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Owens v. Duncan

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 4, 2014

JAMES OWENS, #K-83253, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff James Owens, currently incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence"), brings this pro se civil rights action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Duncan (warden of Lawrence), Treadway (Assistant warden of Lawrence), John Coe (Health Care Unit Administrator), and John Doe (pharmacy technologist) have been deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. (Doc. 1, p. 7).

The complaint comes now before the Court for a preliminary review 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).

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, some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011); 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).

The Complaint

Plaintiff claims that Defendants have failed to refill prescribed medications in a timely manner and that his request for a new medication to treat a fungal infection has been ignored. Specifically, according to Plaintiff's complaint, on March 9, 2014, Defendant Coe prescribed Plaintiff Chlorpheniramine[1] for sinus pressure and Naproxen for arthritic pain.[2] (Doc. 1, ¶ 11). Both prescriptions were filled. Each prescription contained additional refills. Plaintiff was instructed to submit the refill for Chlopheniramine seven days prior to March 17, 2014 and the refill for Naproxen seven days before April 7, 2014. (Doc. 1, ¶ 13, Exhibits C and D). Plaintiff does not state when he made his initial refill requests, but he asserts that he has "sent numerous request slips to the HCU Pharmacy" as well as requests to Defendants Coe and Treadway informing them of his need for the refills; as of May 5, 2014, neither the Chlorpheniramine nor the Naproxen prescriptions had been refilled. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 15-16). Plaintiff further claims that since April 7, 2014 he has been requesting treatment for a fungal infection; these requests have also been ignored. Plaintiff maintains that going without the prescriptions has caused him to suffer sinus pain, as well as arthritic pain in his back and hips. (Doc. 1, ¶ 20).

On April 20, 2014, Plaintiff filed an "emergency grievance" with Defendant Duncan (Doc. 1, Exhibit A). Defendant Duncan made the determination on April 21, 2014 that the grievance was not of an "emergency nature" and Plaintiff was instructed to submit a grievance in the normal manner. Id. Plaintiff chose instead to file an appeal with the Administrative Review Board and a civil rights action before this Court. (Doc. 1, ¶ 20).


Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, as the Court must do at this preliminary stage, the Court finds that the complaint sets forth an actionable claim under the Eighth Amendment for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Plaintiff may proceed on his claim for damages, but only against Defendants Coe and "John Doe, " in their individual capacities. Plaintiff may also proceed on his claim for injunctive relief, but only against Defendant Duncan, in his official capacity. Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Defendant Treadway and, therefore, he shall be dismissed.

"The Eighth Amendment safeguards the prisoner against a lack of medical care that may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose.'" Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 828 (7th Cir.2009) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976)). Prison officials violate the Constitution if they are deliberately indifferent to prisoners' serious medical needs. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104. "Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of a prisoner constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain forbidden by the Constitution." Rodriguez, 577 F.3d at 828 (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 103).

To plead an Eighth Amendment medical needs claim, a complaint must allege two elements: 1) an objectively serious medical condition; and 2) an official's deliberate indifference to that condition. See Johnson v. Snyder, 444 F.3d 579, 584 (7th Cir.2006); see also Roe v. Elyea, 631 F.3d 843, 857 (7th Cir.2011).The Seventh Circuit has held that a medical need is objectively "serious" where it has either "been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment" or where the need is "so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention." Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1373 (7th Cir. 1997). "Allegations of refusal to provide an inmate with prescribed medication or to follow the advice of a specialist can also state an Eighth Amendment claim." Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 753 (7th Cir. 2011) (finding that plaintiff with rheumatoid arthritis had properly stated a claim against defendants who refused to provide him with medication to treat the pain).

Plaintiff claims he has been unable to refill medications he has been prescribed to treat sinus and arthritic pain. As a result, Plaintiff has unnecessarily endured pain and suffering. These allegations meet the threshold requirement for a "serious" medical need.

The complaint also satisfies the subjective component of an Eighth Amendment medical needs claim against Defendants Coe and "John Doe." To establish deliberate indifference, a plaintiff "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)). Officials must "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 v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)). The complaint asserts that Defendant Coe initially prescribed the medications, but failed to intervene when Plaintiff informed him that he had been unable to get the prescriptions refilled. The complaint further alleges that Plaintiff sent numerous requests to "John Doe, " the pharmacy technician, but all of his requests went unanswered. These allegations are sufficient to state an Eighth Amendment medical needs claim against both Defendant Coe and "John Doe" at this early stage in this litigation.

As to the non-medical Defendants Plaintiff has named - Defendants Treadway (Assistant Warden) and Duncan (Warden) - the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to allege facts demonstrating that they were personally responsible for the claimed constitutional violation. In the case of those defendants in supervisory positions, the doctrine of respondeat superior is not applicable to § 1983 actions. Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). Furthermore, while not always the case, "if a prisoner is under the care of medical experts, a non-medical prison official will generally be justified in believing that the prisoner is in capable hands." Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 755 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing Greeno, 414 F.3d at 656.) Plaintiff asserts that he notified Defendants Treadway and Duncan of the medication issue, but he does not state any other facts suggesting that they were involved in the decision to deny him ...

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