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Smith v. Kolitwenzew

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 18, 2013

ALTON G. SMITH, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CHAD KOLITWENZEW, CHAREE SANGSTER, TIMOTHY BUKOWSKI, MICHAEL DOWNEY, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER MCCABE, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER RICHMOND, and JANE DOE, Defendants.

MERIT REVIEW OPINION

COLIN S. BRUCE, District Judge.

This cause is before the Court for a merit review, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, of Plaintiff Alton G. Smith, Jr.'s claims.

I.

MERIT REVIEW UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 1915(A)

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A, the Court is required to carefully screen a complaint filed by a plaintiff who seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. The Court must dismiss a complaint, or a portion thereof, if the plaintiff has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious, " that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. The test for determining if an action is frivolous or without merit is whether the plaintiff can make a rational argument on the law or facts in support of the claim. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A complaint fails to state a claim for relief if the complaint does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).

In reviewing the complaint, the Court accepts the factual allegations as true and liberally construes them in plaintiff's favor. Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2013). Conclusory statements and labels are insufficient. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8; Schatz v. Republican State Leadership Comm., 669 F.3d 50, 55 (1st Cir. 2012)(holding that, in order to determine if a complaint states a plausible claim, the court must take non-conclusory, non-speculative facts as true, draw all reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor, and isolate and ignore statements that simply rehash claim elements or offer only legal labels and conclusions). Instead, sufficient facts must be provided to "state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Alexander v. United States, 721 F.3d 418, 422 (7th Cir. 2013)(internal quotation omitted).

II.

ANALYSIS

Smith has filed the instant case asserting that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights. First, Smith alleges that Defendants Correctional Officer McCabe, Correctional Officer Richmond, Assistant Chief of Corrections Chad Kolitwenzew, Nurse Charee Sangster, and a "Jane Doe" violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by ignoring his serious medical condition. Specifically, Smith alleges that he informed each of these Defendants of his need to see an eye doctor due to his worsening eye condition, but none of them ever allowed, assisted, or helped him see an eye doctor for his medical condition.

Second, Smith alleges that Defendants Sheriff Timothy Bukowski, and Chief of Corrections Michael Downey maintain a policy that prevented him from receiving treatment for his eyes. Specifically, Smith alleges that this policy provides that only pre-trial detainees-not incarcerated inmates-may receive free health care services at the Jerome Combs Detention Center. Because he was an incarcerated inmate and not a pre-trial detainee, Smith alleges that this policy prevented him from receiving health services for his eye condition.

"The Eighth Amendment safeguards the prisoner against a lack of medical care that may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose." Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 750 (7th Cir. 2011)(internal quotations and footnote omitted). "Prison officials violate the Constitution if they are deliberately indifferent to prisoners' serious medical needs." Id. (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 828 (7th Cir. 2009)("Deliberate indifference to serous medical needs of a prisoner constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain forbidden by the Constitution."); Walker v. Benjamin, 293 F.3d 1030, 1036-37 (7th Cir. 2002)(noting that the Eighth Amendment applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment).

The deliberate indifference standard requires an inmate to clear a high threshold in order to maintain a claim for cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Dunigan ex rel. Nyman v. Winnebago County, 165 F.3d 587, 590 (7th Cir. 1999). "In order to prevail on a deliberate indifference claim, a plaintiff must show (1) that his condition was objectively, sufficiently serious' and (2) that the prison officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Lee v. Young, 533 F.3d 505, 509 (7th Cir. 2008)(quoting Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 652 (7th Cir. 2005)); Duckworth v. Ahmad, 532 F.3d 675, 679 (7th Cir. 2008)(same). "A medical condition is serious if it has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would perceive the need for a doctor's attention.'" Lee, 533 F.3d at 509 (quoting Greeno, 414 F.3d at 653). "With respect to the culpable state of mind, negligence or even gross negligence is not enough; the conduct must be reckless in the criminal sense." Id .; Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 836-37 (1994)("We hold... that a prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.").

In other words,

[d]eliberate indifference is not medical malpractice; the Eighth Amendment does not codify common law torts. And although deliberate means more than negligent, it is something less than purposeful. The point between these two poles lies where the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety or where the official is both aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he... draw the inference. A jury can infer deliberate indifference on the basis of a physician's treatment decision ...

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