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Thomas v. Wexford Health Services

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 17, 2015

BISHARA THOMAS, # R-48668, Plaintiff,
v.
WEXFORD HEALTH SERVICES, DR. RITZ, and KIMBERLY BUTLER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Bishara Thomas, an inmate at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that Defendants have denied him adequate medical treatment for a chronic stomach condition. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff seeks monetary and injunctive relief.

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. At the same time, 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

Since November 2009, Plaintiff has suffered severe abdominal pain. (Doc. 1, p. 5). He has been seen on numerous occasions by medical staff at Stateville Correctional Center and Menard. Id. Over the years, Plaintiff has repeatedly complained about his condition, which he states is very painful and includes the following symptoms: bloating, thin and bloody stool, vomiting black and bloody substances, diarrhea, constipation, and soreness. Id. Plaintiff has been prescribed various medications, all to no avail. Plaintiff maintains that the medications have provided him with no relief and have, in fact, exacerbated his stomach condition. Id.

Plaintiff asserts that Dr. Trost, the head medical provider at Menard, told Plaintiff that the treatments options available at Menard were limited and had all been exhausted. Id. Dr. Trost maintained that they would not be able to effectively treat Plaintiff at Menard until Plaintiff underwent a CT scan or endoscopy, procedures which could not be performed at Menard. Id. Dr. Trost submitted a referral for the tests, but the request was denied by Defendant Wexford Health Services ("Wexford") and its employee, Defendant Dr. Ritz. Id. In a letter dated December 18, 2014, Charlotte Miget, a nursing supervisor, explained that Plaintiff's case had been "presented in collegial" and the request for a CT scan and/or endoscopy had been denied by Wexford. Id. at 46. Plaintiff was directed to use "nurse sick call as needed." Id.

Finally, Plaintiff states that he has repeatedly been charged a medical co-pay for the same ongoing medical issue, which he maintains is against prison policy. Id. at 6.

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)). Moreover, "[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).

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, as the Court must at this stage, the Court finds that Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that he is suffering from an objectively serious medical condition. The question, therefore, is whether the named Defendants acted with deliberate indifference.

According to the Complaint, Defendant Wexford denied a request made by Dr. Trost, the head medical doctor at Menard, to send Plaintiff to an outside medical facility for medical tests Dr. Trost believed were necessary to adequately diagnose and treat Plaintiff's stomach condition. Although a mere disagreement regarding the proper course of treatment usually does not give rise to a claim of deliberate indifference, that determination turns on questions of fact that cannot be decided at this stage. The Seventh Circuit has noted

Like other medical decisions, the choice whether to refer a prisoner to a specialist involves the exercise of medical discretion, and so refusal to refer supports a claim of deliberate indifference only if that choice is blatantly inappropriate.' On occasion, we have noted that failure ...

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