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Nunez v. Lashbrook

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 23, 2018

VICTOR NUNEZ, K72060, Plaintiff,
v.
JACQUELINE LASHBROOK, CHRISTINE BROWN and DR. DENNIS ELS Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Victor Nunez, an inmate with the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), suffers from an eye condition known as keratoconus. Keratoconus is a genetic disorder characterized by an irregularly shaped cornea. Nunez asserts in this lawsuit that the Defendants provided him inadequate medical treatment for the condition while at Pinckneyville Correctional Center (“Pinckneyville”). The named defendants are Dr. Dennis Els (prison contract optometrist), Christine Brown (Pinckneyville Health Care Unit Administrator) and Jacqueline Lashbrook, in her official capacity as the Pinckneyville Warden.

         Nunez filed suit on May 6, 2015 (Doc. 1), and the Complaint was screened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A on May 28, 2015. In the Screening Order, Nunez was found to have articulated a colorable Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference to serious medical needs claim against Brown, Dr. Els and Dr. Shah, a prison physician. Because Nunez also seeks prospective injunctive relief, Warden Thomas Spiller was added as a defendant in his official capacity. The current Warden at Pinckneyville, Jacqueline Lashbrook, was later substituted for Defendant Spiller.

         Nunez later filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 22) dismissing Dr. Shah, but proceeding against the above-mentioned defendants. Defendants now seek summary judgment. For the following reasons, Dr. Els' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 50) is DENIED. The motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Christine Brown and Warden Lashbrook (Doc. 56) is GRANTED as to Warden Lashbrook and DENIED as to Christine Brown.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are drawn from Nunez's deposition unless otherwise noted. Nunez has been an inmate with IDOC since 2001. (Nunez Deposition, Doc. 58-6, p. 3). In 2008, he was diagnosed as having keratoconus by Dr. Carter at Hill Correctional Center (“Hill”). Id. Dr. Carter informed Nunez that keratoconus is a rare condition in which a person's corneas are unusually thin and susceptible to deformation. Id. For treatment, Dr. Carter initially prescribed Nunez hard contact lenses. Id. at p. 4. After Nunez experienced pain and discomfort with the hard contact lens, Dr. Carter decided to try the “piggy-back” method. Id. at p. 4. The piggyback method consists of wearing both hard contact lenses and soft contact lenses at the same time. Id. at p. 4. The soft contact lenses are placed directly on the eye to protect the cornea and do not have a refractive index (i.e., do not have a prescription strength). Id. at p. 4. The hard contact lenses are then placed on top of the soft contacts. Id. at p. 4. The hard and soft contact lenses require different cleaning solutions and are kept in separate cases. Id. at p. 4. Dr. Carter told Nunez that a pair of the soft contact lenses would last approximately 30 days, but the hard contact lenses are good for up to five years. Id. at p. 5. According to Nunez, he has experienced keratoconus related blurry vision since his late teenage years - his vision significantly improved after using the two sets of contact lenses. Id. at p. 4.

         In early 2012, IDOC officials transferred Nunez from Hill to Pontiac Correctional Center (“Pontiac”). On March 7, 2012, optometrist Dr. Montwill examined Nunez at Pontiac. (Nunez medical chart, Doc. 58-5, p. 23). Dr. Montwill continued Nunez on the piggy-back contact treatment plan. (Doc. 58-6, p. 6).

         In late 2012, IDOC officials transferred Nunez from Pontiac to Stateville Correctional Center (“Stateville”). Id. at pp. 6-7. On December 13, 2012, Nunez was examined by optometrist Dr. Dunn at Stateville. Id. at p. 7. Dr. Dunn also continued the piggy-back treatment plan. Id. at p. 7. Nunez's last optometry examination at Stateville occurred on December 16, 2013 with Dr. Dunn. (Nunez medical chart, Doc. 58-5, p. 24). Dr. Dunn noted that Nunez was out of the soft contact lenses and that he was having problems with his hard contact lenses. Id. Dr. Dunn also wrote that new contacts would need to be ordered after the current treatment plan is approved. Id.

         In February, 2014, IDOC officials transferred Nunez from Stateville to Pinckneyville. (Doc. 58-6, p. 8). Some of Nunez's contact lens supplies were lost in transit, and when he arrived at Pinckneyville, he only had a single pair of both hard and soft contact lenses. Id.

         On February 26, 2014, optometrist Dr. Els examined Nunez at Pinckneyville. Id. During the examination, Nunez told Dr. Els that he needed new hard and soft contact lenses. Id. at p. 9. Nunez also mentioned to Dr. Els that he would like to go to an outside clinic for an examination. Id. at p. 9.[1] Dr. Els told Nunez that he was going to have to “deal with it” and that he would not be receiving any new contact lenses or going to an outside clinic for treatment. Id. at p. 9. Dr. Els then ended the examination. Id. at p. 9. Dr. Els charted that Nunez shall continue to use the current contact lens combination and prescription. (Doc. 58-5, p. 29). He also ordered a new contact lens case and solution. Id.[2]

         On April 16, 2014, Nunez submitted a lengthy prison grievance complaining about the lack of treatment for his eye condition. (IDOC grievance form, Doc. 58-2, pp. 1-2). Nunez wrote in the grievance that Dr. Els did not provide proper treatment at the February, 2014 examination. Id. He requested contact lens solution, a referral to an outside clinic, and new hard and soft contact lenses. Id. at p. 2. The grievance was then forwarded to Health Care Unit Administrator Christine Brown. Id. at p. 1. Nunez's counselor, “T. Krisro” responded to the grievance, stating:

Per C Brown HCUA, you were approved for hard contacts in 2012. Contacts were issued to you. They're good for 5 years therefore in 2017 you may be issued another pair. Ms. Brown stated you need soft contacts once per year. You will be scheduled to see the eye Dr. for another evaluation to ensure you receive what is medically indicated.

(Doc. 58-2, p. 1). Nunez's counselor then signed and dated the grievance May 14, 2014. Id.

         Nunez saw Dr. Els for a follow up examination on May 14, 2014. (Doc. 58-6, p. 10).[3]At the examination, Nunez requested new soft contact lenses. Id. Dr. Els responded that Nunez would not be receiving new soft contact lenses and that he would have to wear the hard contact lenses directly on his eye. Id.

         At that time, Nunez had stopped wearing his soft contact lenses because they were completely worn out. Id. He only wore his hard contact lenses for important occasions, such as when writing letters to family. Id. When Nunez did wear the hard contact lenses by themselves, he experienced irritation and “a lot of pain[.]” Id. If he wore no contacts at all, he was essentially blind. Id. Nunez eventually did receive periodic refills of contact lens solution. Id. at p. 11. However, prison officials provided the wrong kind of contact lens solution - Nunez was provided solution for soft contact lenses, but at that point in time he only possessed his hard contact lenses. Id. at p. 11.

         Following the May 14, 2014 examination, Nunez submitted three “Offender Request” forms asking Defendant Brown if she could provide him with soft contact lenses and contact lens solution. (Doc. 58-7, Doc. 58-8, Doc. 58-9). Nunez submitted the forms in May and June of that year. Id. He did not receive a response to the three request forms. Nunez did, however, appeal his April 16, 2014 grievance to the prison grievance office. (Doc. 1-1, p. 6). The prison grievance office recommended that the grievance be denied, noting that “[i]t appears that [Nunez's] medical concerns have been addressed by health care staff. Offender ...


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