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Rodgers v. Dart

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 25, 2014

DAVID RODGERS, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Edward J. Rodgers, deceased, Plaintiff,
THOMAS DART, ET AL., Defendants.


ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on several motions to dismiss filed by Defendants [60, 62, 64, and 68]. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Williamson and Oliver [62 and 64], as Plaintiff's claims against Williamson and Oliver have been resurrected by the Illinois Appellate Court and Plaintiff previously indicated that he preferred to litigate these claims in state court.[1] Thus, Defendants Williamson and Oliver are dismissed from this federal lawsuit and the claims against them may proceed in state court. The Court denies the motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Cook County and Sheriff Dart [60 and 68]. This case is set for a status hearing on April 23, 2014, at 9:00 a.m.

I. Background[2]

Edward Rodgers entered the Cook County Jail on July 31, 2010, following his arrest for a misdemeanor offense on July 30, 2010. Edward, [3] who was 61 years old, had serious medical needs. In addition to asthma, Edward had an implanted defibrillator and required a variety of prescription medications several times a day. When he entered the jail on July 31, Edward reported his medical needs to intake personnel. In response, intake personnel referred Edward to the Cermak Infirmary Emergency Room, which in turn referred him to Stroger Hospital. Edward arrived at Stroger on August 1, 2010, and remained there until August 2, 2010. According to Plaintiff, physicians at Stroger concluded that Edward should continue to receive the medications that he had been taking before his arrest. The physicians identified the medications-including Hydralazine-on the medical records, which were returned to Cook County Jail with Edward on August 2, 2010.

Pursuant to the policies and practices at Cook County Jail, inmates would not be provided with medication that had been prescribed at Stroger Hospital until the inmate was examined by a physician at the jail. Edward became seriously ill while at the jail and began to exhibit symptoms of heart failure. According to Plaintiff, correctional officers ignored Edward's worsening symptoms until August 5, 2010, when he was permitted to see a physician for the first time since his arrest. Defendant Sunita Williamson, M.D., examined Edward and prescribed hydroxyzine pamoate, rather than hydralazine.

On August 6, 2010, Edward began to exhibit bizarre behavior and was sent for a psychological evaluation. The evaluation was performed by Defendant Clifford Oliver, a "Mental Health Specialist II." Oliver concluded that Edward was not suffering any psychological issues but rather that his problems were medical in nature. Edward Rodgers died later that day.

Plaintiff first filed a complaint against Defendants Cook County, Illinois, and the Sheriff of Cook County in the United States District Court on July 28, 2011. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on June 18, 2012, and a second amended complaint on August 27, 2012. Both complaints were brought against the same Defendants. Concurrently, Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County against Cook County, Dr. Sunita Williamson, and Clifford Oliver. That suit was timely.

Defendant Cook County, the employer of Williamson and Oliver, urged the state court to dismiss the timely-filed state negligence action because the federal action "involves the same parties, the same factual allegations" as the state negligence action and "it would make sense for all those matters to be decide in one courtroom." Plaintiff argued against dismissal, pointing out that Williamson and Oliver were not parties in the federal action and that granting the motion would create statute-of-limitations problems. Defendants advanced the following argument in state court:

The Federal Court, like Illinois, does recognize estoppel, so he can make an estoppel argument to bring them in down there. He can argue equitable tolling, those are things that can be raised if he wants to make that argument to bring in individuals in Federal Court, because he's filed here. So that by itself should not preclude the Court from exercising its discretion and dismissing this case here. The parties are identical because his avenue of recovery is specifically the County of Cook, which holds the purse strings for all of the defendants involved in that case. His theories of liability are included in all of the factual allegations in all three of the cases that he - complaints that he's brought here, the one in this Court and the two versions of the con - Federal complaint contain all the same factual allegations * * * [s]ame nucleus of operative facts * * *.

The state court judge granted the motion to dismiss, and the same day, Plaintiff filed his motion for leave to file a third amended complaint before this Court, seeking to add two state law claims (medical malpractice and negligence) against two new defendants (Dr. Sunita Williamson and Clifford Oliver). Plaintiff also filed a notice of appeal of the state court's decision to dismiss his state court lawsuit.

Despite Defendants' objections to the third amended complaint, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion, but noted that the filing of Plaintiff's third amended complaint in this Court alongside the pendency of Plaintiff's appeal of the dismissal of the state court case raised the specter of parallel state and federal court litigation should the state appellate court reverse the state trial court's dismissal order. The Court noted that, during a status hearing in February 2013, counsel for Plaintiff had reiterated that his client would prefer to litigate the claims that were dismissed by the state court judge in a state forum, which would be his right if the state appellate court ruled in his favor. Thus, the Court concluded that the interests of justice and comity would best be served by staying this matter until Plaintiff's state court appeal was resolved. See Rogers v. Desiderio, 58 F.3d 299, 302 (7th Cir. 1995).

On October 1, 2013, Plaintiff moved to vacate the stay in this matter, advising the Court that the pending state court appeal had been resolved. See Rodgers v. Cook County, 998 N.E.2d 164 (Ill.App.Ct. Sept. 30, 2013). On appeal, Plaintiff claimed that the circuit court improperly granted Defendants' motion to dismiss because the two lawsuits were against different defendants, and that discretionary factors concerning prejudice weighed in favor of keeping the state malpractice and negligence claims in state court. Specifically, Plaintiff argued 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 claimed 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. The Illinois Appellate Court reversed and remanded with instructions to the trial court to stay the state proceedings until this Court decided the statute of limitations issue. On October 9, 2013, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion to vacate stay, and directed Defendants to respond to the third amended complaint. All four Defendants did so by moving to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint.

II. Legal Standard

The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is not to decide the merits of the case; a Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Gibson v. City of Chi., 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court takes as true all factual allegations in Plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor. Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nev., N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the claim first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)), such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Second, the factual allegations in the claim must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level, " assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "A pleading that offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." ...

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