JENNINGS v. CLARK COUNTY et al
ENTRY Dismissing Complaint and Directing Further Proceedings - The plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed for each of the reasons set forth above. The plaintiff shall have through November 2, 2017, in which to show cause why Judgment consistent with this Entry should not issue. The Court notes that the plaintiff checked a box on his Complaint stating that his wishes to bring his claims pursuant to state law. If the plaintiff only wishes to raise state law claims, rather than claims pursuant to § 1983, those claims may be pursued in state court. See Entry for details. Copy sent to plaintiff via US Mail. Signed by Judge Sarah Evans Barker on 10/11/2017. (MAT)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
NEW ALBANY DIVISION
CLARK COUNTY JAIL,
Entry Dismissing Complaint and Directing Further Proceedings
The plaintiff is a prisoner currently incarcerated at the Floyd County Jail. Because the
plaintiff is a “prisoner” as defined by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h), this Court has an obligation under 28
U.S.C. § 1915A(b) to screen his complaint before service on the defendants. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(b), the Court must dismiss the complaint if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a
claim for relief, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. In
determining whether the complaint states a claim, the Court applies the same standard as when
addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Lagerstrom
v. Kingston, 463 F.3d 621, 624 (7th Cir. 2006). To survive dismissal,
[the] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a
claim for 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, 678 (2009). Pro se complaints such as that filed by the plaintiff
are construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers. Obriecht v. Raemisch, 517 F.3d 489, 491 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008).
The Plaintiff’s Allegations
The plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Clark County and the
Clark County Jail. He alleges that, while he was incarcerated at the Clark County Jail, he informed
Ms. Thomas that he was being housed with his brother’s murderer. Ms. Thomas informed the
plaintiff that she needed to know his brother’s murderer’s name, but the plaintiff did not know it.
Ms. Thomas said that he would wait there until he told her the name. After two hours passed, the
plaintiff was taken to segregation, which he alleges caused him mental distress.
Two days later, Mr. Lavose told the plaintiff that he had heard one of the plaintiff’s family
members had died, but could not tell him who or confirm that was true. This news greatly upset
the plaintiff. Ultimately, it turned out not to be true.
The plaintiff’s claims must be dismissed because he did not sue the proper defendants and,
even if he did, his claims are not viable as presented.
First, neither of the two named defendants are proper parties in this action. The Clark
County Jail is not a “person” under § 1983 and thus not a suable entity in this action. The plaintiff
presumably sues Clark County to hold it responsible for what occurred at the Clark County Jail.
But it is the County Sheriff, not the county itself, who is responsible for the care of prisoners within
a jail, and a county does not control or direct the manner in which that responsibility is met. See
Estate of Drayton v. Nelson, 53 F.3d 165, 167 (7th Cir. 1994) (“Marion County has no authority
over the Sheriff and his deputies . . . .”); Weatherholt v. Spencer County, 639 N.E.2d 354, 357 n.2
(Ind. Ct. App. 1994) (“[T]he sheriff is not a representative of the county but he holds a separate
office created by the Indiana Constitution.”). Even if the plaintiff named the Sheriff as a defendant,
however, his claims would still be insufficient because there are no allegations that the Sheriff was
personally involved in the alleged harms and there is no supervisory liability for § 1983 claims.
See Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 593-94 (7th Cir. 2009) (“Section 1983 does not establish a
system of vicarious responsibility. Liability depends on each defendant’s knowledge and actions,
not on the knowledge or actions of persons they supervise.”).
Second, even if the plaintiff named the individuals responsible for placing him in
segregation and informing him that one of his family members may have passed away, his claim
could still not proceed.
Regarding the plaintiff’s placement in segregation following his concern about being
housed with his brother’s murderer, his allegations are insufficient to state a constitutional
violation. Jail officials have a duty to protect inmates from violent assaults by other inmates. See
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994). They incur liability for the breach of that duty
when they were “aware of a substantial risk of serious injury to [an inmate] but nevertheless failed
to take appropriate steps to protect him from a known danger.” Guzman v. Sheahan, 495 F.3d 852,
857 (7th Cir. 2007) (citations and quotation marks omitted); see also Santiago v. Walls, 599 F.3d
749, 758-59 (7th Cir. 2010). But according to the plaintiff’s own allegations, once he informed
Ms. Thomas that he was being housed with his brother’s murderer, he was moved to segregated
housing where he would be safer from harm than if he remained housed with that inmate. In other
words, prison officials took steps to separate him from the known danger, and there are no
allegations that they fell short of their duty in any other respect.
As to the plaintiff’s allegations regarding being falsely told that one of his family members
passed away, such allegations are also insufficient to state an constitutional claim. “[T]he Eighth
Amendment prohibits unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,” and “[s]uch gratuitous infliction
of pain always violates contemporary standards of decency and need not produce serious injury in
order to violate the Eighth Amendment.” Calhoun v. DeTella, 319 F.3d 936, 939 (7th Cir. 2003).
“Moreover, physical injury need not result for the punishment to state a cause of action, for the
wanton infliction of psychological pain is also prohibited.” Id.; see Beal v. Foster, 803 F.3d 356,
357-58 (7th Cir. 2015) (holding that verbal harassment that causes only “psychological” pain may
be sufficient to state an Eighth Amendment claim).
The plaintiff’s allegations regarding Mr. Lavose’s relaying of information about a family
member’s death do not demonstrate any unnecessary or wanton infliction of psychological pain.
The plaintiff alleges that he asked Mr. Lavose “who died, who called with the information and if
the information had been verified,” to which Mr. Lavose responded that “he did not know who
called, who died, or if it was even true.” Dkt. 1 at 3. Rather than the intentional infliction of
psychological pain, Mr. Lavose reported that he had heard one of the plaintiff’s family members
had died, but that he did not know the source of this information or even that it was true. Indeed,
the plaintiff does not allege that Mr. Lavose knowingly lied to him simply to cause psychological
suffering. Without such an allegation, the plaintiff has failed to allege the wanton infliction of
pain necessary to plead a viable Eighth Amendment claim.
Moreover, to the extent that this claim is more adequately analyzed under the Fourteenth
Amendment, the allegations do not even rise to level of objectively unreasonable conduct. The
plaintiff was provided information that turned out not to be true, but he was told at the time that it
was not clear whether the information was true or not. Again, without more, the plaintiff has failed
to state a viable constitutional claim.
The plaintiff’s complaint must be dismissed for each of the reasons set forth above. The
plaintiff shall have through November 2, 2017, in which to show cause why Judgment consistent
with this Entry should not issue. See Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1022 (7th
Cir. 2013) (“Without at least an opportunity to amend or to respond to an order to show cause, an
IFP applicant’s case could be tossed out of court without giving the applicant any timely notice or
opportunity to be heard to clarify, contest, or simply request leave to amend.”).
The Court notes that the plaintiff checked a box on his Complaint stating that his wishes to
bring his claims pursuant to state law. If the plaintiff only wishes to raise state law claims, rather
than claims pursuant to § 1983, those claims may be pursued in state court.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE
United States District Court
Southern District of Indiana
FLOYD COUNTY JAIL
P.O. Box 1406
New Albany, IN 47150
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