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Eric Watkins v. Partha Ghosh

November 28, 2011

ERIC WATKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PARTHA GHOSH, M.D. ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the motions of Defendants Dr. Parthasarathi Ghosh ("Dr. Ghosh"), Dr. Liping Zhang ("Dr. Zhang"), Dr. Evaristo Aguinaldo ("Dr. Aguinaldo"), Latonya Williams ("Williams"), Terry McCann ("McCann"), Frank Shaw ("Shaw"), and Wexford Health Sources, Inc. ("Wexford") (collectively, "Defendants") to dismiss Plaintiff Eric Watkins' ("Watkins") complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, Dr. Aguinaldo's and Shaw's motions to dismiss are granted, and Dr. Ghosh's, Dr. Zhang's, Williams', McCann's, and Wexford's motions to dismiss are denied.

BACKGROUND*fn1

In February 2006, Watkins, an inmate at the Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville"), was using gym equipment to lift weights when a cable snapped. The machine's weights dropped to the floor with such force that he fell backwards, injuring his back. Although he was in excruciating pain and unable to stand upright, an unnamed individual denied his request for medical attention. Watkins limped back to his cell without being evaluated by the prison's health care unit.

Between the date of his injury and March 11, 2006, Watkins sent three letters to Dr. Aguinaldo, a staff physician at Stateville, seeking medical treatment. Watkins eventually saw Dr. Aguinaldo on an unspecified date, but Dr. Aguinaldo did not take Watkins' complaints seriously.

Following his visit with Dr. Aguinaldo, Watkins wrote a letter to Dr. Ghosh, the prison's medical director. In this letter, Watkins apprised Dr. Ghosh of his unsatisfactory visit with Dr. Aguinaldo and detailed his symptoms, which included radiating pain, numbness in his left foot, and a limited range of motion. Watkins' cellmate delivered the letter to Dr. Ghosh, who read the letter and remarked, "There's nothing wrong with [Watkins'] back." Thereafter, on March 14, 2006, Watkins filed his first grievance with the prison administration regarding the lack of medical treatment for his condition.

Approximately four months after his injury, on June 12, 2006, Watkins was taken to the University of Illinois Medical Center ("UIC Medical Center") for an MRI. The MRI revealed that Watkins suffered from a herniated disk, degenerative disk disease, and sacral dysraphism. The hospital faxed these findings to Dr. Ghosh, who assured Watkins that the results of the test were "negative." Dr. Ghosh promised to give Watkins ibuprofen for his pain, but did not do so. Over the next few months, Watkins sent several letters to Dr. Ghosh describing his symptoms and requesting treatment and the MRI results. These letters went unanswered.

In May and June 2007, nearly a year after receiving the MRI, Watkins sent two more letters to Dr. Ghosh requesting the test results and indicating that his condition seemed to be worsening. Dr. Ghosh neither responded to the letters nor provided any treatment.

On July 28, 2007, Watkins wrote a letter to Williams, a physician's assistant, stating that he had blurry vision, severe headaches, back pain, and liquid accruing near his spine. Williams responded by scheduling him for a "sick call." At the ensuing appointment, Watkins inquired as to the results of his MRI. Williams searched through his file and indicated that she could not find any records relating to the MRI. She promised to continue searching for the results and to forward Watkins her findings. However, she never sent him the results and failed to provide any other treatment.

On September 16, 2008, Dr. Ghosh informed Watkins that the MRI revealed he had a herniated disk. Dr. Ghosh did not disclose that Watkins also had degenerative disk disease and did not provide any treatment for his pain.

In November 2008, Watkins filed an emergency grievance with the prison administration. McCann refused to consider the grievance as qualifying for emergency consideration, and Watkins re-submitted the grievance through the normal grievance channels. This grievance was routed to Dr. Zhang in the health care unit for a response. Dr. Zhang, who had never personally examined Watkins, reviewed his medical records and determined that he had received proper care. Shaw, the assistant warden at Stateville, reviewed Dr. Zhang's report and denied the grievance at the institutional level. Watkins appealed this decision to the Administrative Review Board ("ARB"), which denied the grievance in June 2009.

On April 26, 2010, Watkins wrote another letter to Dr. Ghosh. Watkins described his leg and back pains and requested a back brace, a support mattress, and a low gallery permit. He received no response.

On June 30, 2011, Watkins filed his amended complaint with this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants failed to provide him medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. The Defendants now move to dismiss Watkins' claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

LEGAL STANDARD

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is used to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint. To state a claim, the allegations in the complaint must set forth a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). While detailed factual allegations are not required, a plaintiff must provide enough factual support to raise his right to relief above a speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice;" rather, a claim must provide sufficient factual matter "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court accepts all well-pleaded facts and allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Justice, 577 F.3d at 771. Moreover, a court must construe pro se complaints liberally and hold them to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546 (7th Cir. 2009).

DISCUSSION*fn2

Watkins alleges that the Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Prior to examining the sufficiency of these allegations, we will consider whether Watkins' claims are barred by the statute of limitations and whether he has properly exhausted his administrative remedies prior to filing this lawsuit. Both the failure to exhaust and the statute of limitations are affirmative defenses that a prisoner need not anticipate in his complaint. See Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1010 (7th Cir. 2002); see also Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 579 (7th Cir. 2009). However, a court may evaluate the merits of an affirmative defense at the pleadings stage "if the allegations of the complaint itself set forth everything necessary to satisfy the affirmative defense." Brooks, 578 F.3d at 579 (quoting United States v. Lewis, 411 F.3d 838, 842 (7th Cir. 2005)); see Walker, 288 F.3d at 1009 (7th Cir. 2002) ("[W]hen the existence of a valid affirmative defense is so plain from the face of the complaint that the suit can be regarded as frivolous, the district judge need not wait for an answer before dismissing the suit.").

I. Statute of Limitations

Defendants Dr. Ghosh, Dr. Aguinaldo, Dr. Zhang, Williams, and Wexford (the "Medical Defendants") maintain that Watkins' claims are untimely because they fall outside the statute of limitations. Because the relevant dates of Watkins' claims are unambiguously set forth in his complaint, we ...


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