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Chalmers v. Larson


June 18, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge


Plaintiff, an inmate at the Vienna Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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." Nusku 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, 590 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts "should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Service, 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).


Plaintiff states that on or about July 29, 2008, Defendant Dr. Stelfox extracted his tooth (or, possibly, teeth). As a result of this extraction, Plaintiff suffered an abscess in his mouth and jaw. It appears that the infection became so serious that Plaintiff was taken to the Heartland Hospital on August 5, 2008. Plaintiff states that a "Heartland Hospital attending Doctor told [him he] . . . was a diabetic." Complaint, pg. 4. Plaintiff's mouth and jaw infection apparently impaired and, possibly, damaged his kidney's and liver. Plaintiff states that he also had to have reconstructive surgery to rebuild his jaw. Plaintiff claims that the infection that the infection is the result of "mistreatment" by Dr. Stelfox amounting to deliberate indifference of Plaintiff's serious medical needs.

Plaintiff states that he was returned to Vienna Correctional Center on August 14, 2008. Upon his return to Vienna, Defendant Dr. Larson informed Plaintiff that he was diabetic. Dr. Larson ordered Plaintiff to take "Glipizide 5mg" and "Minoxidil 10mg." Dr. Larson also directed Plaintiff to report to the health care unit twice a day "to submit to accu-check blood samples."

Approximately seven to ten days later, Larson ordered Plaintiff to stop taking the medication and discontinued the blood sample checks. Larson informed Plaintiff that he was not diabetic after all. Plaintiff alleges that "Dr. Larson failed to exercise the prudent care that a prudent person would usually exercise in determining whether or not [he] was diabetic." Plaintiff claims that Dr. Larson was both negligent and deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment.


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); Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994). This encompasses a broader range of conduct than intentional denial of necessary medical treatment, but it stops short of "negligen[ce] in diagnosing or treating a medical condition." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. 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).

A prisoner raising an Eighth Amendment claim against a prison official therefore must satisfy two requirements. The first one is an objective standard: "[T]he deprivation alleged must be, objectively, 'sufficiently serious.'" Farmer, 511 U.S. at -, 114 S.Ct. at 1977. As the Court explained in Farmer, "a prison official's act or omission must result in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Id. The second requirement is a subjective one: "[A] prison official must have a 'sufficiently culpable state of mind,'" one that the Court has defined as "deliberate indifference." Id; see Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5, 112 S.Ct. 995, 998, 117 L.Ed.2d 156 (1992) ("[T]he appropriate inquiry when an inmate alleges that prison officials failed to attend to serious medical needs is whether the officials exhibited 'deliberate indifference.'"); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 291, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976) ("[D]eliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'").

Vance v. Peters, 97 F.3d 987, 991-992 (7th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1230 (1997).

The Seventh Circuit's decisions following this standard for deliberate indifference in the denial or delay of medical care require evidence of a defendant's actual knowledge of, or reckless disregard for, a substantial risk of harm. The Circuit also recognizes that a defendant's inadvertent error, negligence or even ordinary malpractice is insufficient to rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment constitutional violation.

Neglect of a prisoner's health becomes a violation of the Eighth Amendment only if the prison official named as defendant is deliberately indifferent to the prisoner's health -- that is, only if he 'knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.'

Williams v. O'Leary, 55 F.3d 320, 324 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 993 (1995); see also Steele, 82 F.3d at 179 (concluding there was insufficient evidence of doctor's knowledge of serious medical risk or of his deliberate indifference to that risk; emphasizing that even malpractice is not enough proof under Farmer); Miller v. Neathery, 52 F.3d 634, 638-39 (7th Cir. 1995) (applying Farmer mandate in jury instruction).

Applying these principles to the instant case, Plaintiff states an arguable Eighth Amendment claim against Dr. Stelfox. In particular, the complaint could be read that Dr. Stelfox was aware of Plaintiff's infection yet did not treat it causing Plaintiff to be hospitalized. Therefore, Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim against Dr. Stelfox survives § 1915A review and should not be dismissed at this time.

The complaint, however, fails to allege an arguable Eighth Amendment claim against Dr. Larson. Although Plaintiff alleges that "Dr. Larson misdiagnosed" his diabetes, the complaint clearly indicates that it was a doctor at Heartland Hospital that misdiagnosed Plaintiff as having diabetes. Dr. Larson did not ignore Plaintiff's medical condition; he acted on it. As it turns out, Dr. Larson's actions were based on a faulty diagnosis (made by a unknown doctor at the hospital). But, at best, that's possible negligence on Dr. Larson's part, not deliberate indifference. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Larson should be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. To the extent that Plaintiff has a state law negligence claim against Dr. Larson, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over it. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(b).

Plaintiff's claims against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) should also be dismissed pursuant to § 1915A. Neither a State nor its departments are 'persons' under § 1983. Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); see also Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 592 (7th Cir. 2001) (Eleventh Amendment bars suits against states in federal court for money damages); Billman v. Indiana Department of Corrections, 56 F.3d 785, 788 (7th Cir. 1995) (state Department of Corrections is immune from suit by virtue of Eleventh Amendment); Hughes v. Joliet Correctional Center, 931 F.2d 425, 427 (7th Cir. 1991) (same); Santiago v. Lane, 894 F.2d 218, 220 n. 3 (7th Cir. 1990) (same).

Finally, Plaintiff's claims against all other named Defendants must also be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. "The doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to § 1983 actions; thus to be held individually liable, a defendant must be 'personally responsible for the deprivation of a constitutional right.' " Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001), quoting Chavez v. Ill. State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 651 (7th Cir. 2001). See also Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Eades v. Thompson, 823 F.2d 1055, 1063 (7th Cir. 1987); Wolf-Lillie v. Sonquist, 699 F.2d 864, 869 (7th Cir. 1983); Duncan v. Duckworth, 644 F.2d 653, 655-56 (7th Cir. 1981). However, the instant complaint does not include any allegations against these defendants. "A plaintiff cannot state a claim against a defendant by including the defendant's name in the caption." Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 334 (7th Cir. 1998). Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Cox, Randle, and Wexford Medical Services must be dismissed.


In summary, Plaintiff's claims against Dr. Larson, the IDOC, Cox, Randle, and Wexford Medical Services do not survive review under § 1915A. Plaintiff's claims against the IDOC, Cox, Randle, and Wexford Medical Services are DISMISSED with prejudice. Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims against Dr. Larson are also DISMISSED with prejudice. Plaintiff's state law negligence claims against Dr. Larson, however, are DISMISSED without prejudice. Plaintiff is advised that the dismissal of these claims will count as one of his three allotted "strikes" under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

The Clerk is DIRECTED to prepare Form 1A (Notice of Lawsuit and Request for Waiver of Service of Summons) and Form 1B (Waiver of Service of Summons) for Defendant Stelfox. The Clerk shall forward those forms, USM-285 forms submitted by Plaintiff, and sufficient copies of the complaint to the United States Marshal for service.

The United States Marshal is DIRECTED, pursuant to Rule 4(c)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to serve process on Defendant Stelfox in the manner specified by Rule 4(d)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Process in this case shall consist of the complaint, applicable forms 1A and 1B, and this Memorandum and Order. For purposes of computing the passage of time under Rule 4(d)(2), the Court and all parties will compute time as of the date it is mailed by the Marshal, as noted on the USM-285 form.

With respect to former employees of Illinois Department of Corrections who no longer can be found at the work address provided by Plaintiff, the Department of Corrections shall furnish the Marshal with the Defendant's last-known address upon issuance of a court order which states that the information shall be used only for purposes of effectuating service (or for proof of service, should a dispute arise) and any documentation of the address shall be retained only by the Marshal. Address information obtained from IDOC pursuant to this order shall not be maintained in the court file, nor disclosed by the Marshal.

The United States Marshal shall file returned waivers of service as well as any requests for waivers of service that are returned as undelivered as soon as they are received. If a waiver of service is not returned by a defendant within THIRTY (30) DAYS from the date of mailing the request for waiver, the United States Marshal shall:

! Request that the Clerk prepare a summons for that defendant who has not yet returned a waiver of service; the Clerk shall then prepare such summons as requested.

! Personally serve process and a copy of this Order upon the defendant pursuant to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 28 U.S.C. § 566(c).

! Within ten days after personal service is effected, the United States Marshal shall file the return of service for the defendant, along with evidence of any attempts to secure a waiver of service of process and of the costs subsequently incurred in effecting service on said defendant. Said costs shall be enumerated on the USM-285 form and shall include the costs incurred by the Marshal's office for photocopying additional copies of the summons and complaint and for preparing new USM-285 forms, if required. Costs of service will be taxed against the personally served defendant in accordance with the provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(d)(2) unless the defendant shows good cause for such failure.

Plaintiff is ORDERED to serve upon defendant or, if appearance has been entered by counsel, upon that attorney, a copy of every further pleading or other document submitted for consideration by this Court. He shall include with the original paper to be filed with the Clerk of the Court a certificate stating the date that a true and correct copy of any document was mailed to defendant or his counsel. Any paper received by a district judge or magistrate judge which has not been filed with the Clerk or which fails to include a certificate of service will be disregarded by the Court.

Defendants are ORDERED to timely file an appropriate responsive pleading to the complaint, and shall not waive filing a reply pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(g).

Pursuant to Local Rule 72.1(a)(2), this cause is REFERRED to a United States Magistrate Judge for further pre-trial proceedings.

Further, this entire matter is hereby REFERRED to a United States Magistrate Judge for disposition, as contemplated by Local Rule 72.2(b)(2) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), should all the parties consent to such a referral.

Plaintiff is under a continuing obligation to keep the Clerk and each opposing party informed of any change in his whereabouts. This shall be done in writing and not later than seven (7) days after a transfer or other change in address occurs.

If Plaintiff does not comply with this Order, this case will be dismissed for failure to comply with an order of this Court. FED.R.CIV.P. 41(b); see generally Ladien v. Astrachan, 128 F.3d 1051 (7th Cir. 1997); Johnson v. Kamminga, 34 F.3d 466 (7th Cir. 1994).




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