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Smith v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 10, 2017

MICHAEL SMITH, # K-57543, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that several Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs after he injured his hand. Later, he was subjected to excessive force when officers refused to loosen his handcuffs, further injuring the same hand. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Under § 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out non-meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss any portion of the Complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         An action or claim is frivolous if “it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that “no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit.” Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross “the line between possibility and plausibility.” Id. at 557. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Applying these standards, the Court finds that some of Plaintiff's claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         On May 30, 2016, Plaintiff severely injured his right hand while on the yard. He sought help from Officers Doe and Macdonough, but because it was nearly time for a shift change (2:20 p.m.), these officers refused to call medical staff or take Plaintiff to the health care unit. (Doc. 1, pp. 2, 9). Later on, at around 4:15 p.m., Plaintiff was taken to the health care unit, where an examination noted the hand was swollen and the pinky finger was at an awkward angle, out of its normal position. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 16-17). The delay in medical attention caused Plaintiff to suffer unnecessary pain.

         Dr. Trost is a physician at Menard who saw Plaintiff on various occasions. It is not clear when Plaintiff first consulted Dr. Trost for examination or treatment of his hand injury. Trost cancelled Plaintiff's sick call pass for June 8, 2016, further delaying treatment. Plaintiff was again unable to see the doctor on June 9, 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 11; Doc. 1-1, p. 15). A nurse ordered x-rays and put a splint on Plaintiff's hand. The x-rays were to have been sent to an outside consultant, but it appears this was not done. (Doc. 1-1, p. 15). Plaintiff filed a grievance on June 19, 2016, complaining about the lack of treatment. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 14-17).

         According to Plaintiff's letter complaining about officials' failure to address his grievances, Trost examined him on June 22, 2016, and noted there was still extensive swelling of the right finger, discoloration, and lack of mobility. Trost ordered more x-rays. On July 12, 2016, Trost saw him again and noted the swelling had still not subsided, and the finger was still at an awkward angle. He again ordered x-rays. (Doc. 1-1, p. 22).

         Dr. Trost reviewed the x-ray results, and in a report dated July 21, 2016, concluded that the radiology results showed the hand was “normal or stable.” (Doc. 1, p. 11; Doc. 1-1, p. 19). However, Plaintiff says the hand was not “normal” at that time. Dr. Trost's “misdiagnoses” delayed treatment for Plaintiff's injury. (Doc. 1, pp. 11, 20).

         On July 13, 2016, Dr. Trost sought an orthopedic consult for Plaintiff, but Dr. Ritz (a doctor with Wexford Health Sources, Inc.) denied the referral request. (Doc. 1, p. 12; Doc. 1-1, p. 21). Dr. Ritz asked for more information so the referral could be reconsidered on July 29, 2016, but failed to expedite that request. (Doc. 1, pp. 12, 20; Doc. 1-1, p. 21). Plaintiff's pain and restricted movement continued and treatment was further delayed.

         Plaintiff was eventually sent for a consultation with an orthopedic specialist on September 8, 2016, and again on September 13, 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 10). The specialist concluded that the injury was serious enough to require surgical repair, but that even with surgery, his pinky finger could remain immobile or permanently disfigured. Id. Plaintiff states that the recommendation for surgery and other care was ignored. (Doc. 1, p. 10).

         Plaintiff submitted several requests for a medical permit to allow his hands to be cuffed in the front because of his injury. However, on October 18, 2016, Dr. Trost denied Plaintiff's request for a front cuff permit. Plaintiff asserts that this permit denial was in retaliation for Plaintiff having filed a grievance against Dr. Trost.[1] (Doc. 1, p. 11; Doc. 1-1, p. 27).

         On December 23, 2016, C/O Larry was on duty when Plaintiff was placed in handcuffs behind his back for a 4-hour period. (Doc. 1, p. 15). Plaintiff told Larry about his pre-existing hand injury and the fact that he had a medical permit for a finger spring/ACU-spring extension assist device (granted to him after a November 28, 2016, orthopedic consultation). (Doc. 1, pp. 15; Doc. 1-1, p. 40). Plaintiff asked Larry to loosen the restraints, or call the Health Care Unit because his fingers were becoming numb and his shoulder was burning. However, Larry refused to notify medical staff or to loosen the cuffs. As a result, Plaintiff suffered pain, swelling, and welts that persisted for several days, and the incident set back Plaintiff's physical therapy for the injured right hand. (Doc. 1, p. 16).

         Meyer (Plaintiff's counselor) allegedly retaliated against Plaintiff by failing to process his grievances over the delays and lack of medical care for Plaintiff's injured hand. This retaliation was prompted by Plaintiff's actions of filing grievances and bringing a lawsuit (Case No. 15-cv-770-NJR-DGW) against Meyer's co-workers. (Doc. 1, p. 13).

         Butler, the former Menard Warden, ruled that Plaintiff's “emergency” grievance filed June 17, 2016, over the lack of treatment for his hand injury, did not qualify as an emergency matter. (Doc. 1, p. 16; Doc. 1-1, pp. 16-17). As a result, Plaintiff's suffering was prolonged when treatment was further delayed. She also deemed his earlier “emergency” grievance of January 12, 2016, a non-emergency matter.

         Lashbrook was the acting warden at the time Plaintiff filed the instant action and the grievances of December 2016 and January 2017. (Doc. 1, pp. 17-18). Lashbrook deemed those grievances to be non-emergencies.

         Plaintiff names “Menard HCU” and Gail Walls (the Health Care Unit Administrator) as Defendants. He complains that they failed to act on his December 31, 2015, request for medical treatment for a variety of issues unrelated to the later hand injury. (Doc. 1, p. 9; Doc. 1-1, pp. 11-13). They similarly ignored two sick call requests in February 2016. As a result, Plaintiff was denied his annual physical. Later, after Plaintiff sustained the hand injury, Walls and the HCU failed to send records to the orthopedic specialist. (Doc. 1, p. 9).

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as other non-monetary punishment of the Defendants. (Doc. 1, p. 24).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         Based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into the following counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit. Any other claim that is mentioned in the Complaint but not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice.

Count 1: Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against Macdonough and the John Doe Lieutenant, for refusing to summon medical staff after Plaintiff's hand was injured on May 30, 2016;
Count 2: Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against Dr. Trost and Dr. Ritz for denying and delaying medical attention for Plaintiff's injured hand;
Count 3: Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against unnamed Defendants for ignoring the orthopedic specialist's recommendations for surgery and other treatment for Plaintiff's hand injury;
Count 4: First Amendment retaliation claim against Dr. Trost for denying Plaintiff a medical front-cuff permit after Plaintiff filed grievances against him;
Count 5: Eighth Amendment claims against C/O Larry for deliberate indifference and excessive force, for refusing to loosen Plaintiff's handcuffs or consult medical staff on December 23, 2016;
Count 6: First Amendment retaliation claim against Meyer, for refusing to process Plaintiff's grievances after he sued her co-workers and filed grievances against her;
Count 7: Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against Butler for failing to act on Plaintiff's grievances complaining about lack of medical care ...

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