United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
April 30, 2004.
TIMOTHY J. CUNNINGHAM, SR., Plaintiff, V. SHERIFF DEPUTY GROZIK, CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS JONES, CHESTER, CERILLO, LANGFORD, MARTIN, PARKER, RUGUONE, AND BECK Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM J. HIBBLER, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Timothy Cunningham, Sr., a detainee who was awaiting trial at the
Will County Adult Detention Facility, brings this civil rights action
against Sheriff Deputy Grozik and Correctional Officer Ruguone, alleging
that each of them used excessive force against him. Cunningham also sued
Correctional Officer Ruguone and several other Correctional Officers
because they failed to provide appropriate medical care after the alleged
assaults. For the reasons stated herein the motion is GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part.
I. Factual Background
Cunningham was detained at the Will County Adult Detention Facility
(WCADF) from April 1999 to July 2001. (Def. 56.1(a)(3) Statement of Facts
(Def. Statement), ¶ 5). On August 21, 1999, the WCADF conducted
"lockdown drill." (Def. Statement, ¶ 31). During a lockdown drill,
inmates are to proceed immediately to their cells or lay on the floor in
common areas if they cannot get to their cells. (Def. Statement, ¶ 33). When Cunningham was
approximately four to six feet from his cell, Deputy Grozik approached
him from behind. (Pl. 56.1(b)(3)(B) Statement (PL Statement), ¶ 4;
Cunningham Dep. at 33).*fn1 This is where the parties' version of the
According to Cunningham, Grozik slammed him into the wall. (Pl.
Statement, ¶¶ 5-6; Cunningham Dep. at 32-34). Cunningham testified
that as a result, he suffered a blow to the head that caused him briefly
to lose consciousness. (Pl. Statement, ¶¶ 5-6; Cunningham Dep. at
32-34). Cunningham further claims when he awoke, Grozik was kicking him
and yelling at him. (Pl. Statement, ¶ 9; Cunningham Dep. at 35).
Cunningham claims that Grozik then walked away, laughing, and
"high-fived" the other officers. (Pl. Statement, ¶ 10; Cunningham
Dep. at 39). Another inmate, Christopher McDonald, corroborated
Cunningham's version of events in his deposition. (Pl. Statement, ¶
7; McDonald Dep. at 14-15). Grozik denies assaulting Cunningham and
testified that he merely touched Cunningham on the shoulder and
instructed him to get on the ground. (Grozik Dep. at 46). After the incident, Cunningham claims that his head, shoulders, back,
hands, and toes ached and that he had a bruise on his left thigh, a cut
on his left big toe, and a cut above the right eye. (Cunningham Dep.
40-42). Cunningham also claims that after the attack he was unable to
walk because of pain radiating from his lower back to his neck and that
he had to be assisted by other detainees back to his cell. (Cunningham
Dep. at 42-44). Later that evening, he completed a medical request form
in order to obtain medical care. (Pl. Statement, ¶ 17). The next day,
Cunningham was transferred to the medical unit within the WCADF. (Def.
Statement, ¶ 40).
On August 23, 1999, Cunningham became dizzy, fell, and struck his head,
leaving a small bruise on his forehead. (Def. Statement, ¶ 41),
Cunningham was then taken to the emergency room at Provena/St. Joseph
Hospital, where he was examined by Dr. Edwin Veguilla, (Def. Statement,
¶¶ 42-43). Dr. Veguilla noted that Cunningham had an abrasion and a
contusion on his forehead. (Dr. Veguilla Dep. at 10-11). Dr. Veguilla,
however, found no other bruises or cuts on Cunningham's body. (Dr.
Veguilla Dep. at 11-12). Dr. Veguilla also observed that Cunningham had
"some pain of his neck . . .[and] some diffuse tenderness of his lumbar
spine," and he diagnosed Cunningham with a strained neck and back. (Dr.
Veguilla Dep. at 33, 38). Dr. Veguilla took a CAT scan of Cunningham's
brain, which revealed soft tissue swelling consistent with the contusion
that Dr. Veguilla had observed. (Dr. Veguilla Dep. at 16-17). X-rays of
Cunningham's thoracic spine revealed an "old injury but no new broken
bones or dislocations." (Dr. Veguilla Dep. at 33).
On December 28, 1999, Cunningham claims another correctional officer,
Ronald Ruguone, assaulted him. (Pl. Statement ¶ 29). On December 28,
Cunningham was to be transferred to the disciplinary unit of the WCADF
for a rule violation. (Def. Statement ¶ 47). Pursuant to WCADF rules,
Cunningham was handcuffed while kneeling on the floor, prior to the
transfer. (Def. Statement ¶¶ 48-49). Cunningham claims that Ruguone pulled him up by his
wrists causing him to pass out. (Cunningham Dep. at 96-97). Cunningham
claims that later, he regained consciousness partially clothed, with a
"large lump" on his left thigh, a shoeprint on his t-shirt, and some
light bruising. (Cunningham Dep. at 99-100). Cunningham claims that he
drifted in and out of consciousness in pain over the next few days, while
correctional officers shined bright overhead lights on him. (Cunningham
Dep. at 99-100). On December 30, 1999, Cunningham was taken to the
emergency room at Silver Cross Hospital. (Def. Statement ¶ 60). Dr.
David Mikolajczak examined Cunningham and observed that he suffered mild
tenderness in the paravertabral muscles of the thoracic spine and
bilateral swelling in his shoulder. (Def. Statement ¶¶ 62 & 63).
Dr. Mikolajczak noticed no bruising or abrasions. (Def. Statement ¶
64). Dr. Mikolajczak then recommended that Cunningham be x-rayed, but
Cunningham refused. (Def. Statement ¶¶ 65-66).
Cunningham claims that after the alleged assaults he continued to be in
extreme pain, making it difficult for him to stand, crawl or walk,
occasionally needing a wheelchair.*fn2 (Pl. Statement ¶ 44-45). Cunningham was, however, at times, able to walk, as evidenced
in a letter he wrote to his parents where he described walking from a
dominos game to an area in the WCADF to watch a football game. (Def.
Statement ¶ 81). Cunningham claims that the WCADF staff was aware
that he was in pain and despite this awareness refused to provide him
with proper medical care. Cunningham claims that WCADF refused to pass
along his complaints to the medical staff and threw away grievances that
he filed in order to prevent him from obtaining medical care. (Cunningham
Dep. 134-138; 196-198).
Despite Cunningham's claims, the record reveals that he did receive
medical care. The record reveals that he was seen by WCADF doctors on a
regular basis. (Def. Statement ¶ 22). He was also seen by
specialists, who attempted to determine the cause of Cunningham's alleged
back pain. On January 5, 2000, Cunningham was to be examined by an
orthopedist, but he refused to attend the examination. (Def, Statement
¶¶ 67-68). A second examination was scheduled for January 28, but the
orthopedist noted in the records that Cunningham was uncooperative. (Dep.
Dr. Mirkin at 21). Over a year later, Dr. Nitin Nadkarni conducted a
neurological evaluation of Cunningham on March 12, 2001. (Def. Statement
¶ 71). Dr. Nadkarni observed no evidence of spinal cord or nerve
dysfunction. (Def. Statement ¶ 72). Dr. Nadkarni recommended several
MRIs in order to ascertain the cause of Cunningham's alleged discomfort,
but Cunningham never had a second appointment with Dr. Nadkarni. (Dr.
Nadkarni Dep. at 16-17).
Two-and-a-half years later, in September 1993, Cunningham received an
MRI. The MRJ revealed that he had some "small bone spurs and some disc
bulges" and "prior compression deformity in the upper thoracic spine."
(Dr. Mirkin Dep. at 24). None of these injuries, however, could be attributed to either the August 1999 or December 1999
alleged incidents, but instead were described as degenerative conditions.
(Dr. Mirkin Dep. at 25-26).
II. Standard of Review
Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material
fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323,
106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of
material fact exists only if there is sufficient evidence for a jury to
return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986);
Alexander v. Wisconsin Dep't of Health and Family Servs.,
263 F.3d 673, 680 (7th Cir. 2001). In ruling on a motion for summary
judgment, however, the court's role is "not to evaluate the weight of the
evidence or to determine the truth of the matter," but only to determine
whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. Outlaw v.
Newkirk, 259 F.3d 833, 836 (7th Cir. 2001). Therefore, doubts are
resolved in favor of the non-moving party and the court "considers the
evidentiary record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party,
and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor." Lesch v. Crown
Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 20002).
A. Excessive Force
Because Cunningham was a pre-trial detainee, his excessive force
allegations must be assessed within the context of the Due Process
Clause. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 n. 10,
109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443
(1989). The Supreme Court has stated that there is no reason to
distinguish between convicted inmates and pretrial detainees in the
context of excessive force allegations, Bell v. Wolfish,
441 U.S. 520, 546 n. 28, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979), and the Seventh Circuit has therefore assumed that the applicable
standard for excessive force claims is provided by the Eighth Amendment,
Wilson v. Williams, 83 F.3d 870, 875 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing
Bell). The unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain on
prisoners violates the Eighth Amendment. Hudson v. McMillian,
503 U.S. 1, 5, 112 S.Ct. 9965,117 L.Ed.2d 156 (1992). The "core
judicial inquiry" in an excessive force case is "whether force was
applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or
maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Hudson., 503 U.S.
at 7; Outlaw, 259 F.3d at 837; Thomas v. Stalter,
20 F.3d 298, 302 (7th Cir. 1994). In determining whether the use of force
was legitimate or malicious, several factors are relevant, including the
need for the application of the force, the amount of force applied, the
threat an officer reasonably perceived, the effort made to temper the
severity of the force used, and the extent of the injury that the force
caused. DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 619 (7th Cir. 1999)
(citing Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7); see also Fillmore v.
Page, 358 F.3d 496, 504 (7th Cir. 2004).
In order to survive a motion for summary judgment the detainee must
have evidence that supports a reliable inference of wantonness in the
infliction of pain. Fillmore, 358 F.3d at 504 (citing
Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 322,106 S.Ct.
1078,89 L.Ed.2d 156 (1992)). A plaintiff need not demonstrate a
significant injury as a prerequisite to an excessive force claim.
Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9. Instead, an injury need not even be
evident because, as the Supreme Court explains, " [o]therwise, the
Eighth Amendment would permit any physical punishment, no matter how
diabolic or inhuman, inflicting less than some arbitrary quantity of
injury." Id. Still, the use of force must be more than
de minimis, and the extent of any injury may be relevant to
determine whether the force used was more than de
minimis. See Hudson, 503 U.S. at 10; Outlaw, 259 F.3d at
837-38. Infliction of pain without any penological purpose, however, is per
se malicious. Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 737,
122 S.Ct. 2508, 153 L. E.2d 666 (2002); Fillmore, 358 F.3d at 504.
Defendants suggest that the force used by Grozik and Ruguone was
related to a legitimate penological interest. According to Defendants,
Grozik placed his hand upon Cunningham's shoulder during the lockdown
drill and instructed him to lie on the ground. Similarly, Defendants
claim that Ruguone placed handcuffs on Cunningham for the purposes of
transporting him between units in the WCADF. Cunningham offers a quite
different version of events, and on summary judgment the Court must view
the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See
Thomas, 20 F.3d at 302. Contrary to Grozik's version of events,
Cunningham claims that Grozik slammed him into a wall with sufficient
force to cause him to lose consciousness. Moreover, Cunningham claims
that Grozik kicked him and yelled at him as he regained consciousness and
that Grozik celebrated his actions with fellow officers by "high-fiving"
them as he walked away from Cunningham. According to Cunningham, Ruguone
also caused him to lose consciousness when Ruguone violently yanked him
up with the handcuffs. Short of the need to squelch a prison riot, it is
difficult to imagine a legitimate penological need to justify the use of
sufficient force to cause an inmate to lose consciousness. But here there
is no evidence that Cunningham in any way resisted the commands of WCADF
officers or contributed to a disturbance within the detention facility.
Furthermore, Grozik's alleged act of celebrating his treatment of
Cunningham with other officers suggests a malicious and sadistic purpose.
If a jury credits Cunningham's version of events, it could find that the
Defendants' actions were not a "good faith effort to maintain or restore
discipline," and instead that Grozik and Ruguone inflicted pain on
Cunningham solely for malicious and sadistic reasons. Defendants spend much of their argument focused on the fact that
Cunningham's claims to have been injured by the Defendants' actions were
the product of his "overactive imagination" and that his claims lack
support in the record. (Def. Brief in Support of Summ. J. at 9).
Defendants' characterization of the record is inaccurate. Cunningham
points to his deposition testimony to support his account of the alleged
incidents. Cunningham also points to the deposition testimony of another
detainee, Christopher McDonald, who witnessed the August 1999 incident
and confirms Cunningham's description of the alleged assault. Defendants
argue that after each incident, Cunningham was taken to the emergency
room and the treating professionals observed no bruising or abrasions.
Defendants argue that because "the physical injuries documented do not
correspond to the severity of the allegations made in the complaint" that
the force used by the officers must have been de minimis,
It is true that an excessive force claim cannot be predicated on a
de minimis use of physical force. DeWalt, 224 F.3d at
620. But the mere absence of any significant, visible injury does not
mean that officers used only de minimis force. See, e.g.,
Winder v. Leak, 790 F. Supp. 1403, 1406-07 (N.D. III. 1992) (knocking
handicapped person to the floor and causing pain is not de
minimis for Eighth Amendment purposes). A significant injury simply
is not a prerequisite to an excessive force claim. Hudson, 503
U.S. at 9-10. In essence, Defendants invite this Court to assess
Cunningham's credibility-Cunningham's observable injuries, they say, do
not match with his description of events and therefore Cunningham's
deposition testimony should not be credited. But such questions of
credibility are best left to a jury. Dorsey v. St. Joseph County Jail
Off., 98 F.3d 1527, 1529-30 (7th Cir. 1996). Indeed, when Defendants'
counsel questioned Dr. Veguilla, he asked whether "it [would] be unusual
for [a] person not to have bruising" if they were slammed into a wall,"
and Dr. Veguilla answered that he had "seen patients come in from different
altercations and not have any physical evidence of injuries" and that he
had "see patients . . . get slammed or hit and not have evidence of it."
(Dr. Veguilla Dep. at 18-19). Defendants' argument that Cunningham must
be fabricating his story because there was no significant, visible injury
amounts to nothing more than Defendants' own speculation, unsupported by
any testimony from a medical expert.
Moreover, Defendants' premise that there is no medical evidence in the
record to support Cunningham's claims is itself erroneous. Two days after
the August 1999 incident, Dr. Veguilla observed that Cunningham had "some
pain of his neck . . . [and] some diffuse tenderness of his lumbar
spine," and diagnosed Cunningham with a strained neck and back. Two days
after the December 1999 incident, Dr. Mikolajczak observed that
Cunningham suffered mild tenderness in the paravertabral muscles of the
thoracic spine and bilateral swelling in his shoulder. Defendants' argue
that Dr. Mikolajczak could not affirmatively conclude that the swelling
in Cunningham's shoulder was caused by the alleged assault and therefore
summary judgment should be granted in their favor. In this, Defendants
mistake Cunningham's burden on summary judgment. Dr. Mikolajczak never
testified that Cunningham's injury could not have been caused by
the alleged December 1999 incident. He only testified that he could not
conclude with certainty that it was caused by such incident. Cunningham,
however, does not have to show that the undisputed evidence confirms his
version of events. He need only point to evidence from which a reasonable
finder of fact could find in his favor. Given Cunningham's deposition
testimony and the medical findings of Dr. Veguilla and Dr. Mikolajczak, a
reasonable jury could find that events unfolded as Cunningham claims and
infer that Deputy Grozik and Officer Ruguone assaulted Cunningham without
any legitimate penological purpose. In the end, Cunningham and the Defendants present two vastly different
stories regarding the alleged incidents of August and December 1999.
Summary judgment is a singularly inappropriate time to resolve this kind
of "he said, she said" dispute. Dorsey, 98 F.3d at 1529-30.
Defendants Grozik's and Ruguone's motion for summary judgment on
Cunningham's excessive force claims is DENIED.
B. Deliberate Indifference
The remaining Defendants, all alleged by Cunningham to have denied him
medical care, also move for summary judgment. To avoid summary judgment
on his medical-care claims, Cunningham must present evidence that WCADF
officers acted with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of
harm. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-06, 97 S.Ct. 285,
50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976). This standard requires Cunningham to establish
that: (1) his condition was objectively serious; and (2) WCADF officers
acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs, which is a
subjective standard. Boyce v. Moore, 314 F.3d 884, 889 (7th Cir.
2002). In other words, the Defendants must be "both aware of facts from
which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious
harm exists, and [they] must also draw the inference." Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811
(1994). Officials can be deliberately indifferent if they intentionally
deny or delay access to medical care or interfere with treatment once
prescribed. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05, However, a prisoner
who complains that a delay in treatment rose to a constitutional
violation must place "verifying medical evidence" in the record that
the delay adversely affected his condition. Walker v. Benjamin,
293 F.3d 1030, 1038 (7th Cir. 2002); Langston v. Peters,
100 F.3d 1235, 1240 (7th
Cir. 1996). Cunningham complains that the Defendants interfered with his right to
receive medical care in two ways: 1) they refused to pass along
complaints raised by Cunningham to the medical staff; 2) they threw away
grievances he filed against them so that he would not receive medical
attention. Cunningham, however, ignores the facts that he did, in fact,
receive medical care. After the alleged August 1999 incident, he was
taken to the emergency room and seen by Dr. Veguilla, who took a CAT scan
and x-rays. After the alleged December 1999 incident, Cunningham was seen
by Dr. Mikolaj czak. During this examination Cunningham refused
to be x-rayed, despite Dr. Mikolajczak's recommendation. In January
2000, Cunningham refused to attend one examination and, according to an
orthopedist, was uncooperative when he was examined at a later date. In
March 2001, Dr. Nadkarni conducted a neurological examination of
Cunningham. In the 20 months following the first alleged assault,
Cunningham was seen by at least four doctors and he points to no evidence
that WCADF officials ignored any treatment prescribed by these doctors.
Cunningham nevertheless argues that, despite the fact that multiple
doctors treated him, he "suffered for years with certain serious
underlying medical needs that have not on ay occasion been treated or
diagnosed" and therefore the WCADF officers must have been deliberately
indifferent to his medical needs. (PI. Resp. Br. at 14). Cunningham's
argument is unconvincing. To the extent that Cunningham appears to claim
that the WCADF officers should have been able to diagnose and treat an
alleged conversion disorder and a preexisting compression fracture in his
spine, the constitution places no such burden on ordinary prison
officers. Indeed, even the four doctors who treated Cunningham between
1999 and 2001 failed to diagnose these injuries. Cunningham also argues
that the WCADF officers were aware that he was in severe pain for which
he needed treatment and instead of referring him to medical staff they
withheld information about his pain and even intentionally delayed his medical treatment by throwing away
his grievances. Even assuming that the medical staff did throw away his
grievances (a fact for which Cunningham presents no direct evidence in
support), it would not be clear that the WCADF officers were responsible
for any delay in treating Cunningham's condition. That is because
Cunningham himself had ample opportunity to inform the medical staff of
his alleged suffering. He had appointments with at least four doctors
between August 1999 and March 2001, and yet did not once mention any of
his alleged suffering to these doctors. Cunningham claims to be off the
hook for his failure to communicate his pain with the doctors because,
according to him, "[t]hese visits focused on [his] immediate needs and
were not aimed at treating or otherwise addressing [his] more serious and
disregarded illness and injuries." (PI. Resp. Br. at 14). But nothing
prevented Cunningham from raising his concerns about his condition during
these visits. He simply chose not to do so. He cannot now argue that
Defendants interfered with his medical needs by refusing to pass along
complaints that Cunningham himself failed to pass on. Finally, even
assuming the Defendants did intentionally delay his medical care,
Cunningham point to no verifiable medical evidence that this delay
adversely affected his condition. Nothing in the record suggests that
Cunningham's alleged conversion disorder or preexisting compression
fracture worsened because of the delay in treatment.
Cunningham received medical care throughout his stay at WCADF and never
once voiced a concern to any of the doctors who treated him that his
medical needs were not being met. His argument that Defendants interfered
with his medical needs by refusing to pass along complaints is without
merit. Defendants motion for summary judgment with regard to Cunningham's
deliberate indifference claim is GRANTED as to all Defendants and that
claim is dismissed in its entirety.
IV. Conclusion There is a genuine dispute of material fact as to the events that
occurred on August 21 and December 28, 1999, making summaryjudgment with
regard to Cunningham's excessive force claims against Deputy Grozik and
Officer Ruguone inappropriate. Deputy Grozik's and Officer Ruguone's
motion for summary judgment on Cunningham's excessive force claims is
therefore DENIED. There is not, however, any dispute of material fact as
to whether any of the Defendants was deliberately indifferent to
Cunningham's serious medical needs. Summary judgment in favor of all
Defendants, including Officer Ruguone, with regard to Cunningham's
deliberate indifference claim is GRANTED. Cunningham's complaint is
DISMISSED as to Defendants Jones, Chester, Cerillo, Langford, Martin,
Parker, and Beck.
IT IS SO ORDERED