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Burris v. Cullinan

October 23, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge


This cause is before the Court on Defendants Stephen A. Cullinan, M.D., and Health Professionals, Ltd.'s (collectively HPL Defendants) Motion to Dismiss (d/e 16). Jacob Burris, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Maurice L. Burris, filed Plaintiff's Response to Motion to Dismiss (d/e 27).

Also before the Court is the HPL Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Co-Defendants' Cross-Claim for Contribution (d/e 28). The remaining Defendants (collectively County Defendants) filed the Response of Defendants/Cross-Plaintiffs, Lee Anne Brauer, R.N., Sangamon County Sheriff's Department; Neil Williamson, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Sheriff of Sangamon County; Terry Durr, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Superintendent of the Sangamon County Jail; and Sangamon County to Motion of Defendants/Cross-Defendants, Stephan A. Cullinan, M.D. and Health Professionals, Ltd. to Dismiss Their Cross-Claim for Contribution (d/e 30).

For the following reasons, the HPL Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint is DENIED, and the HPL Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Co-Defendants' Cross-Claim for Contribution is GRANTED.


The Complaint alleges the following. On December 1, 2007, Sangamon County and Health Professionals, Ltd. (HPL) entered into a contract under which HPL agreed to provide medical services to Sangamon County Jail (Jail) inmates and detainees. Complaint (d/e 1) ¶ 12. HPL agreed to provide the Jail with an on-call physician at all times. Id. ¶ 13.

HPL also agreed to make available emergency ambulance services, and to arrange for and cover the cost of hospitalization for an inmate or detainee who, in the opinion of the treating physician or HPL's chief medical director, required such services. Id. ¶ 13-14.

Dr. Stephen Cullinan is a licensed physician and the chief medical director of HPL. Id. ¶ 4. As director, Dr. Cullinan was responsible for developing clinical protocols defining "critical vital signs." Id., Count I, ¶ 59. Critical vital signs included a pulse of more than 120 beats per minute, and respiratory rate of more than 25 breaths per minute. Id. Under the protocol, a patient whose values fell in the critical range was to be checked every two hours. Id. Dr. Cullinan also formulated a policy, that HPL adopted, prohibiting staff from moving an inmate to a hospital under the 911 dispatch system unless there was a "true emergency." Id. ¶ 65.

Maurice L. Burris was arrested on November 24, 2007, and placed in the Jail. Id. ¶ 10. During the night of December 1, 2007, Burris experienced extreme abdominal pain, and vomited blood intermittently until morning. Id. ¶ 15. Burris, who had a history of bleeding ulcers, went to see licensed professional nurse Christina Taylor at the Jail on the morning of December 2, 2007.*fn1 Id., ¶ 16. Taylor observed that Burris' face was flushed and grimacing, and that he was doubled over in pain. Id. Burris' heart rate was 140 beats per minute, and his respiratory rate was 40 breaths per minute; a normal heart rate is between 60 and 90 beats per minute, and a normal respiratory rate is between 14 and 18 breaths per minute. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. A heart rate of more than 120 beats per minute and a respiratory rate of more than 26 breaths per minute are considered "panic values" and exceed the critical vital signs values developed by Dr. Cullinan. Id. ¶ 21.

Taylor contacted resident nurse Lee Anne Brauer and relayed Burris' symptoms and medical history. Id. ¶ 19. Brauer did not come to the Jail to see Burris, but called Dr. Cullinan, who ordered Mylanta, Zantac, and Benadryl for Burris, and transferred him to the medical unit for monitoring. Id. ¶ 22-23.

That evening, Sgt. Guy E. Bouvet called Brauer and told her that Burris was in a lot of pain, was sweating, and that his stomach was "hard to the touch." Id. ¶ 24. Brauer instructed Sgt. Bouvet to have Taylor check on Burris when she arrived for her evening shift. Id. Taylor checked Burris out at approximately 4:30 p.m., and found that his heart rate was 142 and respiratory rate was 48. Id. ¶ 25. Burris complained of burning in his stomach and when he urinated. Id. Taylor found that Burris' abdomen was firm and that he was slumped over and groaning. Id. Taylor relayed these findings to Brauer, who instructed Taylor to check in on Burris again in an hour. Id. ¶ 26.

Taylor returned approximately an hour later to find Burris vomiting. She called Brauer, who in turn called Dr. Cullinan. Dr. Cullinan advised Brauer that Burris would be "fine." Id. ¶¶ 27-29. At 6:30 p.m., Taylor noted that Burris had pain in his left shoulder and numb fingers; his heart rate was down to 115, but his pulse oxygenation level was below normal. Id. ¶ 30. Surveillance video shows Burris alternating between lying in bed clutching his stomach, and vomiting. Id. ¶ 31. Taylor checked on Burris again at 7:30 p.m., and found that he was resting comfortably. Id. ¶ 32.

On December 3, 2007, Dr. Cullinan examined Burris and noted that he was hunched over and had "possible muscle wall pain with dyspepsia." Id. ¶ 33. Dr. Cullinan ordered urine ketones and estimated that Burris' pulse was 100, and respiratory rate 16. Id. Surveillance video from December 3, 2007, shows Burris vomiting and dry heaving throughout the day. Id. ¶ 34.

Early in the morning on December 4, 2007, Burris began to complain to Sgt. Bill Smith about sever abdominal pain, saying that his stomach was burning and was hard to the touch. Id. ¶¶ 35-36. Sgt. Smith noticed that Burris' heart rate was back up to 135, and he called Brauer to inform her of Burris' condition. Id. ¶ 37. Brauer told Sgt. Smith that she would see Burris in the morning. Id. ¶ 38.

At 7:00 a.m. on December 4, 2007, Brauer evaluated Burris and found a heart rate of 138, respiratory rate of 44, and a pulse oxygenation rate that was below normal. Id. ¶ 39. She contacted Dr. Cullinan to update him on Burris' condition, and he ordered blood work on Burris. Id. ¶ 41. However, Brauer was unable to complete the blood work because HPL had not delivered the necessary supplies to the Jail. Id. When she told Dr. Cullinan about the lack of supplies, he told her not to worry about it, and that Burris would be fine. Id. ¶ 42.

Later that morning, Brauer again checked on Burris, and found no change in his condition. Id. ¶ 43. At 10:04 a.m., Burris collapsed on the floor of his cell by the toilet. Id. ¶ 45. Surveillance video shows that he repeatedly tried to get into bed, but kept falling onto the floor. Id. ¶ 46.

Nearly 50 minutes later, Burris collapsed again and his arms and legs began to get blotchy. Id. ¶ 48. Jail staff asked Brauer 3 times to call an ambulance before she did so. Id. ¶ 49.

By 11:03 a.m., Burris' pupils were fixed, his skin turned gray, his body went limp, and he went into cardiac arrest. Id. ¶ 50. An ambulance rushed him to St. John's Hospital, where he was diagnosed with septic shock, cardiac arrest, a perforated ulcer, and anoxic brain injury. Id. ¶¶ 51-52. Burris died in the Hospital on December 12, 2007. Id. ¶ 53.

Jacob Burris, Maurice Burris' son, was appointed Special Administrator of the Estate of Maurice L. Burris pursuant to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. Id., Ex. A. He filed the four-count Complaint in this action on May 13, 2009. Counts I and III are claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Cullinan and HPL, respectively, for violations of Maurice Burris' Fourteenth Amendment rights. Counts II and IV are directed against Cullinan and HPL, respectively, and are brought under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. Plaintiff brings Counts V and VI under § 1983 against Brauer and the remaining County Defendants, respectively. The County Defendants filed a Cross-Claim (d/e 26), asserting that the HPL Defendants should contribute to any liability the County Defendants may incur under Counts V and VI.

The HPL Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, arguing that the Plaintiff lacks standing to bring suit against them, and that HPL cannot be held vicariously liable under ยง 1983 for Cullinan's actions. The HPL Defendants also filed their Motion to Dismiss Co-Defendants' Cross-Claim for ...

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