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Hairston v. Walker

October 20, 2008


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


Plaintiff, an inmate at the St. Clair County Jail, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff seeks damages for allegedly denying him adequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment. 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). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007).


Plaintiff alleges that on August 3, 2007, at approximately 8:45 a.m., he threw a cup of water on Defendant Walker as she was handing Plaintiff his medication. About an hour later, Defendant Walker returned with Defendant Rude-Little and Assistant Jail Superintendent McLaurin (not named as a Defendant in this action) to continue distributing medication to other pretrial detainees. Still later that day, Plaintiff states that he received all of his evening medications except for his pain medication. Plaintiff states that he suffers from a tooth problem and, without the medication, he is in "excruciating pain" from that condition. Plaintiff was advised by Defendant Rude-Little that Defendant Walker had discontinued his pain medication. Plaintiff states that Defendant Walker discontinued his pain medication in retaliation for throwing water on her. Plaintiff claims that the discontinuation of his pain medication by Walker - especially for retaliatory reasons (not for valid medical reasons) - constitutes deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Plaintiff charges that Defendants Rude-Little and Thomas Knapp are "in cahoots" with Walker. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that Rude-Little and Knapp refused to investigate or intervene in this matter. As a consequence, Plaintiff claims that he now (and in the future) suffers from "physical pain."


The Supreme Court has recognized that "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners" may constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). However, "negligence alone, or simple malpractice, is insufficient to state a claim for relief," Kelly v. McGinnis, 899 F.2d 612, 616 (7th Cir. 1990), as is the provision of medical treatment other than that preferred by the inmate. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 107. See also Jones v. Simek, 193 F.3d 485, 489 (7th Cir. 1999); Steele v. Choi, 82 F.3d 175, 178 (7th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 897 (1996). The Seventh Circuit considers the following to be indications of a serious medical need: (1) where failure to treat the condition could "result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain"; (2) "[e]xistence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment"; (3) "presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities"; or (4) "the existence of chronic and substantial pain". Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1373 (7th Cir. 1997).

Applying these principles, Plaintiff's claim that he is being denied pain medication for his tooth problem by Defendants Walker, Rude-Little, and Knapp, survives review under § 1915A and should not be dismissed at this time.

Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Wexford Health Sources, Inc. and the St. Charles Sheriff's Department, however, should be dismissed pursuant to § 1915A. Under § 1983, Plaintiff may only proceed against defendants who personally participated in a violation of his constitutional rights. "A defendant cannot be held liable in a § 1983 action unless he caused or participated in the alleged constitutional deprivation." McBride v. Soos, 679 F.2d 1223, 1227 (7th Cir. 1979); Eades v. Thompson, 823 F.2d 1055, 1063 (7th Cir. 1987); Duncan v. Duckworth, 644 F.2d 653, 655-56 (7th Cir. 1981). The St. Charles Sheriff's Department is not automatically liable under § 1983 for the alleged wrongdoing of its employees. The doctrine of respondeat superior has no applicability in § 1983 cases, and it is well settled that a municipality may not be held vicariously liable under § 1983 for the actions of its employee, unless the employee acted pursuant to a municipal policy or custom. Monell v. Department of ...

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