SINN v. LEMMON et al
ENTRY ON STATE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS - This cause is before the Court on the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the State Defendants: Bruce Lemmon; Jackie Helderman, II; Stanley Knight; Lieutenant Wiggins ; Hartsock; Paul Hoskins; Beau Michael Judd; John Murry; C. Penfold; Tim Phegley; Ty Robbins; Sgt. R. Myers; Scott Rogers; Quentin Storm; Linda Vannatta; Chris Williams; and D. Wilson. Dkt. No. 20 . The motion is fully briefed, and the Court, being duly advised, GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the motion for the reasons set forth below. Claims related to failure to protect against Defendants Lemmon and Knight in their individual capacities may proceed. Additionally, the Defendants di d not move for judgment on behalf of Defendant Brush, so the claims asserted against him may also proceed. Judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED as to all other claims against all other Defendants. (See Entry.). Signed by Judge William T. Lawrence on 1/24/2017. (BRR)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
) Cause No. 1:15-cv-1394-WTL-DML
BRUCE LEMMON, et al.,
ENTRY ON STATE DEFENDANTS’
MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS
This cause is before the Court on the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the
State Defendants: Bruce Lemmon; Jackie Helderman, II; Stanley Knight; Lieutenant Wiggins;
Hartsock 1; Paul Hoskins; Beau Michael Judd; John Murry; C. Penfold; Tim Phegley; Ty
Robbins; Sgt. R. Myers; Scott Rogers; Quentin Storm; Linda Vannatta; Chris Williams; and D.
Wilson.2 Dkt. No. 20. The motion is fully briefed, and the Court, being duly advised, GRANTS
IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the motion for the reasons set forth below. 3
In reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(c), the Court applies the same standard that is applied when reviewing a motion to
dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Pisciotta v. Old Nat’l Bancorp., 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir.
Also referred to as Hartzell.
The names of some Defendants have been changed from those in the case caption to
reflect what appears to be the Defendants’ full or correct names as indicated elsewhere in
documents that have been filed. In several cases the Court was unable to determine the actual
names of the Defendants.
3 Defendant Brush has not joined in the instant motion.
2007). The Court “must accept all well pled facts as true and draw all permissible inferences in
favor of the plaintiff.” Agnew v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 683 F.3d 328, 334 (7th Cir.
2012). For a claim to survive the motion for judgment on the pleadings, it must provide the
defendant with “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Brooks
v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007))
(omission in original). A complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Agnew, 638 F.3d at 334 (citations omitted). A
complaint’s factual allegations are plausible if they “raise the right to relief above the speculative
level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007).
The Plaintiff, Dylan Sinn, has filed a lawsuit against several employees of the Indiana
Department of Correction (“IDOC”). For purposes of this motion, the Court accepts the
following well-pleaded allegations as true.
Sinn was in the custody of the IDOC from June 2011 until he was released on February 6,
2015. In June 2013, Sinn was transferred from Pendleton Correctional Facility to Putnamville
Correctional Facility. While in Putnamville, he was housed in various dormitories, including 11
South and 18 South. Each dormitory houses approximately 150 inmates and has one correctional
officer to monitor activities after 4 p.m.
On April 24, 2014, Sinn was robbed of personal property and assaulted by several black
inmates. Sinn believes that the people who assaulted him are members of the Vice Lords, a
criminal prison gang. One correctional officer was assigned to 11 South at the time Sinn was
assaulted. The officer sounded an alert, but no assistance arrived until several minutes later.
Sergeant Scott Rogers and C.O. Paul Hoskins responded with additional officers. They moved
Sinn to 18 South but did not segregate the attackers. Rogers and Hoskins viewed the video
recording and considered what to do before taking Sinn to 18 South. Sinn heard the correctional
officers who viewed the video state that it was too close to shift change to deal with all that,
which he took to mean that because there were several black inmates who were seen on the video
and could be identified, the officers did not want to expend additional time and effort before their
shift ended to address the incident.
During the first attack, Sinn was beaten up but not seriously injured. Two other white
inmates were also attacked, and they were also moved. Despite being moved, the other two
inmates were attacked again by black gang members a few days later. Sinn alerted the
administration and unit staff that he was afraid for his safety. 4
On April 30, 2014, Sinn was again assaulted by black inmates. He believes that the
people who attacked him were members of the Vice Lords. They forced him into the shower area
and severely beat him. Sinn’s leg was broken in two places, and he also suffered a fractured jaw,
a broken nose, and several contusions to his face and body. Sinn was taken by ambulance to a
hospital and then transferred to a different hospital, where he underwent two surgeries. During
the April 30 attack, only one guard was assigned to Dorm 18 South. This attack was also video
Sinn alleges that there is a systemic problem of understaffing at the DOC facility in
Plainfield, and this understaffing is due to a statewide policy of understaffing prisons to save
money. Sinn alleges that gangs, especially “black gangs, act with little consequence to steal,
Specific information regarding what Sinn alleges he told individual staff members and
what he alleges regarding the investigation of the attack is included in the relevant sections
assault, subjugate, and dominate individual inmates—most frequently white inmates.” Dkt. No.
1-2 at 25.
Sinn’s Section 1983 claim is based on his assertion that the Defendants violated his rights
under the Eighth, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments by imposing cruel and unusual
punishment. 5 The Complaint indicates that the following Defendants are sued in both their
official and individual capacities: Lemmon, Knight, Phegley, Hartsock, Vannatta, and D. Wilson.
The complaint indicates that the following Defendants are sued only in their individual
capacities: D. Wilson, Quentin Storm, Chris Williams, Jackie Helderman II, John Brush, John
Murry, Sgt. Scott Rogers, Paul Hoskins, Beau Michael Judd, R. Myers, Ty Robbins, Lt. Wiggins,
and C. Penfold.
Sinn’s Claims Against Defendants in Their Official Capacities
Sinn seeks both monetary damages and a declaratory judgment. The Eleventh
Amendment generally precludes a citizen from suing a state or one of its agencies or departments
for money damages in federal court. Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 592 (7th Cir. 2001);
Moore v. Indiana, 999 F.2d 1125, 1128 (7th Cir. 1993) (quoting Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v.
Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984)). Moreover, “[t]his bar remains in effect when State
The Court is perplexed by the subsection of Sinn’s Response entitled “Typical Federal
Jury Instructions.” Contrary to Sinn’s hope that the “standard Federal jury instructions . . . should
aid this court in understanding that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on liability against the
remaining defendant,” Dkt. No. 32 at 6, this series of purported statements of law with only a
citation to a single case does not aid the Court in any way. Further, the language does not appear
to have been taken from the Federal Civil Jury Instructions of the Seventh Circuit. Rather,
though the source is not credited, the material appears to be taken from a treatise, Police
Misconduct: Law & Litigation § 12:37. Of actual aid to the Court would be a cogent, wellorganized argument properly supported by legal authority that actually responded to the
arguments raised by the Defendants.
officials are sued for damages in their official capacity . . . [as] a judgment against a public
servant in his official capacity imposes liability on the entity that he represents.” Kentucky v.
Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169 (1985) (quotations and citations omitted).
IDOC is a state agency. Wynn, 251 F.3d at 592. There are three exceptions to Eleventh
Amendment immunity: (1) suits against state officials seeking prospective equitable relief for
ongoing violations of federal law are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) individuals
may sue a state directly if Congress has abrogated the state's immunity from suit; and (3)
individuals may sue the state if the state waived its sovereign immunity and consented to suit in
federal court. MCI Telecommunications Corp. v. Ill. Commerce Comm’n, 183 F.3d 558, 563 (7th
Cir. 1999) (citing Marie O. v. Edgar, 131 F.3d 610 (7th Cir. 1997)). 6
Indiana has not consented to this suit. Nor did Congress abrogate the State's immunity
through the enactment of Section 1983. See Joseph v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Wis. Sys., 432
F.3d 746, 748 (7th Cir. 2005). As such, the Eleventh Amendment bars Sinn’s Section 1983 claim
for money damages against the Defendants in their official capacity. See Wynn, 251 F.3d at
592 (finding that IDOC is a state agency and thus is immune from suit in federal court for money
Sinn also seeks a declaratory judgment against Defendants Lemmon, Knight, Phegley,
Hartsock and Vannatta, in their official capacities, 7 alleging that “the current practice of
The Plaintiff’s brief contains a subsection entitled “Monell Claims Directed to
Commissioner Bruce Lemmon and Superintendent Knight.” Dkt. No. 32 at 8. Monell v.
Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) holds that local governments are persons
subject to suit under Section 1983. Importantly, Monell does not abrogate a state’s immunity
under the Eleventh Amendment. See Will v. Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 63-64
(1989). As such, it is inapposite here.
7 Sinn indicates that Intern Program Coordinator D. Wilson is sued in his official capacity
(Dkt. No. 1-2 at 18) but also indicates that D. Wilson is sued only in his individual capacity (Dkt.
understaffing the prison facility at Plainfield” is “unconstitutional and/or negligent, causing or
leading to the inevitable and foreseeable suffering and injury of inmates from other inmate
attacks.” The Defendants argue that Sinn’s request is moot because he is no longer incarcerated.
The Court agrees.
A plaintiff bringing a claim under Section 1983 has standing to seek injunctive relief
“only if he has a personal stake in the outcome of the litigation.” Stewart v. McGinnis, 5 F.3d
1031, 1037 (7th Cir. 1993) (quoting City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95 (1983)); see also
Sierakowski v. Ryan, 223 F.3d 440, 443 (7th Cir. 2000). Sinn has not established the requisite
personal stake in the outcome of this litigation because he is no longer incarcerated within the
IDOC system. Nor does Sinn provide any indication that he will be returned to IDOC’s custody
at any time in the near future. While Sinn claims that “[i]t would be such an injustice for Mr.
Sinn to have no equitable cause of action in this particular case because of mootness,” (Dkt. No.
32 at 11), Sinn would receive absolutely no benefit from any injunctive relief if any were in fact
granted. He is no longer in prison, and, as such, he is under no threat of harm from any sort of
official conduct there. Accordingly, Sinn lacks standing to pursue equitable relief against IDOC
under Section 1983. Cf. Stewart, 5 F.3d at 1037-38 (inmate not entitled to equitable relief where
he was no longer housed in prison where alleged violations had occurred). The Court thus
GRANTS the Defendants’ motion as to the claims against all of the Defendants in their official
No. 1-2 at 19). Despite this inconsistency and the fact that Wilson apparently has not been
served, the Court will address the claims against him.
Claims Sinn Agrees Should Be Dismissed
Sinn concedes that his claims against Defendants Judd, Myers, Williams, and Helderman
should be dismissed. (Dkt. No. 32 at 3-4). Accordingly, the Court GRANTS the Defendants’
motion as to these claims.
Defendants Vannatta, Wilson, Penfold, Wiggins, and Murry
With respect to Defendants Vannatta and Wilson, Sinn alleges the following:
38. Mr. Sinn’s grievance form was eventually reviewed on appeal. The Offender
Grievance Response Report from defendant D. Wilson and L.A. VanNatta indicated in
the final level of review, [sic] that there was insufficient information and that the
grievance had not been filed within the timeframe. This decision was issued on October
In his Response to the instant motion, Sinn adds that Vannatta and Wilson “concluded that the
grievance was filed too late.” Dkt. No. 32 at 2. Sinn’s affidavit alleges the following:
16. As clear as the English language can be (Exhibit J) D. Wilson,
program coordinator at COA stated: “Grievance denied. Injuries sustained were a
result if (sic) of Offender Sinn’s poor decision making. If Sinn was not involved
in the fight, he would not have broken his leg while Grievance Officer Storm said
Offender Sinn slipped in water.
17. The final review was made by Defendant L.A. Vannetta, and he
ignored the uncontroverted facts depicted in the video. I was attacked and I never
threw a punch because I had been sucker punched with such force my leg snapped
in two places.
Dkt. No. 32-4 at 3.
With respect to Defendants Penfold and Wiggins, Sinn alleges the following:
39. While Mr. Sinn was recuperating at the medical unit art [sic] IYC, he
attempted to file another grievance against the FARM. However, C. Penfold, a grievance
specialist, and Lt. Wiggins would not accept it, and Lt. Wiggins threw it in the trash.
Dkt. No. 1-2 at 23.
With regard to Defendant Murry, Sinn alleges the following: “Mr. Sinn learned that John
Murry, a casework manager, attempted to restrict his access to the law library when he was doing
research on his grievance and tort claim notice.” Dkt. No. 1-2 at 9.
Sinn fails to assert any plausible facts that demonstrate liability on the part of these
Defendants. A failure by a prison official to properly investigate an attack or respond to a
prisoner’s grievance—on its own—does not violate the United States Constitution. See, e.g.,
George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Cir. 2007) (“Ruling against a prisoner on an
administrative complaint does not cause or contribute to the violation.”); Owens v. Hinsley, 635
F.3d 950, 953 (7th Cir. 2011) (“[T]he alleged mishandling of [a prisoner’s] grievance by persons
who otherwise did not cause or participate in the underlying conduct states no claim.”). Sinn
does not assert that any of these Defendants caused or participated in the underlying conduct.
Further, to the extent that Sinn may be attempting to raise a denial-of-access claim
against any of these Defendants, he has failed to assert facts to support that claim. Specifically,
Sinn’s complaint fails to identify any injury that he has suffered from the alleged interference.
“[W]hen a plaintiff alleges a denial of the right to access-to-courts, he must usually plead
specific prejudice to state a claim, such as by alleging that he missed court deadlines, failed to
make timely filing, or that legitimate claims were dismissed because of the denial of reasonable
access to legal resources.” Ortloff v. United States, 335 F.3d 652, 656 (7th Cir. 2003). Sinn has
not alleged any such prejudice. As such, the Court GRANTS the Defendants’ motion as to his
claims against Defendants Vannatta, Wilson, Penfold, Wiggins, and Murry.
Defendants Robbins, Phegley, Hartsock, and Storm
Sinn alleges the following with respect to Defendant Robbins: “On July 10, 2014, Mr.
Sinn was approved for protective custody at Plainfield by Classification Supervisor Ty Robbins.”
Dkt. No. 1-2 at 10. Sinn alleges the following with respect to Defendant Phegley: “Even though
Defendant Phegley claims to have referred the matter to the Putnam County Prosecutor, no
action was taken against the assailants; no charges were filed.” Dkt. No. 1-2 at 8. Sinn identifies
Hartsock as a defendant “co-conspirator of a meaningless Indiana Department of Correction
grievance system.” 8 Dkt. No. 1-2 at 4. Sinn alleges the following with respect to Storm: “One
investigative report, compiled by Quentin Storm, claimed in Case Log # 84037, that Mr. Sinn
‘slipped in water’. Mr. Storm also stated, gratuitously, that Sinn was prone to trouble and had a
write up in New Castle Facility. All of this information was invented.” Dkt. No. 1-2 at 9.
The facts as pled regarding Defendants Robbins, Phegley, Hartsock, and Storm fail to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted. “Only persons who cause or participate in the
violations are responsible.” George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Cir. 2007). Sinn alleges that
Robbins approved him for protective custody but alleges no other facts regarding Robbins.
Likewise, he alleges that Phegley claimed to refer the matter for prosecution. These alleged facts
do not support a claim of failure to protect. To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint “must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face. . . . A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (quotation and citation omitted); see also Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 562 (2007) (quotations and citations omitted) (explaining that a complaint is
sufficient only to the extent that it “contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations respecting all
While Sinn uses the word co-conspirators in describing the Defendants and alleges that
“the willful indifference and the collusive conduct constitutes a conspiracy to cover up a
systemic security problem within the Indiana Department of Corrections prison facilities,” Dkt.
No. 1-2 at 11, he has not adequately defined a conspiracy so as to satisfy the Twombly/Iqbal
the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory”). Here, Sinn
fails to tie the facts alleged to any viable legal theory.
With respect to Hartsock, the Complaint appears to allege only a conspiracy claim, but it
is devoid of any facts to support such a claim. As such, the Court GRANTS the Defendants’
motion as to Sinn’s claims against Defendants Robbins, Phegley, Hartsock, and Storm.
Defendants Lemmon and Knight
With respect to Defendant Lemmon, Sinn alleges the following: “The Defendant
Commissioner, Bruce Lemmon, has authority of the Facility and is the final authority for all
policies of the IDOC.” Dkt. No. 1-2 at 5. He adds that “the overall procedure [of the grievance
process] is the responsibility of Bruce Lemmon.” Dkt. No. 32 at 2. He alleges that “the grievance
process in his particular case was deliberately intended to be an unreasonable burden.” Dkt. No.
32 at 2. Sinn’s affidavit asserts, “Commissioner Lemmon encourages the Superintendents of the
80 DOC institutions to keep man-hours down and costs below budget.” Dkt. No. 32-4 at 1. It
18. Because of policies and decisions, which the commissioner made and
his subordinates facilitated, the FARM was dangerously understaffed in April
19. Because of policies and decisions which the commissioner made and
his subordinates facilitated, gangs such as the Vice Lords attacked white inmates
without any meaningful consequence and when I alerted staff that further attacks
would happen targeting me after the April 24, 2014 attack in which I was robbed,
everyone ignored my plea for protection.
Dkt. No. 32-4 at 3.
With respect to Defendant Knight, Sinn alleges the following:
Superintendent Stanley Knight was the state official responsible for the safe
detention of inmates at the Indiana Putnamville Correctional Facility (commonly
known as “the Farm”). He is responsible for enforcing the laws and the
constitution of the State of Indiana and the U.S. Constitution. He is responsible
for insuring an honest and meaningful prison grievance process by which inmates
make complaints and seek redress. Mr. Knight is ultimately responsible for hiring
correctional officers and staff and approving their assignments and their
Dkt. No. 1-2 at 5. He further alleges the following: “The attack was investigated by Darrin
Channey, . . . who referred the matter directly to Stanley Knight.” Id. at 8. Sinn’s affidavit asserts
that “Superintendent Knight, during all relevant times, chose to cut man hours and keep the
FARM understaffed according to comparisons with the ACA report which the defendants have
yet to provide . . . .” Dkt. No. 32-4 at 1.
Any right to a grievance procedure is a procedural right, not a substantive one. Antonelli
v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1431 (7th Cir. 1996). As such, a state’s inmate grievance procedures
do not give rise to a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause. Id. Further, Sinn’s use
of the judicial process demonstrates that the Defendants did not infringe his First Amendment
right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. See Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 321
(1972). Nor has Sinn alleged that there “was absolutely no opportunity for prisoners to express
their safety concerns to [prison] officials,” Grieveson, 538 F.3d at 772. Further, Sinn has not
alleged that the grievance procedure—either the procedure itself or how it was implemented—
caused his injuries. See Estate of Moreland v. Dieter, 395 F.3d 747, 759 (7th Cir. 2005) (“At any
rate, we fail to see how the report-filing policy or practice was likely to lead to [the inmate’s]
death.”). Accordingly, the Court GRANTS the Defendants’ motion as to the claims related to the
grievance procedure against Lemmon and Knight.
While it remains to be seen whether Sinn will have evidence to support the Eighth
Amendment claims against Lemmon and Knight, he has satisfied the Twombly/Iqbal standard as
applicable to this type of claim. As such, the Court DENIES the Defendants’ motion as to the
Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect claims against Defendants Lemmon and Knight.
Defendants Rogers and Hoskins
Defendants Rogers and Hoskins have raised the affirmative defense of qualified
immunity. Sinn argues absolutely nothing in response to their argument. Once qualified
immunity is raised as an affirmative defense, “it becomes the plaintiff's burden to defeat it.”
Purvis v. Oest, 614 F.3d 713, 717 (7th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). Inasmuch as Sinn has made
no attempt to do so, he presumably concedes that they are entitled to qualified immunity.
Accordingly, the Court GRANTS the Defendants’ motion as to Sinn’s claims against
Defendants Rogers and Hoskins.
The Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the Defendants’ Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings. Claims related to failure to protect against Defendants Lemmon and
Knight in their individual capacities may proceed. Additionally, the Defendants did not move for
judgment on behalf of Defendant Brush, so the claims asserted against him may also proceed.
Judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED as to all other claims against all other Defendants.
SO ORDERED: 1/24/17
Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge
United States District Court
Southern District of Indiana
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