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Gonzalez v. O'Brien

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

March 30, 2017

JOHN O'BRIEN, et al., Defendants.


          Philip G. Reinhard Judge.

         For the following reasons, the court grants in part and denies in part the motion to dismiss [35] filed by defendants John O'Brien, John Crisham, and Wexford. The court grants in part the motion to dismiss [48] filed by defendants John Varga and John Baldwin. Defendants Dr. John Crisham and John Baldwin are dismissed as defendants. The court stays all pleading and discovery requirements for defendant Varga, named only in his official capacity for purposes of injunctive relief.


         This matter arises out of plaintiff Juan Gonzalez's amended complaint [20], in which he alleges that at all relevant times he was an inmate at Dixon Correctional Center, and defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs when they repeatedly denied him dentures because he could not pay for them.

         Before the court are two motions to dismiss. As an initial matter, defendants John Varga, Warden at Dixon Correctional Center, and John Baldwin, Medical Director for the IDOC (“the IDOC defendants”), have filed a motion to dismiss the claims against them, which include a claim for injunctive relief. See [48]; [49]. In the motion, the IDOC defendants argue that plaintiff has not stated a claim against them for any wrongdoing, including deliberate indifference; they also argue that defendant Baldwin is not an appropriate party to effectuate injunctive relief. See id. In plaintiff's response to the motion, he explains that he is not claiming wrongdoing by the IDOC defendants, and concedes that they were named only in their official capacities to effectuate injunctive relief in the event he is successful in this lawsuit; plaintiff has no objection to defendant Baldwin being dismissed in the event that defendant Varga is the proper party to effectuate injunctive relief. See [53]. In the IDOC defendants' reply, they do not appear to oppose defendant Varga being named in this limited capacity, but ask that all pleading and discovery requirements be stayed. See [57]. The court agrees, dismisses defendant Baldwin, and stays all pleading and discovery requirements for defendant Varga at the present time.

         Next, defendants John O'Brien, John Crisham, and Wexford have filed a joint Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss all claims in plaintiff's amended complaint [20] directed against them. See [35]. Plaintiff has filed a response [54] and defendants have filed a reply [56]. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint. See Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). Under federal notice pleading standards, a plaintiff's “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Put differently, a “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint under the plausibility standard, [courts] accept the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true.” Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2013).

         As noted, the amended complaint [20] claims that defendants John O'Brien, John Crisham, and Wexford were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's medical needs by requiring payment before providing him with dentures. Dr. O'Brien argues that plaintiff's allegations are insufficient to state a claim for deliberate indifference. Dr. Crisham joins Dr. O'Brien's argument, but also argues that the claims against him are untimely. Wexford also joins Dr. O'Brien's argument and argues further that plaintiff has failed to adequately plead Monell liability. The court will analyze the claims against each defendant in turn. FN.

         FN: The court also notes that defendants argue in their motion that the amended complaint contains redundant counts for Eighth Amendment violations in Counts I and III. Plaintiff points out in his response that the reference to Eighth Amendment violations in Count III was a scrivener's error because it alleges a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection violation. At this early stage, the court will allow both claims to proceed against Dr. O'Brien.

         A. Dr. Crisham.

         Dr. Crisham points out that the only time he is alleged to have examined plaintiff was on May 25, 2011. See [20] at ¶ 11. According to plaintiff, he “was still able to chew and swallow solid food” at that time, but “he was having some problems chewing food, because of the locations of missing teeth.” Id. Thus, “in order to make chewing easier, [plaintiff] asked Dr. Crisham if he could prepare dentures for him.” Id. Dr. Crisham stated that he would prepare dentures for $170.00, but ultimately refused to prepare the dentures when plaintiff advised that he did not have $170.00 in his account. See [20] at ¶ 11-12.

         Dr. Crisham argues that because plaintiff's amended complaint does not allege his personal involvement other than the May 25, 2011 incident, plaintiff's claims against him are untimely because plaintiff's complaint was filed in 2016. As an initial matter, the court notes that such an argument appears to have been foreclosed by the Seventh Circuit due to the doctrine of continuing violation when treatment is denied. See Jervis v. Mitcheff, 258 F. App'x 3, 5-6 (7th Cir. 2007) (“The statute of limitations commences anew every day that treatment is withheld, so in this case it does not matter whether [plaintiff] sued more than two years after he saw [the defendant physician] for the first and only time.”); Cesal v. Moats, ___ F.3d ___ 2017 WL 1046113, *5-6 (7th Cir. Mar. 20, 2017) (“When a plaintiff alleges that inaction is leading to an ongoing harm, he can reach back to its beginning . . . . [Plaintiff] was not required to sue until after the unlawful conduct ended. But [plaintiff] says it never ended while he was at [the prison]; he alleges that [the defendant physician's] deliberate indifference ended only on March 28, 2011, when [plaintiff] was transferred to [another prison] and thus out of [the defendant physician's] care.”).

         Regardless, the court agrees that Dr. Crisham limited involvement in plaintiff's care merits dismissal because plaintiff's allegations against Dr. Crisham are insufficient to state a claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. In Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588 (7th Cir. 2001), the Seventh Circuit found that a plaintiff had demonstrated “a serious medical need for his dentures” where he alleged “that he has been unable to chew his food without his dentures, significantly impeding his ability to eat, and that he has suffered bleeding, headaches, and ‘disfigurement.'” Id. at 593. Here, in contrast, plaintiff alleged that at the time he met with Dr. Crisham he could chew solid food but simply wanted dentures “in order to make chewing easier.” See [20] at ¶ 11. Plaintiff does not allege, as he does regarding several later visits to Dr. O'Brien, that he complained to Dr. Crisham on May 25, 2011 of extreme pain or other related symptoms. Further, plaintiff does not allege that Dr. Crisham was personally involved in his treatment when his condition worsened and developed into a serious medical need for dentures. See Palmer v. Marion County, 327 F.3d 588, 594 (7th Cir. 2003) (“[L]awsuits against individuals require personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivation to support a viable claim.”). As such, plaintiff's allegations ...

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