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ROBERT E. v. LANE

October 5, 1981

ROBERT E., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MICHAEL LANE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Getzendanner, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

At issue in this litigation is the constitutional sufficiency of the mental health care treatment offered inmates at Illinois' Stateville Correctional Center. The plaintiffs are seven prisoners who claim to have been denied needed therapy. They seek to represent all others similarly situated. The defendants are: Michael Lane, Acting Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections; Gayle Franzen, Lane's predecessor; William Craine, Deputy Director for Program Services, Illinois Department of Corrections; Richard DeRobertis, Chief Administrative Officer (Warden) at Stateville; Marvin Reed, DeRobertis' predecessor; Michael O'Leary, Assistant Warden for Program Services at Stateville; Phillip Elliott, Acting Medical Unit Administrator at Stateville; Dr. Meyer Kruglik, Stateville psychiatrist; and Muhammad Irfan, a psychologist at Stateville. The gist of the complaint is that the care provided by the defendants has been so lacking that plaintiffs have been subjected to "cruel and unusual" punishment within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment.*fn1 For relief, the plaintiffs demand that the court declare the existence of constitutional violation. See 28 U.S.C. § 2201. They further seek structural relief in the form of a mandatory injunction ordering the defendants to upgrade Stateville's mental health care program in numerous ways. The named plaintiffs in addition each seek $20,000 in damages from defendants Lane, Franzen, Craine, DeRobertis, Reed and O'Leary. Currently pending are three issues — the applicability of the doctrine of abstention*fn2, the legal sufficiency of the complaint's averments, and the appropriateness of class action treatment. For the reasons to follow, I hold that abstention is inappropriate, that the complaint states a claim, and that a class should be certified.

I. THE ALLEGATIONS

Plaintiffs' factual allegations are of two sorts. First there are general claims which provide an overview of mental health care treatment at Stateville. In addition, case histories of the individual named defendants are spelled out in some detail.

A. Generalized Claims

Plaintiffs' assertions essentially boil down to the following accusation: "No [mental health] services are available at Stateville except such service as may be rendered by the administration of behavior-controlling psychotropic drugs, including large doses of an admixture of anti-psychotic drugs." Amended Complaint, ¶ 19(J). From the face of the complaint it appears that this state of affairs results primarily from a severe shortage of correctional personnel qualified to assist in mental health rehabilitation.*fn3 Though Stateville houses approximately 2200 inmates, only one part-time psychiatrist, Dr. Kruglik, is there employed. Psychologist Irfan is of course also available, but he has never — at least in Illinois — been certified to practice in the "free," i.e., outside, world. His competency is thus somewhat suspect. The same is true of Stateville's "counselors," none of whom has received any formalized training — clinical or academic — in mental health care matters. Security personnel are similarly untrained.

Stateville's ability to cope with inmate mental health problems is therefore limited. As could be expected, preventive treatment is nonexistent. Inmate medical records are not systematically reviewed. Inmates rather must actively seek out help. They can do this by requesting an interview with either Dr. Kruglik or Irfan. These defendants, however, have complete discretion in deciding whether or not to grant such a request, and usually refuse to see the petitioning prisoner. Most would-be patients consequently never receive any treatment at all. Even when an inmate becomes so disturbed that he is destructive of self or others, the inmate in most cases is simply transferred to the "Special Evaluation Unit" (SEU). There he is "frequently required to sit or lie nude on the stone floor of his cell, separated from all human contact by [a] virtually soundproof cell door, for protracted periods of time." Amended Complaint, ¶ 12(I). No routinized policy for treating inmates there confined exists for the Special Evaluation Unit is not housed within the Stateville Medical Unit and is not staffed with employees who have been trained in mental health care matters.

Further, even when an inmate engages the attention of either Dr. Kruglik or Irfan, the inmate receives at best cursory treatment consisting primarily, as noted before, of pharmacological prescriptions. What is perhaps most distressing is that this "treatment" not only fails to help most inmates, but in addition affirmatively hurts some as well by rendering the "treated" inmate an addict of the prescribed drug. Compounding this problem in turn is the fact that Dr. Kruglik and Irfan often simply deny suspected addicts further medication and do not thereafter provide any treatment whatsoever for either the addiction itself or the underlying mental illness.*fn4

Some inmates — those who have been diagnosed by either Dr. Kruglik or Irfan as psychotic — are eligible to be transferred to the Menard Psychiatric Center for additional treatment. The inmate's stay at Menard ends, however, as soon as "he no longer engages in blatantly psychotic behavior," whether or not his mental illness remains. Amended Complaint, ¶ 19(M). Retransfer to Stateville also occurs if an inmate becomes so repetitively violent that even involuntary injections of behavior-controlling drugs cannot subdue him. Prisoners returned to Stateville for the latter reason are often placed in disciplinary segregation where the only treatment rendered is "haphazard diagnosis and the voluntary and involuntary administration of behavior-controlling psychotropic drugs. . . ." Amended Complaint, ¶ 19(P).

One final category of prisoners remains, those in protective custody. Inmates housed there are those who have been attacked or threatened by other prisoners. They too receive only drugs and "haphazard diagnosis." Not even short-term crisis counseling is provided for an inmate whose life has recently been threatened.

B. Case Histories

Robert E.*fn5 is a twenty-three year old male who has been shuttled between Illinois prisons and mental health hospitals since 1976. He arrived at Stateville in September, 1979, accompanied by a master record file containing a previous diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Shortly thereafter he received death threats from several inmates, causing him to suffer an acute psychotic breakdown marked by auditory hallucinations. He was moved to the SEU where Dr. Kruglik interviewed him once for less than five minutes, telling plaintiff that he did not need medication or psychotherapy, but rather needed only to learn to calm himself down. From the SEU Robert E. was moved to protective custody and then to disciplinary segregation. While in disciplinary Robert E. set fire to his mattress in a suicide attempt. A short talk with defendant Irfan followed, after which plaintiff was retransferred to the SEU for "control and observation." Two suicide attempts later he was again placed in disciplinary where he will reside until 1985.*fn6 During this entire series of events plaintiff made numerous unheeded calls for psychiatric aid.

William B. is a thirty-six year old male who entered Stateville in 1979. Soon after his arrival he learned that his life was in danger due to the fact that his trial testimony had implicated a member of a gang prominently represented at Stateville. An acute anxiety attack set in and plaintiff was transferred at his own request into protective custody. There his attacks have become progressively so severe that only compulsive masturbation can reduce in any way his "overwhelming sense of terror." Amended Complaint, ¶ 21(D). He has been interviewed by Dr. Kruglik, but only once and for less than five minutes. Defendant Irfan has similarly seen plaintiff once, telling William B. only that compulsive masturbation by prisoners is normal. In addition, an unidentified staff physician once prescribed tranquilizers for three days. Despite these visits, plaintiff's anxiety attacks have not subsided in the least. In addition, he has recently developed a nervous tic in his face and a stammer in his speech. His thought processes are increasingly slowed and confused.

Larry K. is twenty-one and entered Stateville in December 1980 upon transfer from the Menard Psychiatric Center. Participation in a racial fight at Menard caused both this shift and his being sentenced to four-and-one-half years of disciplinary segregation at Stateville. There he alleges he has received absolutely no mental health therapy despite the fact that his master record contains previous diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia. Instead a staff physician informed Larry K. in January 1981 that he suffers from epilepsy. Plaintiff, however, has never experienced a seizure and claims that this diagnosis was made solely to justify the involuntary injection of behavior-controlling drugs. The dosages he has subsequently received have been so great that they have caused him to be mentally confused, slurred in his speech and uncoordinated in general.

Hakim A-B is thirty-eight and suffered a nervous breakdown prior to entering Stateville. His breakdown occurred at the Pontiac Correctional Center following a threat on his life by fellow inmates who were angered by the assistance plaintiff had given Pontiac officials in various matters. Upon arrival at Stateville in February 1980, he was immediately placed in protective custody. From there he made numerous requests for psychiatric counseling. Neither Dr. Kruglik nor Irfan ever responded. The anxiety plaintiff felt became so intense that he voluntarily returned in January 1981 to the prison's general population so as to be eligible for Stateville's educational, recreational and rehabilitative programs. Though he now lives there in constant fear for his life, defendants have yet to provide him with any therapy whatsoever.

Twenty-two year old Derrick S. entered Stateville on December 11, 1980 and was placed in disciplinary segregation with a cellmate of known violent propensities. During the next five days plaintiff's cellmate raped him three times at knife point and forced a broom handle up his rectum. Following his release on December 17, Derrick S. began to experience severe anxiety and depression for which he never received any counseling.*fn7 Instead, he was transferred to the SEU as a suicide prevention measure. There he currently resides brooding alone most of the day over what has happened to him. His depression has become so pronounced that it is beginning to impair his thought processes.

Finally there is Calvin R., a twenty-one year old sent to Stateville in December 1980 from Menard where he had been undergoing "treatment" for anxiety and depression brought on by a gang-rape suffered at Pontiac. Since arriving at Stateville plaintiff has been continually threatened with both rape and death. Inmates and guards, moreover, constantly call him "punk" or "sissy." As a result of the threats and harassment Calvin R.'s depression is getting worse. Thoughts of suicide "are occurring with increasing frequency and detail." Amended Complaint, ¶ 26(H). He has seen defendant Irfan, but has been told only that he and his suicidal thoughts are "normal" for prisoners. Dr. Kruglik has never even granted a request for an interview.

II. THE APPLICABILITY OF ABSTENTION

Before considering the merits of an abstention analysis, the Seventh Circuit has adomonished that all doubt as to subject matter jurisdiction must be resolved. Miller-Davis Co. v. Ill. S. Toll Highway Auth., 567 F.2d 323, 326 (1977). In federal question litigation, this inquiry boils down to whether the asserted federal claim is "so insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of this Court or otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy within the jurisdiction of the District Court, whatever may be the ultimate resolution of the federal issues on the merits." Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661, 666-7, 94 S.Ct. 772, 776-7, 39 L.Ed.2d 73 (1974); accord, Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 543, 94 S.Ct. 1372, 1382, 39 L.Ed.2d 577 (1974). Plaintiffs' constitutional argument clearly surpasses this low threshold. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976).

The argument for abstention is simple. Whenever a case can be decided on either state law or federal constitutional grounds, state law resolution should be preferred given the long-standing policy of avoiding unnecessary constitutional decision-making. Siler v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co., 213 U.S. 175, 29 S.Ct. 451, 53 L.Ed. 753 (1909). Furthermore, whenever the scope of the underlying state law is "unclear," the courts of the affected state should be given the opportunity to adjudicate, since they — and not the federal courts — are the ultimate arbiters of state law. Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941). To the extent then that state law is both unclear and subject to an interpretation which moots federal constitutional analysis, a federal court under the Pullman doctrine should stay its hand and "abstain" from ruling pending state court resolution of the disputed state law question.

These principles are potentially relevant due to the existence of Ill.Ann.Stat. ch. 38, ยง 1003-7-2(d) (Supp. ...


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