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George Watson-El v. Eric Wilson

July 21, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. James F. Holderman



The plaintiff, a federal prisoner, has brought this pro se civil rights action against correctional officials pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The plaintiff additionally purports causes of action against the United States and prison physicians under the Federal Tort Claims Act (hereinafter, "the FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-2680. The plaintiff alleges that correctional officials and health care providers at the Metropolitan Correctional Center wrongfully froze a deposit in his prison trust account; that as a result, he was denied needed medications because he was unable to pay for them; and that an investigator tried to leverage the plaintiff's plight by forcing him to become an informant. This matter is before the court for ruling on the defendants' motion to dismiss. For the reasons stated in this order, the motion is granted.


It is well established that pro se complaints are to be liberally construed. Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 681, 687 (7th Cir. 2006). Pro se submissions are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546 (7th Cir. 2009). Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," in order to " 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.' " Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); Windy City Metal Fabricators & Supply, Inc. v. CIT Tech. Fin. Servs., Inc., 536 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2008).

To satisfy the notice pleading requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), a plaintiff need only state his basic legal claim and provide "some indication . . . of time and place." Thompson v. Washington, 362 F.3d 969, 971 (7th Cir. 2004). In addition, when considering whether to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court assumes all factual allegations in the complaint to be true, viewing all facts--as well as any inferences reasonably drawn therefrom--in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Parish v. City of Elkhart, 614 F.3d 677, 679 (7th Cir. 2010); Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 563 (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)). A well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it appears "that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely." Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 556.

Nevertheless, the factual allegations in the complaint must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555. While a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). The court "need not accept as true legal conclusions, or threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). "The complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bonte v. U.S. Bank, N.A., 624 F.3d 461, 463 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). Furthermore, a plaintiff can plead himself or herself out of court by pleading facts that undermine the allegations set forth in the complaint. See, e.g., Whitlock v. Brown, 596 F.3d 406, 412 (7th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted): "A judicial admission trumps evidence. This is the basis of the principle that a plaintiff can plead himself out of court."


The plaintiff is a federal prisoner, confined at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (hereinafter, "MCC") in Chicago, Illinois, at all times relevant to this action. Defendant Robert Johnson is a Special Intelligence Officer at MCC. Defendant Deborah Lamping is the Administrator of Health Services at MCC. Defendant Paul Harvey is the facility's clinical director. Defendant Roberto Aruiza is a staff physician at the prison. Defendant Eric Wilson is MCC's Warden.

The plaintiff alleges the following facts, which are assumed true for purposes of this motion: In August of 2007, defendant Johnson requested that a hold be placed on a $75.00 deposit into the plaintiff's commissary account. Defendant Wilson approved the encumbrance.*fn1

In March 2008, the plaintiff was prescribed acetaminophen with codeine, naproxen sodium, and penicillin by his treating physician due to complications from a dental surgery.

Defendant Aruiza missed dispensing a dose of medication, which caused the prescription term to be extended.

At the end of March 2008, the plaintiff went to "sick call" complaining of severe stomach pains. Defendant Aruiza directed the plaintiff to take Zantac, which could be purchased through the prison commissary. Aruiza refused to prescribe the medication*fn2 at the facility's expense because he believed that the plaintiff was not indigent. Evidently, the $75.00 appeared on the plaintiff's trust account ledger as money available to him despite the encumbrance; thus, the plaintiff was placed in the predicament of not qualifying as indigent but also not permitted to spend the money in his trust fund account. On a previous occasion, defendant Harvey had prescribed Zantac for the plaintiff even though he had money in his account available to him at the time.

Institutional rules require that over-the-counter medications be provided to inmates who do not have funds in their commissary account. Under prison guidelines, Mylanta, Maalox, and simethicone (medications similar to Zantac) are considered "medically necessary" over-the-counter medications that are to be provided to indigent inmates.

On April 1, 2008, the plaintiff sent an inmate request to the assistant warden asking for the $75.00 encumbrance to be lifted, declaring that he needed money to purchase medication for his acid reflux. Defendant Lamping denied the request, telling the plaintiff to buy Zantac from the commissary.

On April 3, 2008, the plaintiff had a meeting with defendant Johnson. Johnson agreed to release the plaintiff's funds in increments on the condition that the plaintiff provide Johnson with information about contraband cell phones, drugs, cigarettes, and liquor. When the plaintiff professed that he had "no knowledge of such things," Johnson warned him that, in ...

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