LAMB v. HARRISON COUNTY SHERRIFF'S DEPT. et al
Entry Screening Complaint, Dismissing Insufficient Claims and Directing Further Proceedings - 2 Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED. The assessment of an initial partial filing fee is not feasible at this time. The claims aga inst Sheriff Sealy are dismissed, and he is dismissed as a defendant. The claims against Cpl. Schram are dismissed, and he is dismissed as a defendant. The claims against Officer Langford are dismissed. Any claim against the Harrison County Sherif f's Department is dismissed. The plaintiff's claim for retaliation against Capt. Cundall may proceed. The clerk is designated pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(c)(3) to issue process to defendant Capt. Cundall in the manner specified by Rule 4(d). Process shall consist of the complaint filed on August 15, 2017, (dkt. 1 ), applicable forms (Notice of Lawsuit and Request for Waiver of Service of Summons and Waiver of Service of Summons), and this Entry. The clerk is instructed to update the docket to reflect the dismissal of the Harrison County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Sealy, Cpl. Schram and Officer Langford from this action. See Entry for details. Signed by Judge Sarah Evans Barker on 8/22/2017 (copy mailed to Plaintiff and Capt. Cundall). (LBT)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
NEW ALBANY DIVISION
) Case No. 4:17-cv-0148-SEB-DML
HARRISON COUNTY SHERIFF
DEPARTMENT, SHERIFF ROD SEALY,
CAPT. CUNDALL, CPL ROBERT SCHRAM,
Entry Screening Complaint, Dismissing
Insufficient Claims and Directing Further Proceedings
The plaintiff’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis, dkt. , is granted. The assessment
of an initial partial filing fee is not feasible at this time.
II. Screening Standards
Because the plaintiff is a “prisoner” as defined by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h), the complaint is
subject to the screening requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). Pursuant to this statute, “[a]
complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim if the allegations, taken as true, show
that plaintiff is not entitled to relief.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007). 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, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted). 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. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007);
Obriecht v. Raemisch, 517 F.3d 489, 491 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008).
The plaintiff’s federal claim is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A cause of action is
provided by 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against “[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any
citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” of the United States.
Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights; instead, it is a means for vindicating federal
rights conferred elsewhere. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (citing Baker v.
McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). The initial step in any § 1983 analysis is to identify the
specific constitutional right which was allegedly violated. Id. at 394; Kernats v. O’Sullivan, 35
F.3d 1171, 1175 (7th Cir. 1994); see also Gossmeyer v. McDonald, 128 F.3d 481, 489-90 (7th Cir.
1997). He seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief.
III. Discussion of Complaint
A. Factual Allegations
Here, the plaintiff is incarcerated at the Harrison County Jail. He alleges that he made a
joke about clogging the toilet with a trash bag that jail officials interpreted as a threat to flood a
cell. Cpl. Schram informed Capt. Cundall of the plaintiff’s alleged “threat.” Capt. Cundall ordered
the plaintiff to be placed in a dry cell for the remainder of his incarceration. This caused the plaintiff
to be segregated from the general population. The plaintiff grieved his placement in segregation
and Capt. Cundall threatened him disciplinary action if he further grieved. He states Sheriff Sealy
was aware of this treatment.
The plaintiff also alleges Capt. Cundall threatened him with disciplinary action for
B. Insufficient Claims
1. Sheriff Sealy.
“A damages suit under § 1983 requires that a defendant be personally involved in the
alleged constitutional deprivation.” Matz v. Klotka, 769 F.3d 517, 528 (7th Cir. 2014); see Minix
v. Canarecci, 597 F.3d 824, 833 (7th Cir. 2010) (“[I]ndividual liability under § 1983 requires
‘personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivation.’”). Whether supervisory personnel
at a prison are sufficiently involved in an alleged constitutional violation such that they may be
liable for damages often depends on that person’s knowledge of, and responsibilities regarding,
the alleged harm. The Seventh Circuit has recently discussed what factual circumstances are
sufficient to make such a person legally responsible for an alleged constitutional violation.
Mere “knowledge of a subordinate’s misconduct is not enough for liability.” Vance v.
Rumsfeld, 701 F.3d 193, 203 (7th Cir. 2012) (en banc). Indeed, “inaction following receipt of a
complaint about someone else’s conduct is [insufficient].” Estate of Miller by Chassie v. Marberry,
--- F.3d ----, 2017 WL 396568, *3 (7th Cir. 2017); see Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 595 (7th
Cir. 2009) (“[The plaintiff’s] view that everyone who knows about a prisoner’s problem must pay
damages implies that he could write letters to the Governor . . . and 999 other public officials,
demand that every one of those 1,000 officials drop everything he or she is doing in order to
investigate a single prisoner’s claims, and then collect damages from all 1,000 recipients if the
letter-writing campaign does not lead to better medical care. That can’t be right.”).
Something more than generalized knowledge and inaction is required for personal
responsibility. Although what additional allegations are required are case-specific, two scenarios
are illustrative. First, the Superintendent could be actually engaged with the underlying issue such
that personal responsibility is present. See, e.g., Haywood v. Hathaway, 842 F.3d 1026, 1032-33
(7th Cir. 2016) (holding that the Warden could be held personally responsible for the harm caused
by cold prison conditions because the evidence showed he “had actual knowledge of the unusually
harsh weather conditions, that he had been apprised of the specific problem with the physical
condition of [the plaintiff’s] cell (i.e., the windows would not shut), and that, during the time period
of [the plaintiff’s] complaint, the warden toured the segregation unit himself”). Or second, personal
responsibility can be present when the underlying issue is the direct responsibility of the individual
in question, rather than one for his or her subordinates. Compare id.; Gray v. Hardy, 826 F.3d
1000, 1008 (7th Cir. 2016) (holding that the Warden was personally responsible for the alleged
cell conditions, and distinguishing Vance, because the Warden “not only knew about the problems
but was personally responsible for changing prison policies so that they would be addressed”),
with Burks, 555 F.3d at 595 (holding that the supervisor at issue was not personally responsible;
“[t]he Governor, and for that matter the Superintendent of Prisons and the Warden of each prison,
is entitled to relegate to the prison’s medical staff the provision of good medical care.”).
Here, the plaintiff has alleged that Sheriff Sealy was aware of the fact that Capt. Cundall
threatened him with disciplinary action for grieving his classification and no action on Sheriff
Sealy’s part followed. But “inaction following receipt of a complaint about someone else’s conduct
is not a source of liability.” Marberry, 2017 WL 396568, at *3. The plaintiff’s allegations stand
in contrast to the above examples and suggest only that Sheriff Sealy had generalized knowledge
of Capt. Cundall’s threats of retaliation. This requires the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim against
Sheriff Sealy. See Marberry, 2017 WL 396568, at *3 (holding that summary judgment for the
Superintendent was proper because the plaintiff’s allegations—that the Superintendent “brushed
off his complaints, leaving them to be handled through the chain of command”—were insufficient
to demonstrate the personal responsibility necessary to state a § 1983 claim; such allegations
brought the plaintiff’s “claim within the scope of Iqbal, Vance, and Burks rather than Haywood”);
see also Olive v. Wexford Corp., 494 Fed. Appx. 671, 673 (7th Cir. 2012) (“[The plaintiff] does
contend that he complained to [the head of the prison medical department] Shicker about [his
treating doctor’s] decisions and that Shicker did not intervene to help him. But both Iqbal and
Burks hold that a supervisor is not liable just because a complaint is made and an effective solution
is not forthcoming.”). Accordingly, the complaint fails to state a viable § 1983 claim against Sheriff
Sealy. The claims against Sheriff Sealy are dismissed and he is dismissed as a defendant.
2. Cpl. Schram.
The only allegations the plaintiff makes against Cpl. Schram are that Cpl. Schram informed
Cpt. Cundall of the plaintiff’s alleged “threat” to flood the cell. “‘[T]o establish personal liability
in a § 1983 action, the plaintiff must show that the government officer caused the deprivation of a
federal right.’” Luck v. Rovenstine, 168 F.3d 323, 327 (7th Cir.1999)). “An official causes a
constitutional violation if he sets in motion a series of events that defendant knew or reasonably
should have known would cause others to deprive plaintiff of constitutional rights.” Id. Simply
relaying what Cpl. Schram perceived to be a threat to Cpt. Cundall does not amount to a
constitutional deprivation. There are no other allegations against Cpl. Schram in the complaint. As
such, the claims against Cpl. Schram are dismissed and he is dismissed as a defendant.
3. Officer Langford.
Here, claims against Officer Langford are dismissed as legally insufficient because there
is no allegation of wrongdoing on his part. “Where a complaint alleges no specific act or conduct
on the part of the defendant and the complaint is silent as to the defendant except for his name
appearing in the caption, the complaint is properly dismissed.” Potter v. Clark, 497 F.2d 1206,
1207 (7th Cir. 1974); see Black v. Lane, 22 F.3d 1395, 1401 and n.8 (7th Cir. 1994) (district court
properly dismissed complaint against one defendant when the complaint alleged only that
defendant was charged with the administration of the institution and was responsible for all persons
at the institution).
4. Harrison County Sheriff’s Department.
The Harrison County Sheriff’s Department is not a “person” subject to suit under § 1983.
Any claim against the Department is dismissed. In Indiana, municipal police departments “are not
suable entities.” See Sow v. Fortville Police Dept., 636 F.3d 293, 300 (7th Cir. 2011). Any claim
against it is dismissed as legally insufficient.
C. Claim that May Proceed
To state a claim for retaliation, the plaintiff needs only to allege that he engaged in conduct
protected by the First Amendment, and that the defendant retaliated against him based on that
conduct. See Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1008–09 (7th Cir. 2002). The plaintiff has no
constitutional right to be housed in any particular part of the jail. See Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S.
209, 221 (2005)(“[T]he Constitution itself does not give rise to a liberty interest in avoiding
transfer to more adverse conditions of confinement.”). But, otherwise permissible conduct can
become impermissible when done for retaliatory reasons. Murphy v. Lane, 833 F.2d 106, 108–09
(7th Cir. 1987) (district court reversed for dismissing complaint challenging otherwise permissible
prison transfer because of sufficient allegation of retaliation). A complaint states a claim for
retaliation when it sets forth “a chronology of events from which retaliation may plausibly be
inferred.” Zimmerman v. Tribble, 226 F.3d 568, 573 (7th Cir. 2000) (quoting Cain v. Lane, 857
F.2d 1139, 1143 n.6 (7th Cir. 1988)). The plaintiff’s claim for retaliation against Capt. Cundall
IV. Further Proceedings
The clerk is designated pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(c)(3) to issue process to defendant
Capt. Cundall in the manner specified by Rule 4(d). Process shall consist of the complaint filed on
August 15, 2017, [dkt. 1], applicable forms (Notice of Lawsuit and Request for Waiver of Service
of Summons and Waiver of Service of Summons), and this Entry.
The clerk is instructed to update the docket to reflect the dismissal of the Harrison County
Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Sealy, Cpl. Schram and Officer Langford from this action.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Harrison County Sheriff’s Department
1445 Gardner Lane NW
Corydon, IN 47112
Harrison County Jail
1445 Gardner Lane
Corydon, IN 47112
SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE
United States District Court
Southern District of Indiana
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