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Hodgkins v. Justus

August 21, 2007

JAMES HODGKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MEARL J. JUSTUS, T.J. COLLINS, WEXFORD HEALTH SERVICES, AND DR. AMPADOO, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, a detainee in the St. Clair County Jail, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening.-- The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.

(b) Grounds for Dismissal.-- On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint--

(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or

(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A. An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Upon careful review of the complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds that none of the claims in the complaint may be dismissed at this point in the litigation.

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

Plaintiff, a detainee in the St. Clair County Jail, states the following. At the end of June or beginning of July 2006, Plaintiff informed the medical unit at the jail that he was having intense pain in an incoming wisdom tooth and a cracked molar. Two weeks after his initial complaint of pain, Plaintiff was given ibuprofen, which did not alleviate the pain. Plaintiff, therefore, continued to file requests seeking dental treatment and stronger pain medication. Around July 30, 2007, Plaintiff began receiving Tylenol with codeine for the pain. Plaintiff states, however, that by that time his pain was so intense that the Tylenol with codeine was "useless." Plaintiff continued to send sick call slips to the healthcare unit and complaints regarding his treatment to Defendant Collins. At an unspecified time later, Plaintiff saw Defendant Dr. Ampadoo. Dr. Ampadoo, who is not a dentist, looked in Plaintiff's mouth and concluded that nothing was wrong with his teeth. Dr. Ampadoo also refused to prescribe any other pain medication. In response to Plaintiff's grievances, Defendant Collins informed Plaintiff that there "was no openings for dental appointments because the facility is without a dentist and uses an off-site dental facility."

Plaintiff argues that all defendants acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs in violation of the constitution. Further, he argues that it was an unofficial policy or custom in the St. Clair County Jail to deny any dental treatment to jail inmates.

LEGAL STANDARDS

[F]or a pretrial detainee to establish a deprivation of his due process right to adequate medical care, he must demonstrate that a government official acted with deliberate indifference to his objectively serious medical needs. See Qian, 168 F.3d at 955. This inquiry includes an objective and subjective component. The objective aspect of the inquiry concerns the pretrial detainee's medical condition; it must be an injury that is, "objectively, sufficiently serious." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994) (internal quotations omitted); see also Henderson v. Sheahan, 196 F.3d 839, 845 (7th Cir. 1999). "A '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." Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1371 (7th Cir. 1997).

Even if the plaintiff satisfies this objective component, he also must tender sufficient evidence to meet the subjective prong of this inquiry. In particular, the plaintiff must establish that the relevant official had "a sufficiently culpable state of mind[,] ... deliberate indifference to [the detainee's] health or safety." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970. Evidence that the official acted negligently is insufficient to prove deliberate indifference. See Payne, 161 F.3d at 1040. Rather, as we have noted, " 'deliberate indifference' is simply a synonym for intentional or reckless conduct, and that 'reckless' describes conduct so dangerous that the deliberate nature of the defendant's actions can be inferred." Qian, 168 F.3d at 955. Consequently, to establish deliberate indifference, the plaintiff must proffer evidence "demonstrating that the defendants were aware of a substantial risk of serious injury to the detainee but nevertheless failed to take appropriate steps to protect him from a known danger." Payne, 161 F.3d at 1041. Simply put, an official "must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Higgins, 178 F.3d at 510. Even if he recognizes the substantial risk, an official is free from liability if he "responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm ultimately was not averted." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 843, 114 S.Ct. 1970.

Jackson v. Illinois Medi-Car, Inc., 300 F.3d 760, 764-65 (7th Cir. 2002). The Seventh Circuit has recognized that dental care is "one of the most important medical needs of inmates." See ...


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