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Haywood v. Wexford Health Source, Inc.

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

June 5, 2019

Donald Haywood Plaintiff,
v.
Wexford Health Sources, Inc., et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Elaine E. Bucklo, United States District Judge

         Donald Haywood, an inmate at Pontiac Correctional Center since July of 2016, and previously incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center, has sued the doctors who treated him at these two institutions and their employer, Wexford Health Sources, Inc.[1] He claims that the doctors provided constitutionally inadequate medical care and that they did so pursuant to Wexford's unconstitutional policy, custom, or practice. He alleges that beginning in late 2013, he repeatedly complained of a constellation of symptoms including chest pain, back pain, side pain, wrist pain, joint pain and swelling, shoulder pain, dizziness, numbness in his leg and back, dental cavities, and stomach problems. Plaintiff also suffered from mental illnesses requiring treatment that is the subject of a separate case also pending before me. See No. 16-cv-3566 (N.D. Ill.). While certain of plaintiff's physical ailments were related to falls or accidents, others eluded a firm diagnosis. Eventually, a rheumatologist diagnosed plaintiff with an autoimmune disease called Sjogren's Syndrome, and plaintiff later began taking medications for that condition.[2]

         Plaintiff alleges that the reason it took years for his Sjogren's diagnosis to emerge is that the frequency of his requests for medical attention-the record reflects that in addition to regular visits to the prison's asthma clinic and mental health providers, plaintiff visited the health care unit just about every month, often several times a month, and sometimes several times a week during the relevant period- led defendants to peg him as a malingerer whose symptoms were more imagined than real. As a result, plaintiff posits, they did not take his complaints seriously and performed only superficial examinations until late 2015, when Dr. Obaisi ordered blood tests that revealed abnormalities prompting a referral to a rheumatologist, who eventually diagnosed plaintiff with Sjogren's Syndrome. But plaintiff's problems did not end there, he claims, because he even after receiving his diagnosis, defendants allegedly failed to follow the rheumatologist's recommendations for managing his condition. In plaintiffs' view, the defendant physicians' conduct reflects their deliberate indifference to his serious medical condition.

         Before me is defendants' motion for summary judgment. Defendants argue that plaintiff is not entitled to a trial because the objective, undisputed evidence establishes that the treatment he received was consistent with the standard of care, and that any delays plaintiff experienced in receiving treatment for his Sjogren's Syndrome (or any other condition) did not result in a compensable injury. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

         I.

         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). I must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff, as the non-moving party. Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 652 (7th Cir. 2005). To survive summary judgment, plaintiff must “present specific facts establishing a material issue for trial, and any inferences must rely on more than mere speculation or conjecture.” Giles v. Godinez, 914 F.3d 1040, 1048 (7th Cir. 2019).

         The Eighth Amendment protects prisoners from prison conditions that cause “the wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain, ” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). Evidence that prison medical staff provided grossly inadequate medical care can support an Eighth Amendment violation if the plaintiff shows: 1) that he suffers from an objectively serious medical condition, and 2) that prison officials knew about the condition and the risk it posed but recklessly disregarded the risk. Pyles v. Fahim, 771 F.3d 403, 408-09 (7th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted).

         The plaintiff's burden of proof is heavy, as an Eighth Amendment violation requires more than negligence or even medical malpractice. Id. at 409. Indeed, because the second prong of the analysis requires a plaintiff to show that the defendant had a “sufficiently culpable state of mind, ” the plaintiff must produce evidence that the treatment he received was “so blatantly inappropriate as to evidence intentional mistreatment.” Greeno, 414 F.3d at 653 (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (Eighth Amendment violation requires proof of an intentional or criminally reckless tort)). In addition, a plaintiff whose deliberate indifference claim is based upon an alleged delay in providing medical treatment must not only prove the objective and subjective components of his claim, he must also offer “verifying medical evidence” that the delay, rather than the underlying condition, caused him harm. Jackson v. Pollion, 733 F.3d 786, 790 (7th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted).

         A doctor's decision to forego diagnostic tests is “a classic example of a matter of medical judgment.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 107 (1976). Accordingly, a plaintiff whose claim rests on allegations that prison doctors failed to conduct appropriate testing to discover his serious medical condition must come forward with proof that the doctor's decision “departed significantly from accepted professional norms.” Pyles, 771 F.3d at 411. Similarly, a plaintiff who challenges a doctor's decision not to refer him to a specialist must establish either that the doctor actually knew of his need for specialized treatment, or that the need would have been obvious even to a layperson, such that that the decision not to engage a specialist “permits an inference that a medical provider was deliberately indifferent to the inmate's condition.” Id. at 412 (citing Greeno, 414 F.3d at 654).

         II.

         Given the breadth of plaintiff's ailments in this case, it is helpful at the outset to focus the analysis on the medical condition that defendants' failure timely to detect and treat allegedly caused him a constitutional injury: Sjogren's Syndrome. Indeed, although plaintiff asserts that he has been diagnosed with numerous conditions, the “gist” of his complaint “is that between 2012-2015, Mr. Haywood appeared many times before the Defendant physicians and presented symptoms of Sjogren's Syndrome, ” but because Drs. Obaisi and Martija viewed him as “a malingerer and a complainer...they made no bona fide attempt to diagnose or treat him for this condition until years later, ” and that after his diagnosis, they, and later Dr. Tilden, interfered with his treatment. Opp. at 1; see also Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3) Stmt. at ¶¶ 20. But the record simply does not support this characterization of the facts. To the contrary, plaintiff's medical record establishes that defendants consistently responded to plaintiff's complaints, and plaintiff identifies no evidence to suggest that the treatment decisions they made reflected anything other than their medical judgment.

         By his own account, plaintiff first reported joint pain-a symptom associated with Sjogren's Syndrome-in June of 2014, and he points to a document that reflects a complaint about pain in his shoulder. But plaintiff's medical record also reveals that he received prompt treatment for this complaint: an x-ray of his shoulder was taken on June 27, 2014, and in the meantime, he was prescribed medication and “instructed to hold off heavy weight lifting till asymptomatic.” See DN 133-1 at 1794; Exh. 1 to Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3) Stmt. at IDOC 481.[3]Similarly, after plaintiff complained of knee pain in August of 2014, he was prescribed ibuprofen and a cold pack and was advised to elevate his knee and to avoid bearing weight. See IDOC 486. Plaintiff offers no evidence to suggest that the treatment he received on these occasions was inappropriate, much less that it was “blatantly” so. Plaintiff also points to the numerous cavities he had filled between 2013 and 2015 and argues that given the joint problems and skin rashes for which he was also treated during the same period, Drs. Obaisi and Martija should have investigated whether the cavities were a symptom of Sjogren's Syndrome. Yet, plaintiff points to no evidence of any professional norms mandating diagnostic testing under these circumstances prior to December 2015 to determine whether these symptoms were linked by an underlying disorder.

         Indeed, plaintiff offers no evidence at all to controvert the testimony of defendants' expert witness, who opined that the treatment plaintiff received for each of his complaints was well within the bounds of accepted professional standards. Plaintiff's core theory-that the defendant physicians' view of him as a “malingerer” and a “complainer” replaced their exercise of professional judgment-rests entirely on his subjective sense that his complaints were brushed off and the meaning he attributes to a handful of notations in his medical records. For example, plaintiff claims that the emphasis in a notation from a visit on August 8, 2015, which states that plaintiff was “brought up for chest pains, third time this week, ” IDOC 541 (original emphasis), reflects Dr. Martija's “frustration” with his frequent visits to the prison health care unit. Similarly, plaintiff reads skepticism into the observation recorded on September 23, 2015, that plaintiff “has been evaluated multiple times by different providers” for complaints of a racing heart and chest pain. IDOC 559. But plaintiff does not dispute that these notations are factually accurate, and even assuming the inferences he draws from their emphasis is correct, the objective medical record establishes that prison medical staff nevertheless investigated and treated his complaints: In response to his complaint of August 8, plaintiff received a physical examination, a blood pressure check, a respiration and heart rate check, and an EKG, all of which produced normal results, see IDOC 541, and on September 23, plaintiff had his temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and respiration checked and was scheduled for a follow up appointment with the prison medical director on October 13, 2015. Plaintiff's subjective belief that these treatments were “superficial” and designed to “get[] him to go away and stop bothering” the prison medical staff is not substantiated by any competent medical evidence. Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3) Stmt. ¶ 43. At all events, courts “look at the totality of an inmate's medical care when considering whether that care evidences deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Petties v. Carter, 836 F.3d 722, 730-31 (7th Cir. 2016) (en banc). Plaintiff's medical records comprise over a thousand pages, and the isolated remarks he points to on a handful of entries fall far short of establishing defendants' unconstitutional disregard for his Sjogren's Syndrome.[4]

         Plaintiff insists that the record contains “copious evidence” of a “lengthy pattern of unconstitutional behavior” by the physician defendants. Opp. at 6. But the “evidence” he cites boils down to his subjective view that it took too long for Drs. Obaisi and Martija to recognize the need for specialized treatment and speculation about the reasons for the perceived delay. For example, plaintiff cites as evidence of these doctors' foot dragging the failure to provide specialists with “relevant portions” of plaintiff's medical file in advance of his consultations. Yet, so far as the record reveals, that was entirely consistent with standard practices; and even if it ...


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