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Caruth v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.

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

July 31, 2018

JAMES CARUTH, Plaintiff,


          Edmond E. Chang, Judge

         James Caruth has long suffered from lower back pain, numbness, and a large lump in his left buttock. Caruth brought this complaint challenging his medical treatment at a number of different Illinois prisons, dating back to 1997.[1] The Defendants all moved to dismiss the current version of Caruth's complaint. See R. 110, Wexford Mot. Dismiss; R. 130, Sood and Schwarz Mot. Dismiss.[2] They argue that some of his deliberate-indifference claims are barred by the statute of limitations, and that his medical malpractice allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and are not properly supported by affidavits as required by Illinois law. Id. For the reasons stated below, the motions to dismiss are denied, except as to certain claims related to treatment by Defendants Tilden and Ojelade before October 2013.

         I. Background

         Since 1997, Caruth has bounced back and forth among a number of different Illinois prisons. See Second Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 22-136. Caruth's health problems (at least the ones relevant to this case) began at Pontiac Correctional Center in 1997 or 1998. Id. ¶ 23. While at Pontiac, Caruth experienced severe lower back pain and numbness to his neck and arms. Id. ¶ 23. X-rays of Caruth's lower back were taken, and Caruth was examined by a bone specialist. Id. ¶ 24. The specialist recommended surgery to treat Caruth's back issues. Id. ¶ 24. The specialist submitted his findings to Pontiac's medical director and recommended that Caruth undergo surgery, but the medical director denied the request. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. Instead, Caruth was provided with Ibuprofen and a back brace, which Caruth says was severely damaged. Id. ¶ 27.

         Over the next decade or so, Caruth continued to experience lower back pain and numbness. Id. ¶¶ 30-44. Caruth never got surgery for his condition. Id. ¶¶ 22-136. He did have a back brace during some of this time, but sometimes the brace was damaged, and sometimes he did not get a brace at all. See id. ¶¶ 32, 37-40. In September 2012, a doctor at Stateville requested an MRI or CAT scan for Caruth, but that request was denied. Id. ¶ 43. Instead, physical therapy was ordered, but the physical therapy never took place. Id. ¶ 44.

         By 2012, Caruth had developed another painful medical condition: a large lump in his buttock. Id. ¶ 46. At the time, Caruth was again incarcerated at Pontiac. See id. ¶¶ 45-46. Riliwan Ojelade, who is a physician's assistant, diagnosed the lump as a fatty tumor. Id. ¶ 46. Caruth asked Ojelade to remove the lump, but she denied his request and prescribed Ibuprofen. Id. ¶ 46.

         Over the next four years or so, Caruth complained of his medical conditions- that is, the lower back pain and related numbness, and the painful lump-to many medical providers (some of whom are now defendants in this case) at the various prisons where he was housed. See Id. ¶¶ 47-136. He alleges that each of these providers failed to properly evaluate, diagnose, or treat his conditions. Id. Indeed, he alleges that some of the treatment he did receive was actually inappropriate and caused other health problems. Id. ¶¶ 29, 107. Caruth also filed numerous grievances and sick-call requests seeking treatment, to no avail. See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 51, 55-56, 59, 66, 69-70, 86-88. In 2015 and 2016, Caruth did, however, receive an MRI and x-rays, which showed that his back condition was worsening. Id. ¶¶ 72, 83. Caruth alleges that he never received appropriate treatment for his back pain, numbness, and lump, and that he was deprived of medications that help with his condition. See id. ¶¶ 19, 136.

         II. Legal Standard

         “A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). “[A] 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). The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule “reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to ‘focus litigation on the merits of a claim' rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court.” Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)). The allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth are those that are factual, rather than mere legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         A motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, on the other hand, is properly characterized as a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). Brownmark Films, LLC v. Comedy Partners, 682 F.3d 687, 690 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 579 (7th Cir. 2009)). Like a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the allegations must be taken as true. Ollison v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 2016 WL 6962841, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 29, 2016). Although a plaintiff is not required to plead around affirmative defenses, dismissal can be appropriate if the complaint's own allegations reveal that the statute of limitations expired before the suit's filing. Jay E. Hayden Found. v. First Neighbor Bank, N.A., 610 F.3d 382, 383 (7th Cir. 2010).

         III. Analysis

         A. Statute of Limitations

         The Defendants argue that Caruth's claims based on his back pain and numbness must be narrowed based on the statute of limitations. The claims arise out of injuries he suffered while imprisoned in Illinois, so Illinois's two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice governs, even for the § 1983 claims. See Devbrow v. Kalu, 705 F.3d 765, 768-69 (7th Cir. 2013); 735 ILCS 5/13-212(a). Federal law, on the other hand, governs the date on which the claim accrues. Devbrow, 705 ILCS at 768. When a deliberate-indifference claim is premised on refusal to provide treatment, the claim does not accrue until either the prisoner gets treatment or until the defendant no longer “had the power to do something about [the prisoner's] condition”-for example, when the prisoner leaves the prison. Heard v. Sheahan, 253 F.3d 316, 318 (7th Cir. 2001).

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