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Johnson v. Overall

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 8, 2017

KENNETH JOHNSON, # K-74914, Plaintiff,


          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections currently incarcerated at Vandalia Correctional Center (“Vandalia”), has brought this pro se action claiming that Dr. Overall, the prison dentist, mishandled the extraction of his tooth. As a result, Plaintiff is experiencing constant pain. Surgery to correct the problem is being delayed. While Plaintiff did not label his Complaint as a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, his factual allegations support a liberal construction of his pleading to include a claim under § 1983. See Donald v. Cook Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 95 F.3d 548, 555 (7th Cir. 1996). The Complaint is now before the Court for a preliminary review 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

         Plaintiff labels this action as a claim for medical malpractice. (Doc. 1, p. 1). On April 7, 2017, he went to the prison dentist to have several teeth extracted. Dr. Overall told him six teeth needed to be pulled. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff asked her to pull three that day and the remaining three later, but she said she could not do that because it was “against policy.” Id. Overall had difficulty with the final tooth and had to give Plaintiff extra Novocain. Plaintiff claims that she mishandled the last tooth extraction because she was tired.

         On April 12, 2017, Plaintiff returned for a follow-up visit because he was still having pain in his mouth. Overall examined him and immediately said that she would have to cut into his gums to remove a broken bone from the sixth tooth that had been extracted.

         Plaintiff is having great difficulty eating and talking due to the constant pain from the broken bone, which is resting on a nerve.

         Overall put Plaintiff back on the list to have surgery. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff states there is “no telling” how long he must wait for the surgery, but then notes that “I have to be in pain . . . all the way two [sic] 6-7-17.” Id. Overall gave Plaintiff ibuprofen for the pain, but his supply ran out and in order to get more pain medication, he must go to the health care unit and pay $5.00 each time.

         He claims that if Overall had not been constrained by the policy that required her to pull all his teeth at once, she would not have botched the final extraction, and he would not have suffered the problems he is now having. He accuses the Department of Corrections of taking short cuts in providing dental care because of lack of money. (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 8).

         As relief, Plaintiff seeks an order requiring Defendants to provide him with “immediate surgery.” (Doc. 1, p. 7). He also requests punitive damages. (Doc. 1, p. 8).

         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: Dental malpractice/negligence claim against Overall under Illinois state law for mishandling the extraction of Plaintiff's tooth, leaving a broken bone ...

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