighth Amendment claim against Unknown (John Doe) Defendants
and Defendants Baker and Cartwright, for placing Plaintiff in unsanitary cells
and/or failing to remedy the cell conditions in response to Plaintiff’s complaints;
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Count 3: First Amendment claim against Unknown (John Doe) Defendants, for
housing Plaintiff in the cell contaminated with black mold in November 2012, in
retaliation for his complaints and grievances over the denial of yard;
Count 4: First Amendment claim against Defendant Baker, for refusing to
remedy the unsanitary conditions in Plaintiff’s cell in June 2013 (contamination
with feces and urine), in retaliation for Plaintiff’s grievances over his staff
From July 18, 2012 to October 19, 2013, Plaintiff was incarcerated at Menard
Correctional Center (“Menard”) (Doc. 277-2). Defendants Holton, Cartwright, and Baker served
as correctional officers at Menard. From November 3, 2012 to February 1, 2013, Plaintiff was in
disciplinary segregation (Id.; Doc. 277-1 at 17, 18).
The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff’s deposition unless otherwise indicated.
Plaintiff was not allowed to exercise from September 2012 to April 2013 (Doc. 277-1 at 10).
During this time, the limited confines of his assigned cells prevented him from exercising inside
his cell (Id. at 20).
In September 2012, the facility implemented a policy by which inmates classified as staff
assaulters could only attend yard in a designated area (Box 16) (Id. at 11). Following the
implementation of this policy, Defendant Holton refused to allow Plaintiff to attend yard with
general population or Box 16, by stopping Plaintiff as he attempted to go to yard with the other
inmates, instructing other correctional officers not to take Plaintiff to yard and telling him that he
could not go (Id. at 13-14).
In or around December 2012, Defendant Cartwright replaced Defendant Holton as the
cell house lieutenant (Id. at 14). Cartwright refused to allow Plaintiff to attend yard with general
population or Box 16, by stopping Plaintiff as he attempted to go to yard with the other inmates,
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instructing other correctional officers not to take Plaintiff to yard, and telling him that he could
not go (Id.).
After filing grievances, Plaintiff was told that he could go to the gym, but despite his
requests, he was never allowed to go to the gym (Id. at 14). He was also told that he could attend
the yard used by the inmates in disciplinary segregation, but he only went one time (Id.). On
September 25, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a grievance, complaining that he was told he had to
attend yard in the segregation yard, which had no phones or recreational items (Doc. 5 at 6-7).
He complained that the segregation yard was dangerous and that he could not go to the
segregation yard because the inmates in disciplinary segregation used that yard (Id.).
On October 9, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a grievance in which he complained that he was
told he had to attend yard in the segregation yard and requested access to a telephone that day
(Id. at 8). In Plaintiff’s Declaration, he attests that the disciplinary segregation yard was not
designed for general population inmates as it lacked telephones and weight lifting equipment
(Doc. 293-1 at 54).
Plaintiff suffered from spasms and pain in his foot, back, and stomach due to the lack of
physical activity (Doc. 227-1 at 16). He experienced the spasms and pain prior to September
2012, but the lack of physical activity exacerbated his symptoms (Id.). Plaintiff also gained
On February 1, 2013, Plaintiff was assigned to Cell 722 (Doc. 277-2). When he arrived
at Cell 722, it had an unpleasant odor, feces and urine, and the mattress inside the cell was
stained and also had an unpleasant odor (Doc. 2771 at 27). Plaintiff slept on the mattress only
after wrapping it in several blankets, some of which he obtained from other inmates (Id. at 3132). Plaintiff received cleaning supplies from other inmates later that day (Id. at 30, 43). The
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sink did not have hot water and the cold water had weak water pressure, which made it difficult
for Plaintiff to bathe in his cell (Id. at 32-33, 42). Plaintiff told Defendants Cartwright and Baker
about the issues with Cell 722, but they did nothing to remedy the issues (Id. at 34, 42).
According to Plaintiff’s Declaration, when he was assigned to Cell 722, he refused to go to the
showers because he felt the presence of other inmates presented a threat to his safety (Doc. 293-1
Plaintiff was assigned to Cell 716 on June 14, 2013 (Doc. 277-2). As Defendant Baker
escorted him to Cell 716 during the morning shift, Baker explained that Plaintiff was being
subjected to poor cell conditions due to his complaints (Doc. 277-1 at 37, 47-48; Doc. 293-1 at
122). When Plaintiff arrived at Cell 716, it had an unpleasant odor, piles of trash, and a soiled
mattress (Doc. 277-1 at 36-37). He confronted Defendant Baker about Cell 716, and Cartwright
witnessed this confrontation. However, Baker and Cartwright did nothing to remedy the issues
with Cell 716 (Id. at 38-39, 42, 44). When the correctional staff for the evening shift arrived,
they provided Plaintiff with cleaning supplies and a new mattress (Id. at 45).
On September 23, 2013, Plaintiff was assigned to Cell 750 (Doc. 277-2). Cell 750 had no
running water (Id. at 39). Plaintiff told Baker about the issue, but Baker did nothing to remedy
the lack of running water (Id. at 40). After two hours in Cell 750, Plaintiff was assigned to the
disciplinary segregation unit (Id.).
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), the Court “shall grant summary
judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” When ruling on a motion for summary
judgment, the Court “examine[s] the record and all reasonable inferences in the light most
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favorable to the non-moving party.” Spurling v. C & M Fine Pack, Inc., 739 F.3d 1055, 1060
(7th Cir. 2014). Summary judgment must be denied “if a material issue of fact exists that would
allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of the non-moving party” (Id.).
The Eighth Amendment protects inmates from cruel and unusual punishment. U.S.
Const., amend. VIII; see also Berry v. Peterman, 604 F.3d 435 (7th Cir. 2010). “While the
Constitution does not require that prisons be comfortable, prison conditions do violate the
Constitution where they deprive inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.”
Delaney v. DeTella, 256 F.3d 679, 683 (7th Cir. 2001).
“A claim of constitutionally inadequate confinement requires a two-step analysis: (1)
whether the conditions at issue were sufficiently serious so that a prison official’s act or omission
resulted in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities; and (2) whether
prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to the conditions in question.” Townsend v.
Fuchs, 522 F.3d 765, 773 (7th Cir. 2008). “[A plaintiff] must also show that he suffered some
cognizable harm from the overall lack of a sanitary environment, and that the official’s deliberate
indifference caused that harm. Gray v. Hardy, 826 F.3d 1000, 1006 (7th Cir. 2016).
Count 1 – Access to Recreational Yard
Plaintiff asserts Eighth Amendment claims against Defendants Holton and Cartwright for
denying him access to the yard and preventing him from engaging in physical activity necessary
to maintain his health. Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot establish that Holton or Cartwright
acted with deliberate indifference or that Plaintiff suffered harm due to lack of exercise.
The record contains insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that Holton or
Cartwright acted with deliberate indifference towards Plaintiff’s health. Plaintiff is no medical
expert and no medical records suggest that the lack of physical activity significantly affected his
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medical condition. Moreover, even if the lack of physical activity resulted in the deterioration of
Plaintiff’s health, no evidence suggests that Holton or Cartwright had any knowledge of
Plaintiff’s health issues.
Further, although Plaintiff testified that Holton and Cartwright personally prevented him
from attending yard with general population or in Box 16, there is no evidence that they had any
role in preventing Plaintiff from going to the gym or attending yard in the segregation yard.
Indeed, the record suggests that Plaintiff declined the opportunity to attend yard in the
segregation yard. The record merely establishes that Holton and Cartwright prevented Plaintiff
from attending his preferred recreational yard. On these facts, no jury could reasonably conclude
that Defendants Holton and Cartwright acted with deliberate indifference in preventing Plaintiff
access to the recreational yard. Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is
granted with respect to Count 1.
Count 2 – Conditions of Confinement
Plaintiff asserts an Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Baker and Cartwright for
placing Plaintiff in unsanitary cells and failing to remedy the cell conditions in response to
Plaintiff’s complaints. Defendants argue that the cell conditions did not rise to the level of an
Eighth Amendment violation and that Plaintiff suffered no harm as a result of the cell conditions.
To determine whether the record contains sufficient evidence to support an Eighth
Amendment violation, the Court has reviewed cases with similar facts, including the following:
In Johnson v. Pelker, 891 F.2d 136 (7th Cir. 1989), an inmate in disciplinary
segregation alleged that the walls of his cells were smeared with feces; the cell
had no running water; and the inmate was not provided with cleaning supplies or
running water for three days. The Seventh Circuit found that the inmate
sufficiently alleged an Eighth Amendment violation.
In Jackson v. Duckworth, 955 F.2d 21 (7th Cir. 1992), an inmate in disciplinary
segregation attested to inadequate plumbing, undrinkable water, infestation of
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roaches and rodents, dirty bedding, the smell of human waste, and inadequate
heating. 1 The Seventh Circuit found that the inmate provided sufficient evidence
for his claim to survive summary judgment.
In Vinning-El v. Long, 482 F.3d 923 (7th Cir. 2007), an inmate in disciplinary
segregation submitted evidence that, for six days, the walls of his cell were
smeared with blood and feces; the floor was covered in water; and the inmate was
deprived of a mattress, sheets, and cleaning supplies. The Seventh Circuit found
that the inmate provided sufficient evidence for his claim to survive summary
In Sain v. Wood, 512 F.3d 886 (7th Cir. 2008), an inmate submitted evidence that,
for six years, his cell was infested with cockroaches, not air conditioned, and the
faulty plumbing emitted a foul odor. The Seventh Circuit found that the evidence
did not support conditions that rose to the level of an Eighth Amendment
In Moore v. Lemke, 2016 WL 4530308 (N.D. Ill. 2016), an inmate submitted
evidence that, for sixteen days, he was placed in a cell that was dirty and filled
with trash, had filthy toilet and sinks, and had no working lights; and the inmate
was deprived of cleaning supplies for three days. The court found that the
conditions of the cell did not rise to level of an Eighth Amendment violation.
In Rodriguez v. Veath, 2017 WL 1197241 (S.D. Ill. 2017), an inmate in
disciplinary segregation submitted evidence that, for more than two months, he
was placed in a cell with poor ventilation, extreme temperatures, a stained
mattress, and malfunctioning plumbing. The inmate was also placed in another
cell that smelled of urine and contained human waste, and, although the inmate
had access to running water, a towel, and soap, the inmate did not receive
cleaning supplies for four days. The court found that the inmate failed to
demonstrate an “atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the
ordinary incidents of prison life” and granted summary judgment on the inmate’s
procedural due process claim. 2
Upon Plaintiff’s arrival to Cell 722 in February 2013, the cell (as described by Plaintiff)
bore some resemblance to the cells in Johnson, Jackson, and Vinning-El. However, unlike the
plaintiffs in those cases, Plaintiff was able to substantially remedy the sanitation issues by
Here, the Court relies, in part, on the additional factual details regarding this case presented in Jackson v.
Duckworth, 953 F.2d 646 (7th Cir. 1992).
Although Rodriguez discusses a procedural due process claim, it remains instructive for purpose of Eighth
Amendment claims as the Rodriguez court relied on Eighth Amendment cases in reaching its conclusion and
considering the relationship between the Eighth Amendment and procedural due process claims in disciplinary
segregation cases. See Gillis v. Litscher, 468 F.3d 488, 492 (7th Cir. 2006) (“[T]here can, in fact, be a liberty
interest – short of an Eighth Amendment violation – triggering procedural requirements.”).
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obtaining cleaning supplies and blankets from other inmates on the same day he arrived to the
cell. Additionally, Cell 722 had a functional toilet and a sink with drinkable water. Plaintiff
alleges that the sink water was not suitable for purposes of bathing, but the record indicates that
Plaintiff was allowed access to the showers.
For these reasons, the Court concludes that the
evidence in the record would not support a conclusion by a reasonable jury that the conditions of
Cell 722 were unconstitutional.
Plaintiff’s claim regarding Cell 716 similarly fails because the correctional staff addressed
the unsanitary conditions on the same day Plaintiff was assigned to the cell. Plaintiff’s claim
regarding Cell 750 fails due to minimal duration of his assignment to the cell.
Based on the foregoing, the Court concludes that the record raises no material issue of
fact as to whether Plaintiff was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement.
Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is granted with respect to Count 2.
Count 4 – First Amendment Retaliation
Plaintiff states a First Amendment claim against Defendant Baker for refusing to remedy
the unsanitary conditions in Cell 716, in retaliation for Plaintiff’s grievances. Defendants argue
that Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that Baker was aware of Plaintiff’s grievances or that Baker
refused to remedy the conditions of Cell 716 in retaliation for Plaintiff’s grievances.
“To prevail on a First Amendment retaliation claim, [a plaintiff] must ultimately show
that (1) he engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment; (2) he suffered a deprivation
that would likely deter First Amendment activity in the future; and (3) the First Amendment
activity was at least a motivating factor in the Defendants’ decision to take the retaliatory
action.” Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546 (7th Cir. 2009). “Once the plaintiff proves that an
improper purpose was a motivating factor, the burden shifts to the defendant . . . to prove by a
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preponderance of the evidence that the same actions would have occurred in the absence of the
protected conduct.” Spiegla v. Hull, 371 F.3d 928, 943 (7th Cir. 2004); Babcock v. White, 102
F.3d 267, 275 (7th Cir. 1996).
In retaliation cases, even if the alleged conduct by itself would likely not violate the
Constitution, “if the acts were taken in retaliation for the exercise of a constitutionally protected
right, then they are actionable under § 1983.” Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 552 (7th Cir.
2009). Plaintiffs need only demonstrate conduct that would “deter a person of ordinary firmness
from exercising First Amendment activity in the future” (Id.).
On June 14, 2013, Plaintiff was assigned to Cell 716. Plaintiff testified that, as Baker
escorted him to the cell, Baker told him that he was being subjected to poor cell conditions due
to his complaints. When Plaintiff arrived at Cell 716, it had an unpleasant odor, piles of trash,
and a soiled mattress. Plaintiff confronted Baker about the condition of the cell, but Baker did
nothing to remedy the situation.
Here, the record establishes that Plaintiff engaged in protected activity by filing
There is also sufficient evidence in the record that Baker was aware of the
grievances and the complaints Plaintiff made. Given the condition of the cell as described by
Plaintiff, leaving an individual in such a cell for several hours would likely dissuade an ordinary
person from engaging in protected speech. When viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff,
The statement allegedly made by Baker as he escorted Plaintiff to Cell 716 is sufficient evidence
of retaliatory motive. Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is denied with
respect to Count 4. Plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Baker shall
proceed to trial.
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Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity. The Court need only
consider whether qualified immunity applies to Count 4 because it disposed of Plaintiff’s other
claims discussed above.
Generally, government officials are protected from civil liability when performing
discretionary functions under the doctrine of qualified immunity so long as “their conduct does
not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person
would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982); see also Alvarado v.
Litscher, 267 F.3d 648, 652 (7th Cir. 2001). Thus, in evaluating a claim of qualified immunity,
the Court engages in a two-step analysis. First, the Court considers whether a plaintiff’s claim
states a violation of his constitutional rights. If so, the Court determines whether those rights
were clearly established at the time the violation occurred. Jacobs v. City of Chicago, 215 F.3d
758, 766 (7th Cir. 2000).
For a constitutional right to be clearly established, its contours “must be sufficiently clear
that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.” Estate of
Escobedo v. Bender, 600 F.3d 770, 779 (7th Cir. 2010) (quoting Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730,
739 (2002)). The unlawfulness of a particular official's action must be apparent “in light of the
pre-existing law” (Id.).
A party may demonstrate that a right was clearly established by
presenting a closely analogous case establishing the defendant's conduct was unconstitutional or
by presenting evidence the defendant’s conduct was so patently violative of a constitutional right
that reasonable officials would know without guidance from a court. See Hope, 536 U.S. at 739–
Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity because Plaintiff cannot
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produce any evidence that Baker was aware of Plaintiff’s grievances. However, Plaintiff’s
testimony that Baker commented on the grievances constitutes such evidence. Accordingly,
Defendant Baker is not entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Count 4.
John Doe Defendants
As a final matter, John Doe defendants remain in the case. In the Court’s Screening
Order, Plaintiff was given the opportunity to conduct discovery as to the identity of the John Doe
defendants and to amend the Complaint to identify them (Doc. 18).
However, the Court
ultimately denied Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint in which Plaintiff sought
to identify the John Doe defendants, finding that amending the complaint would be futile due to
the statute of limitations (Doc. 215). Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claims against the John Doe
defendants (Counts 2 and 3) are dismissed.
It is hereby ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 276) is
DENIED with respect to Count 4 against Defendant Baker, but GRANTED in all other respects
and as to all other defendants. It is Further ORDERED that Plaintiff’s claims against the John
Doe defendants are DISMISSED. The Clerk of Court shall enter judgment for Defendants
Kevin Cartwright and George Holton and against Plaintiff Charles Donelson at the close of the
case. Count 4 against Defendant Michael Baker will proceed to trial.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATE: December 4, 2017
s/ Staci M. Yandle
STACI M. YANDLE
United States District Judge
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