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Moctezuma v. Santos

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

August 3, 2016

IVAN MOCTEZUMA, #R60368, Plaintiff
v.
BENERIO SANTOS, and WEXFORD MEDICAL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          MICHAEL J. REAGAN U.S. Chief District Judge

         Plaintiff Ivan Moctezuma, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Centralia Correctional Center (“Centralia”), brings this pro se action for alleged violations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). Plaintiff claims that Defendant, Doctor Benerio Santos, has failed to adequately diagnose his medical condition and has demonstrated deliberate indifference to his ongoing need for medical care (Id. at 5). In essence, the Plaintiff alleges that he is suffering from inexplicable chronic pain, and that the treatment he has received has been insufficient to either determine the root cause of his ailment or to alleviate the symptoms (Id.). In connection with these claims, Plaintiff sues Benerio Santos (doctor), and Wexford Health (Centralia medical contractor) for monetary damages and injunctive relief.

         This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under Section 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). The Complaint will be allowed to proceed in its entirety against Defendant Santos. Defendant Wexford Medical is dismissed.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff’s statement of his claims is impressively succinct (Doc. 1 at 5). He alleges that he is experiencing ongoing weakness in his legs, pain in his knees and hips, difficulty walking or lying down for long periods of time, easy bruising, and head and neck pressure (Id.). He reports that he has requested numerous medical appointments, and that Santos has continually failed to diagnose his condition (Id.). Apparently, Santos has told the Plaintiff that “nothing is wrong” with him (Id.). Santos has prescribed medications, though they do not work to alleviate the symptoms (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Santos’ conduct constitutes deliberate indifference and subjects him to cruel and unusual punishment. (Id.).

         Appended to the Complaint, Plaintiff has included 12 pages of grievances he filed seeking further medical treatment (Id. at 7-18). The grievances span from September 2015 through March 2016 (Id.). The grievances generally reflect an ongoing pattern of the Plaintiff seeing Santos, Santos providing an incremental change in care, Plaintiff grieving that he is not getting adequate care, and the grievance officials deeming the progression of care adequate (Id.). From September through March the Plaintiff has received a CAT scan, lab testing, and ultrasound screening, which all produced “normal” results (Id.). The grievances note that the Plaintiff was successfully treated for stomach issues and slight dehydration (Id. at 11). In approximately November, the Plaintiff was prescribed medication for his pain, though he alleges that he does not know why the medication was prescribed and that it did not alleviate the symptoms (Id. at 7-8). At a November visit Santos allegedly told him he “was crazy and that [he] didn’t know what [he] was talking about.” (Id.). Aside from Santos, the Plaintiff also apparently saw a Dr. Garcia on at least one occasion, and the two doctors were reportedly working together to monitor the Plaintiff as of December 2015 (Id. at 9).

         Discussion

         Based on the allegations, the Court finds it appropriate to treat the Plaintiff’s Complaint as containing a single issue of Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference. This legal theory will encompass both of the claims that the Plaintiff asserted in his own pleading-failure to treat and generic deliberate indifference. Because those two claims are so similar in nature, and share many common legal principles, it is best that they proceed in tandem.

         The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment. See U.S. CONST. amend. VIII. The Supreme Court has held that “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners” may constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976); see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2006) (per curiam). To state a medical claim under the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that his condition “was objectively serious, ” and that officials acted with the requisite intent-deliberate indifference-towards that condition. Sherrod v. Lingle, 223 F.3d 605, 610 (7th Cir. 2000). Put differently, a plaintiff must make a two part showing-(1) that his condition is objectively serious, and that, (2) subjectively, the treating physician intentionally and deliberately failed to provide adequate care. See Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1369 (7th Cir. 1997).

         Whether an injury is serious enough is a very fact specific inquiry-seriousness may be shown if an ordinary doctor opined an injury warranted treatment, if an injury significantly impacted an individual’s daily activities, or if an injury caused chronic or substantial pain, among other things. Id. As to the subjective component, an 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.” Jackson v. Ill. Medi-Car, Inc., 300 F.3d 760, 765 (7th Cir. 2002). If an official reasonably responds to a risk, even if harm was not averted, deliberate indifference does not exist. Id. A claim for medical negligence does not amount to deliberate indifference. Gutierrez, 111 F.3d at 1369.

         The Plaintiff’s alleged conditions-chronic pain, significant weight loss, and an increasing loss of mobility-are objectively serious for purposes of an Eighth Amendment claim. See Id. at 1373. Plaintiff's claim also passes the subjective hurdle at this juncture because allegations of a failure to treat in the face of an objectively serious medical condition can constitute indifference, depending on the circumstances. See Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 753 (7th Cir. 2011) (noting that intentional delays or treatment, or intentional failure to follow a recommended course of treatment can constitute deliberate indifference); McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 640-41 (7th Cir. 2010) (reiterating that the subjective state of the medical actor in the provision of medical care, or lack thereof, is a critical factual determination). The Plaintiff’s claim may ultimately turn on whether Defendant Santos’ course of treatment was reasonable in light of the Plaintiff’s complaints. If the treatment was reasonable, the claim will fail, if it was not, the claim may succeed. See Jackson, 300 F.3d at 765. In any event, the Court cannot resolve this question at this juncture, so the Complaint will proceed against Defendant Santos.

         The complaint may not, however, proceed against Wexford at this time. Wexford is a corporate entity and is therefore treated as a municipality for § 1983 purposes. See Id. at 766, n.6. “[T]o maintain a § 1983 claim against a municipality, [a plaintiff] must establish the requisite culpability (a 'policy or custom' attributable to municipal policymakers) and the requisite causation (the policy or custom was the 'moving force' behind the constitutional deprivation).” Gable v. City of Chicago, 296 F.3d 531, 537 (7th Cir. 2002). Here, Plaintiff has not alleged any custom or policy attributable to Wexford that impacted the level of care he received. See, e.g., Olive v. Wexford Corp., 494 F. App’x 671, 673 (7th Cir. 2012) (allegation that Wexford had a policy of “denying prison inmates adequate medical care” insufficient, as it did not “identify any concrete policy, let alone an unconstitutional one.”). Therefore, Wexford is dismissed without prejudice.

         Pending Motions

         Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Recruitment of Counsel (Doc. 3), which shall be REFERRED to United States Magistrate ...


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