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Barfield v. Keller

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 20, 2015

WILLIAM BARFIELD, # B-05140, Plaintiff,
v.
MR. KELLER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Keller, a Lawrence correctional officer, was deliberately indifferent to his need for medical attention after a serious fall.

In his complaint, Plaintiff states that on March 4, 2014, he was allowed out of his cell along with a number of other inmates to access the dayroom, shower, or telephone (Doc. 1, p. 3-4). While Plaintiff was walking down the stairs toward the showers, another inmate came running down the stairs and bumped into him. Plaintiff was knocked off balance and fell down the stairs, landing on his head, neck, back, and elbow.

Defendant Keller saw the other inmate running before the collision but failed to stop him, despite the fact he was in violation of the prison rule/policy that forbids running. Defendant Keller also saw Plaintiff fall and land on his head, yet failed to check on Plaintiff's condition or ask whether he needed medical attention.

Plaintiff showered and returned to his cell, and then noticed swelling in his elbow, thumb, head, and neck, as well as pain in his back. He felt nauseous and began vomiting. He called Defendant Keller to his cell and asked to be sent to the Health Care Unit ("HCU") for examination and treatment. Defendant Keller refused to allow this and rejected Plaintiff's request to speak to the lieutenant. After Defendant Keller left, Plaintiff pressed the emergency button in his cell, but neither Defendant Keller nor any other officer responded (Doc. 1, p. 5).

The next day, Plaintiff told a lieutenant about his fall, injuries, and ongoing pain. The lieutenant sent Plaintiff to the HCU, where he was examined and treated.

Plaintiff claims that the delay in treatment caused by Defendant Keller's refusal to assist him aggravated his medical condition and prolonged his pain, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Further, he asserts that Defendant Keller's failure to enforce the no-running rule led to his injury (Doc. 1, p. 8). He seeks damages and injunctive relief.

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.

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has stated a colorable federal civil rights claim against Defendant Keller for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need (Count 1). In addition, Plaintiff has articulated a state law claim for negligence against Defendant Keller (Count 2) that survives dismissal at this juncture.

Count 1 - Deliberate Indifference

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. "A serious' medical need is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that 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, 1371 (7th Cir. 1997). "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. Delaying treatment may constitute deliberate indifference if such delay exacerbated the injury or unnecessarily prolonged an inmate's pain." Gomez v. Randle, 680 F.3d 859, 865 (7th Cir. 2012) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

Here, Plaintiff describes an injury and symptoms that clearly required medical attention. Not only did Defendant Keller see Plaintiff fall down the stairs, but Plaintiff later told Defendant Keller of his serious symptoms, which indicated his need for treatment even to a layperson. Nonetheless, Defendant Keller refused to send Plaintiff to the HCU for an assessment, and he ignored Plaintiff's emergency call. Plaintiff's pain continued, and he did not obtain any medical assistance until the following day. The complaint thus satisfies both the objective and subjective components of an Eighth Amendment claim.

Plaintiff additionally claims that Defendant Keller's failure to enforce the no-running rule violated his Eighth Amendment rights. This is not correct. At most, Defendant Keller's inaction and failure to intervene to stop the other inmate from running down the stairs amounted to negligence. A defendant can never be held liable under § 1983 for a negligent act or omission. Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328 (1986) (inmate was injured in a fall caused when guard negligently left a pillow on a ...


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