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Gonzalez v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 14, 2017

GILBERTO GONZALEZ, #K-69916, Plaintiff,


          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Gilberto Gonzalez, an inmate currently housed at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff brings allegations pertaining to the conditions at Menard and the medical care he received for a broken thumb. Plaintiff maintains that the alleged constitutional deprivations are connected, in whole or in part, to overcrowding at Menard. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, injunctive relief, [1] and a prison transfer.[2] (Doc. 1, p. 26).

         This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint (Doc. 1) pursuant to 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

         Plaintiff asserts four sets of claims against Defendants in his Complaint. A summary of the factual allegations offered in support of the claims is followed by a brief analysis of each claim below. Any claim that is not recognized by the Court in this screening order should be considered dismissed without prejudice from this action.

         1. Conditions of Confinement

         Plaintiff describes Menard as old, dilapidated, and overcrowded. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-10). The prison was allegedly built in 1878 and has not been updated. (Doc. 61, p. 6). Cells that were originally built to house one inmate are now used to house two inmates. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Therefore, inmates do not have enough space to move around in the cells and are only permitted one hour of exercise outside of their cells each day. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7). This causes psychological and physical deterioration. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Because Plaintiff cannot move freely around his cell and is not given adequate opportunities to exercise, he is suffering from headaches, constipation, knee pain, back pain, depression, and increased blood pressure. (Doc. 1, p. 7).

         In addition to the above, Plaintiff complains of the following cell conditions:

• The cells have inadequate ventilation, resulting in extremely hot and cold temperatures. (Doc. 1, p. 8).
• The cells are infested with ants, mice, and roaches. (Doc. 1, p. 8).
• The plumbing is inadequate. (Doc. 1, p. 8). When other inmates flush their toilets, feces and urine flow into Plaintiffs toilet. (Doc. 1, p. 8).
• Cleaning supplies are not provided on a regular basis. (Doc. 1, p. 8). As a result, Plaintiff cannot keep his cell clean; bacteria, germs, and disease are left to accumulate and gather in Plaintiffs cell. (Doc. 1, p. 8).
• The cells and showers have high levels of toxic black mold and Plaintiff is breathing in mold spores on a daily basis. (Doc. 1, p. 8).

         In connection with these claims, Plaintiff names the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC'), Butler (Former Menard Warden), John Doe 1 (Menard Warden from December 2016 - February 2017), Baldwin (IDOC Director), and Wexford. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Plaintiff contends these Defendants are required to conduct and safety and sanitation checks throughout the cell houses but fail to do so. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Plaintiff also suggests that IDOC, Butler, John Doe 1, and Baldwin are subject to liability for “turning a blind eye” to the alleged unconstitutional conditions. With respect to this claim, Plaintiff alleges Defendants were on notice of these conditions because of numerous inmate grievances, letters, and lawsuits regarding the same conditions, as well as reports issued by the John Howard Association. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Finally, the Complaint also suggests that Oakley, a grievance counselor, is subject to liability for denying a grievance pertaining to Plaintiff's cell conditions. Id.

         2. Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs

         Plaintiff generally alleges that medical treatment at Menard is substandard and regularly denied or delayed. (Doc. 1, pp. 10-11, 19-22). Plaintiff contends correctional officers have taken on an improper gate-keeper role, often denying requests for medical visits when they feel an injury is not serious and improperly substituting their judgment for the judgment of medical staff. (Doc. 1, pp. 14-16). Plaintiff attributes the alleged constitutional deprivations to (1) Menard's severe overcrowding (there are not enough medical employees to meet the prison's needs) (Doc. 1, pp. 22-23); (2) inadequate training from IDOC, Baldwin, Butler, and Wexford (Doc. 1, pp. 13, 15); and (3) Wexford's cost saving policies, including deliberately understaffing the medical department, utilizing cheaper/less effective treatments, and denying/delaying necessary treatment (Doc. 1, pp. 10-11, 19-22). Plaintiff also asserts that IDOC, Butler, and Baldwin are on notice about the conduct described above (because of grievances, letters, lawsuits, reports from the John Howard Association, and newspaper articles) but have “turned a blind eye” to it. (Doc. 1, p. 14). Finally, Plaintiff contends that Wexford, IDOC, Butler, John Doe 1, Baldwin, and Trost “allow the healthcare unit to be understaffed” and then use the lack of staff as basis for denying medical requests. (Doc. 1, p. 19).

         Plaintiff's medical claim arises from the medical care he received for a broken thumb. (Doc. 1, p. 11). On November 30, 2016, Plaintiff was in the yard and injured his right thumb. (Doc. 1, pp. 11, 39). Plaintiff's thumb was bent at an odd angle, swollen to twice its size, and turning black/purple. (Doc. 1, p. 11). Plaintiff showed his injured thumb to John Doe 2 - the on duty tower officer. Id. John Doe 2 disregarded Plaintiff's request for medical attention and told Plaintiff he would have to seek medical care when Plaintiff returned to the cell house. (Doc. 1, pp. 11-12). According to the Complaint, Plaintiff did not return to the cell house for another two hours.[3]

         At approximately 2:00 p.m., Plaintiff returned to the cell house. (Doc. 1, p. 16). Plaintiff showed his thumb to the cell house sergeant and a gallery officer. (Doc. 1, p. 16). The sergeant and the officer denied Plaintiff's request for medical attention and told him he would have to seek assistance on the following shift (3:00 p.m. To 11:00 p.m.). Id. The cell house sergeant and the gallery officer are not identified as defendants in Plaintiff's caption or in Plaintiff's list of defendants.

         During the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift, Plaintiff showed his injured thumb to a correctional officer. (Doc. 1, p. 17). Plaintiff told the correctional officer his thumb was broken, that he was in severe pain (on a scale of 1-10, his pain was a 9 or higher), and requested medical attention. Id. The correctional officer indicated he would contact the healthcare unit. Id. The correctional officer returned and told Plaintiff that, the healthcare unit was short staffed and the nurses were extremely busy handling new arrivals. (Doc. 1, p. 18). Accordingly, the nurses were too busy to address Plaintiff's broken thumb, which the nurses deemed to be a non-emergency. (Doc. 1, p. 18).

         Around 8:00 p.m., Jane Doe 1, a nurse, was passing out night medications. (Doc. 1, p. 18). Plaintiff showed Jane Doe 1 his thumb and requested medical attention. Id. The nurse informed Plaintiff that they were short staffed and too busy handling new arrivals to address Plaintiff's non-emergency broken thumb. Id. Plaintiff indicated he was in severe pain and requested pain medication. Id. Jane Doe 1 denied Plaintiff's request. (Doc. 1, p. 19).

         On December 1, 2016, Plaintiff showed his injured thumb to John Doe 4, a physician's assistant. (Doc. 1, p. 19). John Doe 4 examined the injury, prescribed Motrin for pain, [4] and referred Plaintiff to the healthcare unit for an x-ray. (Doc. 1, pp. 20, 39, 44-45). Plaintiff's thumb was x-rayed the same day. (Doc. 1, pp. 20, 42). The x-ray revealed that Plaintiff's thumb was broken. (Doc. 1, pp. 20, 42). According to the Complaint, upon reviewing the x-ray, John Doe 4 prescribed a plastic mold for Plaintiff's thumb. (Doc. 1, p. 20). Plaintiff contends the Plastic mold was ineffective because it was ill fitting and twice as big as his thumb. Id. Plaintiff also contends that his injury should have been treated with a cast and not a plastic mold. Id.

         On December 9, 2016, Plaintiff was examined by an unidentified nurse for pain related to his injured thumb. (Doc. 1, p. 45). At the time, Plaintiff was taking 1600 mg of Motrin. Id. Plaintiff's thumb was examined, and Tylenol was prescribed instead of Motrin. Id. The nurse informed Plaintiff that only a physician could address his request for stronger pain medication. (Doc. 1, p. 22). Accordingly, the nurse referred Plaintiff for treatment with a physician. (Doc. 1, pp. 22, 45). The Complaint suggests that Trost is the physician to whom Plaintiff would have been referred, but Plaintiff was never examined by Trost. (Doc. 1, p. 22). Instead, Plaintiff was seen by John Doe 4. Id. John Doe 4 also lacked the authority to prescribe stronger pain medication and did not effectively treat Plaintiff's pain. Id.

         On December 20, 2016, Plaintiff had a follow-up x-ray ordered by John Doe 4. (Doc. 1, p. 43). That x-ray revealed that the thumb was still fractured but noted that “some healing” was “suggested.” Id. A letter responding to one of Plaintiff's complaints indicates that Plaintiff was also examined and received follow-up x-rays on December 28, 2016 and January 12, 2017. (Doc. 1, p. 39).

         Plaintiff contends he was never examined by a specialist because of Wexford's cost-saving policies. (Doc. 1, p. 21). Plaintiff also objects to the fact that he has not received an MRI (Doc. 1, p. 21) and that medical staff do not intend to follow-up with physical therapy. (Doc. 1, p. 24).

         On December 2, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a grievance regarding the delayed treatment for his injured thumb. (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5, 31-33). The grievance also indicated that, although Plaintiff had received some medical care, the medical care was inadequate. Id. Plaintiff did not receive a response and subsequently submitted letters to the warden (John Doe 1) and Baldwin. (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5, 36-38). The letters inquired about the status of Plaintiff's original grievance, suggested that Plaintiff was being denied medical care, and asked for help in obtaining medical care. (Doc. 1, pp. 36-38). In February 2017, Lashbrook responded to one of Plaintiff's letters, indicating the letter had been forwarded to her. (Doc. 1, p. 39). Lashbrook reviewed Plaintiff's medical records and concluded that Plaintiff was receiving treatment for his injured thumb. Id.

         3. Claims Pertaining to Prisoner Mail and Prison Library (Counts 3 through 5)

         Plaintiff contends the mailroom is inadequately staffed and mailroom employees are inadequately trained. (Doc. 1, p. 7). As a result, mail is sometimes lost or delayed, and legal mail is being opened outside of Plaintiff's presence. Id. Plaintiff also alleges that the law library is inadequately staffed and law library employees are inadequately trained. Id. Plaintiff alleges this violates his right to access the courts and to access counsel. Id.

         Plaintiff contends the inadequacies in the mailroom and law library are connected to the issue of overcrowding. (Doc. 1, pp. 7-8). These claims appear to be directed against IDOC, Butler, John Doe 1, Baldwin, and Wexford. (Doc. 1, p. 9).

         4. Cancelling Medical Appointments During Lockdown (Count 6)

         Plaintiff contends that Wexford, Trost, Butler, John Doe 1, and Baldwin have implemented a policy canceling all medical call passes when Menard is on lockdown. (Doc. 1, p. 23). On December 23, 2016, as a result of this policy, Plaintiff's medical call pass was recalled and Plaintiff was not seen as requested. (Doc. 1, pp. 24, 46).

         Dismissal of Certain Defendants IDOC

         Plaintiff cannot maintain his suit for money damages against the IDOC because it is a state government agency. The Supreme Court has held that “neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are ‘persons' under § 1983.” Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). The Eleventh Amendment bars suits against states in federal court for money damages. Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 592 (7th Cir. 2001); Billman v. Ind. Dep't of Corr., 56 F.3d 785, 788 (7th Cir. 1995) (state Department of Corrections is immune from suit by virtue ...

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