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Williams v. Caldwell

United States District Court, Southern District of Illinois

January 23, 2015

ROBERT E. WILLIAMS, # B-89342, Plaintiff,



Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Vandalia Correctional Center (“Vandalia”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He is serving a four-year sentence for a drug offense. Plaintiff claims that Defendants are unable to render adequate treatment for his serious medical conditions at Vandalia, and he seeks a transfer to a different prison or to work release/house arrest where he may obtain proper medical care.

Plaintiff suffers from a serious allergic condition, “allergy angioedema” (Doc. 1, p. 5). This illness causes severe and painful swelling in various parts of his body, which may be triggered by exposure to dust, dirt, laundry detergent, certain foods, and other allergens. When Plaintiff’s tongue and throat swell up, it may cut off his breathing and become life-threatening (Doc. 1, p. 6). He also suffers from sleep apnea (Doc. 1-1, pp. 28-29).

Plaintiff alleges that in April 2014, he was told by Defendant Caldwell (Vandalia physician) that his condition was very serious, and that he “could not be treated here at this prison because it is not equipped to handle this type of illness” Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff has suffered several allergic episodes during his time at Vandalia, and claims he was given only Benadryl as an antidote. However, Defendants Caldwell, Godinez (Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections), and Luth (Vandalia Warden) did grant approval for Plaintiff to have a CPAP machine in his cell to help him breathe at night.[2]

Plaintiff does not have access to the allergy specialist who treated him before he was sent to prison. Because of Plaintiff’s condition, a “medical hold” has been placed on him. As a result, he contends, he is not eligible for a transfer to either a work release program or to house arrest/electronic monitoring – either of which would allow him to obtain treatment from an outside medical provider. He has requested Defendant Caldwell to lift the medical hold, but the hold has remained.

Along with his complaint, Plaintiff included 40 pages of medical records, grievances, and other documents (Doc. 1-1). The medical records disclose that from late March 2014 through May 2014, Plaintiff was treated in the prison Health Care Unit for serious allergic reactions at least six times (Doc. 1-1, pp. 2-21). He was given Benadryl each time, and he was also treated with other medications. These included intravenous Solu-Medrol, [3] Dexamethasone, [4]and epinephrine (Epipen) (Doc. 1-1, pp. 4-10; 15-19).

As relief, Plaintiff seeks an order requiring the medical hold to be terminated, so that he may transfer to another prison or apply for house arrest or work release. He also seeks compensatory and punitive damages (Doc. 1, p. 8).

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant.

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). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that “no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit.” Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). 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).

Plaintiff’s overarching claim (designated herein as Count 1) is that Defendants have violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, because they have been deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. However, Plaintiff’s own allegations, augmented by the exhibits he attached to his complaint, demonstrate just the opposite. The Vandalia medical providers have treated his condition each time he has experienced an allergic reaction. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff’s deliberate indifference claim against Defendants Caldwell, Godinez, Luth, and the Unknown Party Health Care Employees (Count 1) shall be dismissed.

1. Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs

In order to state a claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, an inmate must show that he (1) suffered from an objectively serious medical condition; and (2) that the defendant was deliberately indifferent to a risk of serious harm from that condition. “Deliberate indifference is proven by demonstrating that a prison official knows of a substantial risk of harm to an inmate and either acts or fails to act in disregard of that risk.” Gomez v. Randle, 680 F.3d 859, 865 (7th Cir. 2012) (internal citations and quotations omitted); see also Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994). The Eighth Amendment does not give prisoners entitlement to “demand specific care” or “the best care possible, ” but only requires “reasonable measures to meet a substantial risk of serious harm.” Forbes v. Edgar, 112 F.3d 262, 267 (7th Cir. 1997). A defendant’s inadvertent error, negligence or even ordinary malpractice is insufficient to rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment constitutional violation. See Duckworth v. Ahmad, 532 F.3d 675, 679 (7th Cir. 2008). Further, mere disagreement with a physician’s chosen course of an inmate’s medical treatment does not amount to deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment. See Ciarpaglini v. Saini, 352 F.3d 328, 331 (7th Cir. 2003); Garvin v. Armstrong, 236 F.3d 896, 898 (7th Cir. 2001) (courts will not takes sides in disagreements about medical personnel’s judgments or techniques); Snipes v. DeTella, 95 F.3d 586, 591 (7th Cir. 1996).

The complaint clearly demonstrates that Plaintiff suffers from at least one objectively serious condition. He has had several allergic episodes at Vandalia involving swelling of his tongue, throat, and face. According to his medical records, he was treated each time by Vandalia nurses, and was also under the care of Defendant Caldwell. Contrary to Plaintiff’s claim that he was treated “only” with Benadryl, he was given that and other medications in order to relieve his swelling and other symptoms. He was monitored in the Health Care Unit while he was undergoing treatment. Defendant Caldwell ordered that an Epipen be kept on hand in order to treat Plaintiff in the event of future attacks (Doc. 1-1, p. 9; notes from May 5, 2014). Far from indicating deliberate indifference to Plaintiff’s ...

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