White v. Neal
OPINION AND ORDER: The Court DIRECTS the clerk to place this cause number on a blank Prisoner Complaint form and send it to Jerome White, GRANTS Jerome White until 3/20/2017 to file an amended complaint and CAUTIONS Jerome White that if he does not respond by that deadline this case will be dismissed without further notice. Signed by Judge Jon E DeGuilio on 2/17/17. (Copy mailed to pro se party along with form). (nal)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
Cause No. 3:16-CV-840 JD
OPINION AND ORDER
Jerome White, a pro se prisoner, filed a complaint alleging that he slipped and fell on the
stairs at the Indiana State Prison (“ISP”). “A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed,
and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quotation
marks and citations omitted). Nevertheless, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court must
review the merits of a prisoner complaint.
Though not heavy on detail, the complaint alleges that White slipped on “something” and
fell on the stairs. Officer Sutton was walking behind White at the time, but was unable to catch
him from falling. Moreover, White was unable to stop his own fall because he was handcuffed
behind his back. White landed on his arm and head, causing injuries. White contends, “[i]t all
boils down to Officer Sutton not doing his job right, he should have secured my arm.” White
sues Superintendent Ron Neal for money damages.
As a threshold matter, Superintendent Neal is not the proper defendant in this case. White
does not explain why Superintendent Neal should be liable. But, because there is no general
respondeat superior liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Superintendent Neal cannot be held liable
simply because he oversees operations at the prison or supervises other correctional officers.
Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 594 (7th Cir. 2009).
Even if White would have named a proper defendant, he has not alleged a plausible
Eighth Amendment violation. Prison conditions violate the Eighth Amendment if they pose a
substantial risk of serious harm and prison officials are deliberately indifferent to the risk.
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). “[N]ot every deviation from ideally safe
conditions constitutes a violation of the constitution. The Eighth amendment does not
constitutionalize torts. Nor does it require complete compliance with the numerous OSHA
regulations.” French v. Owens, 777 F.2d 1250, 1257 (7th Cir. 1985) (quotation marks and
Conditions of confinement must be severe to support an Eighth Amendment
claim; “the prison officials’ act or omission must result in the denial of ‘the
minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.’” Farmer [v. Brennan, 511 U.S.
825, 834 (1994)] (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). See
also, Lunsford v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1574, 1579 (7th Cir. 1994) (the Eighth
Amendment only protects prisoners from conditions that “exceed contemporary
bounds of decency of a mature, civilized society.”); Jackson [v. Duckworth,] 955
F.2d [21,] 22 [(7th Cir. 1992)].
Morissette v. Peters, 45 F.3d 1119, 1123 (7th Cir. 1995) (parallel citations omitted). “An
objectively sufficiently serious risk, is one that society considers so grave that to expose any
unwilling individual to it would offend contemporary standards of decency.” Christopher v.
Buss, 384 F.3d 879, 882 (7th Cir. 2004) (quotation marks and citations omitted). However, as
this Circuit has recognized, “slippery surfaces and shower floors in prison, without more, cannot
constitute a hazardous condition of confinement” that violates the Eighth Amendment. Pyles v.
Fahim, 771 F.3d 403, 410-411 (7th Cir. 2014). Here, White has simply alleged that he slipped on
“something”; he does not identify what he slipped on nor does he give any information regarding
the condition of the stairs. He must do more to plausibly allege that the stairs posed a significant
risk of extreme harm to him. Anderson v. Morrison, 835 F.3d 681 (7th Cir. 2016).
Nor has White alleged that anyone was deliberately indifferent to some significant risk of
harm. Deliberate indifference is “something approaching a total unconcern for [the plaintiff’s]
welfare in the face of serious risks, or a conscious, culpable refusal to prevent harm.” Duane v.
Lane, 959 F.2d 673, 677 (7th Cir. 1992). This total disregard for a prisoner’s safety is the
“functional equivalent of wanting harm to come to the prisoner.” McGill v. Duckworth, 944 F.2d
344, 347 (7th Cir. 1991). “[C]onduct is deliberately indifferent when the official has acted in an
intentional or criminally reckless manner, i.e., the defendant must have known that the plaintiff
was at serious risk of being harmed and decided not to do anything to prevent that harm from
occurring even though he could have easily done so.” Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d 469, 478 (7th
Cir. 2005) (quotation marks, brackets, and citation omitted).
At most, White alleges that Officer Sutton was negligent in handcuffing him from behind
and also in failing to catch him. However, negligence on the part of an official does not violate
the Constitution, and it is not enough that he should have known of a risk. Instead, deliberate
indifference requires evidence that an official actually knew of a substantial risk of serious harm
and consciously disregarded it nonetheless.” Pierson v. Hartley, 391 F.3d 898, 902 (7th Cir.
2004) (citations omitted). It is not enough to show that a defendant merely failed to act
reasonably. Gibbs v. Franklin, 49 F.3d 1206, 1208 (7th Cir. 1995). Even incompetence does not
state a claim of deliberate indifference. Walker v. Peters, 233 F.3d 494 (7th Cir. 2000). White
does not allege that Officer Sutton was aware of any dangerous condition or that he disregarded
this known condition. Without more, White may have a state law claim for negligence, but he
cannot maintain this action under Section 1983.
As explained, White has failed to allege a plausible claim against Ron Neal. Thus, the
complaint fails to state a claim. Though it does not appear that White could state a Section 1983
claim against another defendant even if he files an amended complaint, he will nevertheless be
permitted to do so if he believes that he can address the deficiencies noted above. Luevano v.
Wal-Mart, 722 F.3d 1014 (7th Cir. 2013); see also Anderson, 835 F.3d 682-83. In the amended
complaint, White needs to name the defendant personally responsible for his injuries. White
must explain how and why there was a significant risk of extreme harm to him and must also
explain how the named defendant was deliberately indifferent to that dangerous condition.
For these reasons, the court:
(1) DIRECTS the clerk to place this cause number on a blank Prisoner Complaint form
and send it to Jerome White;
(2) GRANTS Jerome White until March 20, 2017, to file an amended complaint; and
(3) CAUTIONS Jerome White that if he does not respond by that deadline, this case will
be dismissed without further notice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
ENTERED: February 17, 2017
/s/ JON E. DEGUILIO
United States District Court
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?