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Johnson v. Wexford Health Care Services, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 12, 2017

ROBERT N. JOHNSON, #N-27711, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Robert Johnson, an inmate in Pinckneyville Correctional Center (“Pinckneyville”), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivations of his constitutional rights. In his Complaint, Plaintiff claims the defendants have shown deliberate indifference to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment and violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities and Rehabilitation Acts, among other things. (Doc. 1). This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint 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).

         Upon careful review of the Complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to allow this case to proceed past the threshold stage.

         The Complaint

         In his Complaint (Doc. 1), Plaintiff makes the following allegations[1]: in retaliation for Plaintiff's many grievances, defendants violated the ADA 504/Design Guide for prison wheelchair and ADA cell-space by illegally doubling up Pinckneyville's two-person wheelchair/physically challenged cells with sets of four, high aggression, general population, non-physically challenged inmates. (Doc. 1, p. 3). “IDOC and defendants conspiratorially and deliberately instigated and permitted the said non-physically challenged to proliferate an ongoing failure to protect reign of imminent danger in repeated extortion, theft, mayhem, and life and limb fear upon [Plaintiff's] life.” Id. Three gang members living in the illegal four-man cell refused to relinquish the lower bunk, though Plaintiff had a lower bunk permit and none of them did. Id. One of them also told Plaintiff he thought he recognized him and would check what his crimes were over the phone. Id. He told Plaintiff that if he did what the inmate thought he did, that would “be killing [him] real soon.” Id.

         Plaintiff is 59 years old, “gravel-eye blind, master arm and hand dexterity-impaired, ” has a heart condition and respiratory disorder, and suffers from “excruciating” hip, leg, and back pain and continued deterioration of his hips and back for which a wheelchair is required to function normally. Id. The Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) has refused “to document felonious behavior of aggravated assaults and battery visited unprovoked upon him” in the high aggression general population of the prison for the past year and more, so Plaintiff “has sought in a forced Hopkins Choice the only left 2-Man physically challenged/wheelchair safety cell, in repeated disciplinary safety of punitive solitary confinement at the concomitant loss of accumulating good time credits, punitive segregation, not in excess of 6 months since IDOC has no protective custody unit anywhere to accommodate physically challenged and wheelchairs.” (Doc. 1, p. 4).

         Pinckneyville staff seldom if ever considered cellmate compatibility, per their “job guideline . . . ‘Rule 300.'” Id. This exacerbated the imminent danger Plaintiff was in, as “he has [in] the past IDOC year been threatened 5 times to walk himself or die” because he has “been singled out as the man who killed kids in Chicago, Illinois.” Id.

         Plaintiff has left arm and left leg numbness. Id. Plaintiff has a third grade education and no family support. Id. Plaintiff has been denied access to the law library by the law clerks. Id. He is unable to write his own grievances, which “has thwarted and inhibited his legal litigation activities against the IDOC.” Id. Plaintiff has no free legal assistance or knowledge in civil and criminal litigation matters. Id.

         From August 2016 to date, Plaintiff refused to cell in Pinckneyville's general population illegal four-man cells that Pinckneyville assigns him to for his many medical issues, given the imminent danger he faced there. Id. Plaintiff did this for his own safety and requested protective custody. (Doc. 1, p. 5). As a result of Plaintiff's grievances, however, IDOC and the defendants retaliated against him by failing to grant Plaintiff's protective custody requests and denying him “serious urgent care for his continued deteriorating hips and back in which are slowly becoming paralyzed with limited mobility level 10 pain excruciating.” Id. They also disciplined Plaintiff with disciplinary reports for refusing general population housing for which the adjustment committee found him guilty. Id. Each time, they sanctioned him with 30 to 60 days solitary confinement and 30 to 45 days loss of good time credit. Id.

         IDOC “discriminated against Johnson by non-compliance with its own IDOC policy sec. 501.310 ‘Requirements. Each maximum and minimum security shall maintain an area of placement of committed persons in protective custody.'” Id. IDOC also ignored “statute 730 ILCS 5/5-7-4 Protected Persons, ‘the department shall establish rules and regulations for the protection of *** every committed person.” (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). It has ignored these rules to save costs at the expense, suffering, and danger of all ADA physically challenged wheelchair inmates. (Doc. 1, p. 6). IDOC has also refused to upgrade its maximum security protective custody units with ADA certified ramps, grab rails, panic buttons, working elevators, and/or doors wide enough for wheel chairs. Id. IDOC therefore has “no protective custody processing for vulnerable ADAs.” Id.

         IDOC and “all its wardenships” encourage inmates to assault and batter other inmates, with the “widely known . . . knowledge” that they will be punished in a lenient manner so as to save IDOC money. (Doc. 1, p. 6). They avoid prosecuting inmates under 730 ILCS 5/3-6-5, which constitutes “statutory felonious concealment of crimes” and “obstruction of justice.” Id.

         Wexford Health Care Services, Inc. (“Wexford”) and IDOC officials at Pinckneyville are deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical conditions, including the “constant deterioration of his hips, back, and legs, in which his serious urgent medical needs/claims have placed him in ‘imminent danger.'” Id. Plaintiff has been placed in an ADA wheelchair cell, which is being illegally used to house four men. (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff's medical records of his hip and back causing him excruciating pain and suffering have resulted in his being issued a low bunk low gallery permit and pain medication that does not relieve his discomfort. Id.

         Plaintiff has sharp, stabbing relentless attacks of pain that cause him to pass out, uncontrollable muscle spasms, and zero mobility without the assistance of a wheelchair. Id. Plaintiff has headaches, and he cannot function normally with respect to hygiene, putting on clothing, and eating. Id. Plaintiff has trouble holding food down due to nausea. Id. He cannot sleep, has “no comfort at all, ” and he spends “relentless hours in sitting position in fear that slightest wrong move will cause abnormal violent involuntary contraction of muscle convulsions, which started in 2009 but has been denied urgent medical attention since August 2016” in Pinckneyville by HCU Administrator Christine Brown, Nurse Practitioner Dr. Bob, Dr. Scott, Dr. Tim PA, Dr. Butalid, Dr. John Doe, Dr. John Doe, Dr. John Doe, Nurse Practitioner Rector, and Physical Therapist Dr. Dan. Id. Plaintiff received “no follow ups by any health care personnel.” Id.

         “HCU Rule of thumb” is for inmates “to request sick call three times [and] pay $5.00 each time before [the] nurse decides to all[ow] [a] medical issue to be examined by [a] doctor.” Id. There is “no medication refill without sick call $5.00 co-pay” and inmates “wait 30 to 60 days before medication is refilled.” Id. There is “nurse neglect by not recording inmate medical complaints/symptoms, refusal to schedule inmate for doctor appointments, et cetera.” Id.

         In 2016, Dr. Scott examined Plaintiff for “symptoms of burning, throbbing, shooting, unending pain to [his] hips, spine, and lower back with worsening loss of dexterity in the side of his body that had no end to the pain.” Id. Dr. Scott referred Johnson to see an orthopedic specialist, but was soon no longer a doctor at Pinckneyville. Id. Each time Plaintiff inquires about his referral, he is told there is “no record of such doctor referral in his medical files, ” “no money to afford a referral to an outside furlough, ” and Pinckneyville's Wexford staff doctors are specialists in orthopedic bone trauma and disease. (Doc. 1, pp. 7-8).

         Plaintiff's sick call slips are not being answered, and he is repeatedly told by nurses that Pinckneyville does not have a permanent doctor. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Dr. Scott told Plaintiff that if he did not use his back, hips, and spine, he would eventually lose them. Id. Plaintiff's symptoms are worsening. Id. Plaintiff was forced to take himself to segregation to avoid assault from his three “gang member” cellmates, each of whom “had a knife-like shank of some kind, ” when they told him they would kill him and that he “might as well walk [himself] to segregation by now.” Id. Plaintiff requested protective custody, but Pinckneyville interpreted Plaintiff's actions as “disobeying a direct order while disrupting the safety and security of this institution.” Id.

         Plaintiff claims that there is a “systemic custom and usage, institutionalized from one directorship to another, one wardenship to another, obsessed with retaliation in a whole entrenched staff schematic against complaining inmates” who file grievances about the wrongdoing of a director or warden who are then “systematically” labeled problem inmates to prevent them from complaining further. (Doc. 1, p. 9).

         Plaintiff further claims that isolated confinement, under 730 ULCS 5/3-8-7, should not be used against vulnerable populations, should be restricted, and can foster psychological trauma, psychiatric disorders, or serious long-term brain damage. Id. He alleges that vulnerable populations include those 55 years of age or older and individuals who are disabled with a mental illness. Id. Plaintiff also claims that individuals committed to protective custody should have comparable opportunities for activities, movement, and social interaction to those in the general population, but those opportunities are not provided in Pinckneyville's segregation units. Id. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and a preliminary injunction directing medical care to be provided to him, for him to be placed in protective custody, and for the defendants to cease sanctioning him with unfounded disciplinary reports. (Doc. 1, pp. 9-10).


         Before outlining Plaintiff's claims, the Court finds it appropriate to address Plaintiff's failure to include specific allegations against Baldwin, Benton, Jaimet, John/Jane Doe (Deputy Director), Jane Doe (Nurses 1-6), Loddie, Hill, Jane Doe (physical therapist), Love, Thompson, Johnson, John Doe (sergeant), Gibson, Fernandez, Williams, John Doe (C/O 1-6), McBride, Lind, Frank, and Flatt in the body of his Complaint, despite his having listed them among the defendants. Plaintiffs are required to associate specific defendants with specific claims, so that defendants are put on notice of the claims brought against them and so they can properly answer the complaint. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         Where a plaintiff has not included a defendant in his statement of claim, the defendant cannot be said to be adequately put on notice of which claims in the complaint, if any, are directed against him. Furthermore, merely invoking the name of a potential defendant is not sufficient to state a claim against that individual. See Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 334 (7th Cir. 1998). And in the case of those defendants in supervisory positions, the doctrine of respondeat superior is not applicable to § 1983 actions. Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). Because they are not included in the statement of claim, Baldwin (individual capacity only), Benton, Jaimet (individual capacity only), John/Jane Doe (Deputy Director), Jane Doe (Nurses 1-6), Loddie, Hill, Jane Doe (physical therapist), Love, Thompson, Johnson, John Doe (sergeant), Gibson, Fernandez, Williams, John Doe (C/O 1-6), McBride, Lind, Frank, and Flatt will be dismissed from this action without prejudice.

         Further, Plaintiff has named the Pinckneyville Correctional Center, a division of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), as a defendant. However, no matter what relief Plaintiff seeks against Pinckneyville, his claims against it are barred because IDOC, as a state agency, is not a “person” that may be sued under § 1983, and neither are its divisions. Thomas v. Illinois, 697 F.3d 612, 613 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989)); see also 42 U.S .C. § 1983 (“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .”). Though IDOC is an appropriate defendant for ADA and/or Rehabilitation Act claims, the Court will not allow Plaintiff's ADA/Rehabilitation Act claims to proceed against Pinckneyville. Instead, to the extent Plaintiff has stated a viable ADA/Rehabilitation Act claim, the Court will allow it to proceed against the relevant IDOC official(s) in his, her, or their official capacities. See 2 U.S.C. § 12131(1)(b); Jaros v. Illinois Department of Corrections, 684 F.3d 667, 670 (7th Cir. 2012) (the proper defendant to an ADA claim is the relevant state department or agency; the proper defendant is the agency or its director (in his official capacity)). Accordingly, Pinckneyville will be dismissed from this action with prejudice.

         Finally, to the extent Plaintiff sought to bring claims against individuals or entities not included in the case caption, these individuals or entities will not be treated as defendants in this case, and any claims against them should be considered dismissed without prejudice. See Myles v. United States, 416 F.3d 551, 551-52 (7th Cir. 2005) (defendants must be “specif[ied] in the caption”). Individuals mentioned in the Complaint but not included in the case caption or list of defendants include: Dr. Butalid and Dr. Tim PA.

         Moving to the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into 9 counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion regarding their merit.

Count 1 - Defendants showed deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs involving deterioration of his hips, back, and legs and pain and immobility associated ...

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