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Steele v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.

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

May 25, 2018

WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, INC., et al., Defendants.


          Thomas M. Durkin, Judge

         Plaintiff Ronald Steele has sued defendants Ghaliah Obaisi (as independent executor of the estate of Dr. Saleh Obaisi (“Obaisi”)), Randy Pfister, and Don Mills in their individual capacities, along with Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (“Wexford”), in a single count complaint for deliberate indifference to Steele's medical needs. Currently before the Court are two motions to dismiss: (1) defendants Mills and Pfister's motion (R. 28); and (2) defendant Wexford's motion (R. 31). For the reasons explained below, the Court denies both motions.


         The complaint must provide “a short plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Through this statement, defendants must be provided with “fair notice” of the claim and the basis for it. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This means the complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “‘A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Mann, 707 F.3d at 877 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In applying this standard, the Court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Mann, 707 F.3d at 877.


         Since at least early 2014, Steele has experienced a spinal condition resulting in severe and chronic pain in his neck, numbness in his shoulders, arms, and hands, and a limited range of cervical motion. R. 21 ¶ 15. As a result, Steele has been unable to sleep through the night or engage in fitness activities. Id. ¶ 16.

         At some point in 2014, while housed at Stateville Correctional Center in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), Steele began seeking treatment for his spinal condition from the Stateville medical unit. Id. ¶ 17. Initially, policies set by Wexford and IDOC resulted in Steele being treated by registered nurses instead of a licensed physician. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. The registered nurses prescribed Steele only over-the-counter pain medication, which did not improve his condition, and they did not refer Steele to a licensed physician. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Steele tried to seek follow-up treatment from a licensed physician, but was denied treatment numerous times due to inadequate staffing. Id. ¶ 22.

         In April 2015, Steele received authorization to see a licensed physician, and now-deceased defendant Obaisi-then-medical director at Stateville and an employee of Wexford-began to treat Steele. Id. ¶¶ 23, 44-45. From April 2015 through 2016, Obaisi prescribed Steele over-the-counter pain medication, including aspirin and naproxen, which did not alleviate Steele's pain. Id. ¶¶ 24-25.

         In late April or early May 2016, Obaisi and Wexford authorized an x-ray, which Steele received on May 2, 2016. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. Based on the x-ray results, Stateville medical staff recommended that Steele obtain an MRI from an outside specialist. Id. ¶ 28. But Obaisi and Wexford did not authorize Steele to see an outside specialist until early 2017. Id. ¶ 29.

         In February 2017, Steele began to see outside specialists at the University of Illinois-Chicago Medical Center (“UIC”). Id. ¶ 30. An MRI of Steele's cervical spine conducted at UIC on March 27, 2017 revealed that Steele suffered from “degenerative and severe spinal canal stenosis at the C3-C6 vertebrae, with mylemalacia at ¶ 3-C4 and C4-C5 with multilevel moderate-to-severe neuroforaminal narrowing.” Id. ¶¶ 31-32. The MRI also revealed cord signal changes. Id. ¶ 32.

         As a result of the MRI, Steele's physicians at UIC recommended that he undergo an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure at the C3-C6 vertebrae. Id. ¶ 34. Steele's physicians at UIC transmitted an order to Obaisi and Wexford instructing that Steele should not take aspirin or naproxen for at least one week prior to his scheduled surgery on May 30, 2017 because of risks of severe bleeding. Id. ¶¶ 35-36. But Obaisi and Wexford did not communicate this to Steele. Id. ¶ 37. Because Steele continued to take aspirin and naproxen up to the scheduled surgery date, his surgery was cancelled. Id. ¶ 38. Obaisi, Mills, and Wexford did not provide the necessary approvals to reschedule Steele's surgery until several months later. Id. ¶ 39.

         On April 3, 2017, Steele approached Pfister, the warden at Stateville, and complained about his medical condition and Obaisi's failure to appropriately treat it. Id. ¶ 63. Steele reiterated those complaints to Pfister on June 3, 2017. Id. ¶ 64. Pfister responded that he would discuss the issues with Obaisi and help Steele get appropriate treatment, but Steele believes those discussions never took place. Id. ¶¶ 65-66. Steele followed up with a letter to Pfister on July 1, 2017, to which Pfister never responded. Id. ¶ 67.

         On April 17, 2017, Steele informed Mills, the healthcare administrator at Stateville, of Obaisi's failure to provide him with appropriate medical treatment, and reiterated his complaints on June 1, 2017, July 11, 2017, and September 20, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 58, 60. In Steele's July 11, 2017 letter to Mills, Steele documented his efforts to obtain medical treatment and Obaisi's failure to provide it. Id. ¶ 60. Mills allegedly dismissed or ignored all of Steele's complaints and instructed Steele to discuss his complaints with Obaisi. Id. ¶ 59. Steele informed Mills that Obaisi had instructed him to discuss the complaints with Mills. Id. Mills then said he would talk to Obaisi, but Steele believes those discussions never occurred. Id.

         Steele filed written grievances with Stateville on June 28, 2016, January 5, 2017, March 2, 2017, and April 14, 2017 about his pain, inappropriate treatment, and delayed treatment. Id. ¶ 42. All of these grievances were denied. Id.

         Steele filed this lawsuit on September 14, 2017. R. 1. At the time the original complaint was filed, Steele still had not undergone surgery. See R. 21 ¶ 40. This Court conducted a Section 1915 merit review and appointed counsel for Steele on October 10, 2017. R. 5.

         Steele finally underwent surgery on November 3, 2017. R. 21 ¶ 40. During this time, Steele was not timely prescribed a lower bunk permit, double mattress, or cervical ...

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