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Vinning v. Hulick

March 31, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge


REAGAN, District Judge

A. Introduction and Overview of Claims

In this suit based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Mondrea Vinning -- an inmate at Menard Correctional Center in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) -- asserts that correctional officials at Menard were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, thereby violating the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. More specifically, Vinning has a bullet lodged in his back and claims that Defendants refused to provide him with proper medical treatment and refused to issue him an extra mattress to place atop his single thin mattress to help ease his back discomfort.

The three Defendants who survived threshold review of Vinning's lawsuit are Donald Hulick (former Warden of Menard), Adrian Feinerman (a medical doctor who worked at Menard on a contract basis with the IDOC), and Pam Grubman (a registered nurse and the Health Care Unit Administrator of Menard from April 1991 to March 2006).

Via motion to dismiss filed by Hulick and Grubman in June 2009 and affirmative defense lodged by Feinerman in November 2009 (Docs. 21 & 29), Defendants asserted that Vinning failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit, as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. To investigate the issue of exhaustion, the Honorable Donald G. Wilkerson, the Magistrate Judge assigned to this case, held a hearing in compliance withPavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739 (7th Cir. 2008), on January 13, 2010.

At the Pavey hearing, Judge Wilkerson granted a motion by Defendant Feinerman (Doc. 41) to withdraw his affirmative defense regarding exhaustion. The hearing proceeded, with evidence and argument presented by Defendants Hulick and Grubman (along with Plaintiff Vinning), regarding the various grievances filed, the issues raised therein, and the steps taken to advance the grievances through the IDOC administrative system.

Vinning also moved for a preliminary injunction (Doc. 11), alleging that he had "developed a very severe case of arthritis, and his back, neck and shoulders are in constant pain," that he submitted "countless sick call slips" and wrote the IDOC Director, the current warden of Menard, and the previous warden of Menard about his back pain, that Menard personnel refuse to issue him a double mattress permit to alleviate his pain (despite the fact that he was given just such a permit while incarcerated in a Mt. Sterling prison), and that the back pain essentially renders him defenseless against fellow inmates at Menard.

In the preliminary injunction motion, Vinning sought an immediate transfer from Menard Correctional Center, placement in protective custody, or an order (presumably directing the IDOC or Menard officials) to issue Vinning a double mattress permit, a low bunk permit, a low gallery permit, a "close cell permit," and a "2-handcuff permit" (id., p. 4).

Defendants Hulick and Grubman responded to the motion and tendered a supporting affidavit. They maintained that Plaintiff had shown no constitutional violation, had established no right to be placed in protective custody or a one-man cell because of the back pain, had demonstrated no entitlement to the relief sought, and had not satisfied the requirements for issuance of a preliminary injunction.

By Report issued January 20, 2010 (Doc. 44), Magistrate Judge Wilkerson recommends that the undersigned District Judge deny Vinning's motion for preliminary injunction and grant Defendants' dismissal motion. Vinning objected to the Report and Recommendation (R&R) on January 27, 2010 (Doc. 46), Feinerman responded to those objections on February 2, 2010 (Doc. 47), Grubman and Hulick responded on February 8, 2010 (Doc. 49), and Vinning replied on February 16, 2010 (Doc. 50).

Timely objections having been filed, the undersigned Judge undertakes de novo review of the portions of the R&R to which specific written objection was made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3); Southern District of Illinois Local Rule 73.1(b). The Court may accept, reject or modify the recommended decision, receive further evidence, or return the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3); Local Rule 73.1(b). With the issues thoroughly addressed and the motions fully ripe, the Court now resolves the motions and R&R, beginning with reference to the standards governing the undersigned Judge's review.

B. Analysis

In Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment imposes a duty upon states to provide adequate medical care to inmates. Failure to provide medical care violates the Eighth Amendment when there is "deliberate indifference" to a substantial risk of harm.Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); Sherrod v. Lingle, 223 F.3d 605, 610 (7th Cir. 2000).

Deliberate indifference is "more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's interests or safety." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986). Instead, the plaintiff must establish that: (1) his medical condition was objectively serious, and (2) the defendants were subjectively aware of the medical need and disregarded an excessive risk to the inmate's health. Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 593 (7th Cir. 2001).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has explained it this way. States have an affirmative duty to provide medical care to their inmates. The upshot of this duty is that deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious medical needs constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, which violates the Eighth Amendment. To demonstrate deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must demonstrate an objectively serious medical condition to which a state official was deliberately, i.e., subjectively, indifferent. Duckworth v. Ahmad, 532 F.3d 675, 678-79 (7th Cir. 2008). See also Greeno v. Daly, 414 F.3d 645, 652-53 (7th Cir. 2005).Delays in treating painful non-life-threatening conditions can support Eighth Amendment claims, too. Johnson v. Doughty, 433 F.3d 1001, 1017(7th Cir. 2006), quoting Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1371 (7th Cir. 1997). But, as is explained further below, this Court cannot reach the merits of an inmate's deliberate indifference claim unless it first determines that the inmate exhausted all available administrative remedies.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) requires prisoners to exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit in federal court. That requirement applies to all suits challenging prison conditions under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, as well as actions under "any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined ...

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