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Street v. Els

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 19, 2017

JASON STREET, #R-09216, Plaintiff,
v.
DENNIS ELS, ALLAN J. BRUMMEL, ALFONSO DAVID, MS. LECRONE, KAREN SMOOT, K. SEIP, JEFFERY DENNISON, SHERRY BENTON, and WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          David R. Herndon UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jason Street, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Shawnee Correctional Center (“Shawnee”), brings the instant civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). In the Complaint, Plaintiff claims that he has been denied adequate medical care for progressive vision loss associated with a right eye cataract, glaucoma, and keratoconus for more than two years at Shawnee. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-19). Plaintiff brings claims against the defendants under the Eighth Amendment. Id. He seeks money damages and a preliminary injunction. (Doc. 1, p. 19).

         The Complaint is now subject to preliminary review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening - The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         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 any reasonable person would find meritless. 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. At this juncture, the factual allegations of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009). The Complaint survives screening under this standard.

         Complaint

         According to the allegations in the Complaint, Plaintiff suffers from a right eye cataract and glaucoma. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Doctor Els, an eye doctor at Shawnee, diagnosed him with these conditions in January 2015. Id. At the time, the doctor indicated that Plaintiff was “going blind, ” and there was “no possible chance” of correcting his right eye vision loss. Id.

         Plaintiff later learned that Doctor Els' opinion was incorrect and merely reflected the policy of his employer, Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (Doc. 1, p. 6). According to the Complaint, Wexford has a longstanding policy of denying eye surgery to any prisoner who has “one good eye.” (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 18-19). In other words, the private medical corporation will not approve surgery until a prisoner is blind in both eyes. Id. Doctor Els was aware of this policy when he told Plaintiff that surgery would not benefit him on January 8, 2015. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-8). Plaintiff's vision subsequently deteriorated. (Doc. 1, p. 7).

         In February 2016, Plaintiff met with a different prison eye doctor named Doctor Brummel. (Doc. 1, p. 7). Doctor Brummel told Plaintiff that there was “a chance” that vision could be restored in his right eye by surgically removing the cataract and glaucoma. Id. However, the delay in surgical treatment foreclosed the option. Id. A corneal transplant was the only remaining option for restoring vision in Plaintiff's right eye. Id.

         On March 17, 2016, Plaintiff met with Doctor Umana at Marion Eye Center to discuss his progressive vision loss. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Doctor Umana diagnosed him with keratoconus, a slowly progressive ectasia of the cornea that is usually bilateral. Id. The condition necessitates frequent changes in eyeglass prescriptions due to changes in the shape of the cornea. Id. Contact lenses “may provide better visual correction” in patients with this condition and are often tried when eyeglasses are not satisfactory. Id. A corneal transplant is indicated when contact lenses also fail to improve vision, when contacts are not tolerated by the patient, or when corneal scarring occurs. Id.

         Plaintiff was fitted with contact lenses five different times, and four of them did not work. (Doc. 1, p. 8). The fifth also stopped working, after the right eye lens began causing pain, discomfort, and scarring. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Doctor Brummel referred Plaintiff to Doctor Fix at the Marion Eye Clinic for further evaluation on seven or eight separate occasions. Id. Each appointment yielded the same results, i.e., a recommendation for a corneal transplant. Id. Doctor Umana requested authorization for a contact lens/evaluation before referring Plaintiff for the transplant. Id.

         Despite the recommendations of these two outside providers, Doctor Brummel “never request[ed] surgery, ” telling Plaintiff that Wexford would not pay for it. Id. Instead, Doctor Brummel continued sending Plaintiff to Doctor Fix for new contact lenses, knowing that they would not help him. (Doc. 1, pp. 10-11). Doctor Brummel allegedly acted pursuant to the same unconstitutional policy espoused by Wexford of denying surgery in prisoners who have “one good eye.” (Doc. 1, pp. 9-11).

         Doctor Alfonso David, the medical director at Shawnee, was also directly involved in Plaintiff's treatment. (Doc. 1, p. 12). Doctor David, along with Doctor Brummel, approved the outside referral and lenses instead of surgery because of Wexford's policy. Id. Doctor David's decision was motivated by costs concerns. ...


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