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O'Quinn v. Gaetz

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 2, 2014

CHESTER O'QUINN, # K-92939, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD GAETZ, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court for review of Plaintiff Chester O'Quinn's amended complaint (Doc. 10). The Court dismissed Plaintiff's original complaint (Doc. 1) in an Order dated January 28, 2014 (Doc. 8), because it violated the pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The dismissal was without prejudice, and Plaintiff was granted leave to file an amended complaint no later than March 4, 2014. The amended complaint was filed on February 28, 2014. It is therefore timely.

In the amended complaint, Plaintiff has taken few steps to cure the defects noted in his original complaint. He still sues twenty-four defendants.[1] He has eliminated all references to co-plaintiffs, although he includes most of the claims associated with them. Plaintiff has divided the amended complaint into six "issues, " each of which includes multiple claims against different defendants. Adopting what he describes as a "totality of the conditions" theory, Plaintiff has dumped what seems like every conceivable claim into a single amended complaint (Doc. 10, p. 5). Under the circumstances, the amended complaint narrowly escapes dismissal a second time under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8.

With that said, this case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the amended 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 amended 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).

An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "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). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross "the line between possibility and plausibility." Id. at 557. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts "should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

Upon preliminary review of the amended complaint, the Court finds that several claims survive threshold review and shall proceed. Others require severance and further amendment, if Plaintiff intends to pursue them. Still others require summary dismissal.

The Amended Complaint

In the amended complaint, Plaintiff claims that twenty-two officials, who are employed at Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville"), the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"), and Wexford Health Sources, Inc. ("Wexford"), violated his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments (Doc. 10, p. 5). Plaintiff's claims are divided into six "issues, " which he broadly defines as the: (1) denial of medical care; (2) denial of indigent supplies; (3) denial of nutritionally adequate meals; (4) unconstitutional conditions of confinement; (5) lack of access to grievance forms; and (6) retaliation by staff and inmates (Doc. 10, pp. 5-14). Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief. In addition, he has filed six additional motions (Docs. 9, 11-15), including a motion for temporary restraining order (Doc. 15), which will be addressed herein.

In the amended pleading, Plaintiff adopts a "totality of the conditions theory" (Doc. 10, p. 5). He alleges that the six issues taken as a "whole" violate his constitutional rights. For that reason, he brings them in a single lawsuit.

Even at first glance, however, each "issue" includes numerous sub-issues, several of which require severance of this lawsuit into additional suits. In fact, this is just the type of "buckshot complaint" that the Seventh Circuit said in George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007), is appropriate for severance. Below is a list of the issues and the potential claims, followed by a brief discussion of each.

Issue 1: Denial of Medical Care

In the amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that numerous prison officials disregarded his medical needs, as follows:

(a) Defendants Shah (doctor) and Rector (nurse) never completed a "full examination" of Plaintiff "from head to toe" (Doc. 10, p. 5) (Count 1(a));[2]
(b) Defendants Shah and Rector repeatedly ignored Plaintiff's requests for a front cuff permit, which Plaintiff needs for the administration of insulin among other things. Because of this, Plaintiff was routinely denied insulin shots, resulting in twelve episodes of dangerously low blood sugar levels (Doc. 10, pp. 5-6) (Count 1(b));
(c) Defendants Blades (the gym director), Gogetting (ADA warden), Shah, and Rector ignored Plaintiff's complaints that he was denied access to the ADA gym for more than ninety days (Doc. 10, pp. 5-6) (Count 1(c)(1)[3] and Count 1(c)(2));
(d) Most of Pinckneyville's nurses do not use alcohol pads and do not wear gloves, or change them, after working with bleeding patients. Officers also open syringes for nurses (Doc. 10, p. 6) (Count 1(d)). Defendant Peek threatened to send Plaintiff to segregation if he asked for a tuberculosis skin test or shot (Doc. 10, p. 7) (Count 1(d)(1));
(e) Defendants Shah, Rector, Gogetting, and Gaetz ignored Plaintiff's four requests in September 2013 for a pillow, which Plaintiff allegedly needs to prevent aggravation of a prior neck and back injury (Doc. 10, p. 7) (Count 1(e));
(f) Plaintiff's medication "never comes on time, " including prescriptions related to his diabetes, hypertension, and pain. He once waited for more than thirty-five days for these medications. He has been waiting for his Glucophage since December 15, 2013. Defendants Shicker (IDOC medical director) and Brown have ignored his complaints (Doc. 10, p. 7) (Count 1(f));
(g) Plaintiff's insulin was denied for 3-4 weeks because Defendants Daugherty (nurse), Abby (nurse), Amy (nurse), and Olmsted (officer) would not allow Plaintiff to raise his shirt to receive his insulin shot. Defendant Shah addressed the issue with the nurses but not Defendant Olmsted, who continues to deny Plaintiff the insulin shots (Doc. 10, p. 7) (Count 1(g));
(h) Plaintiff was not adequately treated for a spider bite he received in June 2013, despite being charged a co-pay of $5.00 for each visit to the health care unit. He was required to see a nurse three times before being referred to a doctor; each time, he had to pay. Defendants Shah and Rector ignored his spider bite complaints for 5-6 months before giving him antibiotics. Even then, Plaintiff continued to suffer from a rash, boils, bleeding, and cysts, which he attributes to the bite[4] (Doc. 10, p. 8) (Count 1(h));
(i) A hole in the concrete floor at Pinckneyville caused Plaintiff to fall and injure his hand in September 2013. His hand injury was not adequately treated, and the hole has not been repaired (Doc. 10, p. 8) (Count 1(i));
(j) Defendants Steward and Wallace have ignored Plaintiff's requests to meet with a counselor to discuss mental health issues that have arisen following his mother's death (Doc. 10, p. 9) (Count 1(j));
(k) Plaintiff underwent dental surgery in December 2013. Defendant Chapman (dentist) told Plaintiff that he would schedule a follow-up examination 2-3 weeks following surgery. As of February 2014, no follow-up visit has occurred. Plaintiff's face is swollen, he suffers headaches, his ears ring, and his breath stinks. Further, he has no access to salt, peroxide, or mouthwash. He needs additional fillings and a cleaning (Doc. 10, p. 9) (Count 1(k));
(l) Defendant Angie (medical records) has not responded to Plaintiff's request for medical records (Doc. 10, p. 9) (Count 1(l)); and
(m) Defendants Shicker and Matticks (Wexford Health Sources Regional Medical Director) have not responded to Plaintiff's request for health care (Doc. 10, pp. 9-10) (Count 1(m)).

A. Claims to Proceed

Accepting the allegations as true, the Court finds that the amended complaint articulates a colorable federal cause of action under the Eighth Amendment (Count 1) against Defendants Shah, Rector, Gaetz, Blades, Gogetting, Daugherty, Abby, Amy, and Olmsted for allegedly displaying deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's medical needs, based on the conduct described above in Count 1(a), Count 1(b), Count 1(c)(1), Count 1(e), Count 1(g), and Count 1(h). Accordingly, Plaintiff shall be allowed to proceed with Count 1(a), Count 1(b), Count 1(c)(1), Count 1(e), Count 1(g), and Count 1(h)[5] against Defendants Shah, Rector, Gaetz, Blades, Gogetting, Daugherty, Abby, Amy, and Olmsted. Further, Defendant Spiller (Pinckneyville's current warden) shall remain in this action, based on Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief.

Plaintiff shall also be allowed to pursue a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and/or the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701, et seq., for the conduct described above in Paragraph (c) (Count 1(c)(2)). The analysis under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act is the same, except that the Rehabilitation Act includes as an additional element the receipt of federal funds, which all states accept for their prisons. Jaros v. Illinois Department of Corrections, 684 F.3d 667, 671 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 705(2)(B)). And although Plaintiff does not specifically mention the Rehabilitation Act, Courts "are supposed to analyze a litigant's claims and not just legal theories that he propounds, " particularly when a litigant is proceeding pro se. See Norfleet v. Walker, 684 F.3d 688, 690 (7th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). To state a claim under the Rehabilitation Act, the complaint must only allege that: (1) Plaintiff is a qualified person; (2) with a disability; and (3) the IDOC denied him access to a program or activity because of his disability. Jaros, 684 F.3d at 672. Plaintiff alleges that he has already been identified as "disabled" and given a "front cuff permit" because of physical injuries resulting from prior car accidents and work-related injuries, among other things. The Supreme Court "has located a duty to accommodate in the statute generally, " and refusing to make reasonable accommodations is tantamount to denying access. Id. (citing Wis. Cmty. Serv., 465 F.3d 737, 747 (7th Cir. 2006); Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287, 300-01 (1985)). The amended complaint meets the basic pleading requirements for an ADA and/or Rehabilitation Act claim, and Defendant Godinez, in his official capacity, is a proper defendant. See 42 U.S.C. § 12131(1)(b); Jaros, 684 F.3d at 670 n. 2 (individual capacity claims are not available; the proper defendant is the agency or its director (in his official capacity)). Accordingly, Plaintiff shall be allowed to proceed with Count 1(c)(2) against Defendant Godinez in his official capacity.

B. Claims to be Dismissed

However, the Court finds that the conduct described in Count 1(d) and Count 1(i) is insufficient to state a claim against any of the defendants. Counts 1(d) and (i) fail to identify any specific defendants in connection with those claims, so the Court and Defendants are not put on notice of who did what to violate Plaintiff's rights under the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiffs are required to associate specific defendants with specific claims, so that defendants are put on notice of the claims brought against them and so they can properly answer the complaint. See Twombly, 550 U.S. AT 555; FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). Where a plaintiff has not included a defendant in his statement of the claim, the defendant cannot be said to be adequately put on notice of which claims in the complaint, if any, are directed against him. Count 1(d) and Count 1(i) shall therefore be dismissed without prejudice.

Similarly, the Court finds that Count 1(l) and Count 1(m) state no claim for relief against Defendants Angie, Shicker, or Matticks and must be dismissed with prejudice at this time. Although Plaintiff mentions these defendants by name, the amended complaint does not suggest that these Defendants did anything to violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Angie failed to respond to his request for medical records, and Defendants Shicker and Matticks have not responded to his requests for medical care. No additional details are provided, although the amended complaint refers to exhibits that were not filed with the original complaint or the amended complaint. It is not altogether clear what claims Plaintiff is attempting to raise against these defendants, or the constitutional basis of the claims. Based on the foregoing, Count 1(l) and Count 1(m) against Defendants Angie, Shicker, and Matticks shall be dismissed with prejudice.

C. Claims to be Severed

That leaves Count 1(d)(1), Count 1(f), Count 1(j), and Count 1(k). The Court finds that these claims were improperly joined in this action. They shall be severed into four additional lawsuits, as discussed in more detail below. Before addressing the issue of severance, however, the Court will briefly address the merits of each claim.

With regard to Count 1(d)(1), the allegations in the amended complaint are insufficient to state an Eighth Amendment medical needs claim and/or a retaliation claim against Defendant Peek. Therefore, Count 1(d)(1) shall be dismissed without prejudice. However, Plaintiff shall be granted leave to file an amended complaint in the severed case, according to the specific instructions set forth below, should he wish to proceed with this claim.

Turning to Count 1(f), the amended complaint fails to state a colorable Eighth Amendment medical needs claim against Defendants Shicker or Brown at this early stage. It is unclear what role they each played, if any, in delaying Plaintiff's medications. Section 1983 creates a cause of action based on personal liability and predicated upon fault; thus, "to be liable under [Section] 1983, an individual defendant must have caused or participated in a constitutional deprivation." Pepper v. Village of Oak Park, 430 F.3d 809, 810 (7th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). As a result, the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to actions filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See, e.g., Kinslow v. Pullara, 538 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2008). Therefore, Plaintiff cannot move forward with a claim against Defendants Shicker and Brown, unless he demonstrates that they personally participated in a constitutional deprivation. Because the amended complaint does not make this connection, Count 1(f) shall be dismissed without prejudice. However, Plaintiff shall be granted leave to file an amended complaint in the severed case, according to the instructions set forth below, should he wish to proceed with this claim.

As for Count 1(j), the amended complaint fails to state a claim against Defendants Steward and Wallace for displaying deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's mental health needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. 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, 837 (1994); see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2006) ( per curiam ). Deliberate indifference involves a two-part test. The plaintiff must show that (1) the medical condition was objectively serious, and (2) the state officials acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs, which is a subjective standard. Sherrod v. Lingle, 223 F.3d 605, 619 (7th Cir. 2000). The amended complaint does not satisfy either requirement at this stage. Plaintiff has not alleged that he suffers from a serious medical need; he simply alleges that he is "hurting mentally" (Doc. 10, p. 9). It is not clear what he means by this. He does not allege that he has been diagnosed with depression or some other condition, that he is suicidal, or that he is at risk of serious injury. He also does not allege that either Defendant was aware of any mental health condition that required treatment but ignored it. Further, the amended complaint refers to exhibits that were not filed with the original or amended complaint. Without more, this claim fails. Count 1(j) shall be dismissed without prejudice, and with leave to file an amended complaint in the severed case. Plaintiff should be mindful of the Court's instructions for filing the amended complaint and/or requesting dismissal of the action within the deadline given.

Count 1(k) states a claim under the Eighth Amendment against Defendant Chapman for denying Plaintiff adequate dental care. Accordingly, Plaintiff shall be allowed to proceed with Count 1(k) in a separate action, should he wish to do so.

Whether or not Plaintiff intends to pursue any of the severed claims, he must follow the instructions set forth below in the "Severance" and "Disposition" sections. Failure to do so shall result in dismissal of the claim(s) with prejudice and/or imposition of a filing fee.

Issue 2: Denial of Indigent Supplies

The amended complaint also alleges that Plaintiff was denied adequate indigent supplies. Plaintiff was issued only one t-shirt upon his arrival at Pinckneyville, and he cannot afford to buy more (Doc. 10, p. 10). He was not provided with boots or long johns for the winter. Defendant Rensing, who is in charge of indigent hygiene supplies, failed to distribute adequate hygiene products to Plaintiff (Doc. 10, p. 11). The toothpaste contains saccharine, a cancer-causing agent, and Plaintiff now has cancerous cysts in his mouth and all ...


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