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Smith v. Walton

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 19, 2015

CORNELIUS E. SMITH, # 19480-075, Plaintiff,



Plaintiff, an inmate in the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois (“Marion”), brings this action for alleged violations of his constitutional rights by persons acting under the color of federal authority. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). He also includes a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq.

Plaintiff asserts that several Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his need for treatment of a serious injury to his knee. This incident also forms the basis for Plaintiff’s FTCA claim. Additionally, he raises a claim that he was intentionally placed in an unsanitary cell following his knee surgery. Finally, some Defendants improperly denied him additional time in a halfway house placement, where he will spend the last six months of his sentence before being released from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”).

According to Plaintiff’s affidavit (“Appendix C, ” Doc. 1-2, pp. 1-5) and exhibits which he has attached to the complaint, Plaintiff injured his knee on June 27, 2014, while playing basketball on the outside yard at Marion (Doc. 1-1, p. 16). Defendants Wells and Fields (correctional officers) arrived “almost immediately” to the spot where Plaintiff was lying on the ground, unable to move. They attempted to contact somebody from Marion’s Medical Unit to take Plaintiff back inside for medical care (Doc. 1-2, p. 2). However, according to Plaintiff, Defendant Wells seemed to take the incident as a joke, and did not convey any sense of urgency to the medical staff (Doc. 1, p. 6). Defendant Fields was “disoriented” and “confused” about what he needed to do to get immediate medical care, and the Medical Unit refused to answer his call. Id. After some time passed without any response from the Medical Unit, Defendant Wells had some other inmates carry Plaintiff back to the prison on a stretcher (Doc. 1-2, p. 2).

Defendant Richardson was the charge nurse on duty when Plaintiff arrived at the Medical Unit (Doc. 1, p. 5). He blames her for refusing to come to the yard to bring him inside for medical care, and states she refused to order an x-ray of the injured knee. She called somebody outside Marion for instructions on handling Plaintiff’s emergency care. After that call, Defendant Richardson gave Plaintiff Ibuprofen and sent him back to his housing unit with “a set of crutches, leg brace and a smile” (Doc. 1-2, p. 3). She did nothing else to assess or treat his injury, even though his kneecap was visibly displaced and had moved “up on [his] thigh” more than twelve inches above its normal location (Doc. 1-2, p. 3; Doc. 1, p. 4). For many days afterward, Plaintiff continued to complain that he needed medical care, but Defendant Richardson did nothing further for him (Doc. 1, p. 5).

Defendant Castillo (physician assistant) was an attending provider when Plaintiff injured his knee, and Plaintiff made requests to him for medical care during the time between his injury and the eventual surgery (Doc. 1, pp. 5, 16; Doc. 1-1, p. 16).

Defendant Warden Walton “was notified” of Plaintiff’s need for medical care, but he “abdicated his responsibility” to ensure Plaintiff’s health and safety, and neglected to instruct his subordinates to fulfill their duty to provide Plaintiff with immediate care for his injury (Doc. 1, pp. 1, 13).

It was later determined that Plaintiff had ruptured his patellar tendon (Doc. 1-1, pp. 4-6). Defendant M. Bagwell was the Assistant Health Administrator at the time of Plaintiff’s injury. She refused to authorize the surgery that Plaintiff needed to repair the ruptured tendon, despite his many requests for treatment and constant complaints about his pain, until 30 days had passed (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 16). Plaintiff also attributes the delay in authorizing surgery to Defendant Winklemeier, who was the Health Administrator at the time (Doc. 1, p. 4).

On August 1, 2014, Defendant Miller (an outside orthopedic surgeon on contract with the prison) performed surgery to repair Plaintiff’s ruptured tendon (Doc. 1, p. 3; Doc. 1-1, p. 6). He told Plaintiff that because of the delay in scheduling the surgery, he would do his best, but Plaintiff “should not expect any great results.” (Doc. 1, p. 3) Defendant Miller recommended that Plaintiff have rehabilitative treatment. However, no such treatment has been given to Plaintiff, and he has not been taken back to see Defendant Miller for follow-up visits.

According to Plaintiff, Defendant Pass (Marion Physician/Clinical Director) has refused to adhere to the post-operative treatment plan devised by Defendant Miller (Doc. 1, pp. 3, 15). Defendant M. Bagwell (who took over as Health Administrator after the departure of Defendant Winklemeier) has likewise failed to give him any rehabilitative care or treatment for his extreme knee and hip pain (Doc. 1, p. 4, 16). Defendant PA Castillo has not provided rehabilitative treatment or pain relief, and has failed to have Plaintiff taken to his outside medical appointments (Doc. 1, p. 5). Defendant Pearce (transportation officer) took Plaintiff from the prison to an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon and back, but failed to bring back any paperwork to document the medical visit or any procedures that were performed (Doc. 1, p. 7). Defendant Nurse Trovillion “received and reviewed” a medical procedure performed by Defendant Miller, [1] but had no medical paperwork on the procedure, medicine, or rehabilitative care that Plaintiff was to receive (Doc. 1, p. 8).

Soon after Plaintiff returned to Marion following his knee surgery, Defendant Eberhart assigned him to a “suicide cell” in the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”), in which the toilet had overflowed (Doc. 1, pp. 2, 14). Plaintiff had a cast on his right leg that went all the way over his thigh. He was not issued any shoes, and was not allowed to have a shower. Defendant Eberhart gave Plaintiff a mop and bucket and told him to clean up the feces and other human waste that had overflowed into the cell. Even when Plaintiff explained that he had just undergone an operation on his leg, Defendant Eberhart refused to allow the orderlies to clean up the waste, commenting that cleaning the cell should keep Plaintiff from hurting himself (Doc. 1, p. 14). He further refused to assist Plaintiff with obtaining a shower, appropriate socks, shoes, clothing, soap, or other items he needed (Doc. 1, pp. 2, 8). Defendant Trovillion gave Plaintiff some Tylenol the next day while he remained in this cell (Doc. 1, p. 8). Defendant Counselor Edmister “was complicit” in the other staff members’ failure to protect him, and “was reluctant” to assist Plaintiff (Doc. 1, p. 7).

Plaintiff couches some of his allegations in terms of a “conspiracy” among certain Defendants to continue to deny him his constitutional rights. In this vein, he asserts that Defendant J. Bagwell (computer services manager), at some unspecified date, came to the Medical Unit with Plaintiff’s identification card (Doc. 1, p. 8). He told Plaintiff that he had the ID card and was “doing a ‘little-investigation’ – so it would be good for [Plaintiff] to watch [his] step.” Id. Plaintiff took this as a threat, and evidence of this ongoing conspiracy against him.

Other than a brief mention in his prayer for relief, Plaintiff does not elaborate on his Federal Tort Claim arising from his knee injury (Doc. 1, p. 12). His exhibits include a March 27, 2015, letter in reference to this claim from the Tort Claim Coordinator of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Doc. 1-2, p. 30). The letter notes that Plaintiff’s claim was received on March 2, 2015, and instructs Plaintiff to resubmit his claim to provide further information (Doc. 1-2, pp. 30-33). A copy of Plaintiff’s tort claim form is also attached (Doc. 1-2, pp. 32-33). On May 15, 2015, Plaintiff submitted another letter from the BOP’s regional counsel, acknowledging receipt of Plaintiff’s administrative FTCA claim, which he apparently resubmitted (Doc. 13, p. 2). The letter informs him that the agency’s response is not due until October 8, 2015.

Finally, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Sanders (case manager) failed to fulfill her duties to Plaintiff with reference to his quest for additional time in the halfway house under the Second Chance Act (Doc. 1, pp. 2, 14). Defendant Walton refused to instruct his Staff Case Manager (presumably Defendant Sanders) to follow the federal statutes and administrative rules governing Plaintiff’s application for halfway house placement (Doc. 1, pp. 1, 13; see also Doc. 1-1, pp. 23, 25-38). According to Defendant Walton’s response to Plaintiff’s request for administrative remedy on this matter (Doc. 1-1, p. 32), a case manager had initially recommended Plaintiff for a ten-month halfway house placement (see Doc. 1-1, p. 33). However, a problem came to light regarding Plaintiff’s concurrent state sentence on a parole violation, and this caused the halfway house recommendation to be reduced to six months. Plaintiff later documented that he had been released from the state sentence, but officials determined that a six-month placement was sufficient in Plaintiff’s case. Plaintiff’s anticipated date to be transferred to a halfway house is May 25, 2015 (Doc. 1-1, p. 36).

Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief to require the Defendants to stop denying him medical and rehabilitative care. He wants them to pay for his treatment, and seeks money damages pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (Doc. 1, p. 12).

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).

Based on the allegations of the complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into the following counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court.

The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit.

Count 1: Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Walton, Miller, Winklemeier, M. Bagwell, Castillo, Richardson, Wells, and Fields, for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff’s serious knee injury, in that they refused to provide necessary medical care and surgery for over 30 days following the injury;
Count 2: Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Miller, Pass, M. Bagwell, Castillo, Edmister, Pearce, and Trovillion, for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff’s serious knee injury, in that they refused to provide necessary ...

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