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Swanigan v. Obaisi

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

November 6, 2017



          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY United States District Judge.

         Alfonso Swanigan, an inmate at Stateville Correctional Center, injured his head while exercising in the prison gymnasium. He initially experienced the symptoms that accompany a concussion, including headaches, nausea, and dizziness, and later began to experience neck pain as well. In the two and a half years that followed, prison doctors Saleh Obaisi and Ann Davis attempted a variety of treatments to relieve Swanigan's symptoms with inconsistent success. Swanigan alleges the failure to provide effective treatment shows deliberate indifference to his condition, a violation of the Eighth Amendment. He also alleges that Wexford Health maintains a policy or practice of deliberate indifference. The defendants[1] have moved for summary judgment.


         Swanigan is an inmate at Stateville Correctional Center. On November 14, 2013, he suffered an injury while exercising. He was using a pull-down machine when he was injured. Pull-down machines are so named because a user pulls down on a bar that is connected to weights via a cable and pulley. The cable snapped, and Swanigan was struck in the head by the bar.

         That day, doctors treated a small wound on Swanigan's head, administered a tetanus injection, and prescribed thirty Motrin pills. The next day, Dr. Saleh Obaisi prescribed a different pain reliever, Tramadol, for Swanigan's headaches. On November 18, Swanigan complained that he was feeling dizzy and that the headaches had not stopped. Dr. Obaisi conducted a neurological exam, which showed nothing abnormal. The doctor prescribed Atenolol, another painkiller, for Swanigan's headache and scheduled a follow-up appointment for the next day.

         At that appointment, Dr. Ann Davis conducted another neurological exam, which again showed normal results. She ordered x-rays of Swanigan's head, which did not reveal anything abnormal. She ordered a "lay-in, " a term that is not defined in the record but that appears to involve exempting Swanigan from ordinary prison activities, and provided him with ice. Dr. Davis scheduled another evaluation for November 21.

         On November 20, however, Swanigan reported that he was feeling dizzy. Dr. Davis conducted both a physical and neurological exam, with normal results. She continued the lay-in and scheduled a follow-up appointment. Before that appointment, Swanigan returned to report that he had fainted. As a result, Dr. Obaisi sent Swanigan to the local hospital. There, Swanigan underwent CT and x-ray imaging. Neither revealed anything abnormal. The emergency room doctor diagnosed Swanigan with post-concussion syndrome. The doctor recommended prescribing Tylenol for pain relief and Zofran for nausea. Dr. Obaisi issued these prescriptions. In a declaration submitted along with defendants' motion for summary judgment, Dr. Obaisi stated that there is no cure for post-concussion syndrome and that the only treatments available are employed to ease symptoms. Obaisi Decl. at 3, ¶ 7.

         On November 25, Swanigan had a scheduled appointment with Dr. Davis. It was rescheduled to November 27. At that appointment, he complained that his headache and dizziness had continued. Dr. Obaisi admitted Swanigan into the infirmary for monitoring. The next day, Swanigan told the attending nurses that he was no longer experiencing any headache, dizziness, or nausea. He was discharged from the infirmary.

         On December 16, Swanigan filed a grievance with the prison regarding his course of treatment. On December 24, he reported his dizziness and headaches had returned. Dr. Davis decided to change the course of treatment by treating Swanigan's headaches like migraines: she prescribed propranolol and Excedrin, the sixth and seventh revisions to Swanigan's medication regime. A subsequent appointment on February 1, 2014 was cancelled due to inadequate staffing but was rescheduled for February 10, during which Swanigan reported no change in his headaches.

         On April 4, 2014-about six months after the original injury-Swanigan attended a check-up with Dr. Obaisi, in which he told the doctor that he only occasionally needed the Excedrin to treat his headaches. Dr. Obaisi scheduled a follow-up appointment. At that appointment, Swanigan reported that the headaches returned and that he was experiencing occasional dizziness and stiffness in his neck. To evaluate the stiffness in Swanigan's neck, Dr. Obaisi ordered an x-ray scan and laboratory tests. Both tests failed to show any abnormalities. To address Swanigan's headache, Dr. Obaisi prescribed a new medication, Verapamil.

         Swanigan reported stiffness of the neck again on July 8. Dr. Obaisi decided to prescribe Robaxin and physical therapy as a new course of treatment. Swanigan completed three months of physical therapy.

         At a February 4, 2015 medical appointment, originally scheduled for January 3, he said he was again experiencing headaches, as well as a feeling of weakness. Dr. Obaisi believed the sensation to be a byproduct of Swanigan's medication. Dr. Obaisi reduced the dose and added another medication, Tegretol, to aid with headaches. Dr. Obaisi ordered a follow-up appointment. At that appointment, Swanigan reported feeling more energy and having fewer headaches.

         Swanigan began exercising again, which prompted the return of some of his symptoms. On May 12, 2015, Swanigan reported neck pain. Dr. Obaisi ordered a steroid injection to treat the pain, which was administered the next day. Swanigan complained of additional neck pain on May 27. The doctor referred him for additional physical therapy, which began on August 6. In August and September 2015, Swanigan underwent physical therapy to treat his neck pain.

         During a November 2015 follow-up appointment with Dr. Obaisi, Swanigan reported that his condition had not changed. Dr. Obaisi ordered another x-ray. The x-ray revealed early degenerative joint ...

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