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Robinson v. Opolka

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

June 17, 2013

TREONDOUS ROBINSON, #B-41303, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is serving a 30-year sentence for murder and six years for two other felonies. He raises several claims herein, including deliberate indifference to his serious medical conditions, retaliation for his complaints against Menard officers, delay of his legal mail, denial of his request for protective custody, and failure to properly address his grievances.

More specifically, Plaintiff claims that he suffers from severe allergies and sinus problems, which cause migraine headaches, toothaches, constant nasal congestion, and the loss of his sense of smell for the past two years (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9). He has sought medical help and been prescribed medication, but this treatment has been ineffective. He also contracted a painful toe fungus, for which the Menard doctor prescribed some medication. Plaintiff used this medication for nine months, but it failed to cure the fungus. He was told by medical staff that nothing more could be done for him (Doc. 1, pp. 9-10, 27-29, 35). Defendant Walls (Director of Nursing) reviewed Plaintiff's medical records for the response to his grievance (Doc. 1, pp. 29, 35).

Plaintiff further complains that a false disciplinary charge was filed against him on December 14, 2010, in retaliation for grievances he had filed earlier against correctional officers. He gives no detail as to the content or targets of these grievances. Plaintiff was found guilty and punished with three months in segregation (Doc. 1, pp. 10, 17-18, 24-25). He asks the Court to expunge this ticket (Doc 1, p. 16).

He also alleges that his legal mail was intentionally delayed, which caused him to miss a deadline imposed by the Seventh Circuit in a civil appeal.[1] That appeal was dismissed as a result (Doc. 1, pp. 10, 30-31). Plaintiff filed a grievance over this matter which was reviewed by Defendant Benton, with no results.

Finally, Plaintiff requested protective custody on several occasions between January and May 2011, but was denied. He initially asked for protection because of his fear that the Menard officers who were the subjects of his complaints and who wrote the false disciplinary ticket would harm him or unfairly target him for further punishment (Doc. 1, pp. 11, 17-20, 22-23, 26). Then in June 2011, he filed another grievance and went on a hunger strike, claiming he received threats from other inmates after he was put back into general population (Doc. 1, pp. 33-34). He complains that Defendants Miller and Godinez wrongly denied his requests for protection (Doc. 1, p. 11).

In summary, Plaintiff charges that each Defendant was "culpably negligent" in failing to ensure that his complaints and grievances were resolved or addressing his needs (Doc. 1, pp. 12-15). He seeks money damages, injunctive relief to obtain adequate medical treatment, and transfer to another prison.

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant.

Count 1 - Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated a colorable federal cause of action for deliberate indifference to his medical needs. While Plaintiff received some treatment for his debilitating and painful chronic allergy condition and toe fungus, the treatments have proved ineffective over a significant period of time. An Eighth Amendment claim may be stated where a prison doctor persists in a course of treatment known to be ineffective, fails to order further testing or refuses to refer the inmate to a specialist. Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 655 (7th Cir. 2005) (doctor continued ineffective treatment, and refused to order endoscopy or specialist referral over a two-year period during which plaintiff suffered from ulcer); Kelley v. McGinnis, 899 F.2d 612, 616-17 (7th Cir. 1990) (inmate may prevail if he can prove that defendant "deliberately gave him a certain kind of treatment knowing that it was ineffective" (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 n.10 (1976)). On the other hand, the course of treatment prescribed by Plaintiff's doctor may amount to mere negligence or malpractice, which does not violate the Constitution. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106; Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 734 (7th Cir. 2001). Additional factual development is necessary in order to determine whether a constitutional violation has occurred. Therefore, Count 1 shall receive further review.

In order to fully address this claim, however, it shall be necessary for Plaintiff to amend his complaint to identify his treating physician by name. Although the grievances incorporated into the pleading complain about the ineffective treatment ordered by a Menard doctor, Plaintiff never names him or her. At this time, the Court shall order the Clerk to add "Unknown Party Doctor" as a Defendant. Plaintiff shall be directed below to submit an amended complaint, to identify the doctor so s/he can be served with process. If Plaintiff fails to identify the treating doctor, this action shall be subject to dismissal.

Because Plaintiff is seeking injunctive relief to obtain medical care, Defendant Harrington (Warden/Chief Administrative Officer) shall remain in the action for the purpose of implementing any injunctive relief to which Plaintiff may ultimately be entitled if he should prevail. See Gonzalez v. Feinerman, 663 F.3d 311, 315 (7th Cir. 2011) (proper defendant in a claim for injunctive relief is the government official responsible for ensuring any injunctive relief is carried out).

Based on the allegations in the complaint and incorporated exhibits, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Defendant Walls. He never alleges that she treated him or was responsible for any decisions regarding his medical care, stating only that she did not "insur[e] that the plaintiff's ailments are properly attended to" (Doc. 1, p. 12). According to the exhibits, her involvement was limited to a review of Plaintiff's medical records in order to respond to his grievance (See Doc. 1, pp. 27, 35). It thus appears that she played only a supervisory role, which does not lead to liability in a civil rights case. Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001) (the doctrine of respondeat superior is not applicable to § 1983 actions) (citations omitted). Because the complaint does not indicate that Defendant Walls was "personally responsible for the deprivation of a constitutional right, " id., she shall be dismissed from the action without prejudice.

Count 2 - Retaliation/False Disciplinary Charge

According to Plaintiff's exhibits, Officer Jeffrey Mott filed false disciplinary charges against Plaintiff on December 14, 2010 (Doc. 1, p. 25). The complaint alleges that these charges were brought in retaliation for Plaintiff having filed prior grievances against Menard officers. Plaintiff does not give further information about his earlier grievances, nor indicate the names of the officers involved. Neither Officer Mott nor any other correctional officers are named as Defendants herein.

The chronology described by Plaintiff states the bare essentials of a retaliation claim, but as in Count 1, he has not included the officers who were personally responsible for the alleged retaliatory acts among the named Defendants. Where an inmate is alleging retaliation, the inmate must identify the reasons for the retaliation, as well as "the act or acts claimed to have constituted retaliation, " so as to put those charged with the retaliation on notice of the claim(s). Higgs v. Carver, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. 2002). This claim cannot go forward unless Plaintiff amends his complaint to flesh out the facts and identify the proper ...

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