Phillips v. Riggs et al
ORDER REFERRING CASE to Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Williams. Signed by Chief Judge Michael J. Reagan on 4/11/2018. (tjk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
Case No. 18−cv–0472−MJR
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
REAGAN, Chief District Judge:
Plaintiff Wesley Phillips, an inmate in Lawrence Correctional Center, brings this action
for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
damages. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:
(a) Screening – The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any
event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a
prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a
(b) Grounds for Dismissal – On review, the court shall identify
cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which
relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune
from such relief.
An action or claim is frivolous if “it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.”
Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers
to a claim that any reasonable person would find meritless. Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-
27 (7th Cir. 2000). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not
plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross “the line
between possibility and plausibility.” Id. at 557. At this juncture, the factual allegations of the
pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577
F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).
Plaintiff suffered a seizure and was transferred to an outside hospital on March 15, 2017.
(Doc. 1, p. 9). His restraints were removed for a doctor’s examination, but after the examination
was over, Riggs handcuffed him too tightly. Id. Plaintiff told Riggs that the handcuffs were
cutting off his circulation, but his pleas were ignored. Id. Doe also examined the handcuffs and
told Riggs that they looked tight, but took no action. Id.
Plaintiff asked Riggs again to loosen the cuffs, at which point Riggs grabbed the
restraints and clicked them tighter, causing severe pain in Plaintiff’s hands and fingers. Id. Doe
failed to intervene. Id.
Plaintiff was then airlifted to Champaign, Illinois. (Doc. 1, p. 10). He told the tech that
he was in unbearable pain due to the handcuffs, but Riggs told the technician that Plaintiff would
be fine. Id. Plaintiff was strapped to a gurney for the flight; the gurney made his restraints more
painful. Id. Plaintiff lost feeling in his right hand during the flight. Id. Upon arrival at the
hospital, Plaintiff asked Riggs for medical personnel to examine his hands; Riggs ignored the
request. Id. Plaintiff experienced spasms and pain in his right hand for the next 4 days. Id.
Based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro
se action into 2 counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future
pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The following
claims survive threshold review:
Count 1 – Riggs and John Doe used excessive force on Plaintiff in violation of
the Eighth Amendment when Riggs applied overly tight handcuffs to Plaintiff and
Doe failed to intervene;
Count 2 – Riggs was deliberately indifferent to the serious medical need created
by the overly tight handcuffs when he refused to secure medical attention for
As to Plaintiff’s Count 1, the intentional use of excessive force by prison guards against
an inmate without penological justification constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation
of the Eighth Amendment and is actionable under § 1983. See Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34
(2010); DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 619 (7th Cir. 2000). An inmate must show that an
assault occurred, and that “it was carried out ‘maliciously and sadistically’ rather than as part of
‘a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline.’” Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 40 (citing Hudson v.
McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6 (1992)). The factors relevant to this determination include: (1) the
need for the application of force; (2) the amount of force that was used; (3) the extent of injury
inflicted; (4) the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by
the responsible officials on the basis of the facts known to them; and (5) any efforts made to
temper the severity of a forceful response. Lewis v. Downey, 581 F.3d 467, 477 (7th Cir. 2009);
Outlaw v. Newkirk, 259 F.3d 833, 837 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).
Plaintiff has alleged that Riggs applied excessively tight handcuffs to him. Excessively
tight handcuffs can be an example of excessive force. Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 779 (7th
Cir. 2003); Herzog v. Village of Winnetka, 309 F.3d 1041 (7th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff has alleged
that as a result of the handcuffs, his right hand went numb and he experienced pain and spasms
for days afterwards. This is a plausible allegation that Riggs used excessive force in applying the
handcuffs too tightly, and Count 1will be permitted to proceed against Riggs.
Plaintiff has also made a plausible allegation against John Doe.
Under the Eighth
Amendment, a correctional officer may be held liable for failing to intervene if he or she has a
realistic opportunity to step forward and protect a plaintiff from another officer's excessive force,
but fails to do so. Harper v. Albert, 400 F.3d 1052, 1064 (7th Cir. 2005). Plaintiff has alleged
that John Doe observed Riggs handcuff him, noted that the handcuffs looked tight, but failed to
take further action. On these facts, Plaintiff has articulated a viable claim for failure to intervene
in the excessive force incident. Count 1 will also proceed against John Doe.
As to Count 2, prison officials impose cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the
Eighth Amendment when they are deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need. Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976); Chatham v. Davis, 839 F.3d 679, 684 (7th Cir. 2016). In
order to state a claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, an inmate must show
that he 1) suffered from an objectively serious medical condition; and 2) that the defendant was
deliberately indifferent to a risk of serious harm from that condition. Petties v. Carter, 836 F.3d
722, 727 (7th Cir. 2016).
Plaintiff has alleged that Riggs was aware that the handcuffs were too tight because
Plaintiff explicitly complained about them, which caused Riggs to tighten them further. Plaintiff
alleges that the handcuffs were painful, which is a plausible allegation of a serious medical need.
He has further alleged that when he asked Riggs for medical treatment of the numbness and pain
in his hands and wrist, Riggs refused. On these facts, Plaintiff has made a plausible claim of
deliberate indifference to serious medical needs against Riggs, and Count 2 will be permitted to
Plaintiff’s Motion for Recruitment of Counsel will be referred to United States Magistrate
Judge Stephen C. Williams for disposition. (Doc. 3).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Counts 1 and 2 survive threshold review against
Riggs and Doe.
The Clerk of Court shall prepare for Defendant Riggs: (1) Form 5 (Notice of a Lawsuit
and Request to Waive Service of a Summons), and (2) Form 6 (Waiver of Service of Summons).
The Clerk is DIRECTED to mail these forms, a copy of the Complaint, and this Memorandum
and Order to Defendant’s place of employment as identified by Plaintiff. If Defendant fails to
sign and return the Waiver of Service of Summons (Form 6) to the Clerk within 30 days from the
date the forms were sent, the Clerk shall take appropriate steps to effect formal service on
Defendant, and the Court will require Defendant to pay the full costs of formal service, to the
extent authorized by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Service shall not be made on the Unknown (John Doe) Defendant until such time as
Plaintiff has identified him by name in a properly filed amended complaint.
ADVISED that it is Plaintiff’s responsibility to provide the Court with the name and service
addresses for this individual.
If the Defendant cannot be found at the address provided by Plaintiff, the employer shall
furnish the Clerk with the Defendant’s current work address, or, if not known, the Defendant’s
last-known address. This information shall be used only for sending the forms as directed above
or for formally effecting service. Any documentation of the address shall be retained only by the
Clerk. Address information shall not be maintained in the court file, nor disclosed by the Clerk.
Defendant is ORDERED to timely file an appropriate responsive pleading to the
complaint and shall not waive filing a reply pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(g).
Pursuant to Local Rule 72.1(a)(2), this action is REFERRED to United States
Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Williams for further pre-trial proceedings.
Further, this entire matter is hereby REFERRED to United States Magistrate Judge
Stephen C. Williams for disposition, as contemplated by Local Rule 72.2(b)(2) and 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), should all the parties consent to such a referral.
If judgment is rendered against Plaintiff, and the judgment includes the payment of costs
under § 1915, Plaintiff will be required to pay the full amount of the costs, notwithstanding that
his application to proceed in forma pauperis has been granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(f)(2)(A).
Plaintiff is ADVISED that he is under a continuing obligation to keep the Clerk of Court
and each opposing party informed of any change in his address; the Court will not independently
investigate his whereabouts. This shall be done in writing and not later than 7 days after a
transfer or other change in address occurs. Failure to comply with this order will cause a delay
in the transmission of court documents and may result in dismissal of this action for want of
prosecution. See FED. R. CIV. P. 41(b).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: April 11, 2018
s/ MICHAEL J. REAGAN
U.S. District Judge
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