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Thomas v. Wexford Health Services, Inc.

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

October 9, 2019

Adrian Thomas, Plaintiff,
v.
Wexford Health Services, Inc. et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge

         Adrian Thomas, previously incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center, has sued Dr. Alma Martija and Dr. Saleh Obaisi, [1] the doctors who treated him at Stateville, their employer, Wexford Health Sources, Inc., and Randy Pfister, the warden of Stateville. Thomas alleges that Dr. Martija and Dr. Obaisi provided constitutionally inadequate medical care and that they did so pursuant to Wexford's unconstitutional policy or practice. He also alleges that Pfister was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

         Defendants seek summary judgment. They argue that plaintiff is not entitled to a trial because the undisputed evidence does not establish that any individual defendants were deliberately indifferent to Thomas's serious medical needs or that Wexford had an unconstitutional policy or practice that caused Thomas harm. These motions are granted in part and denied in part.

         I.

         The facts are set forth as favorably to Thomas, the non-moving party, as permitted by the record. See Hanners v. Trent, 674 F.3d 683, 691 (7th Cir. 2012).

         A. Thomas's Medical History

         In October 2014, Thomas complained to Dr. Martija about nasal issues, she diagnosed him with sinusitis, and she prescribed antibiotics. In a December 2014 appointment, Dr. Martija noted that Thomas' sinusitis had been resolved. In February 2015, Dr. Obaisi saw Thomas regarding his renewed complaints about his nose. Dr. Obaisi noted that Thomas had severe nasal septum deviation, sinusitis, and bronchitis. He prescribed medication. On June 30, 2015, Dr. Obaisi recommended that Thomas see a specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago (“UIC”) about these conditions. In October 2015, Thomas was taken to UIC to see Dr. Stephanie Joe, an otolaryngologist, who noted Thomas was experiencing “[s]ome facial pressure and pain under eyes” and diagnosed Thomas with a deviated septum and hypertrophic nasal turbinates. Dkt. No. 107-1 at 15-16. Dr. Joe recommended elective nasal surgery to address this condition, which Thomas agreed to. Dr. Obaisi prepared the surgery clearance forms. Thomas returned to UIC on November 30, 2015 and underwent nasal surgery from Dr. Joe. He left surgery with a splint and sutures in his nose. Dr. Joe's written surgical discharge instructions were that Thomas return for a follow-up in three weeks. The next day, Dr. Obaisi signed Dr. Joe's consultation form from the surgery, which noted Thomas's splints, but did not mention a follow-up visit as part of her recommendations and plans.

         On January 12, 2016, Thomas spoke with a physician's assistant at Stateville about returning to UIC for his follow-up appointment. The physician's assistant told Thomas that she would speak with Dr. Obaisi. Thomas sent Stateville medical staff multiple request slips seeking an appointment but these requests “went unanswered.” Dkt. No. 107-4, Thomas Dep. at 32:14-33:7.

         Thomas saw Dr. Obaisi on March 5, 2016 and spoke to him about returning to UIC. Thomas testified that Dr. Obaisi refused and stated, “he was the medical doctor and he would send [the plaintiff] out whenever he got ready.” Dkt. No. 107-4, Thomas Dep. at 16:15-17:4. Thomas also testified that Dr. Obaisi and Dr. Martija told him that Wexford was on a budget and they were trying to save Wexford money.

         On March 29, 2016, Dr. Obaisi made a referral for Thomas to see Dr. Joe. However, in a collegial review by Wexford, the decision was made to evaluate Thomas at Stateville and then discuss again whether a follow-up at UIC was medically necessary. On either April 1st or April 7th, Dr. Obaisi attempted to remove a suture remaining from Thomas's surgery, which, Thomas contends, caused a splint to break and created a perforation in his nose. Wexford approved Thomas for a follow-up appointment with Dr. Joe on April 13, 2016. Thomas saw Dr. Joe the next day. She found that Thomas had a pinhole sized perforation in his nose, which was one of the potential risks of the surgery. Dr. Joe made no determination as to whether that perforation was caused by Dr. Obaisi's attempt to remove the suture. But she did testify that it would “potentially” be painful for Thomas if the splints were left in for more than three weeks. Dkt. No. 107-1, Dr. Joe Dep. at 19:13-18.

         B. Thomas's Complaints and Grievances

         On January 18, 2015 Thomas filed a grievance in which he complained that Wexford, Dr. Obaisi, and Dr. Martija had unnecessarily delayed his treatment, causing his condition to worsen. On January 26th, Thomas spoke with Pfister in the Stateville commissary and explained that he was having trouble breathing and was supposed to be sent back to UIC for a follow-up appointment. Pfister responded “[m]an it looks like you're standing here fine breathing to me. File an emergency grievance.” Pfister had a practice of taking notes from conversations with inmates and generally followed up on these notes by meeting with department supervisors. Thomas understood emergency grievances are sent “straight to the warden.” Dkt. No. 99-3, Thomas Dep. at 43:2-7. He submitted an emergency grievance on January 28th, in which he stated that he had nose surgery in November 2015, and he was supposed to have the splints removed a few weeks later. He complained the splints and stitches were causing difficulty breathing, swelling, and shooting pains and requested to return to UIC for an appointment to have the splints removed. Pfister's designee determined it was not an emergency and checked the box that the grievance be submitted through regular channels.

         The grievance officer's recommendations in response to Thomas's grievances include “[n]o action as grievant appears to be receiving appropriate medical care at this time” and “[a]fter reviewing offender's medical record, the offender has been seen several times.” Dkt. No. 123, Resp. to Plaintiff's LR56.1 Statement of Additional Facts at ¶ 26. These recommendations were signed by a designee of Pfister in his name. Id.; Dkt. No. 99-4, Pfister Dep. at 60:9-60:16.

         On March 23, 2016 Thomas submitted an emergency grievance in which he again complained that he was supposed to return to UIC a few weeks after his November 2015 surgery, but was still waiting, in pain, to have his splints removed. Pfister's designee determined it was not an emergency and checked the box that the grievance be submitted through regular channels. On April 7, 2016 Thomas submitted another emergency grievance stating that he was supposed to be sent to UIC but Dr. Obaisi instead attempted to remove his stitches, causing unnecessary pain. Thomas then filed this lawsuit in May 2016.

         II.

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To avoid summary judgment, the non-moving party must then ‚Äúpresent specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial; inferences that rely upon ...


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