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Dent v. Burrell

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 28, 2016

CHARLES DENT, Plaintiff,


          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Charles Dent is currently incarcerated at the Shawnee Correctional Center in Vienna, Illinois. (Doc. 1 at 28.) Proceeding pro se, Dent has filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the dentist at Shawnee failed to properly treat Dent's tooth-related problems, that the medical director and a number of other officials failed to intervene in that improper treatment, and that the medical director failed to promptly treat Dent's chronic migraine condition. (Id. at 1-2.) Dent seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, and permanent injunctive relief, as well as a preliminary injunction. (Id. at 28.)

         This matter is now before the Court for a review of Dent's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the Court shall review a “complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a government entity.” During the § 1915A review, the court “shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, ” if the complaint “is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim” or if it “seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune.”


         According to Dent's complaint, Dent has been incarcerated at the Shawnee Correctional Center since May 10, 2016. (Doc. 1 at 25.) On July 8, 2016, he began experiencing severe tooth pain, and he was seen by Thomas Burrell, a dentist at the prison, three days later. (Id. at 2.) During that initial meeting, Dent told Burrell that he had severe pain around one or more of his teeth and that he had a history of gum disease and abscesses. (Id. at 8.) Burrell examined the area but did not perform an x-ray; he concluded that one of Dent's molars had an abscess and that it needed to be extracted. (Id. at 2.) Dent told Burrell that he had been experiencing severe pain, throbbing, headaches, and sensitivity to light. (Id.) Burrell prescribed Dent “30 antibiotics and 30 ibuprofen, ” and told Dent that he would extract the problematic tooth in seven days. (Id.)

         By July 21, 2016, Dent's tooth still had not been extracted, and Dent ran out of the medications prescribed by Burrell. (Id.) From July 21st to July 27th, Dent sent request slips to Burrell to see him again but was still not slated for an appointment, so Dent sent Burrell a letter telling him of his need for tooth extraction or at least his need for a refill of his medications. (Id.) The letter went unanswered, leading Dent to send another letter on July 31, 2016, this one pleading to Burrell for an extraction given Dent's worsening pain. (Id. at 3.)

         On August 5, 2016, Burrell saw Dent, told him that he had been too busy to conduct the extraction earlier, and placed Dent on a waiting list for an extraction. (Id. at 4.) Dent objected, asked for a quicker extraction and more medications, told Burrell of his history of severe gum disease and abscesses, and informed Burrell that he was in a great deal of pain. (Id.) Dent also asked Burrell to perform an x-ray to verify the problematic tooth. (Id. at 9.) Burrell declined to conduct x-rays, held fast to the waiting list, and told Burrell to leave his office. (Id. at 10.) Dent returned to his housing unit and filed a grievance against Burrell, indicating that he was still in pain, needed an extraction, and was out of medication. (Id.) That grievance was ultimately denied as moot by Grievance Officer Allard on September 14, 2016, as by then Dent had already been seen by Burrell, and his tooth had been extracted. (Doc. 1-1 at 16.)

         On August 15, 2016, Burrell called Dent to his office, told Dent that he did not have to file a grievance to secure care, and also told Dent that, because he was “special, ” Burrell would conduct an extraction now. (Doc. 1 at 10.) Dent asked Burrell if it was safe to conduct the extraction before the infection cleared, and Burrell told Dent that he was not going to conduct x-rays or prescribe more antibiotics, and asked Dent if he wanted the extraction or not. (Id.) Dent said that he felt that he “had no choice” but to allow Burrell to perform the extraction, and Burrell extracted the purportedly problematic molar. (Id. at 11.) For several days after the extraction, Burrell experienced persistent aching and throbbing, symptoms that he characterizes as atypical given that he did not experience them when he had teeth removed in the past. (Id.) On August 19, 2016, Burrell saw Dent again, noted that he had an ongoing infection around the extraction, and prescribed Dent more antibiotics and ibuprofen as treatment. (Id. at 12.)

         Despite the medications, Dent continued to experience pain and could not eat, sleep, or even chew. (Id.) On August 23, 2016, he examined the extraction site himself and could still see severe swelling, tooth fragments, or part of a broken tooth still in the socket, and he could see that his gums were cut and bleeding. (Id.) When he observed these problems, Dent summoned a guard on his housing wing, Corrections Officer Dean, to look into his mouth. (Id.) Dean refused to look in Dent's mouth but told Dent he would let Burrell know about the problem. (Id.) Dean returned ten minutes after the exchange and told Dent that he had called Burrell but that Burrell did not want to see him. (Id.) Dent summoned a few other officers to look at the injury and they all expressed concern; one of them, Lieutenant Hobbs, said he was going to speak to Burrell. (Id. at 13.) Dent did not hear back about Hobbs's effort, so he sent a letter to Karen Smoot, a health administrator at the prison, that same day-the letter recounted Burrell's failure to see Dent. (Id. at 14.) Nothing came of that, so Dent advised another lieutenant in his housing wing of his ongoing problems, and Dent was sent to the infirmary for care. (Id. at 13.)

         When Dent arrived at the infirmary on August 23, 2016, an officer said that Burrell was still at the prison and went to speak with him. (Id.) Burrell then spoke with Dent, complained that this was the third time that Dent had someone speak to him, and said that Dent likely did not need any treatment for the extraction. (Id.) Burrell then examined Dent and told Dent that the extraction site was still swollen but that the injury merely needed time to heal. (Id.) Dent also alleges that Burrell said that he did not like “inmates filing grievances” against him. (Id.)

         Dent returned to his cell and wrote what looks to be two grievances about Burrell's attitude towards him, both dated August 23, 2016. (Id. at 14.) The first said that Dent had checked the extraction site on August 23rd, noticed that a broken tooth was “intruding through the gums, ” and could see swelling and infection. (Doc. 1-1 at 3-4.) Dent complained that Burrell was refusing to treat the infection and the broken protrusion and was doing so because Dent had filed past grievances against him-Dent wanted to be seen by Burrell immediately and to have his “broken tooth removed.” (Id. at 3.) Counselor Clark responded to that grievance on September 1, 2016, seemingly finding that no further action was necessary because Burrell told the counselor that the entire tooth was removed, that bone spicules can exist after that kind of procedure, that the entire site would eventually heal, and that Dent was scheduled to be seen by Burrell that day. (Id.) Grievance Officer Allard reviewed that finding and agreed that no further action was necessary because Dent's extraction site was clean. (Id. at 25.) The second grievance recounted the same events and the same problems and accused Burrell of failing to properly treat Dent's condition. (Id. at 5.) Burrell himself responded to that grievance on August 26, 2016, stating that Dent was scheduled to be seen by Burrell on August 26th, that the tooth was not still in the socket, and that bone spicules could be present but that they were not a cause for concern. (Id.) Warden Dennison denied the grievance as a non-emergency at some point around Burrell's commentary on the grievance. (Id.) After filing these grievances, Dent also claims that he sent several letters to Smoot concerning improper care, yet she did not intervene. (Id. at 15.)

         Dent continued to experience pain following his August 23rd visit with Burrell, and he was called to see Burrell on August 27, 2016. (Id. at 17.) During that meeting, Burrell examined Dent's mouth again and conducted x-rays, and then told Dent to leave. (Id.) Burrell then issued a disciplinary ticket against Dent for showing up late to the appointment; that ticket was ultimately expunged by the prison's committee because a corrections officer vouched that Dent did not have a pass to come to the meeting with Burrell on August 27th. (Doc. 1-1 at 9.)

         After the August 27 visit with Burrell, Dent drafted another emergency grievance to Warden Dennison, complaining that he had been in constant pain for two months and that Burrell was not properly treating his dental issues. (Id. at 14.) Dent said that Burrell refused to acknowledge that he “botched the extraction, ” and Dent asked for a referral to see an oral surgeon, flagging that he had received a similar referral while at another prison for dental infections. (Id.) That grievance was labeled a duplicate by Counselor Millis on September 12, 2016, and Dennison denied the grievance as a non-emergency on the same day. (Id.)

         On September 9, 2016, Dent was still in pain, and he had a lieutenant on his housing wing examine his extraction site. (Doc. 1 at 18.) The lieutenant told Burrell that he saw swelling and bleeding near the site, and Dent evidently saw Burrell later that day. (Id. at 19.) Burrell told Dent that he was tired of him “and his complaining, ” that he was convinced that Dent was “playing games, ” and that he was going to write Dent a disciplinary ticket. (Id.) Burrell then examined the extraction area and observed swelling and discoloration. (Id.) He told Dent that he still had an infection, that he had no explanation as to why he still had an infection, and that the wound would take time to heal. (Id.) Dent complained that something was wrong and that he wanted to see an oral surgeon, but Burrell declined ...

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