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Williams v. Saffold

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

February 21, 2018



          Honorable Marvin E. Aspen, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Derrick Stefan Williams filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against several defendants, including Jeffery Saffold, D.D.S. in his individual capacity, alleging Defendant acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment when he extracted the wrong tooth. Presently before us is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 73.) For the reasons set forth below, we grant Defendant's motion.


         Unless otherwise stated, the facts described herein are undisputed and culled from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 submissions. Dr. Saffold is a dentist who provided dental treatment to Plaintiff while he was a pretrial detainee at the Will County Adult Detention Facility (“WCADF”). (Def.'s L.R. 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. of Material Facts (“Def.'s SOF”) (Dkt. No. 75) ¶ 2.) As relevant here, Plaintiff visited Dr. Saffold on September 19, 2014 and October 8, 2014 in connection with his complaint about a tooth that caused him pain when he ate sweet foods. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         At the first visit on September 19, Dr. Saffold and his assistant performed a dental examination on Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 13.) As part of the examination, they visually inspected Plaintiff's teeth, and Plaintiff pointed with his finger to the tooth that was causing discomfort. (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff contends he pointed to tooth 20, but Dr. Saffold maintains Plaintiff indicated tooth 19 was the source of his discomfort. (Id.; Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3) Resp. to Def's SOF (“Pl.'s Resp. to SOF”) (Dkt. No. 80) ¶ 14.) As an additional diagnostic tool, Dr. Saffold also took x-rays of the area surrounding the affected tooth. (SOF ¶ 15.) Dr. Saffold's contemporaneous records state “seen [sic] patient for dental request exam, patient [complained of] left posterior toothache pointing to #19.” (Sept. 19, 2014 Dental Progress Note (Dkt. No. 80-7).) With respect to tooth 19, Dr. Saffold recorded “no decay seen visually and minimal swelling” and indicated the x-ray “reveals periodontal vertical defect with #19 interproximal #19-20.” (Id.) Dr. Saffold prescribed pain medication and antibiotics and scheduled a follow-up appointment two weeks later to evaluate whether an extraction was necessary. (Id.) Dr. Saffold testified at his deposition that during the September 19 exam, he observed the root of tooth 19 was exposed, and Plaintiff had lost “a large mass of bone” that held tooth 19 on both sides. (SOF ¶¶ 16, 18.) He testified that he found no similar problems with tooth 20, and determined it was “fine.” (Id. ¶ 17.)

         On October 8, 2014, Plaintiff returned to see Dr. Saffold for a follow-up appointment. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff asserts that he continued to experience pain when he ate sweets, and he expected that Dr. Saffold would extract tooth 20 during the visit. (Pl.'s Resp. to SOF ¶ 22.) Dr. Saffold, however, believed Plaintiff indicated that tooth 19 was still causing him pain. (SOF ¶ 23.) Dr. Saffold contends he again examined Plaintiff's teeth and observed the root of tooth 19 was exposed and the tooth was exhibiting signs of gum and bone deterioration. (Id. 24-25.) Dr. Saffold concluded tooth 19 was causing Plaintiff's discomfort and should be extracted as no alternative treatments could be pursued. (Id.) Plaintiff then signed a Dental Informed Consent, which specified tooth 19 would be extracted and that Plaintiff consented to the procedure. (Id. ¶¶ 27-31.) Dr. Saffold and his assistant also signed the consent and affirmed they “explained the matters indicated above relating to the operation and/or procedure and the risks, consequences, and alternatives, ” and that “[t]he inmate appeared to understand and consented to the procedures described.” (Id. ¶¶ 32-33.) Dr. Saffold then proceeded to numb the affected area and extract Plaintiff's tooth 19. (Id. ¶ 35.) Plaintiff was given pain medication and discharged. (Id. ¶ 36.)

         Later the same day, Plaintiff filed a grievance, complaining that Dr. Saffold had extracted the wrong tooth. (Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff asserted that Dr. Saffold should have removed tooth 20, which he alleged was the tooth causing him discomfort. (See, e.g., Pl.'s to SOF ¶¶ 35-36.) Tooth 20 remains in Plaintiff's mouth, and he testified he has not sought to have it extracted as “it don't bother me until I eat something sweet on that side, ” which he avoids. (SOF ¶¶ 41-42.) Plaintiff was treated by Dr. Saffold once more following the October 8 procedure in order to treat a dry socket that developed at the site of the extraction. (Id. ¶ 43.) The dry socket was successfully treated with medication, and Plaintiff received no further relevant care from Dr. Saffold. (Id.) Plaintiff was released from custody on April 26, 2016 and did not seek follow up care to have tooth 20 removed. (Id. ¶¶ 40-42.)


         Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial burden of “informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2); Hemsworth v., Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 489-90 (7th Cir. 2007) (“A party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial.” (citation omitted)). A genuine issue for trial exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986). We view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Id. at 255, 106 S.Ct. at 2513; Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009). “However, inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture will not defeat a summary judgment motion.” Dorsey v. Morgan Stanley, 507 F.3d 624, 627 (7th Cir. 2007) (citation and quotation marks omitted).


         The Eighth Amendment[1] “safeguards the prisoner against a lack of medical care that ‘may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose.'” Petties v. Carter, 836 F.3d 722, 727 (7th Cir. 2016), as amended (Aug. 25, 2016) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103, 97 S.Ct. 285, 290 (1976)). “Prison officials violate the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment when they display ‘deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners.'” Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 652 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104, 97 S.Ct. at 291). To establish deliberate indifference to a serious medical need in violation of the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that he suffered from an objectively serious medical condition, and that a state official subjectively disregarded the risk to his health. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 1977 (1994); Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 593-94 (7th Cir. 2009); Duckworth v. Ahmad, 532 F.3d 675, 679 (7th Cir. 2008).

         The principles applicable to determining whether a condition constitutes an objectively serious medical need “appl[y] equally to dental care.” McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 640 (7th Cir. 2010). The Seventh Circuit has recognized that “the neglect of one's dental hygiene can, and frequently does, result in objectively serious dental and medical problems, which is illustrated by [the] need to have . . . teeth extracted.” Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d 469, 482-83 (7th Cir. 2005); see also, e.g., Berry v. Peterman, 604 F.3d 435, 440 (7th Cir. 2010) (“Tooth decay can constitute an objectively serious medical condition because of pain and the risk of infection.”); Greene v. Pollard, 335 F. App'x 612, 614 (7th Cir. 2009) (finding tooth decay, gum infection, and dental problems interfering with eating and sleeping may rise to the level of a serious medical need). Defendant argues Plaintiff was not suffering from an objectively serious dental condition, because Plaintiff testified at his deposition that despite his contention that Dr. Saffold should have pulled tooth 20, Plaintiff never sought follow up dental care to have the tooth removed, and he testified that it “do[es not] bother him” so long as he avoids eating sweet foods on that side of his mouth. (SOF ¶¶ 40-41.) However, we need not decide the issue because Plaintiff cannot sustain his burden of establishing Dr. Saffold was deliberately indifferent.

         “To be deliberately indifferent, the defendants must have acted with ‘a sufficiently culpable state of mind.'” Johnson v. Doughty, 433 F.3d 1001, 1010 (7th Cir. 2006) (quoting Greeno, 414 F.3d at 653). The official must be subjectively aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must draw the inference. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837, 114 S.Ct. at 1979. However, a prisoner need not establish that “officials intended or desired the harm that transpired.” Greeno, 414 F.3d at 653. “Instead, it is enough to show that the defendants knew of a substantial risk of harm to the inmate and disregarded the risk.” Id. A claim may lie where prison officials provide medical care that is inadequate “in light of the severity of the condition and professional norms.” Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768, 777 (7th Cir. 2015). “Deliberate indifference may occur where a prison official, having knowledge of a significant risk to inmate health or safety, administers ‘blatantly inappropriate' medical treatment, acts in a manner contrary to the recommendation of specialists, or delays a prisoner's treatment for non-medical reasons, thereby exacerbating his pain and suffering.” Id. (internal citations omitted).

         Thus, a prisoner may show that the prison official acted with reckless disregard through “inaction or woefully inadequate action.” Reed v. McBride, 178 F.3d 849, 854 (7th Cir. 1999); see also Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011) (“That the prisoner received some treatment does not foreclose his deliberate indifference claim if the treatment received was ‘so blatantly inappropriate as to evidence intentional mistreatment likely to seriously aggravate his condition.'” (quoting Greeno, 414 F.3d at 653)). “But negligence, even gross negligence, does not violate the Constitution.” McGowan, 612 F.3d at 640; see also Holloway v. Del. Cty. Sheriff, 700 F.3d 1063, 1073 (7th Cir. 2012) (comparing the deliberate indifference standard to criminal recklessness, finding explaining it “requires more than negligence and it approaches intentional wrongdoing”). “Even if prison officials are aware of a substantial risk of ...

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