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Watford v. Newbold

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 4, 2018

MARLON L. WATFORD, # R-15678, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN NEWBOLD, JOHN TROST, DAWN GHAFTHER, JANE DOE Nurse, DR. FUENTES, DR. KAJA, WEXFORD, KIMBERLY BUTLER, JACQUELINE LASHBROOK, and SUSAN KIRK,, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          MICHAEL J. REAGAN, United States District Court Chief Judge

         Plaintiff, who is serving a life sentence at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that some Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious dental condition, and others displayed deliberate indifference to a distinct serious medical condition. This same conduct allegedly violated Plaintiff's First Amendment right to practice his religion, the RLUIPA, and the Illinois Constitution. 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 finds that some of Plaintiff's claims survive threshold review under § 1915A. Further, the surviving claims are not properly joined in the same action, so one count shall be severed into a new case.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff introduces his Complaint by noting that he is a devout practitioner of Al-Islam, under which he has a religious duty to keep himself free from all forms of oppression. (Doc. 1, pp. 2-3). This includes the duty to be a good custodian of his body, which is a “gift and a trust from Allah.” (Doc. 1, p. 3).

         On May 23, 2016, Plaintiff had his bi-annual dental checkup with Newbold (the prison dentist). At that time, he learned that in 2014, Newbold had diagnosed him with a cavity in one tooth - but had never disclosed this fact to Plaintiff until the May 23, 2016 visit. (Doc. 1, pp. 3-4). During the time between 2014 and 2016, Plaintiff had suffered unexplained pain in the affected tooth. On May 23, 2016, Newbold purportedly put Plaintiff on the list to have a filling.

         On November 3, 2016, Plaintiff was called to see Dentist Kaja to have the cavity filled; he told Kaja about the “ongoing periodic pain” in that tooth. Kaja ordered an x-ray to be done prior to the filling. (Doc. 1, p. 5). After the x-ray was done, Kaja informed Plaintiff that Newbold instructed her not to fill the tooth that day. On November 4, 2016, Plaintiff sent a request slip to Newbold asking why he could not get the filling; Newbold did not respond. (Doc. 1, p. 6).

         Plaintiff did not return for dental care until June 13, 2017, when he had his teeth cleaned. (Doc. 1, p. 7). He told the hygienist about the cavity. Newbold told Plaintiff that he might have an abscess, and gave him antibiotics, ibuprofen, and ordered another x-ray.

         On June 30, 2017, Plaintiff had the x-ray. On August 22, 2017, Plaintiff visited Newbold to discuss the x-ray results. Newbold opined that a wisdom tooth can cause the pain Plaintiff had been experiencing. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Plaintiff responded that he did not believe he had an abscess, and needed a filling of his cavity in order to relieve the pain. Newbold said Plaintiff had been “added to the filling list.” Id.

         As of the date he filed the instant Complaint (November 17, 2017), Plaintiff's cavity had not yet been filled. (Doc. 1, pp. 12, 29).

         Plaintiff alleges that Wexford Health Sources, Inc., (“Wexford”) has a policy that instructs their employees (Newbold and Kaja) “to put cost over health care and to deprive Illinois prisoners . . . of needed medical and dental treatment.” (Doc. 1, p. 9).

         He further alleges that Newbold, Kaja, and Wexford's failure to fill his cavity has prevented him from discharging his religious obligation to obtain care for his diseased tooth. (Doc. 1, p. 10). Plaintiff also claims that this conduct violates RLUIPA (Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act) and Article I, sections 3 and 11 of the Illinois Constitution. (Doc. 1, p. 11).

         Plaintiff's second claim concerns his serious abdominal symptoms. (Doc. 1, pp. 13-22). On March 18, 2015, Plaintiff began having severe stomach pains, made worse when he ate and drank. The pain was accompanied by severe diarrhea. Some time in the past, Plaintiff had been diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and a severe infection with H. Pylori, for which he had been treated twice. (Doc. 1, p. 15).

         In the morning of March 18, Plaintiff went to the Health Care Unit and consulted the Jane Doe Nurse. She attributed his symptoms to IBS because his stool test for H. Pylori was negative, and sent him back to his cell without seeing Dr. Trost. (Doc. 1, p. 16; Doc. 1-1, pp. 30-31). Plaintiff does not say whether or not the nurse gave him any medication for his condition.

         On March 20, 2015, Plaintiff was taken to see Dr. Fuentes and Nurse Ghafther. He explained his symptoms, which were identical to those he experienced during his previous H. Pylori infection and his bouts with IBS. (Doc. 1-1, p. 31). However, Nurse Ghafther cut him off and told him he had GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). Ghafther and Fuentes did not perform any diagnostic tests to arrive at this conclusion. (Doc. 1, p. 17; Doc. 1-1, pp. 31-32). Plaintiff again tried to explain his IBS condition and chronic stomach inflammation, and requested a “correct diagnosis” and proper treatment. Id. Fuentes refused to perform any tests, and “prematurely terminated” the appointment. Id. Plaintiff was charged a $5.00 co-payment for the visit, which he claims was improper under state law, because he suffers from the ongoing IBS condition.

         On March 29, 2015, Plaintiff consulted Dr. Trost about his continuing abdominal/intestinal symptoms. Dr. Trost did not conduct any tests or prescribe any treatment, but “made a promise” to send Plaintiff to an outside specialist. (Doc. 1, p. 18). However, that visit never took place.

         More than a year later, on June 16, 2016, Plaintiff consulted Nurse Kirk about his recurring symptoms of stomach pain and burning, and stomach and bowel spasms. He also had begun to have blood in his stool. (Doc. 1, pp. 18-19). Plaintiff requested a referral to Dr. Trost, but this was not done. He claims to have submitted numerous requests slips for medical treatment up to the present date, with no further response.

         Plaintiff references a book entitled A New I.B.S. Solution, which recommends an IBS breath test, endoscopy, and a 10-day course of 2 antibiotics as appropriate treatment for his condition, and claims that Defendants' refusal to provide this treatment constitutes deliberate indifference. (Doc. 1, p. 20).

         Again, he asserts that Wexford has a cost-cutting policy which prompted Fuentes, Trost, Ghafther, Kirk, and the Jane Doe Nurse to deny him treatment. Id. Plaintiff adds that the lack of treatment violates his First Amendment rights, the RLUIPA, and the Illinois Constitution. (Doc.1, pp. 21-22).

         Plaintiff also names Kimberly Butler and Jacqueline Lashbrook as Defendants, but does not mention them in the statement of claim, other than to assert that somebody forged then-Warden Butler's signature on a grievance. (Doc. 1, pp. 23-24).

         In addition to requesting compensatory and punitive damages, the Complaint seeks an “emergency injunctive order” directing the Defendants to give him a permanent filling, and provide specific tests and treatment for his IBS condition. (Doc. 1, pp. 12, 24-25, 28-29).

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

         Based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into the following 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 as to their merit. Any other claim that is mentioned in the Complaint but not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice.

Count 1: Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against Newbold, Kaja, and Wexford, for delaying and denying dental treatment for Plaintiff's cavity since 2014;
Count 2: First Amendment and RLUIPA claims against Newbold, Kaja, and Wexford, for delaying and denying dental treatment for Plaintiff's cavity since 2014;
Count 3: Illinois State law claim against Newbold, Kaja, and Wexford, for violating the Illinois Constitution, Article I, sections 3 and 11, when they delayed and denied dental treatment for Plaintiff's cavity since 2014;
Count 4: Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against Trost, Ghafther, the Jane Doe Nurse, Fuentes, Kirk, and Wexford, for denying diagnostic testing and treatment for Plaintiff's severe stomach pain and intestinal symptoms, and failing to refer Plaintiff to a specialist for diagnosis and treatment;
Count 5: First Amendment and RLUIPA claims against Trost, Ghafther, the Jane Doe Nurse, Fuentes, Kirk, and Wexford, for denying diagnostic testing and treatment for Plaintiff's severe stomach pain and intestinal symptoms, and failing to refer Plaintiff to a specialist for diagnosis and treatment;
Count 6: Illinois State law claim against Trost, Ghafther, the Jane Doe Nurse, Fuentes, Kirk, and Wexford, for violating the Illinois Constitution, Article I, sections 3 and 11, when they denied diagnostic testing, treatment, or a referral for ...

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