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Arreola v. Choudry

July 14, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 03 C 2854-Matthew F. Kennelly, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.


Before BAUER, WOOD and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

Gilbert Arreola brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that prison doctor Mohammed Choudry's treatment of his injured ankle constituted a deliberate indifference to a medical need in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Following a twoday trial, a jury found in favor of Dr. Choudry. Arreola moved for a new trial, arguing that conversations between his lawyer and various jury members after the verdict revealed that the foreperson was biased. The district court denied the motion. Arreola challenges the refusal to grant a new trial, arguing that his due process rights were violated and the court misapplied the standard for evaluating juror bias set forth in McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 556, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984).*fn1 For the following reasons, we affirm.


In 2003, Arreola, a prisoner at Hill Correctional Center, injured his ankle during a soccer match and was taken to the prison infirmary for treatment. Dr. Choudry examined him and found no bone tenderness. Based on Arreola's symptoms, Dr. Choudry diagnosed him with a sprained ankle, ordered him back to his cell, and scheduled a follow-up visit in seven to ten days. Days later, Arreola was transferred to Cook County Jail, where another doctor took an x-ray of his ankle and determined that Arreola had a broken ankle. Arreola brought this suit, alleging that Dr. Choudry failed to conduct a proper examination of his ankle to determine the nature of the injury. The central issue at trial was whether Dr. Choudry's treatment of Arreola's ankle constituted deliberate indifference to Arreola's serious medical needs.

The jury voir dire process began with each prospective juror's completion of a written questionnaire. Question 19 asked: "Have you or any family member ever had a broken or severely sprained ankle, foot, or leg?" Juror Laterza, who was later elected foreperson, answered "no." Fourteen prospective jurors answered this question affirmatively, and Judge Kennelly conducted a series of follow-up questions to clarify the extent of the injuries and whether there had been any problems with the medical treatment.

Arreola challenged two jurors for cause, based on their personal experiences with ankle sprains suffered by family members. Judge Kennelly questioned them further by asking whether they would be able to put aside those experiences; both replied they could and Arreola withdrew his challenge to these jurors. Judge Kennelly seated twelve jurors, six of whom had answered affirmatively to the question involving ankle injuries.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of Dr. Choudry; later Judge Kennelly permitted both parties to speak to the jurors. Arreola's counsel filed a Motion for New Trial, supported by her own affidavit recounting her conversations with the jurors. The affidavit stated that Juror Laterza, who answered "no" to Question 19, told Arreola's counsel that she had once suffered a bad ankle sprain, and that based on this experience, she had no problem believing that Dr. Choudry could press on Arreola's ankle without finding tenderness. Counsel also stated that information she obtained from another juror during the post-trial interview indicated that the jury had given weight to Laterza's experience during deliberations.

Judge Kennelly made further inquiry and arranged for Laterza to be available by telephone. He requested that both parties submit questions to ask Laterza. Arreola's questions included: Did you see a doctor regarding your ankle sprain? Did you compare the actions taken by your doctor regarding your ankle sprain with the actions taken by Dr. Choudry regarding Arreola's ankle injury? Did you discuss this comparison with the other jurors? Did you disclose your sprained ankle on your Juror Questionnaire form, and if not, why? Judge Kennelly rejected these questions, particularly those involving juror deliberations, commenting that the conversation would "be done in a way that does not do anything that in the least bit will deter any person from wanting to serve on a jury."

Judge Kennelly placed the call to Laterza with both parties' counsel and a court reporter present. He began the conversation by asking Laterza whether she had told Arreola's counsel after trial that she had suffered a sprained ankle, and Laterza responded, "You know what? I did." The following discussion then took place:

Judge: Was it a sprain that you regard as a severe sprain?

Laterza: It hurt to walk. Oh, my gosh, yes, I did.

Judge: So when you answered "no"on that particular question-In other words, the question didn't say whether you had a sprained ankle. It said: Have you had a severely sprained ankle? Would you have regarded it as a severe sprain?

Laterza: Well, I still went on vacation. I mean, it was-I mean, I still worked and I still went on-I had plans. I went on a cruise, and I went on the ...

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