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Valencia v. Santos

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 14, 2018




         Plaintiff Reynel Valencia, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) currently housed at Centralia Correctional Center (“Centralia”), filed this pro se action directing deliberate indifference claims against officials at Centralia and Vandalia Correctional Center (“Vandalia”), the institution where Plaintiff was previously incarcerated.

         This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint (Doc. 1) 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).

         The Court also must consider whether misjoinder is an issue. The Court retains authority to sever unrelated claims against different defendants into one or more additional lawsuits for which Plaintiff will be assessed a filing fee. See George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). In George, the Seventh Circuit emphasized that the practice of severance is important, “not only to prevent the sort of morass” produced by multi-claim, multi-defendant suits “but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Id. The Seventh Circuit strongly encourages district courts to use severance when faced with an omnibus or scattershot complaint, Owens v. Evans, 878 F.3d 559, 561 (7th Cir. 2017), and discourages courts from allowing a prisoner “to flout the rules for joining claims and defendants, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 18, 20, or to circumvent the Prison Litigation Reform Act's fee requirements by combining multiple lawsuits into a single complaint.” Owens v. Godinez, 860 F.3d 434, 436 (7th Cir. 2017). In a misjoinder situation, severance may occur before preliminary review, allowing the district court to create multiple suits, which can then be separately screened. Wheeler v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 689 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2012).

         The Complaint

         On October 15, 2016, when Plaintiff was incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center, he began experiencing vomiting, abdominal pain, and migraines. (Doc. 1, p. 2). He met with a nurse who concluded Plaintiff might have food poisoning and prescribed Tylenol. (Doc. 1, p. 3).

         On October 27, 2016, Plaintiff was transferred to Vandalia. Id. While at Vandalia, Plaintiff's symptoms intensified. Id. On October 29, 2016, Plaintiff told a nurse he was experiencing abdominal pain and was having 4-5 bowel movements a day. Id. The nurse referred Plaintiff to Dr. Afuwape. Id. Dr. Afuwape examined Plaintiff on November 4, 2016 and prescribed 2 mg of Imodium. Id. On November 11, 2016, Plaintiff had a follow-up visit with Dr. Afuwape and reported the Imodium was not providing relief. Id. On November 15, 2016, Dr. Afuwape prescribed 750 mg of Robaxin and 400 mg of Ibuprofen to relieve Plaintiff's pain. Id. However, he did not prescribe any medication to treat the ongoing diarrhea. Id. On November 22, 2016, Plaintiff requested further treatment with “NSC”. (Doc. 1, p. 4). On November 25, 2016, Dr. Afuwape, once again, prescribed 2 mg of Imodium. Id. Plaintiff met with “NSC” and Dr. Afuwape on three more occasions. Id. Dr. Afuwape continued to prescribe 2 mg of Imodium, but did not perform any tests or try any alternative treatments. Id.

         On February 7, 2017, Plaintiff was transferred to Centralia. Id. On February 10, 2017, Plaintiff met with Dr. Santos and relayed his history of vomiting and pain associated with multiple daily bowel movements. Id. According to the Complaint, Plaintiff reported Imodium was not an effective treatment. (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 6). Nonetheless, Dr. Santos treated Plaintiff by prescribing 2 mg of Imodium. Id. Over the next two months, Plaintiff continued to meet with Dr. Santos and Dr. Santos continued to prescribe 2 mg of Imodium. Id.

         Eventually, Plaintiff asked his family to contact the Warden. (Doc. 1, p. 5). After Plaintiff's family contacted the Warden, Plaintiff received an x-ray. Id. The x-ray suggested that Plaintiff has Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Id. Dr. Santos told Plaintiff to drink more water and to continue with 2mg of Imodium. Id. Dr. Santos never prescribed “a change in diet, relaxation techniques, methods for lifestyle changes, and never considered antispasmodic drugs to relax the contractions of the digestive tract and help relieve abdominal pain.” Id. According to Plaintiff, these treatments are recommended by the American College of Physicians. Id.

         Plaintiff also claims that he submitted grievances at both Centralia and Vandalia pertaining to the allegedly inadequate medical care. Plaintiff directs deliberate indifference allegations against several grievance officials, including (1) Reynolds, Administrative Review Board, for refusing to process his grievance;[1] (2) Walker, Grievance Counselor at Centralia, for denying his grievance;[2] and (3) Johnson, Administrative Review Board, for denying Plaintiff's appeal.[3] Id.

         Dismissal of Grievance Defendants

         Generally, the denial or mishandling of a grievance - standing alone - is not enough to violate the United States Constitution. See, e.g., Owens v. Evans, 878 F.3d 559, 563 (7th Cir. 2017) (“Prison officials who simply processed or reviewed inmate grievances lack personal involvement in the conduct forming the basis of the grievance.”); Owens v. Hinsley, 635 F.3d 950, 953 (7th Cir. 2011) (“[T]he alleged mishandling of [a prisoner's] grievance by persons who otherwise did not cause or participate in the underlying conduct states no claim.”); George v. Abdullah, 507 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Cir. 2007) (“Ruling against a prisoner on an administrative complaint does not cause or contribute to the violation.”). Additionally, as is relevant here, the grievance officials, as non-medical defendants, were entitled to reasonably rely on the expertise of medical professionals. See Thornton v. Godinez, No. 17-1473, 2017 WL 6492651, at *2 (7th Cir. Dec.19, 2017). See also Figgs v. Dawson, 829 F.3d 895, 903-04 (7th Cir. 2016) (no deliberate indifference where prison administrative staff reasonably deferred to expertise of specialized staff); Johnson v. Doughty, 433 F.3d 1001, 1011 (7th Cir. 2006) (same); Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 656 (7th Cir. 2005) (same).

         That being said, an official may be subject to liability if he or she “knows about unconstitutional conduct and facilitates, approves, condones, or ‘turn[s] a blind eye' to it.” Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768, 781 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Vance v. Peters, 97 F.3d 987, 992-93 (7th Cir. 1996).

         In the instant case, Plaintiff alleges that the named grievance officials (Walker, Reynolds, and Johnson) are subject to liability for denying and/or mishandling Plaintiff's grievances and appeals. Considering the authority discussed above, Plaintiff's allegations, and the relevant exhibits, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim as to these individuals. The grievance officials were not involved in the underlying constitutional violation and, to the extent that grievances were denied, the officials appropriately deferred to medical officials. Further, there is no indication that the grievance officials are subject to liability under the standard articulated in Perez or related authority. Accordingly, Walker, Reynolds, and Johnson shall be dismissed from the action without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         Designation ...

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