United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. Wood United States District Judge.
Luis Arita has brought this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 alleging that the defendants violated his
constitutional rights by denying him adequate medical care
for an inguinal hernia that he suffered while incarcerated at
Sheridan Correctional Center (“Sheridan”). Arita
has sued Wexford Health Sources, Inc.
(“Wexford”), which is the correctional health
care company that provides medical services to inmates in the
custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections, certain
Wexford employees, and several members of the Sheridan
medical staff. Before the Court is Wexford's motion to
dismiss Count II of the amended complaint pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 36.) For the
reasons explained below, the motion is granted.
two-count amended complaint alleges that the various
defendants ignored his complaints of swelling and pain in his
groin area for nine months before finally examining him and
ultimately discovering that he suffered from an inguinal
hernia. Specifically, Arita alleges that shortly
after being transferred to Sheridan from another Illinois
Department of Corrections facility in or around January 2014,
he noticed a painful swelling in his groin area. (Am. Compl.
¶¶ 11-12, Dkt. No. 20.) Approximately one month
later, in or around February 2014, Arita notified members of
the Sheridan medical staff of his increasing discomfort.
(Id. ¶ 12.) When he did not receive any
treatment, Arita continued to complain about his condition to
the Sheridan medical staff over a period of many months,
including through written complaints and grievances directed
to Defendants Nicolette Duffield (an administrator of
Sheridan's medical department), Marshall James (a Wexford
physician), and Chantel Sielman, Krista Torez, and Debbie
McCullum (all Wexford nurses). (Id. ¶¶
nine months of repeated treatment demands, Arita finally
received a medical examination in late November 2014.
(Id. ¶ 14.) When the examination found extreme
swelling in his groin area, further tests were ordered.
(Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) The tests revealed that
Arita suffered from an inguinal hernia. (Id. ¶
15.) In late January 2015, it was determined that the hernia
required an operation. (Id. ¶ 16.) Arita
underwent surgery to have the hernia repaired approximately
one month later in February 2015. (Id.) Arita
alleges that over the 12 months he waited to receive a
medical examination and the necessary treatment, his hernia
grew in size and caused him increasing pain. (Id.
Count I of his amended complaint, Arita claims that the
individual defendants were deliberately indifferent to his
serious medical needs by failing to provide adequate
treatment despite his complaints of swelling and pain, and
that as a result he suffered extreme pain and mental anguish.
Count II asserts essentially the same claim against
Wexford-Arita alleges that Wexford, through its employees,
systematically ignored his complaints of pain and requests
for treatment. Arita further alleges that Wexford has a
policy of ignoring inmates' medical needs. In its motion
to dismiss, Wexford contends that Arita has failed to state a
claim against it under Monell v. Department of Social
Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) and
therefore Count II must be dismissed.
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint
contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the
short and plain statement must meet two threshold
requirements. First, the complaint's factual allegations
must give the defendant fair notice of the claim and the
grounds upon which it rests. Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Second, the complaint
must contain sufficient factual allegations to state a claim
for relief that is plausible on its face. Id. at
570. This pleading standard does not necessarily require a
complaint to contain detailed factual allegations.
Id. at 555. Rather, “[a] claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728
(7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009)).
Monell, the Supreme Court established that a
municipality may be liable for money damages under §
1983 only if the unconstitutional act about which the
plaintiff complains was caused by (1) an official policy
adopted and promulgated by its officers; (2) a governmental
practice or custom that, although not officially authorized,
is widespread and well settled; or (3) an official with final
policy-making authority. Thomas v. Cook Cnty.
Sheriff's Dep't, 604 F.3d 293, 303 (7th Cir.
2010) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 690). Private
contractors that provide medical services to prisoners are
treated like municipalities for purposes of § 1983
claims. See, e.g., Minix v. Canarecci, 597 F.3d 824,
832 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Woodward v. Corr. Med.
Servs., 368 F.3d 917, 927 n.1 (7th Cir. 2004)).
Monell liability “is not founded on a theory
of vicarious liability or respondeat superior that
holds a municipality responsible for the misdeeds of its
employees. Rather, a municipal policy or practice must be the
direct cause or moving force behind the constitutional
violation.” Woodward, 368 F.3d at 927 (quoting
Estate of Novack ex rel. v. Cnty. of Wood, 226 F.3d
525, 530 (7th Cir. 2000)). Thus, to prevail on his Monell
claim against Wexford, Arita must show that “his injury
was caused by a Wexford policy, custom, or practice of
deliberate indifference to medical needs, or a series of bad
acts that together raise the inference of such a
policy.” Shields v. Ill. Dep't of Corr.,
746 F.3d 782, 796 (7th Cir. 2014).
Monell claims may proceed with conclusory
allegations of a policy or practice, some facts must be
pleaded to put the defendant on notice of the alleged
wrongdoing.” Taylor v. Wexford Health Sources,
Inc., No. 15-cv-05190, 2016 WL 3227310, at *4 (N.D. Ill.
June 13, 2016). In addition, a plaintiff asserting a policy
or practice claim ultimately “must demonstrate that
there is a policy at issue rather than a random event.”
Thomas, 604 F.3d at 303. The Seventh Circuit has
declined to adopt a bright-line rule defining what
constitutes a widespread custom or practice, and there is no
clear consensus as to how frequently such conduct must occur
to impose Monell liability. See Id. It is
clear, however, that the conduct complained of must have
occurred more than once, or even three times. See
Id. Moreover, while “it is not impossible for a
plaintiff to demonstrate the existence of an official policy
or custom by presenting evidence limited to his experience[,
]” it is difficult because “what is needed is
evidence that there is a true municipal [or corporate] policy
at issue not a random event.” Grieveson v.
Anderson, 538 F.3d. 763, 774 (7th Cir. 2008).
Arita's only Monell-related allegation is that
“Wexford, upon information and belief, has a policy of
ignoring not only [his] requests/complaints, but other
inmates' medical needs as well.” (Am. Comp. ¶
27, Dkt. No. 20.) The remainder of the complaint is focused
on Arita's own experience. Arita's single conclusory
allegation that Wexford has policy of treating other inmates
in the same fashion as he has been treated is insufficient to
survive a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Taylor, 2016
WL 3227310, at *4 (“[Plaintiff's] allegations of
Wexford's policies and practices are vague and broad,
lacking in sufficient detail to put Wexford on notice of the
claim against it.”); Velazquez v. Williams,
No. 14-cv-9121, 2015 WL 4036157, at *4 (N.D. Ill. June 30,
2015) (the allegation that Wexford had a policy and practice
of denying psychotropic medicines to mentally disabled
inmates was insufficient to state a Monell claim);
Johansen v. Curran, No. 15-cv-2376, 2016 WL 2644863,
at *8 (N.D. Ill. May 10, 2016) (noting that the court was
bound by “the Seventh Circuit's decision in
[McCauley v. City of Chi., 671 F.3d 611 (7th Cir.
2011)] holding that conclusory allegations of a policy or
practice in support of a Monell claim are not
factual allegations and as such contribute nothing to the
plausibility analysis under Twombly/Iqbal.”)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
allegation of a Wexford policy-made “upon information
and belief”-is unsupported by any facts regarding the
experiences of other inmates. See Taylor, 2016 WL
3227310, at *4 (“Taylor does not allege that any other
detainee suffered from similar issues, only including a
conclusory reference to other prisoners' experiences at
Stateville.”); Winchester v. Marketti, No.
11-cv-9224, 2012 WL 2076375, at *4 (N.D. Ill. June 8, 2012)
(“What is fatal to the Monell claims, however,
is that Plaintiff makes no attempt to plead a pattern of
similar constitutional violations with any degree of factual
specificity.”). In other words, there are no
facts-outside of those related to Arita's own
experience-that plausibly suggest Wexford has maintained a
widespread custom or practice of ignoring Sheridan
inmates' medical needs. Cf. Ford v. Wexford Health
Sources, Inc., No. 12-cv-4558, 2013 WL 474494, at *9
(N.D. Ill. Feb. 7, 2013) (plaintiff sufficiently alleged a
widespread practice by alleging facts showing a custom or
practice of delayed delivery of medical permits, failure to
administer medication or administration of ineffective
medication, and delayed scheduling of medical appointments).
Arita does not provide any facts, general or specific,
regarding the experiences of other Sheridan inmates with
respect to Wexford's provision of medical care. This case
thus stands apart from those involving allegations of a
series of bad acts giving rise to an inference of a policy,
practice, or custom of deliberate indifference.
does Arita's complaint shed any light on what
Wexford's alleged policy might be- that is, what specific
policy might lead to the systematic disregard of inmates'
medical needs. Cf. Harper v. Wexford Health Sources,
Inc., No. 14-cv-04879, 2016 WL 1056661, at *3 (N.D. Ill.
Mar. 17, 2016) (plaintiff's allegation of the existence
of a specific policy-namely, cost-cutting measures-that
resulted in his receiving inadequate medical care was
sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss). But see
Echezarreta v. Kemmeren, No. 10-cv-50092, 2013 WL
4080293, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 13, 2013) (plaintiff's
allegation that on information and belief it was
defendant's custom and practice to remain deliberately
indifferent to the serious medical conditions and needs of
the inmate population in order to avoid spending the money
necessary to diagnose and treat such conditions was nothing
more than a recitation of the elements of a Monell
claim and, without any additional facts to elucidate any
customs or practices, was unsupported and speculative in
courts in this District have found conclusory allegations of
a general policy of ignoring inmates' requests for
medical attention sufficient to withstand a motion to
dismiss, see, e.g., Quinn v. Hardy, No. 11-cv-1173,
2013 WL 4836262, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 10, 2013),
Arita's factually unsupported, boilerplate allegation
does not allow for such a finding here. This is especially
true in light of Arita's allegations regarding his own
experience-essentially, one instance of delayed medical
treatment. Whether the delay in treatment amounts to
deliberate indifference and whether the care Arita ultimately
received was adequate are questions for a later day. But the
complaint fails to suggest that Arita's experience was
something other than a random event. In other words, Arita
has failed to allege any facts from ...