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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,
v.
COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, SUNITA WILLIAMSON, M.D., and CLIFFORD OLIVER, Defendants-Appellees.

Held [*]

In an action arising from the death of plaintiff’s father while an inmate in a county jail after he was allegedly deprived of his prescription medication, the dismissal of plaintiff’s state court action on the ground that a duplicative federal action was pending was reversed and the circuit court was directed to stay the proceedings until the federal court ruled on whether the two-year statute of limitations would bar plaintiff’s medical malpractice and negligence claims against the individual physician and the mental health specialist who dealt with his father, since the state court would then be in a better position to rule on the motion to dismiss the state action against the individual defendants.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 12-L-08742; the Hon. Eileen Mary Brewer, Judge, presiding.

Kenneth N. Flaxman, of Chicago, for appellant.

Anita M. Alvarez, State’s Attorney, of Chicago (Patrick T. Driscoll, Jr., Jeffrey McCutchan, Sandra J. Weber, and Francis J. Catania, Assistant State’s Attorneys, of counsel), for appellee Cook County.

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

GORDON PRESIDING JUSTICE

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 was 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.

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 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, a 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.

ΒΆ 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 ...


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