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Cook v. Overall

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 26, 2014

MICHAEL J. COOK, # M-18612, Plaintiff,


J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Michael Cook, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). He is serving a 35-year sentence for murder. Plaintiff now sues seven defendants, including Wexford Health Sources ("Wexford") and six Menard dentists, for failing to provide him with adequate dental care. He seeks declaratory judgment and monetary damages (Doc. 1, p. 30).

This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court is required to dismiss any portion of the complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

The Complaint

Specifically, the complaint alleges that Plaintiff began suffering from pain he attributed to a wisdom tooth in May or June 2011 (Doc. 1, p. 13). For almost two years thereafter, Plaintiff regularly asked Menard's dental staff to extract the problem tooth (Doc. 1, pp. 13-29). Each time he met with the dental staff, Plaintiff described his other symptoms, including persistent pain, swollen/bleeding gums, headaches, trouble sleeping, and problems eating (Doc. 1, pp. 13-14).

The complaint alleges that six dentists at Menard denied Plaintiff's requests for wisdom tooth extraction, including Defendants Overall, Henderson, Newbold, Craig, Doe #1, and Doe #2. Defendant Overall denied Plaintiff's surgery request on June 6, 2011, and instead gave him pain medication, antibiotics, and salt (Doc. 1, p. 14). These were ineffective. Despite written requests for a follow-up appointment, Plaintiff did not see another dentist for a year. When he finally met with Defendant Henderson on October 25, 2012, the dentist failed to examine Plaintiff and instead gave him more pain medication, antibiotics, and salt (Doc. 1, p. 16). Defendant Newbold met with Plaintiff on November 9, 2012, and recommended an appointment with an oral surgeon. Defendant Doe #1, another Menard dentist, cut open Plaintiff's gums to relieve pain but failed to extract the problem tooth. The pain only increased. Defendant Craig met with Plaintiff on January 9, 2013, and Defendant Henderson met with Plaintiff on March 18, 2013. Both dentists concluded that Plaintiff's gums had not healed from the November 2012 procedure; still, they denied his request for surgery (Doc. 1, p. 20). In the meantime, Defendant Doe #2, Menard's dental director, ignored Plaintiff's written requests for oral surgery.

Plaintiff's tooth was not extracted until April 4, 2013, by an outside dental provider (Doc. 1, p. 22). Within a week, Plaintiff's stitches were removed, and his pain subsided. Within two weeks, all symptoms were gone.

Plaintiff now sues Wexford and six Menard dentists (including Defendants Overall, Henderson, Newbold, Craig, Doe #1, and Doe #2) for violating his right to receive adequate medical care under the Eighth Amendment. He also claims that Menard's grievance procedure was inadequate to address these problems. Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment and monetary damages.


Count 1 - Deliberate Indifference to Dental Needs

After fully considering the allegations in the complaint, the Court finds that the complaint states an Eighth Amendment medical needs claim (Count 1) against Defendants Overall, Henderson, Newbold, Craig, Doe #1, and Doe #2. The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment. See Berry v. Peterman, 604 F.3d 435 (7th Cir. 2010). Relevant to Plaintiff's claim, 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); Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994); see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2006) ( per curiam ). To establish liability, a prisoner must show that the: (1) medical condition was objectively serious, and (2) state officials acted with deliberate indifference to the prisoner's health or safety, which is a subjective standard. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Chapman v. Keltner, 241 F.3d 842, 845 (7th Cir. 2001).

With regard to the objective component of this analysis, the Seventh Circuit has indicated that a dental condition may constitute a serious medical need. Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d 469 (7th Cir. 2005). In fact, according to the Seventh Circuit, "dental care is one of the most important medical needs of inmates." Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 593 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Examples of "objectively serious" dental needs involve circumstances in which the failure to treat a dental condition causes an inmate to suffer an array of problems, such as headaches, extreme pain, bleeding, infected gums, and problems eating. Id. at 593 (citations omitted). The allegations in the complaint suggest, at this early stage, that Plaintiff's dental condition was objectively serious.

With regard to the subjective component of the analysis, the complaint must "demonstrate that prison officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.'" Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 653 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297 (1991)). This state of mind is deliberate indifference. Deliberate indifference is established when prison officials "know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health" by being "aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists'" and "draw[ing] the inference.'" Greeno, 414 F.3d at 653 (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). Plaintiff is not required to establish that the officials "intended or desired the harm that transpired, " but to instead show that they "knew of a substantial risk of harm... and disregarded it." Greeno, 414 F.3d at 653.

"Neither medical malpractice nor mere disagreement with a doctor's medical judgment" is sufficient to establish deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Berry, 604 F.3d at 441 (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106; Estate of Cole v. Fromm, 94 F.3d 254, 261 (7th Cir. 1996)). However, a prisoner is also "not required to show that he was literally ignored." Id. at 441 (citing Sherrod v. Lingle, 223 F.3d 605, 611 (7th Cir. 2000)). The Seventh Circuit has held that a doctor's choice of "easier and less efficacious treatment" for a serious medical condition can amount to deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment. Id. (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104, n.10; Williams v. Vincent, 508 F.2d 541 (2d Cir. 1974); Johnson v. Doughty, 433 F.3d 1001, 1013 (stating that "medical personnel cannot simply resort to an easier course of treatment that they know is ineffective"); Greeno, 414 F.3d at 655 (noting that persistence in a course of treatment "known to be ineffective" violates the Eighth Amendment)). The complaint suggests that Defendants undertook a persistent, yet ineffective, course of treatment when they deferred the extraction of Plaintiff's wisdom tooth ...

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