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Armbruster v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 16, 2017



          Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge.


         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff filed his second amended complaint alleging deliberate indifference against various Defendants related to treatment for his spinal cord compression (Doc. 58). Specifically, the complaint alleges that Defendants denied him adequate medical care for his condition (Count I), that some of the Defendants failed to intervene to prevent the deliberate indifference by other Defendants (Count II), that Defendants Bharat Shah and Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (“Wexford”) committed medical malpractice under Illinois law (Count III), and that Defendant Wexford is liable for the actions of its employees under a theory of respondeat superior (Count IV). This matter is before the Court on two motions to dismiss. Defendant Wexford has filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 48) seeking to dismiss Count 4 of Plaintiff's amended complaint alleging respondeat superior liability.[1] Plaintiff has filed a response (Doc. 55). Defendant Wexford filed a reply (Doc. 60). Defendant Ronald Vitale also filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 72) to which Plaintiff responded (Doc. 76). Based on the following, the Court GRANTS Defendant Wexford's motion to dismiss (Doc. 48) but DENIES Defendant Vitale's motion to dismiss (Doc. 72).

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff filed his second amended complaint on January 13, 2017 (Doc. 58). Plaintiff's amended complaint alleges that he began showing symptoms of spinal cord compression in the spring of 2014 (Doc. 58, p. 1). These symptoms included pain in his right shoulder blade, tingling and numbness in his right arm and hand, and tingling and pain in his left arm and finger tips (Id.).

         Plaintiff first reported his symptoms to Defendant Loretta Wilford on May 13, 2014 and she scheduled Plaintiff to see the doctor the following day (Doc. 58, p. 5). Plaintiff met with Defendant Bharat Shah for the first time regarding his symptoms on May 14, 2014 (Id.). Defendant Shah instructed Plaintiff to do back exercises and ordered that his blood pressure be monitored (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that his condition continued to worsen and that he complained to Defendants Phyllis Maston, Leanda Davis, Lynne Johnson, Loretta Wilford, Susan Hardin, and Rhonda Bennett every day from May 15, 2014, to May 21, 2014 (Id. at 5-6). Defendants did nothing during this period except take Plaintiff's blood pressure (Id. at 6). Plaintiff saw Defendant Maston on May 20, 2014, and complained of numbness in his fingers on his right hand, tingling down both sides of his waist, issues with gripping in his right hand, difficulties walking, and pain in his lower back (Id. at 6). Defendant Maston only noted that Plaintiff had a follow-up appointment in eight days (Id.).

         Plaintiff was seen again by Defendant Shah on May 28, 2014, and Plaintiff complained again of increasing numbness and tingling (Doc. 58, p. 6). He also complained that he had no gripping ability in his right hand and that he had difficulty walking (Id.). Defendant Shah allegedly did not provide Plaintiff with any care for his condition. Plaintiff alleges that he saw Defendant Shah several more times from June to July 2014 and he continued to display deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's deteriorating condition (Id. at 7-8).

         At some point during his incarceration at Southwest, Plaintiff saw Defendant Ronald Vitale, the warden, walking about the facility (Doc. 58 at 8). He approached Defendant Vitale and complained of his ailments, which on that date were so severe that he could barely walk due to the pain, tingling, and numbness (Id.). Defendant Vitale did nothing in response to Plaintiff's complaint (Id.).

         Plaintiff was released from prison on September 15, 2014, and went to Gateway Regional Medical Center ER on September 26, 2014 (Id. at 9). At that time he obtained an MRI and was diagnosed with severe spinal cord compression (Id.). He was transferred to SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital for emergency surgery for the compression (Id.). Plaintiff's complaint alleges that Defendants refused to treat Plaintiff's condition and that, as a result, his spinal cord condition worsened, leaving him with pain which he continues to experience (Id.).

         In response, Defendants Wexford and Vitale have filed motions to dismiss (Docs. 48, 72). Defendant Wexford seeks to dismiss Plaintiff's Count IV, which alleges that Defendant Wexford is liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for the actions of its employees under both state law and § 1983 (Doc. 48). Defendant Wexford argues that respondeat superior doctrine is not applicable to § 1983 litigation and that it is not a proper action under state law. Plaintiff conceded that under circuit precedent his § 1983 claim against Wexford cannot proceed on a theory of respondeat superior (Doc. 60). However, as to his state law claim for respondeat superior liability, he argues the claim can proceed (Id.). Defendant Vitale also argues that the Court should dismiss the claims against him as they are insufficient to allege deliberate indifference or a failure to intervene (Doc. 72). As to Defendant Vitale's motion, Plaintiff argues that at this early stage in the litigation, his allegations are sufficient as to deliberate indifference, and as to the failure to intervene claim, he argues Defendant Vitale has forfeited a response (Doc. 76).

         Legal Standards

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) governs motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has explained that although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations to avoid Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, it must contain “enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Scott v. Chuhak & Tecson, P.C., 725 F.3d 772, 782 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). See also Burke v. 401 N. Wabash Venture, LLC, 714 F.3d 501, 504 (7th Cir. 2013). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” D.B. ex rel. Kurtis B. v. Kopp, 725 F.3d 681, 684 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). The claim (or complaint) must “go beyond mere labels and conclusions” and contain “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” G&S Holdings, LLC v. Continental Casualty Co., 697 F.3d 534, 537-38 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Stated another way: “to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge after Iqbal and Twombly, ‘the plaintiff must give enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together, ' and the question the court should ask is ‘could these things have happened, not did they happen.'” Estate of Davis v. Wells Fargo Bank, 633 F.3d 529, 533 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404-05 (7th Cir. 2010) (emphasis in original)).

         Courts “must still approach motions under Rule 12(b)(6) by ‘construing the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting as true all well-pleaded facts alleged, and drawing all possible inferences in her favor.'” Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 558 U.S. 1148 (2010) (quoting Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008). The court takes well-pleaded facts as true, but does not accept as ...

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