Merriweather v. Hyatte et al
OPINION AND ORDER: The court GRANTS the plaintiff until 10/17/2022 to file an amended complaint if he chooses; and CAUTIONS him that if he does not respond by the deadline, this case is subject to dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A because the current complaint does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Signed by Judge Damon R Leichty on 09/16/2022. (Copy mailed to pro se party) (jdb)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
CAUSE NO. 3:22-CV-780-DRL-MGG
WILLIAM R. HYATTE et al.,
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael Merriweather, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a complaint under 42
U.S.C. § 1983.1 (ECF 1.) Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court must screen the complaint and
dismiss it if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.
To proceed beyond the pleading stage, 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). Because Mr. Merriweather is
proceeding without counsel, the court must give his allegations liberal construction.
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
The case was filed in the Southern District of Indiana and transferred to this district on
September 14, 2022.
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Mr. Merriweather is incarcerated at Miami Correctional Facility (MCF). His
complaint alleges a variety of wrongdoing at MCF between February 2022 and July 2022.
Among other things, he claims that MCF Warden William R. Hyatte “denied me
protective custody while having knowledge I’m a liability;” there was a “hit” placed on
him by unknown correctional officers; other inmates are listening to his phone
conversations; his last three cellmates “abused either meth or kattle while posing a threat
to me everyday;” he requested mental health treatment for unspecified issues and still
has not been seen; his legal mail was withheld from him for 10 days; he witnessed a
stabbing while in the L-house dormitory; he had a problem with the hot water in his sink;
and he has been “drugged twice” since being transferred to the protective custody unit.
He seeks $5 million in damages among other relief.
Mr. Merriweather mentions a variety of staff members in connection with these
events, although he names only the Warden and the prison as defendants. If he is trying
to sue individual staff members over these discrete incidents, he must do so in separate
lawsuits. Unrelated claims against unrelated defendants belong in different lawsuits.
George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). The mere fact that all these individuals
work at the prison does not mean Mr. Merriweather can lump all his claims against them
in one lawsuit. See Owens v. Evans, 878 F.3d 559, 566 (7th Cir. 2017) (observing that
prisoner-plaintiff’s “scattershot strategy” of filing an “an omnibus complaint against
unrelated defendants . . . is unacceptable”).
If Mr. Merriweather is trying to hold the Warden responsible for all of these
discrete incidents, liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is based on personal responsibility, and
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the Warden cannot be held liable for damages solely because he is the top official at the
prison. Mitchell v. Kallas, 895 F.3d 492, 498 (7th Cir. 2018); Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592,
596 (7th Cir. 2009). The court cannot plausibly infer from the complaint that the Warden
was personally involved in the bulk of the incidents he describes, including listening to
his phone calls, drugging him, withholding his mail, failing to fix his sink, or denying
him mental health treatment.2
He does state that the Warden denied him protective custody, and the Eighth
Amendment imposes a duty on prison officials to “protect prisoners from violence at the
hands of other prisoners.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832-33 (1994). However,
“prisons are dangerous places,” as “[i]nmates get there by violent acts, and many
prisoners have a propensity to commit more.” Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 777
(7th Cir. 2008). Therefore, a failure-to-protect claim cannot be predicated “merely on
knowledge of general risks of violence in a detention facility.” Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d
904, 913 (7th Cir. 2005). Instead, the plaintiff must allege that “the defendant had actual
knowledge of an 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.” Santiago
v. Wells, 599 F.3d 749, 756 (7th Cir. 2010). This is a high standard. To be held liable, a
defendant must have “acted with the equivalent of criminal recklessness, in this context
meaning they were actually aware of a substantial harm to [plaintiff’s] health or safety,
To the extent the complaint could be read to assert an official capacity claim against the Warden
for ongoing medical care, Mr. Merriweather does not provide enough detail about whether he
has a serious medical need and whether anyone at the prison has been deliberately indifferent to
that need to state a plausible claim. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976).
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yet failed to take appropriate steps to protect him from the specific danger.” Klebanowski
v. Sheahan, 540 F.3d 633, 639-40 (7th Cir. 2008). Merely expressing concerns for one’s safety
or asking to be moved, without linking it to a specific risk of harm, is insufficient. See id.
Additionally, the bare fact that an inmate was denied protective custody is “not
dispositive” in determining whether a prison official was deliberately indifferent to his
safety. Lewis v. Richards, 107 F.3d 549, 553 (7th Cir. 1997).
Mr. Merriweather’s allegations about the denial of his request for protective
custody are quite general. He does not provide any details about when this occurred,
what information he conveyed to the Warden, and what happened after he was denied
protective custody. Instead, he states only that the Warden knew he was “a liability.” It
is also evident from his complaint and an accompanying document that he is now in the
protective custody unit. The court cannot plausibly infer from his complaint that the
Warden was actually aware of a substantial risk to his safety and “failed to take
appropriate steps to protect him from the specific danger.”3 Klebanowski, 540 F.3d at 640.
He also names the prison as a defendant, but this is a building, not a “person” or policymaking body that can be sued for constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Smith
v. Knox County Jail, 666 F.3d 1037, 1040 (7th Cir. 2012).
He appears to claim in a filing accompanying his complaint that the Warden put “a hit on him”
and is orchestrating a conspiracy against him. (ECF 2.) The court finds such allegations in the
realm of “fantastic” or “delusional.” See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 328 (1989); Gladney v.
Pendleton Corr. Facility, 302 F.3d 773, 774 (7th Cir. 2002). In that document he also references two
cases he filed in the Southern District of Indiana and appears to request reconsideration of orders
issued in those cases. This court cannot grant him relief in cases pending or decided by other
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Therefore, he has not stated a plausible constitutional claim against any defendant.
In the interest of justice, the court will allow him an opportunity to file an amended
complaint if after reviewing the court’s order, he believes that he can state a plausible
constitutional claim based on these events, consistent with the allegations he has already
made under penalty of perjury. See Abu-Shawish v. United States, 898 F.3d 726, 738 (7th
Cir. 2018); Luevano v. Wal-Mart, 722 F.3d 1014, 1024 (7th Cir. 2013).
For these reasons, the court:
(1) GRANTS the plaintiff until October 17, 2022, to file an amended complaint if
he chooses; and
(2) CAUTIONS him that if he does not respond by the deadline, this case is subject
to dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A because the current complaint does not state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.
September 16, 2022
s/ Damon R. Leichty
Judge, United States District Court
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