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Luellen v. Schwartz

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 1, 2016

MARY DIANE SCHWARTZ, et al., Defendants.


          Edmond E. Chang, Judge

         Plaintiff Steven Luellen is an inmate at Dixon Correctional Center. R. 87, Second Am. Compl. ¶ 24.[1] Right before going to prison (he was first imprisoned at Stateville Correctional Center), he suffered a serious injury to both of his ankles. Id.

         Luellen claims that he received inadequate medical treatment from prison medical staff, which-combined with Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) officials' disregard for his grievances about the lack of treatment-caused one ankle to heal improperly, limiting his mobility and causing him daily pain. See Id. Asserting violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, Luellen filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983[2] against a number of defendants: eight medical professionals who oversaw his care in prison; four corrections officials at the facilities where Luellen was held (including the wardens of those facilities); the Director and the Chief of Programs at IDOC; the medical records director at one facility; and Wexford Health Sources, Inc., a private-company contractor that provides health care to IDOC inmates and employs the medical professionals named in this suit.

         The defendants employed by IDOC[3] (the IDOC Defendants) and the defendants employed by Wexford[4] (the Wexford Defendants) filed separate motions to dismiss. See R. 69, Wexford Mot. to Dismiss; R. 74, IDOC Mot. to Dismiss. Both the Wexford and IDOC Defendants moved to dismiss Luellen's procedural due process claims (Counts Eleven and Ten), which alleged that the Defendants deprived Luellen of his liberty interest in adequate medical treatment without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Wexford Mot. to Dismiss; IDOC Mot. to Dismiss. The IDOC Defendants further sought dismissal of Luellen's claims against senior IDOC officials[5] on the grounds that those officials had no personal knowledge of Luellen's situation. IDOC Mot. to Dismiss. For the reasons stated below, the Wexford Defendants' motion is granted and the IDOC Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         For the purpose of deciding this motion to dismiss, Luellen's factual allegations are accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Luellen was incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center in June 2014. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 27. Shortly before his incarceration, Luellen had been in a serious car accident. Id. ¶ 24. He fractured both of his ankles in the accident, and underwent surgery to realign them. Id. ¶ 25. After the surgery, Luellens doctors placed his legs in casts and gave him a wheelchair to help him keep weight off of his ankles while they healed. Id. ¶ 26.

         Luellen was still in a wheelchair when he arrived at Stateville. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 27. But upon his arrival, his wheelchair was taken away by Wexford personnel and replaced by one with a broken wheel that wobbled during use. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. Although Luellen notified Wexford medical staff about this problem, no one did anything about it. Id. ¶ 29. Over the next five days, the wheelchair's broken wheel jammed or became dislodged three times, each time ejecting Luellen onto the ground and causing pain to his ankles. Id. ¶¶ 30-32. Although Luellen filed a number of IDOC grievances, his complaints initially went unanswered and he was forced to remain in the defective wheelchair. Id. ¶ 34. After Luellens third fall, Wexford replaced the defective wheelchair. Id.

         But the replacement was, if anything, worse. Wexford gave Luellen a reclining chair that lacked the hand-drive wheels normally attached to wheelchairs. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 34. Luellen asked how he was to move about in the reclining chair without hand-drive wheels. Id. A Wexford staffer told him to use his feet to push himself forward and back. Id. But this required Luellen to put weight on his ankles, which the surgeons who had operated on his ankles had specifically instructed him not to do. Id. ¶¶ 34-35. Luellen's verbal complaints fell on deaf ears. Id. ¶ 35.

         In June 2014, Luellen went on a medical call to Defendant Schwartz, a physician's assistant employed by Wexford. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 37. Luellen explained that his ankles were causing him extreme pain and asked to see an orthopedic doctor. Id. Instead of granting the request, Schwartz allegedly reduced the strength of Luellen's pain medication. Id. But Luellen continued to complain to Wexford staff and, after two weeks, he received permission to see Dr. Stephen Perns at Midland Orthopedic Associates. Id. ¶¶ 38-39. Dr. Perns examined Luellens ankles and informed him that one of the ankles had not healed properly and would need to be surgically repositioned. Id. ¶ 40. Luellen claims that the cause of the failed healing was that neither of the “wheelchairs” that Wexford provided allowed him to consistently keep weight off of his ankles. Id. ¶ 91. Dr. Perns instructed Luellen to come back in three weeks to schedule the surgery and discuss its risks, complications, and benefits. Id.

         But Luellen was not able to return. Although his follow-up appointment was approved by a Wexford practitioner, neither Stateville officials nor Wexford staff ever sent Luellen back to Dr. Perns. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 41.

         In August 2014, Luellen was transferred to Kane County Jail. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 42. When he arrived at Kane, Luellen immediately executed a release allowing Kane officials to receive his medical records from Stateville, so he could continue treatment for his ankle and receive the repositioning surgery. Id. ¶ 43.

         Kane's Medical Administrator confirmed that he had sent Luellen's release form to Stateville; however, Stateville never responded and the records never arrived. Id. ¶¶ 44-47. As a result, Luellen still has not received the repositioning surgery and his mis-aligned ankle continues to cause him pain. Id. ¶¶ 45, 48.

         In an effort to retrieve his medical records, Luellen filed multiple grievances against prison officials at Stateville and Dixon (where he is now incarcerated), as well as an appeal to the IDOC's Administrative Review Board (ARB). Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 49-63. Although most of his grievances were addressed to Defendant Gomez, a counselor and grievance officer at Stateville, Luellen also wrote a letter to Defendant Williams, the Warden at Stateville, explaining his medical situation, need for corrective surgery, and lack of medical records. Id. ¶ 57. In the letter, Luellen implored Williams to release his medical records to Kane. Id. Luellen never received a response to this letter or to any other grievances. Id. ¶¶ 51-61.

         Unable to obtain his medical records from Stateville, and unable to receive the repositioning surgery without those records, Luellen sued the Wexford and IDOC Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages stemming from ...

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