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Laws v. Obaisi

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

February 28, 2017

Marshaun Laws, Plaintiff,
Saleh Obaisi, and Wexford Health Sources, Inc., Defendants.


          Manish S. Shah, Judge

         Plaintiff Marshaun Laws, an inmate at Stateville Correctional Center, brings an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants, Dr. Saleh Obaisi and Wexford Health Sources, Inc., for violating his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Defendants move for summary judgment, arguing that Laws has not shown that Dr. Obaisi or Wexford has been deliberately indifferent to his objectively serious medical condition of chronic, progressive, and severe back pain. Their motion is granted.

         I. Legal Standards

         Summary judgment is appropriate if 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). A genuine dispute of material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of proving the absence of such a dispute. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). All facts and reasonable inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Chaib v. Geo Grp., Inc., 819 F.3d 337, 341 (7th Cir. 2016).

         II. Background

         More than fifteen years ago, Laws sustained his first back injury when he fell off his motorcycle. [78] ¶ 6.[1] A few years after that incident, Laws sustained a second back injury when he rolled his car while attempting to flee the police in a high-speed chase. Id. Laws did not seek medical attention after either accident. Id. Approximately one year after the high-speed chase, Laws was incarcerated. [78] ¶ 7.

         A physician assistant evaluated Laws shortly after he was transferred to Stateville Correctional Center in January 2013. [78] ¶ 11. During that evaluation, Laws complained of a ten-year history of intermittent lower back pain. Id. The PA examined Laws's lumbar spine, which revealed no trauma, no deformity, and a full range of motion. Id. Going forward, the PA's plan was for Laws to undergo x-ray of his lumbar spine, apply heat to the affected area, and return to the clinic in one month for a follow-up appointment. Id. On the same day as this evaluation, Laws underwent x-ray of his lumbar spine. [78] ¶ 12. A few days later, a radiologist reviewed the x-ray and interpreted it as negative.[2] [82] ¶ 5.

         At the one-month follow-up appointment, Laws told the PA that he was working out five days per week. The PA entered a plan to strengthen Laws's core and to return to the clinic on an as-needed basis. [78] ¶ 14. Approximately two months later, during an evaluation for Laws's complaint of a several-year history of headaches, he told the PA that he experienced a few episodes of back pain per year, but that he was not experiencing any such pain at the evaluation. [78] ¶ 16. The PA entered a plan for Laws to take Tylenol, 500 mg, twice a day for three months, apply heat to the affected area up to three times per day, apply an analgesic balm to the affected area, and perform strengthening exercises. Id.

         Dr. Obaisi evaluated Laws for the first time on November 5, 2013, in response to Laws's complaints of intermittent lower back pain. [78] ¶ 19. Dr. Obaisi performed a physical examination of Laws's back, which revealed that Laws could bend to ninety degrees, a straight leg test within normal limits, deep tendon reflexes within normal limits, and tenderness to palpation over the right paraspinal musculature at ¶ 4-5. Id. From these assessments, Dr. Obaisi concluded that Laws suffered from chronic, recurrent back pain and Dr. Obaisi entered a plan for Laws to take Motrin, 600 mg twice a day, for sixty days. Id.

         At the end of February 2014, Laws reported to Dr. Obaisi that his lower back pain and right leg pain had resolved. [78] ¶ 21. Dr. Obaisi's physical examination revealed no acute findings; he entered a plan for Laws to follow up for care in three months. Id. At the follow-up evaluation, Laws reported to Dr. Obaisi that he experienced lower back pain intermittently. [78] ¶ 23. Dr. Obaisi's objective examination revealed no change in Laws's condition; Laws continued to suffer from chronic lower back pain. Id. Dr. Obaisi entered a plan for Laws to use an analgesic balm, a back brace, and to apply ice to his back twice a day. Id. Approximately six months later, a certified medical technician prepared a progress note to document a letter Laws wrote complaining of sciatic pain. [78] ¶ 25.

         On May 28, 2015, Dr. Obaisi entered an order for Plaintiff to undergo an MRI of his lumbar spine. [78] ¶ 38. The impetus behind the MRI is disputed. Dr. Obaisi recalls ordering the MRI in order to rule out “something major, ” and to reassure Laws. Id. Laws believes Dr. Obaisi only ordered the MRI due to a scheduled hearing on his motion for an injunction compelling an MRI and an evaluation by an orthopedic surgeon. Id. Ultimately, Laws underwent an MRI of his lumbar spine on August 26, 2015. [78] ¶ 39. Dr. Obaisi reviewed the MRI results with Laws on October 14, 2015 and entered a plan for Laws to undergo an ANA C-reactive protein test to determine if Laws's lower back pain was caused by rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.[3] [78] ¶ 41. The MRI report “Impression” was “[m]ild degenerative disc disease of the lower lumbar spine with an annular tear at ¶ 4-L5. No neural compromise.” [66-42] at 3. Dr. Obaisi interpreted the report as showing that Laws did not suffer from any disc herniations and thus, he concluded that the annular tear was an unlikely cause of Laws's intermittent back pain. [78] ¶ 39; [66-5] at 96:3-99:2. Laws interprets the MRI report as showing a herniated disc and he references the portion of the report that discusses a “posterior disc protrusion.” Under “Findings, ” the MRI report stated, in relevant part, “L4-L5: There is a posterior disc protrusion with annular tear. The neural foramen are widely patent and while there is mild mass effect on the thecal sac, no evidence of spinal canal stenosis is seen.” [66-42] at 2.

         Approximately six months later, Dr. Obaisi examined Laws in response to his complaints of low back pain, which radiated to his buttocks and groin, and insufficient pain relief from Motrin. [78] ¶ 44. Dr. Obaisi's impression was that Laws suffered from diffuse osteoarthritis; Dr. Obaisi prescribed Indocin, 75 mg, another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to treat pain, and Robaxin, a muscle relaxant used to treat muscle spasms and pain. Id. Laws reported to a PA one month later that he did not take the previously prescribed Indocin because of the side effects listed on the label. [78] ¶ 47. The PA's examination revealed no acute findings in Laws's lower extremities. Id. The PA's progress note did not reveal any evidence that Laws was experiencing any lower back pain at that time. Id. The PA entered a plan for Laws to discontinue taking Indocin and restart taking Motrin, 600 mg, four times a day. Id.

         On April 5, 2016, an orthopedic surgeon from the University of Illinois evaluated Laws.[4] [78] ¶ 52. Laws explained his longstanding history of lower back pain, but reported that overall, he was doing “okay” and had a general pain score of zero. Id. After eliciting a history, performing a physical exam, and reviewing the MRI, the orthopedic surgeon concluded that Laws had a disc protrusion at ¶ 4-5 and L5-S1, mild degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, an annular tear at ¶ 4-5, and no neural compromise. Id. The orthopedic surgeon's plan was to start Laws on a course of physical therapy and to continue using the same course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or to try a course of stronger medications. Id. In response to the orthopedic surgeon's recommendation, an order was entered at Stateville for Laws to undergo physical therapy. [78] ¶ 53.

         Since 2013, Laws has been evaluated more than twenty-five times in the Stateville Health Care Unit for various medical conditions. [78] ¶ 61. He has received many forms of treatment for his lower back pain including medications, an analgesic balm, a back brace, ice, core strengthening exercises, imaging studies, labs to test for rheumatoid factors, a permit for a low bunk, a consultation from an orthopedic surgeon, and an order for physical therapy. [78] ¶ 62. Nothing in Laws's medical records from January 2013 to January 2016 show that he had difficulty ambulating, limited range of motion, or decreased strength in his lumbar spine or lower extremities. [78] ¶¶ 58-59. No physician has rendered the opinion that Laws is an ...

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