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Johnson v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 7, 2017

ROBERT JOHNSON, # 07379-030, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES of AMERICA, and FEDERAL BUREAU of PRISONS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge

         Plaintiff is a federal inmate currently incarcerated at the FCI-Greenville. In this pro se action, he seeks relief under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) for medical neglect of his serious spinal condition. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint 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 concludes that this action is subject to summary dismissal. However, Plaintiff shall be given an opportunity to comply with the Illinois state law requirements for medical malpractice actions, if he wishes to further pursue the dismissed claim.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff first sought treatment from Greenville's Health Services on February 6, 2015, for severe neck and shoulder pain and a “tingling sensation” and numbness in some fingers of his right hand. (Doc. 1, pp. 1-2). At that time, the symptoms of tingling and numb fingers had been going on for 5 months (since October 2014). Between February 19, 2015, and July 10, 2015, Plaintiff returned to Health Services 5 more times seeking treatment for the severe neck and shoulder pain, which by then included pain in his right arm and right side, and numbness in his right arm as well as fingers. (Doc. 1, p. 2). The only treatment he received during that period was ibuprofen for pain, and orders to decrease his exercise.

         On July 30, 2015, Plaintiff was given an MRI. This test disclosed that he had a herniated disc in his neck at ¶ 4-C5, with narrowing of his spinal canal. By that time, Plaintiff had been suffering pain from his condition for about 8 months. (Doc. 1, p. 3).

         On January 27, 2016, Plaintiff underwent surgery to address the herniated disc. He notes that as of that date, he had been suffering extreme pain for 12 months, due to the Greenville medical staff's delay and neglect in diagnosing/treating his condition. Id. Plaintiff incorporates into the Complaint a number of medical notes regarding his diagnosis and efforts to obtain treatment (Doc. 1, pp. 4-8), and attaches medical records regarding his surgery and follow-up treatment (Doc. 1-2, pp. 1-4).

         While he does not attach copies of any documents relating to his administrative tort claim, Plaintiff asserts that he did file such a claim in a timely manner. (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9).

         Plaintiff seeks monetary relief. (Doc. 1, p. 9; Doc. 1-1, p. 6).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         Based on the allegations of the complaint, the Court finds it convenient to describe the pro se action in a single count. The parties and the Court will use this designation in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of this count does not constitute an opinion as to its merit. Any other claim that is mentioned in the complaint but not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice.

Count 1: Medical negligence claim against the United States of America under the Federal Tort Claims Act, for the actions of its employees at the FCI-Greenville, Illinois, who delayed diagnosis and treatment for ...

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