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Rodgers v. Cook County

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

September 30, 2013

DAVID RODGERS, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Edward J. Rodgers, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 12 L 08742 Honorable Eileen Mary Brewer, Judge Presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McBride and Palmer concurred in the judgment and opinion.



¶ 1 Plaintiff David Rodgers is the special administrator of the estate of his deceased father, Edward J. Rodgers, and he appeals the circuit court's dismissal under section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure of his action against defendants Cook County, Illinois; Dr. Sunita Williamson, a physician; and Clifford Oliver, a mental health specialist. 735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(3) (West 2008). The complaint alleges that the decedent died as a result of the denial of his prescription medicine while an inmate at Cook County jail. In dismissing the complaint, the circuit court found that the state lawsuit was duplicative of a 42 U.S.C. §1983 action already pending in federal court. The federal action was brought by the same plaintiff against defendants Cook County, Illinois, and the sheriff of Cook County, but not against the individual defendants named in the state action. Following the dismissal of the state action, the federal court granted plaintiff leave to amend the federal complaint to add Dr. Williamson and Oliver as defendants. The federal action was then stayed pending the outcome of this appeal.

¶ 2 On appeal, plaintiff claims that the circuit court improperly granted defendants' motion to dismiss because the two lawsuits were against different defendants, and that discretionary factors concerning prejudice weigh in favor of keeping the state malpractice and negligence claims in state court. Kellerman v. MCI Telecommunications Corp., 112 Ill.2d 428, 447-48 (1986). Specifically, plaintiff argues that he would be unable to obtain complete relief if the state action were dismissed because the two-year statute of limitations could bar him from maintaining an action against Dr. Williamson and Oliver in federal court. 745 ILCS 10/8-101(b) (West 2008). In response, defendants claim that both the federal and state lawsuits involve the same cause of action, and that plaintiff cannot bring two wrongful death claims at the same time. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand with instructions to the trial court to stay the state proceedings until the federal court decides the statute of limitations issue.


¶ 4 The issue raised by plaintiff on appeal concerns the propriety of the circuit court's dismissal of plaintiff's state action due to his pending federal lawsuit. In the federal action, plaintiff sued defendants Cook County, Illinois and the sheriff of Cook County, alleging that its policies at Cook County jail led to the death of the decedent, who died from cardiac arrest on August 6, 2010, while an inmate there. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that the decedent waited three days without his blood pressure medication due to the jail's policy that an inmate must be examined by a physician at the jail prior to receiving prescription medication. Exactly two years after the decedent's death, plaintiff filed a separate action in the Circuit Court of Cook County against defendants Cook County, Illinois; Dr. Sunita Williamson, physician; and Clifford Oliver, a mental health specialist. In the state action, plaintiff claims that Dr. Williamson's and Oliver's negligent conduct was the proximate cause of the death of the decedent. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that Dr. Williamson, a medical physician, prescribed the wrong medicine, and, then, Oliver, a jail health worker, failed to notify medical personnel after observing the decedent's deteriorating condition. The circuit court of Cook County subsequently granted defendants' section 2-619(a)(3) motion to dismiss the state action (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(3) (West 2008)), finding that both lawsuits "are the same, " and that discretionary factors weighed in favor of dismissal. Kellerman, 112 Ill.2d at 447-48.

¶ 5 I. The State Court Complaint

¶ 6 Plaintiff filed the state action on August 6, 2012, against defendants Cook County, Illinois, Dr. Sunita Williamson, and Clifford Oliver. The complaint names "Cook County, Illinois, " as a defendant; however, County of Cook filed an appearance that it was incorrectly named in the suit as Cook County. Also, the state complaint alleges that defendant Cook County is "an Illinois municipal corporation"; however, the County of Cook is a "body politic." 55 ILCS 5/5-1001 (West 2006); Turnipseed v. Brown, 391 Ill.App.3d 88, 89 (2009). Plaintiff has not yet amended his complaint to correct the errors.

¶ 7 The state complaint alleges that, when the decedent entered the Cook County jail on July 31, 2010, he was 61 years old and had serious health problems. At the time he had an implanted defibrillator and required a variety of prescription medication to maintain his health, and reported this need to the jail's intake personnel. The next day, the decedent was transported to the Cermak infirmary emergency room, which in turn referred him to Stroger Hospital, where he remained overnight. On August 2, 2010, physicians at Stroger determined that he should continue to take the medications that he had been prescribed before entering jail. The physicians identified the medications that the decedent required based on his medical records, and the medication was returned to the jail, along with the decedent, later that day.

¶ 8 Despite the physicians' recommendation that the decedent receive medication, a policy at the Cook County jail prohibited him from receiving any medication until he was examined by a physician at the jail. The decedent then waited an additional three days without medication until Dr. Sunita Williamson, a jail physician, examined him on August 5, 2010. After the examination, Dr. Williamson prescribed the wrong medication, directing that he receive hydroxyzine pamoate, a muscle relaxant, instead of hydralazine, a hypertension (blood pressure) medicine.

¶ 9 The next day, a correctional officer observed that the decedent was exhibiting bizarre behavior, so he sent him to Clifford Oliver, a mental health specialist employed by Cook County, for a psychological evaluation. After examining the decedent, Oliver determined that he did not have any psychological problems and that his behavior was the result of a medical issue, not a mental health issue. Oliver did not take any action to ensure that the decedent received medical attention, and the decedent died several hours later, shortly before midnight. The cause of death was documented as cardiac arrest without an autopsy.

¶ 10 The state complaint does not specifically plead the Wrongful Death Act (740 ILCS 180/0.01 et seq. (West 2008)) or the Survival Act (755 ILCS 5/27-6 (West 2008)), and instead seeks claims for medical malpractice and negligence. In count I, plaintiff alleges a claim of medical malpractice against Dr. Williamson, alleging that she negligently prescribed the decedent the wrong medication, which led to his death. In count II, plaintiff alleges that Oliver was also negligent for failing to refer the decedent for a medical evaluation after observing that he had a medical issue. Both counts allege that the individual defendant breached his or her duty, which proximately caused the death of the decedent. Neither count alleges specific damages other than the fact that the decedent died.

ΒΆ 11 The state complaint does not mention the two policies named in the federal action and does not list a count or a cause of action against the other defendant named in the federal action, the sheriff of Cook County. However, the state complaint does allege that Dr. Williamson and Oliver were ...

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