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Robert E. Dortch (#B64078 v. Randy Davis

August 13, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge:


A. Introduction

While confined at Pinckneyville Correctional Center (PCC) within this Judicial District, Robert Dortch filed a lawsuit in this Court under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The complaint names four Defendants -- the Warden of PCC (Randy Davis), the Healthcare Administrator of PCC (Chris Brown), and two doctors who saw Dortch at PCC (Dr. Larson and Dr. Sheppard) -- and asserts a host of claims centering on Dortch's medical treatment at PCC. Dortch was granted pauper status but denied (without prejudice to later renewing his request) a motion for appointment of counsel.

The case comes now before the Court for threshold review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915A, which provides that the district court must promptly review complaints in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or employee, must identify cognizable claims in the complaint, and must dismiss any complaint that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

On review under § 1915A, as with dismissal motions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the district court's task is to determine whether the complaint states a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Khorrami v. Rolince, 539 F.3d 782, 788 (7th Cir. 2008); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). In making this determination, the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting as true all well-pleaded facts alleged, and drawing all possible inferences in his favor. Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 130 S. Ct. 1141 (2010). This Court also bears in mind that pro se complaints must be liberally interpreted, and held to a "less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Maddox v. Love, 655 F.3d 709, 718 (7th Cir. 2011).

So construing Dortch's complaint, as described below, the Court concludes that, as to all four Defendants, the complaint articulates a colorable claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, in contravention of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

B. Analysis

Dortch alleges the following. Immediately upon his arrival at PCC from Stateville Correctional Center, Dortch notified medical personnel of his medical condition and needs, alerting all four Defendants that he suffered from chronic sleep apnea and diabetes. During his medical intake screening, Dortch stressed that he required a CPAP machine to breathe properly during sleep, and he suggested personnel contact the prison where he had been diagnosed eight years previously, for records to support his condition. Dortch was referred to Healthcare Administrator Chris Brown, to whom Dortch explained that without the CPAP machine, he experiences chest pain and mental disorientation, and he could die in his sleep from halted breathing.

Dortch continued to request the CPAP machine (both orally and via written "emergency medical grievances") for at least three months. His requests for a CPAP machine were denied or ignored, and Dortch was expressly told that his sleep apnea would not be treated at PCC. During the months without the CPAP machine, Dortch repeatedly experienced difficulty breathing, so much so that he had to push his emergency call button in his cell. No one ever responded to these emergency call button alerts, and Defendants failed to follow up on the emergency grievances.

Ultimately, Dortch's family purchased him a CPAP machine, which Defendants held for a week, further delaying any relief for Dortch's pain and discomfort. When Dortch finally was allowed to use the CPAP machine, Chris Brown refused to let Dortch have the distilled water needed for proper use of the CPAP, advising Dortch: "That's not going to happen!" (Complaint, ¶ 16). After six months of being denied the distilled water, Dortch obtained help from a nurse practitioner (by which time, however, the CPAP was damaged from the use of non-distilled water and not working optimally). The denial and delay in treating Dortch's condition caused him to suffer sleep deprivation, "fear of dying," and ongoing physical pain.

Dortch's complaint (following a statement of facts and other introductory sections) is loosely organized into counts, marked I, II, IV and III (in that order), and requests compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief. He alleges or references various constitutional violations (including the fact it was Defendants' responsibility to protect him from violence at the hands of other prisoners and protect him from the destruction of his personal property). The complaint survives 1915A review only as to Dortch's claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, cognizable under the Eighth Amendment.

In Roe v. Elyea, 631 F.3d 843, 856-58 (7th Cir. 2011), the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reiterated the standards governing Eighth Amendment claims brought by prisoners like Dortch. The Court began with the principle that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment embodies broad idealistic concepts of civilized standards, humanity and decency. The Court then noted that the Eighth Amendment safeguards prisoners against a lack of medical care that may result in pain and suffering which serves no penological purpose. Accordingly, "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs" of a prisoner constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain forbidden by the Constitution. Id.,quoting Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 828 (7th Cir. 2009).

"A successful deliberate indifference claim is comprised of both an objective and a subjective element." Roe, 631 F.3d at 857, citingFarmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). So, to state a deliberate indifference claim upon which relief can be granted, an inmate must allege both that, objectively, the deprivation he suffered was sufficiently serious (i.e., it resulted in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, seeWalker v. Benjamin, 293 F.3d 1030, 1037 (7th Cir.2002)), and that prison officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind to support § 1983 liability, see Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 653 (7th Cir. 2005). A medical need is deemed sufficiently serious if, inter alia, the inmate's condition has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment. Greeno, 414 F.3d at 653. The condition need not be life-threatening to be serious. Roe, 631 F.3d at 857, quoting Gayton v. McCoy, 593 F.3d 610, 620 (7th Cir. 2010). Prolonged, unnecessary pain can support a deliberate indifference claim, as can delayed treatment; and even a short delay may suffice if a condition is severely painful and readily treatable.Smith v. Knox County Jail, 666 F.3d 1037, 1039-40 (7th Cir. 2012); Edwards v. Snyder, 478 F.3d 827, 830-31 (7th Cir. 2007). Dortch's complaint sufficiently alleges deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.

Section 1983 creates a cause of action based on personal liability and predicated upon fault. Liability does not lie unless the individual defendant caused or participated in the constitutional deprivation. See Kuhn v. Goodlow, 678 F.3d 552, 555-56 (7th Cir. 2012); Vinning-El v. Evans, 657 F.3d 591, 592 (7th Cir. 2012). Section 1983 "does not ...

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