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Harper v. Wexford Health Sources Inc.

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

June 21, 2017



          Joan B. Gottschall United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Willie Harper (“Harper”), presently in custody at Stateville Correctional Center (“Stateville”), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his complaint, Harper alleges that he has been subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement at Stateville because he has been unable to obtain adequate medical care for his various ailments. Harper names as defendants Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (“Wexford”), the health care provider for the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC); Imhotep Carter (“Carter”), the former medical director at Stateville; Saleh Obaisi (“Obaisi”), the current medical director of Stateville; and Donald Stolworthy (“Stolworthy”), the current director of IDOC.

         Defendants Wexford, Obaisi, and Stolworthy individually moved to dismiss Harper's First Amended Complaint (“FAC”). This court denied their motions to dismiss in an order filed March 17, 2016. (“Harper I”) (Memorandum Opinion & Order, Dkt. 88.) After their motions to dismiss Harper's FAC were denied, Harper filed his Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”). Wexford has filed a motion to dismiss the SAC under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons discussed below, Wexford's motion to dismiss is denied.

         I. FACTS

         The court draws the following facts from Harper's SAC and accepts them as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. See Cincinnati Life Ins. Co. v. Beyrer, 722 F.3d 939, 946 (7th Cir. 2013). From as early as 2006, and while an inmate, Harper has suffered from a variety of gastrointestinal ailments causing acute pain and distress, including diverticulitis, a hiatal hernia, and twisted bowel. (SAC ¶ 11, Dkt. 101.) Additionally, Harper was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis in April 2013. (Id. ¶ 13.) While in custody, Harper sought treatment for his pain and distress from Wexford and Obaisi. (Id. ¶ 15.) He alleges that they responded with “wholly inadequate measures like aspirin or Tylenol for the stomach pain, or a compression stocking for the leg pain.” (Id. ¶ 18.) In 2011 and 2013 when Harper received a recommended course of treatment from physicians in the gastrointestinal unit at the University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital (“UIC Hospital”), Obaisi disregarded and failed to implement the recommended course of treatment. (Id. ¶ 24.) Additionally, in 2013, UIC Hospital wanted Harper to be returned and readmitted within three weeks to treat his acute pain and suffering, but Obaisi failed to have Harper returned and readmitted, and there was no follow up visit until 2015. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) In 2015, after Harper repeatedly complained of his acute pain and suffering, Wexford, and its co-defendants, allowed him to return to UIC Hospital where he received appropriate treatment for his pain. (Id. ¶¶ 27-29.) Throughout his incarceration, Harper has repeatedly filed grievances about his inability to receive adequate treatment or medical help for his pain and suffering, but all have been denied. (Id. ¶¶ 37-39, 42-43.)


         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). 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 must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). Its factual allegations must “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555-56; see also Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010) (“[P]laintiff must give enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together.”). Plaintiffs need not meet a heightened pleading standard for § 1983 claims to survive a motion to dismiss. See Heyde v. Pittenger, 633 F.3d 512, 516 (7th Cir. 2011). For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the court takes all facts alleged by the plaintiff as true and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, but “conclusions and conclusory allegations merely reciting the elements of the claim are not entitled to this presumption, ” Virnich v. Vorwald, 664 F.3d 206, 212 (7th Cir. 2011), as amended (Jan. 3, 2012).


         Although not explicitly stated as such, Harper's SAC against Wexford alleges a claim pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Harper's SAC differs from his FAC by providing additional allegations. (SAC ¶¶ 31-43, dkt. 101.) In its brief, which accompanies its motion to dismiss Harper's SAC, Wexford raises no arguments that were not addressed in Harper I. (Dkt. 88.) However, in its reply brief (“Reply”), Wexford raises-for the first time-arguments based on what it calls “Northern District precedent” decided after Harper I. (Reply 2, dkt. 122.) Because Harper's FAC survived Wexford's motion to dismiss while alleging fewer facts than his SAC, the court need not reexamine that which it has already decided. See, e.g., Universal Guar. Life Ins. Co. v. Coughlin, 481 F.3d 458, 462 (7th Cir. 2007) (holding where a court actually decided the issue in question, law of the case applies). Therefore, the court will consider only the content of Wexford's reply.

         There are two questions presented by Wexford's reply. First, whether the cases cited establish precedent that would warrant a reexamination of the court's March 17, 2016 decision denying Wexford's motion to dismiss. And second, whether Wexford has waived its arguments raised for the first time in its reply by failing to raise them in its initial memorandum supporting its motion to dismiss.

         A. Northern District Precedent

         Wexford's reply asserts that Harper's claim must be dismissed based on “Northern District precedent.” (Reply 2) (emphasis added.) But no such rule exists. The Seventh Circuit holds “a district court decision does not have stare decisis effect; it is not a precedent.” Midlock v. Apple Vacations W., Inc., 406 F.3d 453, 457 (7th Cir. 2005). The district court rulings cited in Wexford's reply provide persuasive authority, not precedent.

         Wexford's reply claims the following three cases establish precedent that renders Harper's claim insufficient “to survive [its] motion to dismiss.” (Reply 2.) In the first case Wexford cites, Arita, plaintiff Arita, an inmate, alleged Wexford violated his constitutional rights pursuant to § 1983 and Monell by failing to treat his inguinal hernia. Arita v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., No. 15-cv-01173, 2016 U.S. Dist. Lexis 150106, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 31, 2016). He further alleged that Wexford maintained a policy of “ignoring inmates' medical needs.” The court determined that Arita's “single conclusory allegation that Wexford has a policy of treating other inmates in the same fashion as he has been treated [was] insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.” Id. at *8 (citing Taylor v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., No. 15-cv-05190, 2016 U.S. Dist. Lexis 76341, at *4 (N.D. Ill. June 13, 2016)) (other citations omitted). The court granted Wexford's motion to dismiss for two reasons. First, Arita failed to assert specific facts to bolster his claim that other inmates received treatment similar to Arita's. And second, Arita failed to assert what specific policy might lead to “the systematic disregard of inmates' medical needs.” Id. at *10 (citation omitted). The case at bar, however, is distinguishable from Arita.

         Here, Harper has alleged a specific policy-cost-cutting. (SAC ¶ 45, dkt. 101.) Harper alleges Wexford's policy of cost-cutting has prevented him from receiving “adequate and timely medical treatment, in willful indifference or disregard to [his] acute pain and suffering.” (Id. ¶ 6.) Furthermore, unlike Arita, where the court determined that plaintiff's complaint failed to suggest that his experience was something other than a random event, Harper alleges a series of facts that suggest his experience was not a random event or an isolated incident of delayed medical treatment. Including, among other things, repeatedly seeking relief from severe pain and being denied (id. ¶ 15, 17); being prescribed a course of treatment by specialist physicians at UIC Hospital and having that course of treatment ignored (id. ΒΆ 23-24); and failing ...

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