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Smith v. Godinez

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 19, 2014

TYRIN N. SMITH, # B-78535, Plaintiff,
v.
SALVADORE GODINEZ, RICHARD HARRINGTON, GAIL WALLS, ANGELA CRAIN, DR. FUENTES, and DR. NWOABASI, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Tyrin Smith, an inmate at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges claims against Salvadore Godinez (director of the Illinois Department of Corrections); Richard Harrington (warden at Menard); Gail Walls (acting health care administrator); Angela Crain (RN and nursing supervisor); Dr. Fuentes (a healthcare provider at Menard); and Dr. Nwaobasi (another healthcare provider at Menard). (Doc. 1). Plaintiff claims that Defendants have repeatedly refused to provide adequate medical treatment for Plaintiff's severely prolapsed hemorrhoid. Id. at 13. Plaintiff seeks monetary relief.

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).

The Complaint

Plaintiff has submitted a lengthy complaint, which contains a detailed discussion of his medical conditions, his attempts to secure medical treatment, and his various efforts to file grievances regarding the situation. For the purpose of the Court's threshold review, the following facts are relevant.

Since 2010, Plaintiff has suffered from hemorrhoids. (Doc. 1, p. 13). From 2010 until 2014, Plaintiff was examined multiple times by Drs. Fuentes and Nwaobosi at the Health Care Unit ("HCU") at Menard.[1] Id. During that time, Plaintiff maintains that not only was his medical condition not properly treated, but the prescribed treatments actually caused his condition to worsen. Id. at 21. In mid-2011, Plaintiff states that his condition worsened from a small internal hemorrhoid to a severely prolapsed/thrombosis hemorrhoid, which was bloody and swollen and protruded nearly two inches outside of the anal cavity. Id. at 16. Plaintiff asserts that he needlessly suffered through this extremely painful condition because neither Dr. Fuentes nor Dr. Nwaobosi would order surgery for Plaintiff. According to Defendant Nwaobosi, Plaintiff's request for surgery was denied because of cost and/or security considerations. Id. at 13.

It was not until Plaintiff saw Dr. Trost, a new doctor at Menard, that Plaintiff was able to obtain any relief. Dr. Trost examined Plaintiff for the first time on March 24, 2014. Id. at 15. Plaintiff claims that Dr. Trost immediately insisted that Plaintiff be sent out to a hospital that very day, because the condition was too advanced to be treated at Menard. Id. Plaintiff was taken to Chester Memorial Hospital that same day and seen by two doctors on staff who concurred with Dr. Trost that Plaintiff's condition warranted immediate surgery. Plaintiff was prepped for surgery that same day, but for scheduling reasons, it had to be delayed. One of the outside doctors prescribed Vicodin for Plaintiff to help treat the pain, but the healthcare providers at Menard refused to fill it, and instead continued to prescribe Plaintiff Ibuprofen, which is contraindicated for treatment of hemorrhoids. On April 2, 2014, Plaintiff was seen by another outside doctor, Dr. Brewer, who performed the needed surgery on Plaintiff two days later. Id.

Prior to the surgery and thereafter, outside doctors advised Plaintiff that he needed to eat a high-fiber diet and wrote a prescription ordering such. Id. at 26. When Plaintiff gave the prescription to Defendant Fuentes, she said, "You don't need this stuff." Id. at 26. When Plaintiff protested, Defendant Fuentes responded, "Get out of here." Id. Likewise, when Plaintiff asked Defendant Nwoabasi about a high-fiber diet, Nwoabasi said, "Menard does have peanut butter, bran cereal, fruit, you just won't get it." Id. at 27. On April 18, 2014, Plaintiff saw Dr. Brewer for a post-surgery check-up. Id. at 13. Dr. Brewer noted that Plaintiff was healing fine except for a bit of swelling. Dr. Brewer told Plaintiff that he "must" implement a high-fiber diet to prevent a reoccurrence of the condition. Dr. Brewer wrote Plaintiff another prescription for a high-fiber diet and Colace. Id. at 13. However, Plaintiff never received a high-fiber diet. Id. at 27. When Dr. Trost inquired on Plaintiff's behalf, he was told that Plaintiff would have to change his religion to receive a high-fiber diet. Id.

Plaintiff further recounts his diligent attempts to access medical assistance through the inmate grievance process. The exhibits document a series of grievances filed up the chain of command. For example, in August 2011, Plaintiff filed an emergency grievance requesting appropriate medical treatment. Id. at Ex. 75. Defendant Gail Walls, acting health care administrator, reviewed Plaintiff's medical records and responded, "There is no indication by the health care professionals that have evaluated your complaint that you have a need for surgical intervention at this time." Id. at Ex. 76. Plaintiff filed another emergency grievance in September 2011, which was also denied. Id. at Ex. 79. Defendant Harrington concurred in denying that grievance. Id. at 23. Following his surgery in April 2014, Plaintiff filed a grievance on April 18, 2014 requesting a high-fiber diet. On July 2, 2014, Defendant Crain, nursing supervisor, responded, "I have received your grievance and reviewed the medical record and offer the following....You have been treated conservatively for hemorrhoids since 2010 with documentation of improvement and exacerbation. The discharge instructions from the hospital do discuss High Fiber Diet. You have been prescribed fiber-lax tablets to help supplement the fiber you may not get through your diet." Id. at Ex. 99. At the time Plaintiff filed the complaint, he still was not receiving a high-fiber diet. Id. at 27.

Discussion

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). To establish that an official acted with 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)). Specifically, 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)). "A delay in treatment may constitute deliberate indifference if the delay exacerbated the injury or unnecessarily prolonged an inmate's pain." McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 640 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Cooper v. Casey, 97 F.3d 914, 916 (7th Cir. 1996); Perkins v. Johnston, 431 F.Supp.2d 898, 901-02 (N.D. Ind. 2006).

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, as the Court must at this stage, the Court finds that Plaintiff has pled facts demonstrating that he suffered from an objectively serious medical condition. The question, therefore, is whether the named Defendants acted with the requisite intent to be held individually liable. The Court will consider each set of Defendants below.

Defendants Fuentes and Nwoabasi (medical doctors) treated Plaintiff from 2010 to 2014. According to the complaint, they were well aware of Plaintiff's painful and worsening medical condition, and yet they continually failed to provide appropriate medical treatment. In addition, following Plaintiff's surgery, Defendants Fuentes and Nwoabasi refused to assist Plaintiff with obtaining a high-fiber diet, which had been ordered by two different outside doctors. These facts, if true, suggest that Drs. Fuentes and Nwoabasi acted with deliberate ...


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