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Smith v. Sheriff of Cook County

May 6, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber


This is a putative class action brought by two former pre-trial detainees and three presently incarcerated individuals who were or are now detained at the Cook County Department of Corrections (the "CCDC") and were denied timely or adequate treatment for dental pain. They now move to have the Court certify a class consisting of "all persons who, while confined at the Cook County Jail on and after June 29, 2005, made a request for treatment of dental pain and did not receive timely treatment of a dentist." The Defendants object to the motion on multiple grounds.


According to the amended Complaint:

Plaintiff, Vincent Smith while a pre-trial detainee, was struck in the mouth by a fellow detainee and was injured. He alleges that he submitted numerous requests to see a dentist because of tooth pain but was never treated.; Plaintiff Isaac Adams while a pre-trial detainee informed medical personnel at the CCDC at the time he was processed that he had a "tooth problem." He made several written and oral requests to see a dentist and eventually filed a grievance for dental treatment. After several months he was examined and treated by a dentist.

Plaintiff Anthony Fain is currently incarcerated. In May 2007 he began suffering from a painful toothache. He made written requests and two grievances requesting dental treatment. After the first grievance he was placed on the dental waiting list and was treated for pain. After his second grievance he was seen by a dentist and an infected tooth was extracted.

Plaintiff Gregory Jordan is currently incarcerated. He began suffering from a painful toothache in July 2007. In December he filed a grievance requesting that a dentist extract his tooth. He was instead seen by a physician for prescribed pain medication.

Plaintiff Anthony Nelson is currently incarcerated.

He began complaining of a toothache in January of this year. He was referred to a physician for treatment instead of a dentist.

According to the Defendants the Cermak Health Services of Cook County provides dental care to the inmates of the CCDC. Its dental policy is to "provide adequate comprehensive dental care for the detainee, with their consent and within the limits of available resources." According to the Complaint the Defendants do not provide sufficient dentists to care for the detainees adequately.


Rule 23(a) and (b) provide the framework for deciding whether to certify a class. The requirements are well known: numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation (Rule 23(a)); and, questions of law and fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members and a class action is superior to other available methods (Rule 23(b)(3)).

While it appears that Plaintiffs can establish numerosity (the Defendants have identified more than 200 pretrial detainees who filed grievances complaining of delays in receiving dental treatment) their motion fails due to a lack of commonality and typicality. The gravamen of Plaintiffs' case is that by providing inadequate dental care the Defendants' deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" and violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). While the Eighth Amendment does not apply to pre-detainees, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does under the same standard as the Eight Amendment. Zentmyer v. Kendall County, Ill., 220 F.3d 805, 810 (7th Cir. 2000). There is both an objective and subjective element to an Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference. A detainee must first show that he had an objectively serious medical need that resulted in significant harm or injury by inattention. Second, he must show that the inattention was a result of a sufficiently culpable state of mind so as to constitute deliberate indifference, a subjective inquiry. Johnson v. Doughty, 433 F.3d 1001 (7th Cir. 2006).

There is no question that failure to provide adequate dental care to a pretrial detainee in need which results in significant harm or injury can constitute a constitutional violation. Plaintiffs cite Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 593 (7th Cir. 2001) and Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d 469, 480 (7th Cir. 2005) for this proposition. While both of these cases involved Eighth Amendment claims based on inadequate dental care, neither involved class certification issues. In Wynn the Seventh Circuit reversed a grant of a motion to dismiss for the refusal of the state to supply dentures to an inmate who alleged that his ability to eat was significantly impeded and he suffered bleeding and headaches. The court held that the deliberate indifference element was a closer question but that allegations of the complaint did not rule out the possibility that the officials acted deliberately. In ...

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