Robinson v. Kink et al
ORDER GRANTING 47 Motion for Summary Judgment. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to enter judgment and close this case. Signed by Chief Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel on 1/11/2022. (kss)
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
Case No. 3:19-CV-00069-NJR
KEVIN KINK, JOHN R. BALDWIN, and
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ROSENSTENGEL, Chief Judge:
Pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants
Kevin Kink, John R. Baldwin, and Sherry Benton (Doc. 47). For the reasons set forth
below, the motion is granted.
On January 23, 2019, Plaintiff Treondous Robinson, an inmate in custody of the
Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), filed this action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 alleging his constitutional rights were violated while he was incarcerated at
Lawrence Correctional Center (“Lawrence”) (Doc. 1). Robinson filed an Amended
Complaint on April 10, 2019 (Doc. 6). Robinson’s allegations relate to the living conditions
within his cell and medical treatment of a spider bite (Id.). Initially, Defendants asserted
an affirmative defense regarding Robinson’s failure to exhaust his administrative
remedies but subsequently withdrew this defense (Docs. 18, 37, 38). Robinson is
proceeding on three counts under the Eighth Amendment: one claim for unconstitutional
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and unsanitary conditions of confinement including frequent power outages, excessive
heat and humidity, a lack of running water, and bug infestation; one claim of deliberate
indifference in failing to adequately treat his spider bite; and one claim of deliberate
indifference in failing to adequately treat his emotional distress caused by the spider bite
(Docs. 6, 7). At the time of the Complaint, Kevin Kink was employed as the Warden of
Lawrence, John R. Baldwin was employed as the Director of the IDOC, and Sherry Benton
was employed as an Administrative Review Board Chairperson (Doc. 48).
On September 7, 2021, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 47).
Robinson moved for an extension of time to file a response to the motion, which was
granted, thus extending his response deadline to November 15, 2021 (Docs. 50, 51).
Ultimately, Robinson did not file any response to the motion. 1
In their motion for summary judgment, Defendants argue that the undisputed
facts demonstrate Robinson did not experience unconstitutional living conditions but
rather temporary discomfort that was rectified by prison staff. Defendants further
contend that Robinson’s ailments received medical attention and did not qualify as
“serious medical needs.” Defendants also argue that they lacked knowledge of
Robinson’s medical conditions, and, thus, could not intentionally disregard them. Lastly,
Defendants assert qualified immunity as a defense to all claims (Id.).
Pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(c), Robinson’s lack of response could be interpreted as an admission of the
merits of the motion.
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At the time of the underlying events, in June and July of 2018, Robinson resided in
general population at Lawrence (Doc. 48-1, pp. 32-33). Robinson states that sporadic
power and water outages occurred several times a week affecting every cell in his deck
(Doc. 48-1, p. 37). The power and water took a few hours to restore in each instance (Id.).
In the following months, Robinson filed several grievances relating to these incidents
(Doc. 6, pp. 20-29).
Around the same time, Robinson alleges that his cell was infested with bugs
(Docs. 6, 48-1, pp. 37-41). Lawrence had a contract with Pest Management Services to
spray the facility monthly for spiders and insects (Doc. 48-4). Robinson recalls seeing
someone spraying bug repellant outside his cell twice before he observed a bug bite on
his arm (Doc. 48-1, pp. 38-40). Robinson noticed a baseball-sized spider bite on his
forearm and alerted a correctional officer who sent him to the health care unit (Docs. 481, pp. 43-44; 48-5). On July 21, 2018, Robinson received treatment for his spider bite,
including a bacterial cream and ibuprofen (Doc. 48-5). The treating physician conducted
a follow-up appointment for the bite on July 23, and progress notes from August 8
indicate the wound was healed (Docs. 48-1, p. 45; 48-5).
In addition to the medical visits, Robinson saw mental health staff after the spider
bite (Docs. 48-1, p. 23; 48-6). Robinson experienced paranoia and feared another spider
would bite him (Doc. 48-1, p. 23). He received ongoing mental health treatment including
medication, but after about a year, Robinson indicated that his anxiety and panic about
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the spiders lessened, and he desired to opt out of further mental health treatment
(Doc. 48-6, pp. 61, 63).
The medical treatment of Robinson’s spider bite was handled directly by the
medical staff at Lawrence (Docs. 48-2, 48-3, 48-4). Defendants Baldwin, Benton, and Kink
all assert that they are not trained physicians and defer all medical treatment decisions to
the institutional medical staff (Docs. 48-2, 48-3, 48-4). Further, Defendants Baldwin and
Benton assert that they are not involved in pest control at each institution (Doc. 48-2, 483).
Concerned with his unsanitary living conditions and the medical treatment for his
spider bite, Robinson filed several grievances (Doc. 6, pp. 20-29). He submitted grievances
for power outages which affected the water, temperature, and smells in his cell and
triggered his asthma (Id.). Robinson also submitted grievances for his dissatisfaction with
the medical treatment of his spider bite and lack of extermination effort generally (Id.).
He also complained that the Administrative Review Board mishandled his grievances
(Id.). Aside from filing grievances, Robinson did not communicate directly with any
defendant about his living or medical conditions (Doc. 48-1, pp. 48, 55, 60, 64).
Each defendant has a varying level of involvement in handling prisoner
grievances. As the Warden of Lawrence, Defendant Kink reviewed grievances, however,
generally one of his designated signatories reviewed and signed grievance decisions on
his behalf, including those filed by Robinson (Doc. 48-4). Defendant Baldwin supervised
the Administrative Review Board (Doc. 48-2). He also had signatories review and
approve board decisions, including those filed by Robinson (Id.). As such, Baldwin and
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Kink deny being personally aware of Robinson’s complaints regarding medical treatment
and cell conditions (Docs. 48-2, 48-4).
Defendant Benton, as Chairperson of the Administrative Review Board, did
personally review and provide responses to Robinson’s grievances. Benton denied
Robinson’s grievances related to cell conditions because department rules require
prisoners to attempt to resolve issues at the facility level prior to submitting a formal
grievance, and Robinson failed to demonstrate such action had been taken (Docs. 6, p. 34;
48-3). Benton denied Robinson’s grievance related to the spider bite and medical
treatment indicating deference to the judgment of the physician or healthcare staff
(Doc. 6, pp. 31-32). Benton also warned that future grievances pertaining to the same
issues, which had already been addressed, would not receive a response (Doc. 6, p. 33).
As a result of the denied grievances, Robinson filed this action (Doc. 1).
Summary judgment is proper only if the moving party can demonstrate that there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); see also
Ruffin Thompkins v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2005).
The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no material facts are in genuine
dispute; any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue must be resolved against the
moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 160 (1970); see also Lawrence v.
Kenosha Cty., 391 F.3d 837, 841 (7th Cir. 2004).
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Once the moving party sets forth the basis for summary judgment, the burden then
shifts to the nonmoving party who must go beyond mere allegations and offer specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see Celotex,
477 U.S. at 322-24. A moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law where the
nonmoving party “has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her
case with respect to which she has the burden of proof.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The party
opposing summary judgment must offer admissible evidence in support of his version of
events; hearsay evidence does not create a genuine issue of material fact. Durling v.
Menard, Inc., No. 18 C 4052, 2020 WL 996520, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 2, 2020) (citing McKenzie
v. Ill. Dep’t of Transp., 92 F.3d 473, 484 (7th Cir. 1996)). In determining whether a genuine
issue of fact exists, the Court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences
in favor of the nonmovant. Bennington v. Caterpillar Inc., 275 F.3d 654, 658 (7th Cir. 2001);
see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[i]nferences that
rely upon speculation or conjecture are insufficient.” Armato v. Grounds, 766 F.3d 713, 719
(7th Cir. 2014). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact
to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.’” Id. (citation
Eighth Amendment Unconstitutional Conditions
The Eighth Amendment places a duty on prison officials to provide prisoners
“humane conditions of confinement.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). This
means that prison officials must “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the
inmates” and “ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical
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care.” Id. Prison officials have a responsibility to provide prisoners, at a minimum, with
the necessities of civilized life including shelter, sanitation, and utilities. Johnson v. Pelker,
891 F.2d 136, 139 (7th Cir. 1989).
A prisoner plaintiff needs to establish two elements to succeed on an Eighth
Amendment claim for deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm. The
first is an objective component requiring that the deprivation or conditions of
confinement alleged are “sufficiently serious” to result in the denial of “the minimal
civilized measure of life’s necessities.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. Generally, the prisoner
plaintiff must show that he is or was “incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial
risk of serious harm” to his health or safety. Id. The second element is a subjective
component, which requires the prisoner plaintiff to establish that the defendants were
“deliberately indifferent” to the unlawful conditions of confinement. Id.
In conditions of confinement cases, the relevant state of mind is deliberate
indifference to an inmate’s health or safety; the official must be aware of facts from which
the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he also
must draw the inference. Id. at 839. This subjective state of mind component is akin to
intentional or criminally reckless conduct. Salazar v. City of Chicago, 940 F.2d 233, 238 (7th
Cir. 1991); Rivera v. Gupta, 836 F.3d 839, 842 (7th Cir. 2016). “There is no liability under
the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause if a prison official has responded reasonably
to a risk of harm.” Doe v. Welborn, 110 F.3d 520, 524 (7th Cir. 1997) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S.
at 844 (“prison officials who actually knew of a substantial risk to inmate health or safety
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may be found free from liability if they responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm
ultimately was not averted.”)).
Eighth Amendment Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs
The Supreme Court has also recognized that “deliberate indifference to serious
medical needs of prisoners” may constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the
Eighth Amendment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). A prisoner is entitled to
“reasonable measures to meet a substantial risk of serious harm”—not to demand specific
care. Forbes v. Edgar, 112 F.3d 262, 267 (7th Cir. 1997). A prisoner’s dissatisfaction with a
medical professional’s prescribed course of treatment does not give rise to a successful
deliberate indifference claim unless the treatment is so “blatantly inappropriate as to
evidence intentional mistreatment likely to seriously aggravate the prisoner’s condition.”
Snipes v. DeTella, 95 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Thomas v. Pate, 493 F.2d 151, 158
(7th Cir. 1974)). “[T]he Eighth Amendment does not reach disputes concerning the
exercise of a professional’s medical judgment, such as disagreement over whether one
course of treatment is preferable to another.” Gaston v. Ghosh, 11-CV-6612, 2017 WL
5891042, at *11 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 28, 2017) (citing Cesal v. Moats, 851 F.3d 714, 721 (7th Cir.
To succeed on a claim of deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must show: (1) that he
suffered from an objectively serious medical condition; and (2) that the individual
defendant was deliberately indifferent to that condition. Berry v. Peterman, 604 F.3d 435,
440 (7th Cir. 2010); Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 750 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing Johnson v.
Snyder, 444 F.3d 579, 584 (7th Cir. 2006)).
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A medical condition is objectively serious if “a physician has diagnosed it as
requiring treatment, or the need for treatment would be obvious to a layperson.” Lockett
v. Bonson, 937 F.3d 1016, 1023 (7th Cir. 2019) (quoting Pyles v. Fahim, 771 F.3d 403, 409 (7th
Cir. 2014)) (internal quotation marks omitted). It is not necessary for such a medical
condition to “be life-threatening to be serious; rather, it could be a condition that would
result in further significant injury or unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain if not
treated.” Gayton v. McCoy, 593 F.3d 610, 620 (7th Cir. 2010); accord Farmer, 511 U.S. at 828
(violating the Eighth Amendment requires “deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of
serious harm”) (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added).
Prevailing on the second prong requires a prisoner to show that a prison official
has subjective knowledge of—and then disregards—an excessive risk to inmate health.
Id. at 653. A plaintiff need not show the individual “literally ignored” his complaint, but
that the individual was aware of the condition and either knowingly or recklessly
disregarded it. Hayes v. Snyder, 546 F.3d 516, 524 (7th Cir. 2008). “Something more than
negligence or even malpractice is required” to prove deliberate indifference. Pyles, 771
F.3d at 409; see also Hammond v. Rector, 123 F. Supp. 3d 1076, 1086 (S.D. Ill. 2015) (“isolated
occurrences of deficient medical treatment are generally insufficient to establish . . .
deliberate indifference”). Deliberate indifference involves “intentional or reckless
conduct, not mere negligence.” Berry, 604 F.3d at 440 (citing Gayton, 593 F.3d at 620).
Assessing the subjective prong is more difficult in cases alleging inadequate care
as opposed to a lack of care. Without more, a “mistake in professional judgment cannot
be deliberate indifference.” Whiting v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 839 F.3d 658, 662 (7th
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Cir. 2016). This is in contrast to a case “where evidence exists that the defendant [ ] knew
better than to make the medical decision[ ] that [he] did.” Id. (quoting Petties v. Carter, 836
F.3d 722, 731 (7th Cir. 2016))(alterations in original). A medical professional’s choice of
an easier, less efficacious treatment can rise to the level of violating the Eighth
Amendment, however, where the treatment is known to be ineffective but is chosen
anyway. Berry, 604 F.3d at 441.
Unconstitutional Conditions of Confinement
Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate because they did not
subject Robinson to unconstitutional conditions of confinement.
The Court agrees. Upon this record, no reasonable juror could conclude that any
defendant, John Baldwin, Sherry Benton, or Kevin Kink, deprived Robinson of basic
human needs or subjected him to conditions that posed a serious risk of harm to his health
or safety. While Lawrence experienced several power and water outages in the summer
of 2018, Robinson admits that the outages were resolved within a couple hours in each
instance. Robinson also claims his cell had a bug infestation, but he acknowledges that he
did see someone spraying for bugs around the prison. Certainly, these temporary outages
and bug sightings caused Robinson discomfort and inconvenience, but they do not rise
to the level of an unconstitutional condition of confinement. Robinson’s claims fail to
satisfy the objective component requiring that the deprivation or conditions of
confinement resulted in the denial of “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.”
Even if the objective component was satisfied, Robinson cannot show that
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Defendants knew of and subsequently disregarded his living conditions leading to an
excessive risk of his health and safety. Defendants Baldwin and Kink deny any personal
knowledge of Robinson’s complaints concerning his living conditions as their signatories
processed the grievances, and they did not personally review his filings. Robinson also
admits that he did not communicate directly with any defendant regarding his living
conditions. Defendant Benton did have personal knowledge of the conditions through
review of Robinson’s filed grievances, but her actions in denying the grievances cannot
be interpreted as disregarding an excessive risk to Robinson’s health or safety. (The same
is true for the signatories acting on behalf of Defendants Baldwin and Kink.) The power
and water outages were already resolved within a couple hours of occurrence.
Additionally, Lawrence contracted with a pest control company to spray for insects
regularly to prevent and manage infestation. Robinson fails to show that Defendants
knowingly disregarded an excessive risk to his health or safety, and the Court finds that
Defendants are entitled to summary judgment.
Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs
Defendants also argue that summary judgment is appropriate because they were
not deliberately indifferent to Robinson’s serious medical needs.
Regarding the first prong of the deliberate indifference analysis, Defendants argue
that Robinson’s physical and mental conditions do not constitute an objectively serious
medical need. While not apparently life-threating, Robinson’s spider bite was “baseballsized” and required follow-up treatment, as did his paranoia following the bite. His
mental distress required medication and ongoing mental health evaluation. Moreover,
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Robinson’s physical and mental conditions are possibly the types of conditions that
would result in further significant injury or pain if left untreated. These ailments could
qualify as conditions posing serious medical needs for purposes of the Eighth
Turning to the second prong of the deliberate indifference analysis, Robinson must
show Defendants knew of and subsequently disregarded an excessive risk to his health.
Robinson cannot make such a showing. Defendants Baldwin and Kink deny any personal
knowledge of Robinson’s spider bite or mental health issues as their signatories
processed the grievances related to his medical treatment. Defendant Benton did have
personal knowledge of the incident through review of Robinson’s grievances. Again,
however, just as with the living condition grievances, Benton’s denial of the grievances
cannot be interpreted as disregarding an excessive risk to Robinson’s health. Importantly,
Baldwin, Kink, and Benton are not medical professionals and are in no position to treat
any type of medical condition, so it is appropriate for them to defer to the judgment of
prison medical staff. See Berry v. Peterman, 604 F.3d 435, 440 (7th Cir. 2010) (Nonmedical
personnel are entitled to defer to the judgment of prison health professionals.). While
Defendants cannot ignore medical needs of prisoners and should ensure access to
treatment to address serious medical complaints, Robinson’s medical records reflect that
he did receive ongoing medical care for his spider bite and mental health treatment for
his paranoia triggered by the bite. By reviewing and subsequently denying the
grievances, directly or by signatory, Defendants did not disregard an excessive risk to
Robinson’s health, as Robinson was being treated for the ailments under the discretion of
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his treating physician and the health care staff. Furthermore, both his physical and mental
conditions improved with treatment.
Based on these facts, no reasonable jury would find that Defendants intentionally
or recklessly disregarded a risk to Robinson’s health. Instead, the evidence indicates that
Defendants entrusted medical treatment to the professional judgment of prison medical
staff, and Robinson’s physical and mental health improved because of treatment he
received. On this record, the Court finds that Defendants are entitled to summary
judgment on Robinson’s deliberate indifference to medical needs claim.
For these reasons, the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Kevin
Kink, John R. Baldwin, and Sherry Benton (Doc. 47) is GRANTED. The Clerk of Court is
DIRECTED to enter judgment and close this case.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: January 11, 2022
NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL
Chief U.S. District Judge
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