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Goldtooth v. Szoke

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 16, 2014

ALBERT GOLDTOOTH, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID SZOKE and F. CASTILLO Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

In this Bivens action, pro se Plaintiff Albert Goldtooth (an inmate at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois) sued Defendants for violating his Eighth Amendment rights via deliberate indifference to severe and continuous pain in his testicles, left leg, and the left side of his abdomen.[1] Defendants moved for partial summary judgment on a theory that Goldtooth had not, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA, " 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)), fully exhausted his administrative remedies before filing the instant lawsuit.

The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Williams, who in a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") dated November 18, 2013, recommended denying Defendants' motion and granting Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint. For the reasons explained below, the undersigned district judge, after de novo review of the objected-to portions of Judge Williams' R&R and a full review of the record, ADOPTS (Doc. 47) the R&R in full, DENIES (Doc. 37) Defendants' motion for partial dismissal, and GRANTS (Doc. 38) Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend.

BACKGROUND

Defendants cede Plaintiff fully exhausted his administrative remedies regarding his hip and testicle pain. But insofar as Plaintiff now seeks relief for deliberate indifference to his lower back problems, Defendants maintain that his grievances (and subsequent administrative appeals) did not suffice to exhaust Plaintiff's administrative remedies pertaining to those claims.

Plaintiff filed an "informal resolution" form on July 26, 2011. At that time, he grieved, he had experienced hernia-like symptoms (including hip, testicle, and groin pain) for over five months. (Doc. 39-1, 1). Plaintiff received no relief from the July 26 request, and followed up with a formal request in early August 2011. (Doc. 39-1). That formal request includes the following information:

Beginning with Feb. 2... up until July 27, 2011, I have been complaining about severe pain in my left testicle and left hip. I have been given medication that does not work to any relief benefit. Then I have been referred for outside consultation, but that had been deferred for some reason. Now I have substantial pain in the lower back. The outside [referral] is allegedly to be scheduled for a later date, but those scheduling practices amount to no preventative measure or if in fact there is a scheduling. I am in constant pain and I do believe that at the present time, I am being subjected to needless and unwanting suffering. I am requesting proper medical care from an outside resource.

(Doc. 39-1, 3). The warden denied Plaintiff's formal grievance, so he appealed to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Regional Director. (Doc. 39-1, 5-6). Plaintiff did not specifically mention his back pain to the Regional Director, but in denying the appeal the Director relied in part on an August 29 clinical examination of Plaintiff's back-an examination which suggested back problems. (Doc. 39-1, 6). Plaintiff took the final step (appealing his grievance to the national level) in September 2011, and while his appeal was again denied, the BOP national office noted that lumbar spine x-rays revealed severe degenerative disc disease ("DDD"). (Doc. 39-1, 8).

The record contains several medical notes connecting Plaintiff's back problems to his hip, testicle, and groin pain. One examination revealed (1) a "spinal problem issue, " (2) that Defendant suspected "that [Plaintiff's] complaint is related to DDD, " and (3) that Plaintiff's condition was "not associated with testicles, " but rather "strongly suggestive of referred pain from axial skeleton"-in other words, a back problem manifesting itself as pain in Plaintiff's testicle, hip, and groin. (Doc. 39-1, 15-16).

LEGAL STANDARDS

1. De Novo Review

When a party makes a specific objection to a magistrate judge's R&R, the district court must conduct de novo review of the portions of the R&R to which objection is made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); SDIL-LR 73.1(b). A district judge "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

2. PLRA's Exhaustion Requirement and BOP Grievance Process

The Prisoner Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") provides that "[n]o action shall be brought [under federal law] with respect to prison conditions... by a prisoner... until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Under the PLRA, exhaustion of administrative remedies is mandatory: unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007). The case may proceed on the merits only after any contested issue of exhaustion is resolved by the court. Pavey v. Conley , 544 F.3d 739, 742 (7th Cir. 2008). The Seventh Circuit takes a strict compliance approach ...


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