United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.
Plaintiff Raymond Valenti, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Robinson Correctional Center ("Robinson"), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). He is serving two 3-year sentences for two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a child. In the complaint, Plaintiff complains of inadequate medical care and threats at Robinson in 2014 (Doc. 1, pp. 3-6). Plaintiff now sues six Robinson officials, including Defendants Grounds (warden), Tylka (assistant warden), Brookhart (assistant warden), Kerr (medical administrator), Williams (doctor), and Shah (doctor), for violating his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment (Doc. 1, pp. 4-6). He sues S. A. Godinez (Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") Director) and the Administrative Review Board ("ARB") for failing to respond to his grievances (Doc. 1, pp. 3-4). Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, a prison transfer, injunctive relief, and a temporary restraining order (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7).
Plaintiff's claims arise from the allegedly inadequate medical care he has received from Defendants Williams, Shah, and Kerr since his admission at Robinson in early 2014. Plaintiff is currently seventy-five years old. He alleges that Defendant Williams diagnosed him with a "bad heart" (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff disputes the diagnosis. He maintains that the nurses interfered with the leads on his electrocardiogram ("EKG"), thereby skewing the results. Plaintiff has discussed this issue with Defendant Williams. Instead of a second EKG, the doctor prescribed Coumadin and allegedly forced Plaintiff to take it against his will.
Plaintiff blames Coumadin for uncontrolled nosebleeds, dizziness, weight loss, and headaches he has since developed (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). The exhibits to the complaint reveal that Plaintiff sought treatment of these symptoms in February, April, and May (Doc. 1, pp. 13, 15, 40, 50). As recently as May 29th, Plaintiff filed a grievance complaining that his requests for treatment were being ignored or denied. Plaintiff names Defendants Williams, Shah, and Kerr in conjunction with this claim.
Plaintiff also alleges that he suffered a pinched nerve in his back in February, when he fell from a table where he sat (Doc. 1, p. 6). Since then, Defendant Williams has "deliberately denied the plaintiff medical treatment for the pinched nerve" (Doc. 1, p. 6). Defendants Shah and Kerr refused to treat the condition.
Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Kerr threatened him (Doc. 1, p. 5). He claims that she responded to his requests for medical care by telling Plaintiff to "shut his fu**ing mouth or else" (Doc. 1, p. 5). Although the complaint repeatedly refers to threats, this is the only specific one Plaintiff cites.
Plaintiff now sues Defendants Williams, Shah, and Kerr for failing to provide him with adequate medical care, forcing him to take Coumadin, and threatening him. He sues the remaining defendants, including Defendants Grounds, Tylka, Brookhart, Godinez, and ARB, for failing to respond to his grievances by addressing these issues.
Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A
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).
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). After carefully considering the allegations, the Court finds that the complaint survives preliminary review under § 1915A.
The complaint articulates a colorable federal claim under the Eighth Amendment against Defendants Williams, Shah, and Kerr for allegedly forcing Plaintiff to take Coumadin and failing to treat his resulting symptoms (Count 1). It also states a viable claim against Defendants Williams, Shah, and Kerr for failing to treat the pinched nerve in Plaintiff's back (Count 2). However, no Eighth Amendment claim has been stated against any other defendants, who are all non-medical professionals merely involved in processing Plaintiff's grievances. When a prisoner is under the care of prison medical professionals, non-medical prison officials "will generally be justified in believing that the prisoner is in capable hands." Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 755 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 236 (3d Cir. 2004)). "A layperson's failure to tell the medical staff how to do its job cannot be called deliberate indifference; it is just a form of failing to provide a gratuitous rescue service." Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 596 (7th Cir. 2009). Because Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, Defendant Grounds shall remain in this action for purpose of this request. However, all remaining claims shall be dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
The complaint states no separate claim against Defendant Kerr, or anyone else, for threatening Plaintiff (Count 3). It is well established that allegations of verbal threats establish no constitutional claim. See Patton v. Przybylski, 822 F.2d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 1987) (derogatory remarks do not constitute constitutional violations); McDowell v. Jones, 990 F.2d 433, 434 (8th Cir. 1993); Oltarzewski v. Ruggiero, 830 F.2d 136, 139 (8th Cir. 1987) (prison official's use of vulgar language did not violate inmate's civil rights); Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1338 (8th Cir. 1985) (verbal threats by correctional officer do not amount to a constitutional violation). While deplorable, Defendant Kerr's alleged ...