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Verser v. Hubbard

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

June 3, 2014

GLENN VERSER, Plaintiff,
KENNETH HUBBARD, et al., Defendants.


ELAINE E. BUCKLO, District Judge.

Glenn Verser ("Verser") alleges that Dr. Liping Zhang ("Dr. Zhang"), a former contract physician at the Stateville Correctional Center, denied him adequate medical care in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. I grant Dr. Zhang's motion for summary judgment for the reasons stated below.



At the summary judgment stage, Verser is entitled to have the facts construed in the light most favorable to him with all reasonable inferences drawn in his favor. See Shields v. Ill. Dept. of Corrections, ___ F.3d ___, 2014 WL 949950, at *2 (7th Cir. Mar. 12, 2014). However, when reviewing Local Rule 56.1 statements of fact, I disregard "statements and responses that consist of hearsay, speculation, legal conclusions, improper argument, and evasive denials, in addition to those that do not properly cite to the record, are unsupported, or are otherwise improper." Boudreau v. Gentile, 646 F.Supp.2d 1016, 1019 n.1 (N.D. Ill. 2009). Therefore, I give no weight to the unsigned declaration attached to Verser's statement of additional facts. See Davis v. Wells Fargo Bank, 685 F.Supp.2d 838, 842 (N.D. Ill. 2010) (striking unsigned, unsworn, and undated declarations as inadmissible).

At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Verser was imprisoned at the Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville") in Crest Hill, Illinois. He is serving a sixty-year prison sentence for the murder and attempted armed robbery of Ismael Nuñez and the attempted murder, attempted armed robbery, and aggravated battery of Silvestre Compos. See U.S. ex rel. Verser v. Nelson, 980 F.Supp. 280 (N.D. Ill. 1997).

This lawsuit relates to injuries Verser sustained on January 29, 2009 when he was transported from state prison to Mt. Sterling, Illinois for a court appearance. The correctional officers who transported Verser restrained him using a single set of "black box" handcuffs.[1] Verser's hands were situated in front of him with his palms facing outwards in opposite directions. Verser alleges that he was handcuffed too tightly for thirteen hours on the day of his court appearance, which caused numbness in his right hand and thumb area.

Upon returning to Stateville, Verser sought medical care for his handcuff-related injuries. A physician assistant named Latanya Williams ("Williams") examined Verser on February 4, 2009. Williams wrote in her progress notes that Verser reported numbness in right thumb and "thenar" area since the day of his court appearance. R. at 1343. Williams recommended a referral "to UC for sensation eval[uation] (thorough)" and patient education. Id.

Dr. Zhang was the next medical professional to examine Verser's handcuff-related injuries. She does not recall whether she read Williams's progress notes before examining Verser on February 6, 2009. When questioned about Williams's progress notes, Dr. Zhang denied knowing what a "sensation eval[uation]" is, much less a "thorough" one. Zhang Dep. at 44:10-14. Similarly, Dr. Zhang did not know what "UC" meant, but speculated that it might refer to urgent care. In contrast, Verser speculates that Williams wrote "UC" because she thought he should be referred the University of Illinois at Chicago for a nerve conduction study. These competing contentions about the meaning of "UC" are pure speculation divorced from any personal knowledge. Therefore, I draw no inferences about the meaning of "UC" in resolving the present motion.

Dr. Zhang's notes from her own examination of Verser indicate that he was still complaining of numbness in his right thumb one week after being handcuffed too tightly. She observed that Verser had a discoloration on his right hand with mild swelling. Dr. Zhang attributed these symptoms to Verser's possible allergic reaction to metal handcuffs or excessive rubbing. Id. at 36:21-24. She did not think handcuffs could cause numbness or nerve damage even when applied too tightly for a prolonged period of time. Id. at 50:14-16, 51:1-4 and 10-12. Although Dr. Zhang's progress notes contain a reference to "right thumb sensation, " they do not reflect any observations or findings about whether Verser retained feeling in his right thumb. Dr. Zhang testified that she did, in fact, check Verser's sensation and found it to be intact, indicating the absence of nerve damage. She says her failure to document this conclusion in her progress notes was "maybe by mistake." Id. at 35:13-16.

Dr. Zhang's final assessment was that Verser had not sustained nerve damage even though he was experiencing numbness in his right thumb. She described Verser's injuries as "on the surface, on the top of the tissue, so I can see it. It's not on the nerve. The nerve is very deep inside. He couldn't damage the nerve." Id. at 36:13-16. Dr. Zhang did not recommend that Verser be referred to an outside specialist for a nerve conduction study. Such a test may have determined whether the numbness in Verser's right thumb stemmed from localized swelling and impingement as opposed to a central nervous system issue.

In addition to prescribing pain medication, Dr. Zhang recommended a permit that would allow Verser to be restrained using a technique known as "double cuffing" for the next six months. This technique, which utilizes two sets of handcuffs locked together, is more comfortable and permits greater freedom of movement than single cuffing. Dr. Zhang thought double cuffing would make it easier for Verser "to change [the] angle or position of his arm without damage [to] his skin." Id. at 38:7-10. Dr. Ghosh, the Medical Director at Stateville, signed a double cuffing permit for Verser on February 7, 2009.

Verser admits that Dr. Zhang's examination of him on February 6, 2009 was the only time she treated him for handcuff-related injuries. See Dkt. No. 202 at ¶ 25. At the time of this examination, Verser believed that Dr. Zhang's treatment of his injuries was "appropriate." Pl.'s Dep. at 13:19-21. He did not ask Dr. Zhang to see an outside specialist for a nerve conduction study or express any dissatisfaction with her treatment of his injuries.

Verser claims that his handcuff-related injuries were exacerbated in March 2009 when two correctional officers, Defendants Glen Malone and Darla Michael, disregarded his double-cuffing permit. See Dkt. No. 174 (noting that Verser reached settlement with Defendants Malone and Michael). Dr. Zhang was not involved in examining ...

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