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Starks v. Powers

April 10, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on defendant Marvin Powers' ("Dr. Powers") motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a)(1) made after the conclusion of Starks' case and renewed following entry of a jury verdict.*fn1 Plaintiff David Starks, Sr. ("Starks") has filed a pro se response to the motion (Doc. 170).

I. Background

This is an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in which Starks, an inmate at Tamms Correctional Center ("Tamms"), claims that Dr. Powers, the medical director at Tamms, was deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Starks charged that Dr. Powers was aware that Starks was suffering from a painful vision disorder and that he was deliberately indifferent to his need for eyeglasses. Starks requested damages for physical pain and injury to his vision as well as for the depression he claims stems from the lack of treatment for his vision problems.

The Court conducted a two-day jury trial in Benton, Illinois, on December 19 and 20, 2005. Starks was represented at trial by attorney Jason Crowder, and Dr. Powers was represented by attorney Theresa M. Powell. Starks called six witnesses in his case-in-chief: Dr. Powers, Dr. Kenneth Clark, Tony Fisher, himself, Kevin Miller and Brian Smith. At the conclusion of Starks' case, Dr. Powers made a motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(a)(1), which the Court took under advisement. Dr. Powers then called himself and Michael Williams as witnesses in its case-in-chief. Starks called himself as a rebuttal witness. At the conclusion of the evidence and arguments, Dr. Powers renewed his Rule 50(a) motion, which the Court continued to keep under advisement. The jury then rendered a verdict for Starks in the amount of $275 for physical injury and $425 for emotional injury, for a total verdict of $700. The Court then granted Dr. Powers' Rule 50(a)(1) motion for the following reasons.

II. Analysis

Rule 50(a)(1) allows a court to enter judgment as a matter of law during trial whenever "a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue." Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1); see Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 149 (2000); Murray v. Chicago Transit Auth., 252 F.3d 880, 887 (7th Cir. 2001). The Court should consider all of the evidence, but must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party and must not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150. "That is, the court should give credence to the evidence favoring the non-movant as well as that 'evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.'" Id. at 151 (quoting 9A C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2529, at 300 (2d ed. 1995)). This standard mirrors the standard for granting summary judgment. Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-51 (1986)); Murray, 252 F.3d at 887. Thus, the question before the Court is whether the evidence, viewed in Starks' favor, supports the verdict in his favor on the claim that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated.

A. Facts

The uncontroverted facts listed in the Final Pretrial Order and the evidence presented at trial, viewed in Starks' favor, established the following:

Tamms is a maximum security facility within the Illinois Department of Corrections. Tamms inmates are confined to their cells most of the day where their range of vision is limited to approximately eight to ten feet. If an inmate has a television, it is on the opposite side of the cell (just about at the maximum viewing range) from the bed. The cell doors at Tamms are solid sheets of steel perforated with a grid of small 1/2-inch holes about one inch apart. There is a concrete wall approximately 20 feet outside the cell doors. Inmates do not have the ability to see anyone unless they are walking down the range. Each cell has a window which provides limited views of nature and other inmates' windows. This is the environment in which Starks' complaints arose.

Starks has worn reading glasses since 1988 and continued to do so when he was transferred to Tamms in late 1998. In fact, he brought two pairs of reading glasses with him to Tamms, but lost those glasses after his property was seized to be searched for security purposes and was returned to him without the glasses. Without his glasses, Starks suffered headaches, tearing and dizziness when he tried to read, which led to depression. Starks filed a grievance over his lack of glasses and was permitted to see an optometrist, Dr. Kenneth Clark ("Dr. Clark"), on May 19, 1999.

During his visit to Dr. Clark, Starks complained that he was having trouble reading without his glasses. Dr. Clark found that Starks' visual acuity for distance was 20/20 in both eyes without glasses. He also found that his near visual acuity (what he can see close up) was J4 in both eyes without glasses, which meant that he was able to read print the size of that normally found in a standard newspaper. Dr. Clark determined that with glasses, Starks' near visual acuity could be corrected to J2 with glasses, which meant that he could then read "very, very small" print. Otherwise, Dr. Clark found that Starks' eyes were normal. Dr. Clark prescribed reading glasses for Starks solely for the purpose of enabling him to reach the J2 near visual acuity level.

As a result of an assault by a Tamms inmate using a shank made from a pair of glasses, Dr. Powers began reviewing all requests for inmate eyeglasses, including Dr. Clark's prescription for Starks. Dr. Powers noted that Starks had 20/20 vision -- Dr. Clark's notation about Starks' distance acuity vision -- and had since prior eye exams in October 1993 and September 1997. He also considered that Starks had worn reading glasses in the past and that his problems with excessive tearing existed even when he had glasses. He concluded that Starks did not need glasses and refused to authorize them. He did not give great weight to Dr. Clark's findings about Starks' near visual acuity and the potential to improve that acuity, and he did not talk to Dr. Clark before making his decision to deny Starks glasses. When Starks did not get his glasses in the time he expected to get them, he filed a grievance and through the grievance process learned that Dr. Powers had refused to authorize the prescription written by Dr. Clark.

Without his glasses, Starks could not read from a distance and could not see views of nature or other inmates' sign language from his window. He could not read books without extreme strain, which caused his eyes to tear and turn red, gave him headaches and led to frustration, depression and withdrawal from interactions with other inmates in the wing. When he read, he had to hold the reading materials extremely close to his eyes. As a consequence, he was unable to read law books, mental health department books, or other books from the library that were not in large print (the library had a very limited supply of large-print books). He could also not ...

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