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McDowell v. Pfister

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

January 23, 2017

Antonio McDowell, Plaintiff,
Randy Pfister, in his official capacity; Marcus Hardy; Salvadore A. Godinez; Dr. Louis Shicker; and Tarry Williams, Defendants.


          Honorable Thomas M. Durkin United States District Judge

         Antonio McDowell is an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") at Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois. He alleges that IDOC staff were deliberately indifferent to his dental needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. R. 26. Specifically, McDowell has sued Stateville's former Warden, Marcus Hardy; Stateville's former Warden, Tarry Williams; former IDOC Director, Salvadore Godinez; and former IDOC Medical Director, Dr. Louis Shicker, and alleges that they are responsible for the IDOC's policy against performing root canals on posterior teeth (i.e., molars). See Id. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. R. 72. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted.

         Legal Standard Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Court considers the entire evidentiary record and must view all of the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Ball v. Kotter, 123 F.3d 813, 821 (7th Cir. 2013). To defeat summary judgment, a nonmovant must produce more than "a mere scintilla of evidence" and come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Harris N.A. v. Hershey, 711 F.3d 794, 798 (7th Cir. 2013). Ultimately, summary judgment is warranted only if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).


         In 2012, McDowell experienced pain and decay in two of his molars (## 13 and 14). He filed grievances seeking a dental examination and sent a letter to Warden Hardy in March 2012. See R. 26-1 at 1-2. He was examined by Dr. Kenneth Brooks, D.D.S., on September 12 and 26, 2012, and provided with pain management treatment. R. 82 ¶ 16.

         McDowell continued to experience tooth pain and decay. He submitted a grievance on October 1, 2012, see R. 26-1 at 3, and sent a letter to Warden Hardy on October 7, 2012, see Id. at 4, but he does not know whether Warden Hardy received the letter. R. 82 ¶ 23. McDowell submitted a dental treatment request on November 1, 2012. Id. ¶ 24.

         McDowell was seen by a dentist on November 20, 2012, who recommended extraction of tooth #14, which McDowell refused. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. McDowell saw Dr. Brooks again on March 8, 2013, who also recommended that tooth #14 be extracted, which McDowell again refused because he wanted a root canal instead. Id. ¶ 30.

         Extraction of tooth #13 was also recommended at dental visits on July 17, 2013, and August 2, 2013. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. McDowell eventually consented to extraction of tooth #13 on September 20, 2013. Id. ¶ 36. McDowell testified that the extraction relieved his pain. R. 74-2 at 28 (103:17-19).

         At some point thereafter, McDowell again began experiencing pain in tooth #14. On July 9, 2014, he had an appointment with a dentist who recommended extraction of tooth #14 even though it was "asymptomatic." R. 82 ¶¶ 38-39. McDowell refused extraction. Id. ¶ 40.

         On August 7, 2014, an IDOC grievance officer filed a report regarding McDowell's grievance seeking a root canal rather than extraction of tooth #14. R. 81-3. The grievance officer denied McDowell's grievance because "root canals are performed on the front teeth and canine teeth only per IDOC policy. Id. (emphasis added). Warden Williams signed this report. Id. Dr. Brooks also testified that it was against IDOC policy to perform root canals on molars. R. 81-4 at 6 (19:18-20:1, 17-22); 16 (60:11-14); 17 (65:8-11).


         I. Personal Involvement

         McDowell seeks damages in compensation "for the pain arising from the intentional unavailability of appropriate medical treatment, " i.e., a root canal. R. 26 at 7. "A plaintiff bringing a civil rights action must prove that the defendant personally participated in or caused the unconstitutional actions." Grieueson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 776 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Alejo v. Heller, 328 F.3d 930, 936 (7th Cir. 2003)). A plaintiffs allegations against a prison official can only satisfy "the personal responsibility requirement of Section 1983 if the conduct causing the constitutional deprivation occurs at [the official's] direction or with his knowledge and consent." Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 757 (7th Cir. 2011). "That is, [the official] must know about the conduct and facilitate it, approve it, condone it, or turn a blind eye." Id. "In short, some causal connection or affirmative link between the action complained about and the official sued is necessary for § 1983 recovery." Id. Thus, although a prison official is "entitled to relegate to the prison's medical staff the provision of good medical care, " Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 595 (7th Cir. 2009), "nonmedical officials can be chargeable with . . . deliberate indifference where they have a reason to believe (or actual knowledge) that prison doctors or their assistants are mistreating (or not treating) a prisoner." Arnett, 658 F.3d at 755.

         McDowell has not presented any evidence that Director Godinez or Dr. Shicker were personally involved in his treatment. With respect to Director Godinez, McDowell argues only that he "is expected to know and understand the policies and procedures of the IDOC because he is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to the grievance process." R. 79 at 9. Similarly, McDowell argues that Dr. Shicker "effectively endorsed the policy by failing to permit the treating dentist to consider whether even an endodontic examination was appropriate." Id. To the extent Director Godinez and Dr. Shicker were, or should have been, aware of a policy against performing root canals on molars, there is no evidence that they had any knowledge of this policy's application to McDowell. Both of them are IDOC officials and do not ...

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