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Holtz v. Coe

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 26, 2016



          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff William Holtz, an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), filed this lawsuit on March 21, 2014, alleging his constitutional rights were violated while he was incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center (“Lawrence”). More specifically, Holtz alleges that medical personnel at Lawrence denied him treatment for a broken hand and, as a result of inadequate and delayed treatment, his hand healed incorrectly. Following a merits review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, Holtz was allowed to proceed on one count of deliberate indifference against Phil Martin, the medical director of Lawrence, and Dr. John Coe, a treating physician at Lawrence. Magistrate Judge Donald G. Wilkerson recruited counsel to represent Holtz on June 27, 2014 (see Docs. 25, 26)

         On April 28, 2015, Defendant Martin was dismissed, without prejudice, due to Holtz's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies against this defendant (see Doc. 49). Subsequently, Holtz sought, and was granted leave, to file an amended complaint (see Docs. 55, 59-60). In his amended complaint, Holtz sets forth the following claims:

Count I: Deliberate indifference claim against Defendant Dr. John Coe for failing to assess, provide and/or refusing to provide timely treatment for Plaintiff's hand injury.
Count II: Deliberate indifference claim against Defendant Elaine Burcham (f/k/a Elaine Hardy), N.P., for failing to refer Plaintiff to an orthopedist and/or failing to ensure Plaintiff was evaluated and treated by Defendant Coe for his hand injury.
Count III: Medical negligence claim against Defendant Elaine Burcham (f/k/a Elaine Hardy), N.P., for breaching the applicable standard of care in treating Plaintiff's hand injury.
Count IV: Deliberate indifference claim against Defendant Wexford Health Sources, Inc., for failing to adequately staff the healthcare unit at Lawrence.
Count V: Respondeat superior claim against Defendant Wexford Health Sources, Inc., for the acts and omissions brought against Defendant Burcham for medical negligence.

(see Doc. 60).

         Following the filing of the amended complaint, Defendants Burcham and Wexford filed a motion to dismiss Counts III and V (Doc. 69) and a motion for summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion of administrative remedies (Doc. 71), to which Holtz filed timely responses (Docs. 76 and 77). Defendants Burcham, Coe, and Wexford also filed a motion for summary judgment on the merits (Doc. 80), to which Holtz again filed a timely response (Doc. 82). Defendants' dispositive motions are now before the Court.


         I. Motion for Summary Judgment on the Issue of Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies (Doc. 71)

         A. Relevant Procedural Background

         Defendants Burcham and Wexford filed a motion for summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion (Doc. 71). In support of their motion, Defendants explain that, prior to being named as defendants in Holtz's amended complaint (see Doc. 60), the Court found that Holtz had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies against Phil Martin, who was dismissed from this action without prejudice due to Holtz's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies (see Docs. 45 and 49). Defendants Burcham and Wexford set forth similar arguments asserting they are similarly entitled to summary judgment.

         B. Relevant Factual Background

         As neither party has set forth facts that differ from those found by the Court in its previous order on Defendant Martin's motion for summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion, it notes the following relevant facts. Holtz filed a grievance complaining about the medical treatment, or lack thereof, for his broken left hand on January 3, 2014 (see Doc. 1-1, pp. 3-4). Specifically, Holtz complained that he did not receive proper care for his broken hand and, as a result, it healed improperly (Id.). Holtz's counselor responded to this grievance on January 17, 2014, indicating that Holtz was approved for a medical evaluation at Carle Clinic (Id. at p. 3). At the Pavey hearing held on December 2, 2014, Holtz testified that, upon receiving his counselor's response, he placed this grievance into the grievance box to be forwarded to the Grievance Officer (see Doc. 45, p. 3). The Grievance Officer received this grievance on February 6, 2014, but did not issue a response until June 2, 2014, after which the Chief Administrative Officer (“CAO”) responded on June 5, 2014 (see Doc. 38-1, p. 6), well after Holtz filed this lawsuit on March 21, 2014.

         C. Legal Standards

         Summary judgment is proper only if the moving party can demonstrate “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). See also Ruffin-Thompkins v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2005); Black Agents & Brokers Agency, Inc. v. Near North Ins. Brokerage, Inc., 409 F.3d 833, 836 (7th Cir. 2005). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no material facts are in genuine dispute; any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue must be resolved against the moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 160 (1970). See also Lawrence v. Kenosha Cnty., 391 F.3d 837, 841 (7th Cir. 2004). A moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law where the non-moving party “has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id.

         Exhaustion Requirements under the Prison Litigation Reform Act

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) provides:

No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under Section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Exhaustion of available administrative remedies is a precondition to suit. Dale v. Lappin, 376 F.3d 652, 655 (7th Cir. 2004). See also Perez v. Wis. Dept. of Corr., 182 F.3d 532, 535 (7th Cir. 1999) (stating that § 1997e(a) of the PLRA “makes exhaustion a precondition to suit” under § 1983). Failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense; Defendants bear the burden of proving a failure to exhaust. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007); Dole v. Chandler, 483 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006). The Supreme Court has interpreted the PLRA to require “proper exhaustion” prior to filing suit. See Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84 (2006). This means “using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits).” Id. at 90 (quoting Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1024 (7th Cir. 2002)). In finding the PLRA requires proper exhaustion, the Supreme Court agreed with the Seventh Circuit's interpretation of the statute as stated in Pozo, which required an inmate to “file complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's administrative rules require.” Pozo, 286 F.3d at 1025. In Pavey, the Seventh Circuit instructed district courts to conduct a hearing to determine whether a plaintiff has exhausted his remedies. Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739, 742 (7th Cir. 2008). If a plaintiff has exhausted his remedies, the case will proceed on the merits. If, however, a plaintiff has not exhausted, the Court may either allow the plaintiff to exhaust or terminate the matter.

         Exhaustion Requirements under Illinois Law

         Under the procedures set forth in the Illinois Administrative Code, an inmate must first attempt to resolve a complaint informally with his Counselor. Ill. Admin. Code tit. 20, § 504.810(a). If the complaint is not resolved, the inmate may file a grievance within sixty days after the discovery of the incident, occurrence, or problem that gives rise to the grievance. Id. § 504.810(b). The grievance officer is required to advise the CAO at the facility in writing of the findings on the grievance. Id. § 504.830(d). The CAO shall advise the inmate of the decision on the grievance within two months of it having been filed. Id. § 504.830(d). An inmate may appeal the decision of the CAO in writing within thirty days to the Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) for a final decision. Id. § 504.850(a). See also Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 806-07 (7th Cir. 2006). An inmate's administrative remedies are not exhausted until the appeal is ruled on by the ARB. See Id. The ARB shall make a final determination of the grievance within six months after receipt of the appealed grievance, where reasonably feasible under the circumstances. Id. § 504.850(f).

         An inmate may request a grievance be handled as an emergency by forwarding it directly to the CAO. If the CAO determines that there exists a substantial risk of imminent personal injury or other serious or irreparable harm, the grievance shall be handled on an emergency basis, which allows for expedited processing of the grievance by responding directly to the offender indicating what action shall be taken. Id. § 504.840. If, after receiving a response from the CAO, an offender feels the grievance has not been resolved, he may appeal in writing to the ARB within thirty days after the date of the CAO's decision. Id. § 504.850(a).

         An inmate is required to exhaust only those administrative remedies available to him. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The Seventh Circuit has held that administrative remedies become “unavailable” when prison officials fail to respond to inmate grievances. Lewis v. Washington, 300 F.3d 829, 833 (7th Cir. 2002); Brengettcy v. Horton, 423 F.3d 674, 682 (7th Cir. 2005). The availability of a remedy does not depend on the rules and regulations as they appear on paper, but on “whether the paper process was in reality open for the prisoner to pursue.” Wilder v. Sutton, 310 F. App'x 10, 13 (7th Cir. 2009). If further remedies are unavailable to the prisoner, he is deemed to have exhausted. Id. Prisoners are required only to provide notice to “responsible persons” about the complained of conditions. See Wilder, 310 F. App'x ...

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