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Flemming v. Els

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 7, 2015

RON FLEMMING, #R63277, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. ELS, and JOHN DOE, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Ron Flemming is currently incarcerated at the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, Illinois, but was previously incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center in Pinckneyville, Illinois. (Doc. 8 at 3.) Proceeding pro se, Flemming has filed an amended complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he was denied treatment for his chronic eye issues by Dr. Els, a physician at Pinckneyville. (Id. at 2-3.) Flemming also claims that a pharmacy technician at the prison, who he has dubbed as a John Doe for purposes of this suit, refused to provide him with his prescription eye medications. (Id. at 3.) Flemming seeks $100, 000 in compensatory damages and $50, 000 in punitive damages. (Id. at 5.)

This matter is now before the Court for a preliminary review of Flemming's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court shall review a "complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a government entity." During this preliminary review under § 1915A, the court "shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, " if the complaint "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted" or if it "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief."

Background

According to Flemming's amended complaint, Flemming was transferred to Pinckneyville in June 2011. (Doc. 8 at 2.) At that time, he suffered from several chronic eye issues, including glaucoma, entropion lashes in his left eye, and a prosthesis in his right eye. (Id. ) Prior to his transfer, Flemming had received long-term treatment for his eye issues, and he was not experiencing any blurry vision or other complications at that time. (Id. )

In July 2011, Flemming saw Dr. Els for the first time. (Id. ) Dr. Els told Flemming that his retina was damaged and that the pressure in his left eye should be kept low. (Id. ) Flemming saw Dr. Els again in August 2011, and the pressure in his eye was fine. (Id. ) Beginning in early 2012, however, the pressure in Flemming's eye worsened - it rose to 29 in January 2012, and to 30 in August 2012. (Id. ) Despite the change in pressure, Flemming claims that Dr. Els "did nothing about [the] pressure increase" and did not provide treatment. (Id. )

In early 2013, Flemming again saw Dr. Els, as he was suffering from blurred vision and headaches. (Id. ) This time, Dr. Els did not check Flemming's eye pressure, and still did not provide him with any treatment. (Id. ) From August 2013 to April 2014, Flemming continued to have issues with his vision, but his requests to see Dr. Els for follow up were ignored. (Id. at 2-3.) He filed a grievance concerning his requests to see Dr. Els, and was able to see him again on April 9, 2014. (Id. at 3.) During that visit, Dr. Els measured Flemming's eye pressure at 32. (Id. ) Flemming told Dr. Els that his vision was so bad that he was "walking into objects and couldn't see the person talking to [him], " and that previous specialists directed him to keep his pressure at 18 or lower. (Id. ) Dr. Els said there "wasn't anything wrong with [Flemming's] eyesight, " and allowed his various eye conditions to "go untreated." (Id. )

Flemming also claims that he requested his prescription eye drops from a pharmacy worker at Pinckneyville on numerous occasions from August 2013 to March 2014. (Id. ) Flemming claims that the pharmacy worker failed to provide him with his prescription eye drops despite his requests, and that this failure contributed to his eye deterioration. (Id. )

In May 2014, Flemming was transferred to Hill Correctional Center, where he saw Dr. Carter for his eye related issues. (Id. at 3-4.) Dr. Carter conducted a visual field test and discovered that Flemming lost the vision in the lower part of his left eye. (Id. at 4.) He was treated with different eye glasses and prescription eye drops, and was referred to a glaucoma specialist. (Id. ) That specialist, in turn, told Flemming that he "suffered from glaucoma neglect" and that he needed surgery immediately. (Id. ) Flemming last saw an eye doctor in December 2014, and he claims that his sight "is still blurry" due to his issues at Pinckneyville. (Id. )

Flemming filed his initial § 1983 complaint concerning the events at Pinckneyville on March 9, 2015, naming the warden of Pinckneyville, a member of the Illinois Administrative Review Board, and several medical staff at the prison. (Doc. 1) Flemming's 39-page, single-spaced complaint was filled to the brim with conclusory allegations but lacking in factual detail concerning his eye issues and the role the named defendants played in those issues, so it was dismissed with leave to re-plead on March 30, 2015. (Doc. 5) On April 30, 2015, Flemming filed his amended complaint, trimming his defendants down to Dr. Els and the pharmacy worker, and alleging that they were indifferent to his medical requests. (Doc. 8.)

Discussion

Flemming's complaint focuses primarily on Dr. Els' failure to treat, so the Court will begin with that claim (Count 1). The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution bars cruel and unusual punishment of prisoners, and prison officials violate this proscription "when they display deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners." Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 652-53 (7th Cir. 2005). To bring an Eighth Amendment claim against a physician, a prisoner has two hurdles to surmount: he must first show that his medical condition is "objectively" serious, and he must then allege that the medical professional acted with the requisite state of mind. Jackson v. Ill. Medi-Car, Inc., 300 F.3d 760, 765 (7th Cir. 2002).

For screening purposes, Flemming has alleged the existence of an objectively serious medical condition. An objectively serious condition 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." Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 593 (7th Cir. 2001). Factors that indicate a serious condition include "the existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial pain." Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1373 (7th Cir. 1997). Here, Flemming's glaucoma and other chronic eye conditions arguably qualify as serious, which is enough for preliminary screening purposes. See O'Banner v. Bizzell, 151 F.3d 1033 (7th Cir. 1998) (holding that glaucoma is "manifestly a sufficiently serious condition").

Flemming's complaint also alleges that Dr. Els acted with the necessary state of mind, at least for purposes of screening review. To be sure, "medical malpractice, negligence, or even gross negligence" by a physician "does not equate to deliberate indifference." Johnson v. Doughty, 433 F.3d 1001, 1012-13 (7th Cir. 2006). Rather, deliberate indifference can be inferred if a professional's decision represents "such a substantial departure from accepted professional judgment, practice, or standards as to demonstrate that the person responsible actually did not base the decision on such a judgment." Estate of Cole by Pardue v. Fromm, 94 F.3d 254, 261-62 (7th Cir. 1996). Such a departure might occur when a professional knows of a serious condition yet fails to provide any treatment. See, e.g., Watkins v. Lancor, 558 F.Appx. 662, 666 (7th Cir. 2014) (prisoner had a "plausible case" when he alleged failure "to address pain" caused by a broken bone); Montanez v. Feinerman, 439 F.Appx. 545, 549 (7th Cir. 2011) (prisoner stated claim by alleging that medical professionals knew of kidney stones "but have not provided any treatment"). Deliberate indifference might also exist when a health care provider knows of a need for follow-up care and delays providing it. See, e.g., Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 753 (7th Cir. 2011) ("A delay in treating non-life-threatening but painful conditions may constitute deliberate indifference if the delay exacerbated the injury or unnecessarily ...


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