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Armstrong v. Aldridge

October 21, 2009


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


This matter came before the Court on September 21, 2009, for hearing on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Steve Aldridge (Doc. 26). For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

Plaintiff James Armstrong is an inmate at the Tamms Correctional Center. He claims that Defendant, a dentist, violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by being deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs.*fn1 Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant violated the Eighth Amendment when he denied Plaintiff dental treatment on January 3, January 10, and November 26, 2007 (Docs. 16, 22), and that Defendant was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical needs resulting in periodontal disease (Doc. 2, Attach. 1). Defendant denies that he was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's dental needs and now moves for summary judgment.

According to Defendant, Plaintiff suffers from periodontal disease. This disease is incurable; however, it affects individuals differently. For example, some individuals who have periodontal disease experience problems with all of their teeth (Doc. 26, p. 3). For others, just one tooth is affected. Id. The effects of the disease may lessen with good oral hygiene, but there is no guarantee. Some people are just genetically disposed to having this condition, and a dentist cannot prevent the disease's progression. Id. Over the years, periodontal disease has affected Plaintiff in a variety of ways. Id. Plaintiff is forty-eight years old and has been incarcerated at Tamms for several years. Consequently, Dr. Aldridge and several other dentists at Tamms have examined and treated Plaintiff throughout the course of his incarceration (Doc. 26-3, p. 4).


Defendant first maintains that he was not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's periodontal disease. Defendant examined Plaintiff on January 10, 2007, and observed that Plaintiff had experienced bone loss and that three of Plaintiff's teeth were slightly loose (Doc. 26, p. 2). Defendant had advised Plaintiff to have his teeth cleaned in the past. Id. He determined that Plaintiff's teeth did not need to be extracted at that time. Id. Defendant believes that inmates who have periodontal disease should keep their teeth for as long as possible because the Illinois Department of Corrections (I.D.O.C.) does not permit dentists to place permanent fixtures in a patient's mouth (Doc. 26, p. 4). Consequently, once an inmate's teeth are extracted, he or she can only receive dentures rather than implants or crowns. Id.

After the January 2007 examination, Defendant examined Plaintiff again several times. On April 25, 2007, Plaintiff told Defendant that his whole mouth was infected; however, Defendant did not find any infection in Plaintiff's mouth (Doc. 26, p. 4). On May 7, 2007, Defendant examined

Plaintiff for his biennial exam, and Defendant did not find any condition that warranted treatment (Doc. 26, pp. 4-5). On September 12, 2007, Defendant found that Plaintiff had severe periodontal disease in one tooth and extracted it (Doc. 26, p. 5). On October 10, 2007, Plaintiff complained about a different tooth; Defendant found that the tooth did not have a cavity and that no treatment was necessary. Id. Defendant did note, however, that Plaintiff's dental hygiene was not up to par, and this may have contributed to the periodontal disease (Doc. 26, p. 6). On November 26, 2007, Defendant examined Plaintiff again and discovered that Plaintiff had calculus and needed his teeth cleaned. Id. Consequently, on December 12, 2007, and at Plaintiff's request, Defendant cleaned Plaintiff's teeth. Id. After this appointment, Defendant examined Plaintiff two more times, once on February 27, 2008, and again on March 26, 2008. On February 27, Plaintiff asked Defendant about his partial, and Defendant told Plaintiff that the partial could be replaced (Doc. 26, p. 7). On March 26, Plaintiff asked for some of his teeth to be extracted (Doc. 26, p. 8). Defendant planned to schedule Plaintiff to receive a partial that would stabilize Plaintiff's loose teeth, but Defendant did not see Plaintiff again. Id.

Defendant maintains that he is entitled to summary judgment because his treatment of Plaintiff's disease was based on his medical training and judgment, and no evidence shows that he was deliberately indifferent.

Alternatively, Defendant argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity (Doc. 27). He states that there is no evidence demonstrating that he should have known that his treatment decisions violated Plaintiff's clearly established constitutional rights. Id.


To oppose summary judgment, Plaintiff states that Defendant was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's periodontal disease by failing to prevent the disease from starting in the first place (Doc. 29, pp. 7, 9, 13). Specifically, Plaintiff states that Defendant determined back in 2004 that Plaintiff had gingivitis; however, he did not inform Plaintiff about this fact and never treated this condition (Doc. 29, p. 7; Doc. 36). Plaintiff argues that "once Defendant diagnosed Plaintiff with gingivitis, a serious medical need, it was his duty to begin treatment in order to reverse it before it developed to periodontal disease" (Doc. 29, p. 8). Plaintiff believes that Defendant's failure to treat the gingivitis led to him having periodontal disease. He contends that Defendant concealed the fact that he had gingivitis from him and would not have mentioned it had it not been for this lawsuit. Id. Plaintiff also maintains that Defendant never told him he had periodontal disease (Doc. 29, pp. 13-14). Plaintiff admits that Defendant prescribed him penicillin for seven days in 2004 but states that the penicillin should have been followed up with other treatment (Doc. 36, p. 5). Plaintiff further maintains that Defendant could have scheduled Plaintiff for a professional cleaning if Defendant felt Plaintiff's teeth needed to be cleaned; however, Defendant did not do so (Doc. 29, p. 14). Consequently, Plaintiff's teeth were cleaned only two times, once on March 3, 2004, and once on December 12, 2007 (Doc. 36, p. 4).

Another dentist at Tamms, Dr. Furlong, ultimately removed Plaintiff's teeth in May 2008 because they had deteriorated so much there was no reason to keep them (Doc. 26-3, p. 3). Plaintiff states that Defendant should have determined to remove the teeth (Doc. 26-3, p. 3). According to Plaintiff, Defendant essentially admits being deliberately indifferent by stating in his motion for summary judgment: "[i]t is difficult to tell whether Plaintiff is complaining that his teeth should have been removed sooner or that he is dissatisfied with the care and treatment provided to him regarding his acute complaints" (Doc. 29, p. 5; Doc. 27). Plaintiff maintains that such admission shows the existence of a genuine issue of material fact whether Defendant was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's dental needs (Doc. 29, p. 5).

Plaintiff also opposes Defendant's claim of qualified immunity (Doc. 29, p. 11). Plaintiff argues that Defendant should have known that his actions were unlawful and violated ...

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