United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division
ORDER & OPINION
JOE BILLY MCDADE, District Judge.
Plaintiff, proceeding pro se and presently incarcerated at Pontiac Correctional Center, brings the present lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging an Eighth Amendment Claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, and a conspiracy claim. The matter comes before this Court for ruling on motions for summary judgment filed by Defendants Tilden and Wexford (Doc. 44) and Defendants Bruner, Melvin, Pfister, and Reed (Doc. 46). For the reasons discussed below, the motions are granted.
Summary judgment should be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). All facts must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in his favor. Ogden v. Atterholt, 606 F.3d 355, 358 (7th Cir. 2010). The party moving for summary judgment must show the lack of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In order to be a "genuine" issue, there must be more than "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
Plaintiff is a prisoner incarcerated at Pontiac Correctional Center ("Pontiac"). In May 2003, Plaintiff suffered a fracture to his left heel that required surgery. Shortly thereafter, and as part of Plaintiff's aftercare for the surgery, a podiatrist recommended Plaintiff wear a specific type of shoes, though some dispute exists over whether these shoes were "orthopedic." Nonetheless, Plaintiff was issued a new pair of the special shoes every two years until August 2012. Plaintiff requested a new pair of shoes at that time stating that his current pair had worn down and did not provide support. Defendant Tilden, the medical director at Pontiac, reviewed Plaintiff's medical records and opined that Plaintiff did not need the specially ordered shoes Plaintiff had previously been issued as the "state-issued" shoes available at Pontiac could adequately meet Plaintiff's needs. Defendant Tilden based this opinion on his observations that Plaintiff had a strong gait and a good range of motion in his hips, could walk with minimal discomfort, and several x-rays taken periodically since Plaintiff's surgery showed no bony abnormalities in Plaintiff's foot, and did not indicate that Plaintiff's foot condition was worsening. Furthermore, Plaintiff did not complain about foot pain. Instead, Plaintiff's complaints of pain focused on his hips. With regards to his hip pain, Defendant Tilden concluded that Plaintiff most likely suffered from degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis in his hips. To treat those conditions, Plaintiff was consistently prescribed pain medication and issued low bunk permits. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Tilden's denial of the shoes amounts to deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.
After Defendant Tilden's decision to not renew the order for Plaintiff's special shoes, Plaintiff made several requests to obtain copies of his medical records. Plaintiff was eventually provided copies of the requested records, though with some delay with respect to a portion of the records as Pontiac officials had difficulty locating them. As a result of Plaintiff's alleged difficultly obtaining his medical records, combined with Defendant Tilden's decision to not renew his shoes, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Pfister, Reed, Melvin, Bruner, and Tilden conspired to deprive Plaintiff of adequate medical care, specifically related to Plaintiff's shoes.
Deliberate Indifference to a Serious Medical Need
To implicate a violation of the Eighth Amendment for inadequate medical care, the Plaintiff must show that the prison official acted with deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105 (1976). Deliberate indifference is more than negligence, but does not require the plaintiff to show that the defendants intended to cause harm. Mayoral v. Sheehan, 245 F.3d 934, 938 (7th Cir. 2001). Liability attaches under the Eighth Amendment when "the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994).
Defendants Tilden and Wexford
Defendants Tilden and Wexford argue that Plaintiff did not suffer from a serious medical need because Plaintiff did not actually need orthopedic shoes. "An objectively 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." King v. Kramer, 680 F.3d 1013, 1018 (7th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations omitted). In evaluating the seriousness of a medical condition, the court evaluates several factors: (1) whether failure to treat the condition would result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain; (2) whether a reasonable doctor or patient would find the alleged injury worthy of comment or treatment; (3) the existence of a medical condition that significantly affects daily activities; and, (4) the existence of any chronic and substantial pain. Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1373 (7th Cir. 1997).
The parties agree that Plaintiff suffered a heel injury in May 2003 that required surgery and resulted in the placement of several screws in Plaintiff's heel. According to Plaintiff, doctors told him that he would always experience some degree of pain with likely development of arthritis in the hips, ankles, and knees. Pl. Dep. 32:9-17. The medical records show that Plaintiff was consistently prescribed pain medication that alleviated, or reduced, at least some of the resulting and ongoing pain. These facts, when viewed in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff, show that Plaintiff suffered from an objectively serious medical need for purposes of the Eighth Amendment.
As part of the basis for denying Plaintiff's requests for new footwear, Defendant Tilden, the medical director at Pontiac, asserts that orthopedic shoes were not ordered as part of the podiatrist's initial recommendation, and that Plaintiff was subsequently given a pair of "state-issued" leather shoes. Plaintiff counters by stating that "state-issued" leather shoes do not exist and, therefore, his shoes must have been orthopedic. A review of the podiatrist's initial recommendation shows that Plaintiff was given a recommendation for "special shoes other than state-issued shoes." (Doc. 44-23). From this, the Court must assume for purposes of this ruling that the shoes Plaintiff received were not of the type issued or readily available to inmates without a doctor's order. Whether the shoes were truly "orthopedic" remains up for debate, but nonetheless, the recommendation for special shoes was made as part of an overall treatment plan designed towards the end of alleviating the pain associated with, and assisting in the healing of, Plaintiff's original injury. When viewed in this light, Defendant Tilden's decision to discontinue the recommendation for special shoes is a matter of professional discretion with which the courts will not interfere unless the evidence suggests that "no minimally competent professional would have so responded under those circumstances.'" Sain v. Wood, 512 F.3d 886, 894-95 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Collignon v. Milwaukee Cnty., 163 F.3d 982, 988 (7th Cir. 1998)). In other words, a medical professional is deliberately indifferent only if "the decision by the professional is such a substantial departure from accepted professional judgment, practice, or standards, as to demonstrate that the person ...