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Harris v. Larson

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 2, 2015

DARIUS HARRIS, # R-58131, Plaintiff,


J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Darius Harris, an inmate at Big Muddy River Correctional Center ("Big Muddy"), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff asserts claims against Dr. Larson (medical doctor at Big Muddy); Dr. Shah Vipin (medical doctor at Western Illinois Correctional Center); Gary Gerst (physician assistant at Big Muddy); Dan Varel (physical therapist at Big Muddy); Zachary Roeckeman (warden at Big Muddy); and Unknown regional director of Wexford Health Services. Plaintiff claims that Defendants have denied him adequate medical treatment for a knee and pinky finger injury. (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

On August 2, 2010, Plaintiff injured his knee and fractured the pinky finger on his left hand while playing basketball. At the time, Plaintiff was incarcerated at Western Illinois Correctional Center ("Western"). (Doc. 1, p. 21). Plaintiff was taken to the healthcare unit and seen by a nurse. When Plaintiff told the nurse that he believed he had torn his ACL, she responded, "Are you a doctor? How do you know that?" Rather than order further tests, the nurse simply gave Plaintiff Tylenol and an ice pack for his knee. Plaintiff then asked the nurse about treatment for his finger. She replied that he was only being seen for his knee and instructed him to make an appointment if he wanted to see a doctor about his finger. Id.

Nearly three weeks later, Plaintiff saw Defendant Vipin Shah, a medical doctor at Western, about his finger and his swollen knee. Id. Plaintiff was scheduled to be transferred to Stateville Correctional Center on a court writ, so Defendant Shah refused to give Plaintiff any pain medication at that time, per security policy. Id.

When Plaintiff returned to Western, he was seen by a nurse on September 20, 2010 and his finger was placed in a splint, but he was still not given any medication for the pain. Id. at 22. An x-ray taken a few days later revealed that Plaintiff had a small evulsion fracture on the pinky finger of his left hand. Id. Plaintiff was concerned that his finger was crooked and he had difficulty straightening it. Defendant Shah said it was a "minor injury" and advised Plaintiff, "You'll probably never be able to straighten it, that's what happens with these types of injuries, exercise it and it'll be alright." Id. at 22.

In mid-October, Plaintiff's knee was x-rayed; Plaintiff met with Defendant Shah a few days later and was informed that the x-ray did not show any kind of injury. Id. Plaintiff insisted that he had injured his ACL and that this type of injury would not show up on an x-ray. Plaintiff requested an MRI, but Dr. Shah refused to authorize one. He then told Plaintiff to leave his office and "suggested" that he would write Plaintiff a disciplinary ticket if he did not. Id.

Plaintiff saw Dr. Shah again in mid-November for his knee, which had continued to bother him, but Dr. Shah offered no treatment options other than suggesting that Plaintiff keep his leg elevated. Id. at 23.

Plaintiff was transferred to Big Muddy on April 4, 2011. Id. Since that time, Plaintiff has been seen by Defendant Larson, the medical doctor at Big Muddy, for his ongoing knee problems. According to the medical records, Plaintiff has reinjured the same knee on at least one occasion. (Doc. 1, Exs. 19-22). Defendant Larson has ordered at least two sets of x-rays on Plaintiff's knee. The latest x-ray, in November 2014, showed that Plaintiff has "[n]o fracture, dislocation, or bony abnormality" of the knee, but he does have mild spurring on the tibial spines. (Doc. 1, Ex. 23). Plaintiff has continued to request an MRI, but Defendant Larson has refused Plaintiff's request for an MRI and maintained that Plaintiff does not have a torn ACL. Dr. Larson has also denied Plaintiff's request for a knee brace. Dr. Larson, however, did refer Plaintiff to a physical therapist and maintains that this is the only option available to treat Plaintiff's knee. (Doc. 1, p. 23).

Plaintiff was seen by the physical therapist, Defendant Dan Varel, in mid-January, 2015. Id. at 24. Defendant Varel told Plaintiff that his leg should not be able to move the way it does. Plaintiff asserts that this confirms his belief that he has a torn ACL. Id. It is unclear from the Complaint whether Defendant Varel diagnosed Plaintiff with a torn ACL or if Plaintiff inferred the diagnosis from Defendant Varel's comments.

Plaintiff maintains that to this day he has limited use of his finger and that his knee still causes him pain. He contends that both of these problems could have been avoided if he had received proper treatment when he was first ...

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