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Williams v. Fahim

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 1, 2013

ROBERT WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. FAHIM, Defendant.

ORDER

DONALD G. WILKERSON, Magistrate Judge.

Now pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 71) filed by Defendant, Dr. Magid Fahim, on March 1, 2013. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is hereby GRANTED.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Robert Williams, an inmate currently at Stateville Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 while he was incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center. In May 2009, Plaintiff was involved in an altercation resulting in an injury to his left middle finger that necessitated two surgeries. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant's subsequent treatment of that injury amounted to a deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. Defendant contends that Plaintiff's claim fails on the merits and that he is entitled to qualified immunity.

BACKGROUND

In May 2009, Plaintiff was involved in an altercation that resulted in an injury to his left middle finger. Dr. Feinerman, the treating physician, ordered Plaintiff to see an outside specialist after initial medical treatment and prescription painkillers failed to alleviate his pain and restore the functionality of his finger. In June 2009, Dr. Young, an orthopedic specialist and surgeon at Southern Illinois Orthopedic Associates, performed surgery on Plaintiff's finger. The pain persisted after the surgery, and Plaintiff's finger remained non-functional. Plaintiff twice asked Dr. Feinerman for permission to attend physical therapy, but Dr. Feinerman denied the requests and instructed him to self-treat and perform physical therapy exercises on his own.

Plaintiff was first treated by Defendant in October 2009, four months after his initial surgery. At that time, Plaintiff's finger was bent and non-functional, and he had no real range of motion. Defendant prescribed painkillers for Plaintiff. In January 2010, Plaintiff was approved for a second surgery and education on physical therapy. Before the surgery, Defendant met with Plaintiff to observe his finger and to discuss physical therapy on three different occasions. During the first visit on January 28, 2010, Defendant decided that Plaintiff would be educated about physical therapy at Dr. Young's office so that he could self-treat; Defendant decided not to send Plaintiff to physical therapy. During the second and third visits, February 9, 2010 and February 23, 2010, respectively, Defendant again denied physical therapy.

After the second surgery, Dr. Young gave Plaintiff a set of written instructions for exercises he should perform to rehabilitate his finger. Those same instructions were given to Defendant. Dr. Young's instructions specified that Plaintiff was not to perform a particular exercise - an exercise that involved squeezing a ball - until after the pin and sutures, inserted at the time of surgery, were removed from his finger and after Dr. Young released him to start strength exercises. Dr. Young instructed Plaintiff to start the exercise after April 7, 2010. Despite these instructions, Defendant had Plaintiff perform the exercise on February 29, 2010, five days after his surgery. Plaintiff claims that Defendant continued to have him perform the exercise, despite his protests that he was not supposed to perform said exercise until later in his recovery. Further, Dr. Young directed the pin and sutures to be removed on March 10, 2010, fourteen days after the second surgery. Defendant did not refer Plaintiff to Southern Illinois Orthopedics to have the pin and sutures removed until March 26, 2010, sixteen days later than Dr. Young directed. Plaintiff contends that, under these circumstances, Defendant was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is proper only if the moving party can demonstrate "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). See also Ruffin-Thompkins v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2005); Black Agents & Brokers Agency, Inc. v. Near North Ins. Brokerage, Inc., 409 F.3d 833, 836 (7th Cir. 2005). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no material facts are in genuine dispute; any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue must be resolved against the moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 160 (1970). See also Lawrence v. Kenosha County, 391 F.3d 837, 841 (7th Cir. 2004). A moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law where the non-moving party "has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. The Seventh Circuit has stated that summary judgment is "the put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events." Steen v. Myers, 486 F.3d 1017, 1022 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hammel v. Eau Galle Cheese Factory, 407 F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2005) (other citations omitted)).

The Supreme Court has recognized that "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners" may constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). In order to prevail on such a claim, Plaintiff must show first that his condition was "objectively, sufficiently serious" and second that the "prison officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 652-653 (7th Cir. 2005) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

The following circumstances could constitute a serious medical need: "The existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial pain." Hayes v. Snyder, 546 F.3d 516, 522-23 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1373 (7th Cir. 1997)); see also Foelker v. Outagamie County, 394 F.3d 510, 512-513 (7th Cir. 2005) ("A serious medical need is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.").

Second, a prisoner must show that prison officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind, namely, deliberate indifference. "Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'" Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104 (quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976)). "The infliction of suffering on prisoners can be found to violate the Eighth Amendment only if that infliction is either deliberate, or reckless in the criminal law sense." Duckworth v. Franzen, 780 F.2d 645, 652-53 (7th Cir. 1985). Negligence, gross negligence, or even "recklessness" as that term is used in tort cases, is not enough. Id. at 653; Shockley v. Jones, 823 F.2d 1068, 1072 (7th Cir. 1987). Put another way, the Plaintiff must demonstrate that the officials were "aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists" and that the officials actually drew that inference. Greeno, 414 F.3d at 653. "Whether a prison official had the requisite knowledge of a substantial risk is a question of fact subject to demonstration in the usual ways, including inference from circumstantial evidence, ... and a fact finder may conclude that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the very fact that the risk was obvious." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 842 (1994) (citations omitted). A plaintiff does not have to prove that his complaints of pain were "literally ignored, " but only that "the defendants' responses to it were so plainly inappropriate as to permit the inference that the defendants intentionally or recklessly disregarded his needs." Hayes 546 F.3d at 524 (quoting Sherrod v. Lingle, 223 F.3d 605, 611 (7th Cir. 2000)). "Even if the defendant recognizes the substantial risk, he is free from liability if he responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm ultimately was not averted.'" Gayton v. McCoy, 593 F.3d 610, 620 (7th Cir. 2010) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 843).

Plaintiff's disagreement with Defendant's prescribed course of treatment does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.[1] See Duckworth v. Ahmad, 532 F.3d 675, 679 (7th Cir. 2008) ("Deliberate indifference is not medical malpractice; the Eighth Amendment does not codify common law torts."). Plaintiff has failed to show that Defendant acted without exercising medical judgment, and that judgment is accorded deference unless "no minimally competent ...


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