Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

THOMAS v. SULLIVAN

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois


August 12, 2005.

WADE THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
B. SULLIVAN, et al., Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: CLIFFORD PROUD, Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

This report and recommendation is respectfully submitted to U.S. District Judge William D. Stiehl pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C).

All five of the remaining named defendants, Jacob Null, Bobby Crespi, Larry Henderson Robert Siegleman and Michael Sweatland, are before the Court, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, seeking summary judgment on all counts of the Second Amended Complaint. (Doc. 51). Those claims are summarized as follows:

COUNT 1: Against defendants Crespi and Null for retaliating against plaintiff for filing grievances by Crespi giving him a food tray with some pills embedded in the food, and Crespi and Null then refusing to get him medical help, all in violation of the First Amendment.
COUNT 2: Against defendants Null and Crespi for serving, or allowing plaintiff to be served, a food tray with pills secreted in it, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
COUNT 3: Against defendants Null, Crespi and Siegleman for failing to get plaintiff requested medical attention after plaintiff suffered head, stomach and chest pain, and skin irritation after plaintiff consumed some food from the tainted food tray, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
COUNT 4: Against defendants Crespi, Henderson and Sweatland for using or allowing excessive force to be used against plaintiff during an incident culminating with plaintiff's foot being closed in his cell door, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
COUNT 5: Against defendants Crespi, Henderson and Sweatland for failing to get plaintiff requested medical attention after his head and foot were injured, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
(See Docs. 9 and 31).

  Arguments Presented

  Counts 1-3 stem from an alleged incident where there was an "attempted to poison plaintiff's food when he gave [plaintiff] a food tray embedded with some pills that made plaintiff ill." (Doc. 9, p. 5, ¶ 24). Citing plaintiff's deposition testimony that he never actually consumed the pill or contaminated food, and that he does not know who placed the pill in his food, defendants argue:

1. Plaintiff's allegations of retaliation, cruel and unusual punishment, and of deliberate indifference cannot be a basis for liability without some resulting injury;
2. Plaintiff is barred from collecting damages without first proving a physical injury; and
3. There is insufficient evidence of personal involvement by any of the defendants for liability to attach.
(Doc. 51, pp. 6-7).

  Counts 4 and 5 stem from a series of events plaintiff contends involved the exertion of excessive force against him. Allegedly, plaintiff's cell door was opened so defendant Crespi could punch plaintiff in the forehead; while the door operated by defendant Sweatland was closing, plaintiff stuck his foot in it; and defendants Crespi and Henderson pushed on the door in an effort to free plaintiff's foot. (Doc. 9, pp. 5-6, ¶¶ 28-35). Citing plaintiff's deposition testimony, defendants argue that:

1. No reasonable jury could find that Crespi hit plaintiff in the head as alleged;
2. Plaintiff voluntarily placed his foot in the doorway, therefore any injury could not have been caused by the defendants; and
3. Any injury did not amount to a serious medical need, but in any event plaintiff did receive medical treatment the evening of the incident.
(Doc. 51, pp. 7-10).

  Plaintiff generally counters that questions of material fact preclude summary judgment. (Doc. 55). He also notes that he has prayed for punitive damages.

  Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

  Summary judgment is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The purpose of Rule 56 is to enable a party who believes there is no genuine dispute as to a specific fact essential to the other side's case to demand at least one sworn averment of that fact before the lengthy process of litigation continues." Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 888-889 (1990) (internal citations omitted). Of course, the evidence is construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and all justifiable inferences are drawn in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

  Analysis

  1. The Pill Incident (Counts 1-3) Counts 1-3 all revolve around the assertion that plaintiff consumed, in whatever small degree, either the green pill (which apparently turned out to be Tylenol sinus medication) or food contaminated by the pill. In his deposition, plaintiff testified that he did not eat the pill or the food contaminated by the pill; rather, he discovered the pill before he began to eat. (Doc. 51, Exhibit 1, Deposition of Thomas, p. 6). Therefore, plaintiff's allegations that the pill made him feel ill are false and, obviously, cannot form the basis for liability or damages. Consequently, the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Count 3, as there is no factual basis for any claim of denial of medical care for the effects of the pill.

  With respect to Counts 1 and 2, defendants assert that an injury is a required element of suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), a prerequisite for bringing an action for mental or emotional injury. (Doc. 51, pp. 4 and 6). Defendants are mistaken. An injury is not a required element of a Section 1983 action. See Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 781 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Robinson v. Page, 170 F.3d 747, 748 (7th Cir. 1999)). Section 1997e(e) dictates that "[n]o Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) (emphasis added). Section 1997e(e) merely limits the types of damages that may be recovered. Plaintiff prays for unspecified "damages," as well as "compensatory" and "punitive" damages. (Doc. 9, p. 7). Although plaintiff cannot recover damages for mental or emotional injury because he suffered no physical injury, he can recover "nominal" and "punitive" damages if a constitutional violation were found. Calhoun v. DeTella, 319 F.3d 936, 941 (7th Cir. 2003). So-called "General" or "presumed" damages — meaning damages awarded without proof of injury — are considered "compensatory damages" and may be recoverable when a substantive constitutional right is infringed. Hessel v. O'Hearn, 977 F.2d 299, 301-302 (7th Cir. 1992).

  However, damages are a theoretical, and now moot point. Although the Court previously left open the possibility that plaintiff could prove Counts 1 and 2 by circumstantial evidence, plaintiff's deposition testimony has foreclosed that possibility. Personal involvement is a prerequisite for individual liability in a civil rights action such as this; a defendant must have caused or participated in an alleged constitutional deprivation to incur liability. Wolf-Lillie v. Sonquist, 699 F.2d 864, 869 (7th Cir. 1983); 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "An official satisfies the personal responsibility requirement of [Section] 1983 if [he or] she acts or fails to act with a deliberate or reckless disregard of plaintiff's constitutional rights." Crowder v. Lash, 687 F.2d 996, 1005 (7th Cir. 1982). However, the assumption that one or more of a group committed a wrong (where no conspiracy is alleged) cannot fend of summary judgment. Hessel v. O'Hearn, 977 F.2d 299, 305 (7th Cir. 1992). "Proximity to a wrongdoer does not authorize punishment." Id.

  Plaintiff's deposition testimony cleared up the ambiguities in the Second Amended Complaint regarding the defendants' involvement. Crespi delivered the food tray containing the pill to plaintiff; Crespi and Siegleman were summoned by plaintiff to look at the pill that had been discovered; Crespi and Siegleman brought plaintiff a new food tray, but when plaintiff refused to trade the pill for a new tray, the tray was not give to plaintiff; Null subsequently asked for the pill, and when plaintiff refused to turn it over, Null threatened to write plaintiff a disciplinary ticket for possession of contraband. (Doc. 51, Exhibit 1, Deposition of Thomas, pp. 6-8). According to plaintiff: Yeah. I don't know how [the pill] got there. Only thing I know is that in the grievance the healthcare administrator said that they don't dispense them pills at Tamms Correctional Center. So if it wasn't given by the nurse, it was only one or two ways it could got in the food. The Officer put it in there or somebody in the kitchen put it there.

 (Doc. 51, Exhibit 1, Deposition of Thomas, p. 10).

  As in Hessel v. O'Hearn, where summary judgment was granted under similar ambiguous circumstances, there is no more reason to affix liability to one or more of the defendants than a host of others, such as the kitchen staff. Hessel, 977 F.2d at 305. Defendant Crespi is sued because plaintiff "had a problem with him;" Null — because he threatened to write plaintiff a ticket after the fact; and Siegleman — apparently because plaintiff perceived that Siegleman and Crespi "attempted to bribe plaintiff with extra food" to get the pill so that they could "conceal the evidence." (Doc. 51, Exhibit 1, Deposition of Thomas, pp. 10-11 and Doc. 9, p. 5).

  The defendants have not presented affidavits denying their involvement in the pill incident;*fn1 however, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(b) does not require affidavits be submitted in support of a motion for summary judgment. In any event, the defendants have supported their position with plaintiff's deposition testimony, and plaintiff has not countered that evidence with specific facts that create a material issue of fact for trial. More to the point, plaintiff has not given the Court any reason to believe that he can establish that any of the defendants placed the pill in his food. This Court does not think that there is cause for refusing to grant summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(f),*fn2 just as in Hessel v. O'Hearn. Therefore, defendants should be granted summary judgment on Counts 1 and 2.

  2. The Cell Door Incident (Counts 4 and 5)

  Count 4 actually alleges two connected incidents raising two possible grounds for liability: (1) Crespi hitting plaintiff in the head; and (2) Crespi and Henderson pushing on the cell door while plaintiff's foot was in it. By his own admission, plaintiff chose to place his foot in the cell doorway to prevent the door from closing, and he willfully chose not to remove his foot. (Doc. 51, Exhibit 1, Deposition of Thomas, pp. 15-18). Therefore, defendants are correct, in that plaintiff cannot assert a claim relative to his foot initially getting squished by the cell door. Count 5 relates to Crespi, Henderson and Sweatland for failing to get plaintiff requested medical attention after his head and foot were injured.

  Defendants' assertion that no reasonable jury could believe that Crespi hit plaintiff in the head is just that, an assertion. Such credibility determinations are for the trier of fact and preclude summary judgment.

  Defendants argue that any injury did not amount to a serious medical need and, in any event, plaintiff did receive medical treatment the evening of the incident. According to plaintiff's deposition testimony, he kept his foot in the cell door until the Tactical Team arrived, then, as he explains it: "I moved my foot. And they cuffed me up and took me to the nurse's station and gave me medical treatment." (Doc. 51, Exhibit 1, Deposition of Thomas, p. 18). Despite how the claim was depicted in the Second Amended Complaint, as plaintiff now explains, his medical treatment claim is based on his initial request for medical care just after Crespi allegedly struck him in the head. (See Doc. 51, Exhibit 1, Deposition of Thomas, pp. 15-16).

 

Prison officials' conduct demonstrating deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the "`unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain'" and violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. To state an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must show that (1) he had a serious medical need, and (2) the defendants were deliberately indifferent to it. 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.'" Deliberate indifference entails more than "mere negligence," and requires the prisoner to show that the prison official was subjectively aware of the prisoner's serious medical needs and disregarded an excessive risk that a lack of treatment posed to the prisoner's health or safety from lack of treatment.
Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 593 (7th Cir. 2001) (internal citation omitted).

  Liability will not attach where the injury appeared slight, but later turned out to be serious; however, where an injury appeared serious and later turned out to be slight, liability will attach — anything else would be gambling with another's health or life. Davis v. Jones, 936 F.2d 971, 972 (7th Cir. 1991). The ultimate determination regarding the seriousness of an injury is best left to a healthcare professional, or the seriousness of the injury must be so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a healthcare professional's attention. Id.; see also Langston v. Peters, 100 F.3d 1235, 1240 (7th Cir. 1996). Relative to this case, delay in providing medical care may be sufficient for liability. Kelley v. McGinnis, 899 F.2d 612 (7th Cir. 1990). However, to prove such a claim the plaintiff must produce medical evidence "`to establish the detrimental effect of delay in medical treatment.'" Langston v. Peters, 100 F.3d 1235, 1240 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Byerbach v. Sears, 49 F.3d 1324, 1326 (8th Cir. 1995)). According to plaintiff's deposition testimony, Crespi hit him in the forehead with his closed fist, leaving a "knot" on plaintiff's head. (Doc. 51, Exhibit 1, Deposition of Thomas, p. 15). Plaintiff's unsigned affidavit adds that Crespi's hit also caused a headache and swelling. (Doc. 55-5, p. 2). The complaint describes the cell door incident beginning at around 9:00 p.m. (Doc. 9, p. 5; see also Doc. 55-5, p. 6 (placing the time at 9:10 p.m.)). Medical notes from 9:45 p.m. that night describe plaintiff as presenting with a "quarter sized abrasion to middle of forehead;" and the absence of swelling is noted. (Doc. 55-5, p. 3). Plaintiff was told by a nurse to clean the abrasion with soap and water. (Doc. 55-5, p. 3). Plaintiff's knot on his head simply does not amount to a serious medical need by any standard. In any event, a delay of forty-five minutes or less — including the time plaintiff voluntarily kept his foot in the cell door — amounts to a deminimis delay in treatment. Therefore, the defendants are entitled to summary judgment with respect to Count 5.

  Recommendation

  Fore the aforestated reasons, it is the recommendation of this Court that defendants Null, Crespi, Henderson, Sweatland and Siegleman's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 51) be granted in part and denied in part. More specifically, Counts 1-3 and 5 should be dismissed with prejudice, leaving Count 4 to proceed to trial. Defendants Null and Siegleman, who are not named in Count 4, would be dismissed from this action, and defendants Crespi, Sweatland and Henderson would remain as defendants.


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.