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Rasho v. Elyea

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 7, 2017

Ashoor Rasho, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Willard O. Elyea, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued April 17, 2015

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 1:11-CV-01308 - Michael M. Mihm, Judge.

          Before Posner and Williams, Circuit Judges, and Wood, District Judge [*]

          WOOD, District Judge.

         Ashoor Rasho arrived at the Pontiac Correctional Center ("Pontiac"), an Illinois prison, in 2003. Rasho has a history of mental illness and, after he stopped taking his medication and began showing escalating symp- toms, he was transferred into Pontiac's Mental Health Unit. He remained in the Mental Health Unit until 2006, when he was transferred to the North Segregation Unit. Rasho believes that he was transferred out of the Mental Health Unit not because he no longer required the specialized treatment offered there but instead in retaliation for complaints he had lodged against various prison staff. According to Rasho, after he was transferred, he was denied even minimally adequate mental health care for more than 20 months.

         Rasho subsequently filed a lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Pontiac staff psychiatrist and psychology services administrator who recommended his transfer out of the Mental Health Unit, as well as the warden, medical director, and director of mental health, alleging that each acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[1] The district court granted summary judgment in favor of all of the defendants. Rasho now appeals.

         I.

         Rasho has been an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") since 1996, although he did not arrive at Pontiac until 2003. He has a history of mental illness-characterized by auditory hallucinations, severe depression, agitation, self-mutilation, and suicide attempts- for which he has been prescribed psychotropic medications. At various times, he has been diagnosed with the Axis I mental disorders "Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent, with Psychotic Features or Schizophrenia" and "Major Depressive Disorder with Psychotic Features, Recurrent."[2]While at Pontiac, he also received an Axis I diagnosis of "history of polysubstance abuse and dependence" and an Axis II diagnosis of "antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder." As described by his expert witness in this case, Rasho is a "very, very sick man."

         In April 2004, after Rasho stopped taking his medications and began cutting himself, a psychiatrist at Pontiac recommended that he be transferred to the prison's Mental Health Unit. Inmates assigned to that unit have more frequent access to mental health professionals and receive greater continuity of mental health care than those in other prison units. Among the therapeutic benefits available to inmates in the Mental Health Unit are group therapy, cells with open bars, and the ability to have private and confidential conversations with mental health staff more easily. Inmates in the Mental Health Unit also may receive individual therapy, crisis intervention, and psychotropic medication management.

         While Rasho was in the Mental Health Unit, he met with mental health professionals at least monthly and was prescribed psychotropic medications. Yet the record reveals that Rasho still cut himself on approximately five or six occasions-including at least twice that resulted in Rasho being placed on crisis watch -and engaged in other disruptive and self-destructive behavior. He complained frequently and acted out while in the Mental Health Unit and filed several grievances regarding Pontiac staff.

         Rasho remained in the Mental Health Unit until he was transferred to the North Segregation Unit in November 2006. The transfer was initially recommended by Dr. Michael Massa, who worked as a staff psychiatrist at Pontiac and treated Rasho. The transfer was also approved by Dr. John Garlick, who held the position of Psychology Services Administrator and was Dr. Massa's supervisor. At the time, Dr. Massa and Dr. Garlick provided mental health services to Pontiac inmates pursuant to the IDOC's contract with private contractor Wexford Health Sources, Inc. ("Wexford"). Dr. Massa first recommended that Rasho be transferred out of the Mental Health Unit on May 25, 2006; he followed with another recommendation on August 3, 2006. Rasho was eventually transferred in November 2006.

         The parties dispute the reason for Dr. Massa's and Dr. Garlick's determination to transfer Rasho out of the Mental Health Unit. Dr. Massa claims that he recommended the transfer because he did not believe that Rasho had a diagnosis or set of symptoms such that he was benefitting from the placement. Dr. Massa also claims that he had become concerned that Rasho's continued presence in the Mental Health Unit would be detrimental to other inmates in the unit- specifically, Rasho was showing signs of antisocial personality disorder that made him a risk to the genuinely mentally ill and vulnerable inmates there. Dr. Garlick claims that he agreed that Rasho should leave the Mental Health Unit based on his own interactions with Rasho and his knowledge of Rasho's condition and behavior. According to Dr. Garlick, he too was concerned that Rasho's continued presence in the Mental Health Unit would have a detrimental effect on other inmates and he also doubted that Rasho was benefitting from placement there.

         Rasho challenges Dr. Massa's and Dr. Garlick's stated reasons for recommending his transfer out of the Mental Health Unit. He contends that they actually decided to have him transferred as punishment for his complaints. In fact, Rasho claims that both Dr. Massa and Dr. Garlick actually told him that he was kicked out of the Mental Health Unit because he filed too many grievances. Rasho also points out that Dr. Massa recommended the transfer even though Dr. Massa was well aware of Rasho's history of mental health problems and continued to prescribe Rasho powerful psychotropic medications after making the recommendation. One of those medications was Geodon, which is primarily used to treat schizophrenia and mania and to provide maintenance for bipolar disorder. If Dr. Massa truly believed that he did not require specialized mental health treatment, Rasho argues, then why would he continue to prescribe medications indicated only for that purpose?

         Rasho also has presented testimony from Dr. Jose Matthews, who treated Rasho in the North Segregation Unit, and Dr. Joel Silverberg, an expert witness retained on Rasho's behalf for purposes of this case. Dr. Matthews testified that after treating Rasho for some time in the North Segregation Unit (and initially believing that Rasho might be malingering), he came to believe that Rasho did require greater care than would be provided in the North Segregation Unit and should be transferred back to the Mental ...


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