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Woodley v. Baldwin

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

June 14, 2018

Stephon Woodley, Plaintiff,
John Baldwin, et al., Defendants.


          Iain D. Johnston United States Magistrate Judge.

         It is this Court's Report and Recommendation that Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction (Dkt. 6) be granted as modified. Any objection to this Report and Recommendation shall be filed by June 28, 2018. Failure to object may constitute a waiver of objections on appeal. See Provident Bank v. Manor Steel Corp., 882 F.2d 258, 260 (7th Cir. 1989). A telephonic status hearing is set for July 9, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. By July 6, 2018, counsel shall provide direct-dial telephone numbers to the Court's operations specialist, who will initiate the call.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 9, 2018, Plaintiff, Stephon Woodley, an inmate at Dixon Correctional Center, filed a complaint against the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) Defendants, [1] Wexford Health Sources (“Wexford”) and five unidentified John Does for their alleged deliberate indifference to his serious medical need and discrimination relating to accommodations for his Stargardt disease, a hereditary degenerative eye disease causing progressive vision loss that has left Plaintiff legally blind. Dkt. 1. Specifically, Plaintiff has claims under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132 (“ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., and the Eighth Amendment.

         On March 14, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction (“Motion”) against Defendant John Baldwin. Dkts. 6-7. Specifically, Plaintiff requests that Defendant Baldwin provide him with the following visual aids:

(1) a portable digital magnifier for reading;
(2) a bright task light for his cell;
(3) a monocular scope for distance vision; and
(4) a folding cane to navigate the prison.

         Plaintiff argues that these four items were specifically prescribed by a specialist to assist him with his activities of daily living and so he can continue to enroll in education courses and programs at Dixon Correctional Center.

         The Court held a hearing on Plaintiff's Motion on April 23, 2018.[2] Plaintiff, the IDOC Defendants and Wexford submitted briefs and exhibits before the hearing. See Dkt. 42 (Plaintiff's Brief and Exhibits); Dkts. 43-44, 54, 57 (IDOC's Brief and Exhibits); Dkts. 47, 53 (Wexford's Brief and Exhibits). All exhibits were admitted into evidence. Plaintiff and Amber Allen, Dixon's Healthcare Unit Administrator, testified at the hearing. The facts presented at the hearing were largely not in dispute. The Court found the testimony of Plaintiff and Amber Allen both credible and reliable.

         At the outset of the hearing, counsel for the IDOC Defendants informed the Court that they had ultimately approved Plaintiff's request for a folding cane. Counsel for the IDOC Defendants admitted that there were other inmates at Dixon Correctional Center using this type of folding cane, so it did not need to be approved for security purposes. Amber Allen confirmed that Plaintiff should have his cane within the week. Amber Allen further explained that she was unaware Plaintiff had been denied a cane until it was recently brought to her attention.[3]

         As to the remaining three items, the IDOC Defendants object to issuing them to Plaintiff based on a security concern. The IDOC Defendants state that these items have not been approved by Dixon's security unit for distribution because the particular items have not been inspected. However, the items have not been inspected because Wexford has refused to purchase them for inspection without prior security approval. This is a classic Catch-22[4] that resulted in a federal lawsuit and a preliminary injunction hearing before any reasonable action would be taken - including the acquisition of a folding cane that Plaintiff first requested back in 2015 and that other inmates have been using at Dixon Correctional Center for years.

         At the hearing, the following evidence was presented. Plaintiff is approximately 38-years-old and incarcerated at Dixon Correctional Center. Plaintiff is currently scheduled for parole on September 28, 2018.

         Plaintiff was initially diagnosed with Stargardt disease when he was 11 years old, in approximately 1991. Plaintiff started losing his vision in his mid-20s, in approximately 2005, and his vision progressively got worse from there. When Plaintiff first entered the IDOC custody in 2002, a prison optometrist diagnosed Plaintiff as having Stargardt disease and recommended a plastic magnifier and good lighting so Plaintiff could read. Plaintiff's Exhibit 1, Dkt. 42-1. In 2010, prison optometrist Dr. David Hicks prescribed Plaintiff a more powerful glass magnifier because his vision had deteriorated to the point that he was considered legally blind. Plaintiff's Exhibit 2, Dkt. 42-1.

         In 2011, Plaintiff obtained his General Education Diploma, and thereafter in 2012, he registered for college courses through Dixon Correctional Center. Plaintiff has also been working in Dixon Correctional Center's dietary division since December 2011, rolling silverware into napkins. IDOC's Exhibit 1, Dkt. 44-1.

         In June 2012, Dr. Hicks concluded that Plaintiff's vision loss had further deteriorated and could no longer be accommodated by a glass magnifier. See IDOC's Answer at 6, Dkt. 40. As a result, the IDOC ADA Coordinator and the Warden of Dixon Correctional Center allowed Plaintiff to purchase a more powerful magnifier, namely an “Aukey Portable Video Magnifier/Rechargeable battery and cord.” Plaintiff's Exhibit 4, Dkt. 42-1. Plaintiff was able to read and study his textbooks with the assistance of his Aukey portable video magnifier.

         In 2014, Plaintiff's Aukey portable video magnifier broke. The device was replaced for Plaintiff at no charge in December 2014. See IDOC's Answer at 7, Dkt. 40; Plaintiff's Exhibit 25, Dkt. 42-1.

         Plaintiff continued to take college courses through 2015, until academic courses were no longer available at Dixon Correctional Center due to the State of Illinois' budget impasse. However, Plaintiff was able to earn his Real Estate certificate during this time because correspondence courses were still offered during the budget impasse. Correspondence courses are not offered through the IDOC, but an inmate could sign up directly with the program.

         In July 2014, Dr. Hicks referred Plaintiff to see an ophthalmologist to determine what low vision aids Plaintiff required to improve his quality of life. Plaintiff's Exhibit 7, Dkt. 42-1. Plaintiff was referred to ophthalmologist Dr. J. Friedrichs, who in turn referred Plaintiff to a retina specialist. Id. This referral was ultimately approved by Dixon's medical director and Wexford in August 2017. Id; Plaintiff's Exhibit 8, Dkt. 42-1. Plaintiff was seen by a retina specialist in September 2014, who referred him to another specialist specifically for an evaluation for low vision aids. Plaintiff's Exhibit 9, Dkt. 42-1. This referral was approved by Dixon's medical director and Wexford in September 2014. Plaintiff's Exhibit 10, Dkt. 42-1. Plaintiff was seen by the requested specialist, who in turn referred Plaintiff to a vision rehabilitation specialist. This referral was ultimately approved by Dixon's medical director and Wexford in January 2015. Plaintiff's Exhibit 12, Dkt. 42-1.

         In February 2015, Plaintiff was evaluated by Dr. Joan Stelmack, an optometrist specializing in low vision rehabilitation. Plaintiff's Exhibit 16, Dkt. 42-1. Based on this evaluation, Dr. Stelmack prescribed[5] the following low vision aids for Plaintiff: (1) a monocular for distance spot checking; (2) an Amigo HD portable desktop magnifier for reading, noting that Plaintiff's current Aukey portable video magnifier had too small of a screen to allow Plaintiff to read and write; (3) a folding cane for mobility; and (4) a bright task light. Plaintiff's Exhibit 16, Dkt. 42-1. Dr. Stelmack informed Dixon Correctional Center that she planned to fax her specific recommendations regarding the low vision aids as soon as she could get the model numbers and prices for the items. Plaintiff's Exhibit 17, Dkt. 42-1. Dr. Stelmack's prescription for the four visual aids was approved by Dixon's medical director in March 2015. Id.

         However, on March 27, 2015, Wexford denied the request for a folding cane, a task light and a monocular because these three items needed to be inspected by the warden or Dixon's security unit to ensure they would be acceptable at the prison.[6]Plaintiff's Exhibit 18, Dkt. 42-1. On December 11, 2016, Dixon's security unit determined that it was unable to inspect and approve the items prior to being purchased. IDOC's Exhibit 9 at 16, Dkt. 54; see also Plaintiff's Exhibit 29, Dkt. 42-1. Accordingly, on December 16, 2015, Wexford denied all four of the requested visual aids because Dixon's security unit had “denied” the items. Plaintiff's Exhibit 19, Dkt. 42-1. Wexford refused to purchase the items for a security inspection, despite evidence from Dixon's medical director that the items could be returned if Dixon's security unit did not approve them. See IDOC's Exhibit 11 at 18, Dkt. 56.

         At the hearing, Amber Allen testified that both she and Dixon's medical director suggested that Wexford purchase the items for a security inspection, noting that the items could be returned. However, Wexford still denied their request. Amber Allen testified that although Dixon's security unit never inspected the Amigo HD portable desktop magnifier that Dr. Stelmack prescribed, after reviewing the item online, the security unit noted the following concerns: (1) the cord used to charge the electronic magnifier could also be used to charge a cellular telephone; (2) the magnifier was larger than the Aukey portable video magnifier Plaintiff previously used; and (3) the glass on the magnifier could be broken or mishandled. Amber Allen further testified that she believed all four items were grouped together and ultimately denied based on the noted security concerns for the Amigo HD portable desktop magnifier.

         In response to the denial of his visual aids, Plaintiff filed a grievance. Plaintiff's Exhibit 20, Dkt. 42-1. In March 2016, Dixon's ADA Coordinator responded to Plaintiff's grievance, noting that Dixon's security unit denied the requested items because they were unable to perform a security inspection without purchasing them. Plaintiff's Exhibit 21, Dkt. 42-1. The ADA Coordinator recommended, and Dixon's Warden agreed, that the visual aids should be reviewed for security concerns, noting that the items were likely returnable if they were not approved. Id. However, no such security inspection ever occurred.

         In July 2016, Plaintiff's Aukey portable video magnifier was broken during a shakedown of his cell. However, Plaintiff did not receive a replacement and instead received a plastic sheet magnifier in October 2016. Plaintiff's Exhibit 23, Dkt. 42-1. In response, Plaintiff filed a grievance to complain that he had not received a replacement Aukey portable video magnifier for the one that was broken or any other visual aids that were prescribed by Dr. Stelmack. Plaintiff's Exhibit 24, Dkt. 42-1. In January 2017, Plaintiff's grievance was ultimately ...

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