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Frye v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

September 19, 2017

HOWARD FRYE, Plaintiff,
v.
WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, INC., STATE OF ILLINOIS, and KUL B. SOOD, Defendants.

          ORDER

          SARA DARROW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Wexford Health Sources, Inc.'s (“Wexford”) motion to dismiss Count II of Plaintiff Howard Frye's Complaint, ECF No. 13. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         In September 2014, Frye was incarcerated at Hill Correctional Center, a prison operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) in Galesburg, Illinois. During this month, he developed a perirectal abscess on his right buttock. The condition was painful, and Frye complained to Defendant Sood, a doctor employed by Wexford. Wexford contracts with IDOC to provide medical care to inmates.

         Sood provided Frye with a drug, Bactrim, to treat the infection. However, he did not provide further treatment, like draining the abscess. Frye alleges that this was because he was scheduled to be released from prison in October of 2014, the next month. Frye was duly released on October 10, and went to Trinity Hospital in Moline, Illinois for further treatment. The hospital admitted him and drained the abscess. Frye had to return to the hospital “throughout” October to receive a course of intravenous antibiotics to treat the abscess and the infection that had caused it.

         Frye sued Wexford, Sood, and the State of Illinois on September 12, 2016, ECF No. 1. He alleged (I) that Sood was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical need in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Eighth Amendment, Compl. 2-3; (II) that Wexford promulgated a policy or practice of denying medical care to inmates like himself in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Eighth Amendment, Compl. 3-4; and (III) sought an order requiring the State of Illinois to indemnify Wexford and Sood for their liability, id. at 4. On January 31, 2017, Wexford moved to dismiss Count II.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard on a Motion to Dismiss

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Scanlan v. Eisenberg, 669 F.3d 838, 841 (7th Cir. 2012). A court will dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In determining whether such a claim has been stated, a court should first identify pleadings that “because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). It should then take the remaining, well-pleaded factual allegations, “assume their veracity[, ] and . . . determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. This means that a complaint must provide “allegations that raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1084 (7th Cir. 2008). The plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. A complaint must also describe its claims in sufficient detail to give a defendant “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)) (alteration in Bell Atlantic).

         II. Analysis

         Wexford argues that allegations against it must be dismissed because Frye has failed to plead a claim that plausibly gives rise to an entitlement to relief. Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss 3-7, ECF No. 14. The Court agrees.

         42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates civil liability for anyone who “under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage . . . subjects . . . any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” Ordinarily, the liberties secured by the Bill of Rights create no positive obligation on behalf of state agents to act or intervene to provide help or medical assistance. See DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dep't of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, 196 (1989). However, courts have long recognized an exception: when the government incarcerates people, rendering them unable to protect themselves or to provide for their own health, the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits the government from acting with deliberate indifference to serious threats to their health or safety. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). Private companies that contract with the government like Wexford, and their employees, can act under color of state law, and have repeatedly been found by courts in this circuit to do so in the context of providing medical services to inmates. See, e.g., Glisson v. Indiana Dep't of Corr., 849 F.3d 372, 378-79 (7th Cir. 2017); Shields v. Illinois Dep't of Corr., 746 F.3d 782, 789 (7th Cir. 2014).

         Municipalities are liable for constitutional harms under § 1983 only if their policy or custom causes the harm, or the harm is caused by someone with final policymaking authority. Thomas v. Cook Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, 604 F.3d 293, 303 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978)). That is to say that the theory of respondeat superior liability, in which an employer is liable for the torts of his employees, does not apply to constitutional torts committed by municipal agents under § 1983. Id. As the law in this circuit stands, the same is true of private companies who contract with state agencies and act under color of law: the companies may only be liable if a policy, custom, or person with final policymaking authority causes the harm. See Iskander v. Vill. of Forest Park, 690 F.2d 126, 128 (7th Cir. 1982). But see Shields, 746 F.3d at 794-95 (questioning whether it makes sense to shield corporations from respondeat superior liability under § 1983).

         Wexford does not contest that it contracted with Illinois, and that as a result, it and Sood acted under color of law in providing treatment to Frye. Rather, Wexford argues, Frye has made only sketchy and conclusory allegations that Wexford ...


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