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JONES v. COUNTY OF COOK

November 18, 2004.

ADDISON JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF COOK, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NAN NOLAN, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Addison Jones asserts that the defendants County of Cook, Cook County Department of Corrections, Dr. Bradley Langer, and John Does I and II failed to provide constitutionally adequate medical care while he was in the custody of the Cook County Department of Corrections. Defendants Bradley Langer and County of Cook seek to dismiss the claims against them pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the following reasons, Langer's motion to dismiss the claims against him in his official and individual capacities is denied, but his motion to dismiss Jones' request for punitive damages against the individual defendants in their official capacities and Jones' claims against the Cook County Department of Corrections is granted. In addition, County of Cook's motion to dismiss the claims against it is denied.

I. Background

  Jones' well-pled allegations, which are presumed to be true and viewed in a light most favorable to him for the purposes of this motion, are as follows. Jones entered state custody in 1999 and is currently in the custody of the Cook County Department of Corrections. Since 1999, Jones has had chest pain, shortness of breath, and a growing mass on his breast that is currently the size of an egg. A doctor has told him that he has a cyst near his heart. Defendant Bradley Langer is a physician and the interim medical director at Cook County Hospital. According to Jones, doctors in Cook County Hospital recommended plastic surgery to alleviate his chest problems. In April or May of 2001, Jones spoke with Langer about the lack of additional treatment and Langer told Jones "they were not going to treat [him] any further." Amended Complaint at ¶ 12. According to Jones, Langer thus knew about his serious medical condition and refused to ensure that he received adequate medical care. In Count I of his amended complaint, which is directed at Langer in his individual and official capacities, Jones asserts that Langer's decision not to treat him violates 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

  II. Discussion

  A. Standard for a Motion to Dismiss

  The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Fed.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) is "to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not to decide the merits." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Thus, "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Id. Moreover, when evaluating a motion to dismiss under Fed.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), courts must accept the well-pled allegations of a complaint as true and construe any inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Thompson v. Ill. Dep't of Professional Regulation, 300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002).

  B. Official Capacity Claims Against Langer

  Generally, courts treat a suit against a person in his official capacity as a suit against the governmental entity that employs that person. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1984). To state a claim against an entity based on acts committed by its employees, a plaintiff must allege that a government policy or custom caused his injury. Monell v. New York City Dept. of Soc. Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1977). To satisfy this standard, Jones must point to an express policy which caused injury or a widespread practice that was so well-settled as to amount to policy, or assert that Langer had final policymaking authority for decisions regarding Jones' medical treatment. See Perkins v. Lawson, 312 F.3d 872, 875 (7th Cir. 2002).

  According to Langer, Jones' official capacity claims against him must be dismissed because a single allegation of wrongdoing can never establish the existence of a custom, policy, or practice. This is incorrect: a single instance of deprivation can show that a policy or custom existed if the decision underlying the deprivation was "properly made by that government's authorized decisionmakers." Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481 (1985); see also Sivard v. Pulaski County, 17 F.3d 185, 188 (7th Cir. 1994) (proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity can support liability under § 1983 if the incident was caused by a governmental policy).

  Langer also contends that Jones' amended complaint does not allege that a person with final decision-making authority caused his injuries or that an unlawful custom or practice existed at Cook County Hospital. In response, Jones asserts that the court may infer that Langer had final policymaking authority and made the decision to deny care pursuant to a governmental policy because Langer was the Interim Medical Director at Cook County Hospital. An allegation that the head of a facility made a decision that caused the harm that a plaintiff suffered sufficiently supports the existence of a policy, custom, or practice for the purposes of a motion to dismiss. See Johnson v. Raba, No. 93 C 2285, 1995 WL 42224 at *4 (N.D. Ill. Feb 1, 1995) (allegation that the defendant was the superintendent of the jail where plaintiff was incarcerated was sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss even though the plaintiff did not specifically allege that the defendant had acted in his role as a final policymaker). The fact that the amended complaint fails to include even boilerplate allegations of policy, custom, or practice is, therefore, irrelevant. Accordingly, Langer's motion to dismiss the official capacity claims against him is denied.

  C. Personal Capacity Claims Against Langer

  The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment protect prisoners and pretrial detainees from deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.*fn1 Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (Eighth Amendment); Chapman v. Keltner, 241 F.3d 842, 845-46 (7th Cir. 2001) (Eighth Amendment standard applies to arrestees and pretrial detainees under the Fourteenth Amendment). To satisfy this standard, a pretrial detainee must allege that: (1) he had an objectively serious medical need; and (2) a prison official acted or failed to act with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1369 (7th Cir. 1997).

  An objectively serious medical need is "one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention." Id. (citation and internal quotation omitted). Factors indicating that a medical need is serious include whether: (1) a reasonable doctor or patient would find the condition worthy of comment or treatment; (2) the condition significantly affects the individual's daily activities; and (3) the condition causes chronic and substantial pain. Jones v. Natesha, 151 F.Supp.2d 938, 944 (N.D. Ill. 2001). In this case, Langer contends that the allegation that an unnamed doctor recommended that Jones receive plastic surgery is not enough to show that Jones' medical needs are serious enough to withstand a motion to dismiss. The court disagrees. Jones alleges that since 1999, he has had ongoing chest pain, shortness of breath, and a growing mass on his breast that is currently the size of an egg. He also alleges that a doctor told him he has a cyst near his heart. Chest pain, respiratory problems and an egg-sized growth are not the type of garden-variety aches and pains that are outside the ambit of the Constitution. Cf. Cooper v. Casey, 97 F.3d 914, 916 (7th Cir. 1996) (the ...


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