Platt v. Indiana State Prison
OPINION AND ORDER re 8 Amended Complaint,the court GRANTS the plaintiff leave to proceed against Superintendent Ron Neal for the sole purpose of conducting discovery to identify the unknown jail staff who were deliberately indifferent to the con dition of his cell ceiling in December 2016, and those four unknown officers who denied him medical treatment after the ceiling fell on him on December 9, 2016; DIMISSES any and all other claims contained in the complaint; DISMISSES Assistant Superin tendent Kenny G., Officer Hoffer, Lt Cabenoff, Lt Anthony Neal, Captain McCann, Officer Wigguie, Officer T. Tibbs and Sgt. Itodo Moses; DIRECTS the clerk and the United States Marshals Service to issue and serve process on Superintendent Ron Neal wi th a copy of this order and the amended complaint; ORDERS the Superintendent of ISP to appear and respond to discovery for the sole purpose of identifying the unknown ISP officers; WAIVERS any obligation for the Superintendent of ISP to file an answe r: ORDERS that any discovery by plaintiff to identify the ISP officers be initiated by November 6, 2017; GRANTS the plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint on or before January 29, 2018, which names the unknown ISP officers as defendants a nd presents any and all claims that he is asserting against them; and CAUTIONS the plaintiff that if he does not file an amended complaint by that deadline, this case will be dismissed because his current complaint does not identify a defendant against whom to state a claim. Signed by Judge Jon E DeGuilio on 9/29/2017. (Copy mailed as directed in Order)(lpw)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
CHRISTOPHER A. PLATT,
INDIANA STATE PRISON, et al.,
Cause No. 3:17-CV-320 JD
OPINION AND ORDER
Christopher A. Platt, a pro se prisoner, filed an amended complaint. ECF 8. Pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915A, this court must review the complaint and dismiss it if the action is frivolous
or malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune
from such relief. A complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to “state a claim that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has
facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “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). “In order to state a claim under [42 U.S.C.] § 1983 a plaintiff must allege: (1) that
defendants deprived him of a federal constitutional right; and (2) that the defendants acted under
color of state law.” Savory v. Lyons, 469 F.3d 667, 670 (7th Cir. 2006).
Platt is an inmate at the Indiana State Prison (“ISP”). Sometime in 2016, he personally
complained to various unidentified officers about the disrepair of his cell ceiling. He showed
them the condition of his ceiling and explained that it was a threat to his safety and health. Platt’s
complaints were ignored. At some point in time, Platt then wrote to the seven named defendant
officers (different from those that he personally complained to), as well as Superintendent Ron
Neal and Assistant Superintendent Kenneth G. Platt, and informed these individuals that there
was a maintenance issue in his cell and requested to have his ceiling repaired. Nevertheless, he
never received a response to his letters and his ceiling was not fixed. On December 9, 2016, part
of the ceiling fell on him, striking his head and neck. Platt sues the unidentified officers that he
personally complained to about these conditions as well as the Superintendent, Assistant
Superintendent, and seven officers to whom he wrote.
Prison officials must “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.”
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quotation marks and citations omitted). However,
a prison official only violates the Eighth Amendment if he is deliberately indifferent to
conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm. Id. at 834-35. Deliberate indifference is
comparable to criminal recklessness, and is shown by “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). The defendant “must be both aware of
facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and
he must draw the inference.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). A defendant must
have “actual knowledge of impending harm easily preventable, so that a conscious, culpable
refusal to prevent the harm can be inferred from the defendant’s failure to prevent it.” Duckworth
v. Franzen, 780 F.2d 645, 653 (7th Cir. 1985). 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). Negligence does not satisfy the “deliberate indifference” standard,
Sellers v. Henman, 41 F.3d 1100, 1102 (7th Cir. 1994), and it is not enough to show that a prison
official merely failed to act reasonably. Gibbs v. Franklin, 49 F.3d 1206, 1208 (7th Cir. 1995).
Deliberate indifference can be inferred only where there is a strong likelihood rather than a mere
possibility that injury will occur. Watts v. Laurent, 774 F.2d 168, 172 (7th Cir. 1985). Prison
officials are not expected to eliminate the possibility of all dangers. McGill v. Duckworth, 944
F.2d 344, 345 (7th Cir. 1991).
Here, Platt alleges that he personally alerted many unidentified officers to there being an
imminent danger of his ceiling’s collapse which would have necessitated an immediate response.
Nevertheless, these unnamed guards ignored his complaints. This may state a claim. However,
Platt does not know the identity of any of these officers. As a practical matter his case cannot
proceed against unnamed defendants. See Wudtke v. Davel, 128 F.3d 1057, 1060 (7th Cir. 1997)
(“[I]t is pointless to include lists of anonymous defendants in federal court; this type of
placeholder does not open the door to relation back under Fed. R. Civ. P. 15, nor can it otherwise
help the plaintiff.”). As explained below, Platt will have the opportunity to conduct discovery in
order to determine their identities and then file an amended complaint against them.
While Platt has stated a claim against various unnamed defendants, he has failed to state
a claim against the named defendants. The only defendants Platt has named - 7 officers, the
Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent - are those individuals to whom he wrote. The
simple fact that he wrote to these nine individuals does not make them personally liable to him.
Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 593 (7th Cir. 2009). Instead, Platt must show that they were
deliberately indifferent to his conditions. This he has not done. While he alerted many
unidentified officers to there being an imminent danger of his ceiling’s collapse, he failed to give
the same warning to the named defendants. In his letter to them, Platt simply stated that there
was a “maintenance issue” in his cell - his ceiling was in disrepair. ECF 8 at 2, 3. Based on the
letter, the court cannot conclude that any of the named defendants believed Platt was in
imminent danger and ignored it. There are simply no allegations that these defendants were
informed that Platt was facing a substantial risk of serious harm, nor is there any allegation that
they thought any such risk existed. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. Ultimately, based on the current
allegations, there is no indication that any of these named defendants were deliberately
indifferent to his situation. Moreover, “[s]ection 1983 does not establish a system of vicarious
responsibility” and “public employees are responsible for their own misdeeds but not for anyone
else’s.” Burks, 555 F.3d at 593. Thus, simply because the unnamed defendants may have been
deliberately indifferent to the conditions of Platt’s cell does not result in these named defendants
being held liable. Id.
Next, Platt alleges that he was denied adequate medical treatment by four unknown
officers after the ceiling fell and struck him. Officer Hoffer witnessed the ceiling fall1 and
assured Platt that incoming officers would get him medical attention. Four unidentified officers
then came into Platt’s cell, took pictures and moved Platt to a different cell. They told him that
they would call the nurse and take him to medical the next morning. However, they never did,
which Platt alleges violated his constitutional rights.
Although Platt has named Officer Hoffer as a defendant, the only thing Platt alleges about him is that
Officer Hoffer witnessed the ceiling fall on him. There is nothing in witnessing the ceiling fall that is violative of the
constitution. Thus, there is no claim alleged against Officer Hoffer. If Platt wishes to allege some sort of wrongdoing
against Officer Hoffer, he can include it in his forthcoming amended complaint.
Under the Eighth Amendment, inmates are entitled to adequate medical care. Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). To establish liability, a prisoner must satisfy both an objective
and subjecting component by showing: (1) his medical need was objectively serious; and (2) the
defendant acted with deliberate indifference to that medical need. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S.
825, 834 (1994). A medical need is “serious” if it is one that a physician has diagnosed as
mandating treatment, or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the
necessity for a doctor’s attention. Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 653 (7th Cir. 2005). On the
subjective prong, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant “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).
Here, Platt alleges that these four unidentified officers were aware that his injuries
required medical attention, but nevertheless refused to provide him with any treatment. Platt
alleges that these officers refused to let him see a nurse or be seen in medical. Because the
complaint alleges that the unnamed officers knew that he needed medical attention, but denied
him the opportunity to receive medical treatment, it may state a claim. See Gutierrez v. Peters,
111 F.3d 1364, 1369 (7th Cir. 1997). Again, though, Platt does not know the identity of the four
guards who denied him medical attention. Platt will be able to conduct discovery to learn their
identities and file an amended complaint against them
As stated above, Platt may be able to state a claim against various unidentified ISP
officers for ignoring the condition of his ceiling and for denying him medical attention. Because
of that possibility, even though Platt has not stated a claim against Superintendent Ron Neal, the
court will order that service be made on the Superintendent of ISP for the sole purpose of
identifying the actual names of the officers whose name Platt does not know. Antonelli v.
Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1428 (7th Cir. 1996). After the complaint is served on Ron Neal, Platt
may initiate discovery directed at this official for the purpose of identifying the unknown ISP
officers. Notably, all discovery requests and responses must be filed with the court. N.D. Ind.
L.R. 26-2(a)(2)(A). The Court will set deadlines for Platt to conduct discovery and to file an
amended complaint containing the names of the officers, which he must do in order for this case
to proceed. If Platt can obtain the names of the officers on his own without having to conduct
discovery, he may of course do so. In either case, however, if he fails to submit an amended
complaint containing their names by the deadline, this action will be dismissed for failure to state
a claim against a viable defendant.
For these reasons, the Court:
(1) GRANTS the plaintiff leave to proceed against Superintendent Ron Neal for the sole
purpose of conducting discovery to identify the unknown jail staff who were deliberately
indifferent to the condition of his cell ceiling in December 2016, and those four unknown
officers who denied him medical treatment after the ceiling fell on him on December 9, 2016;
(2) DISMISSES any and all other claims contained in the complaint;
(3) DISMISSES Assistant Superintendent Kenny G., Officer Hoffer, Lt. Cabenoff, Lt.
Anthony Neal, Captain McCann, Officer Wigguie, Officer T. Tibbs and Sgt. Itodo Moses;
(4) DIRECTS the clerk and the United States Marshals Service to issue and serve
process on Superintendent Ron Neal with a copy of this order and the amended complaint (ECF
8) as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d);
(5) ORDERS the Superintendent of ISP to appear and respond to discovery for the sole
purpose of identifying the unknown ISP officers;
(6) WAIVES any obligation for the Superintendent of ISP to file an answer pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(g)(2);
(7) ORDERS that any discovery by plaintiff to identify the ISP officers be initiated by
November 6, 2017;
(8) GRANTS the plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint on or before January
29, 2018, which names the unknown ISP officers as defendants and presents any and all claims
that he is asserting against them; and
(9) CAUTIONS the plaintiff that if he does not file an amended complaint by that
deadline, this case will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A because his current
complaint does not identify a defendant against whom to state a claim.
ENTERED: September 29, 2017
/s/ JON E. DEGUILIO
United States District Court
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