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Taylor v. Nunez

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

October 22, 2019

George Taylor, Plaintiff,
v.
Javier Nunez, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Manish S. Shah United States District Judge.

         In November 2016, Plaintiff George Taylor, who is black, visited the Illinois Department of Human Services to reapply for Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. An IDHS caseworker, Javier Nunez, told Taylor that, although Nunez had approved Taylor for a year of benefits, if Taylor did not have a job by January 1, his benefits would be cut off due to a new policy. In January, Taylor's pharmacy informed his girlfriend that Taylor's health benefits had been canceled and his antiseizure medication cost $156. Taylor did not have the money for the medication and missed a dose. As a result, he suffered four seizures that have affected his memory. Two IDHS caseworkers later told Taylor that his benefits should not have been terminated, and that no new policy began on January 1. Taylor, acting pro se, brings an equal-protection claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Nunez. Taylor alleges that, because of his race, Nunez lied to him about reapproving him for a year of Medicaid, then cut off his health benefits. Nunez argues that Taylor has failed to state an equal-protection claim and moves to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons discussed below, Nunez's motion is granted.

         I. Legal Standards

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The 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 Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must construe all factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Doe v. Columbia Coll. Chi., 933 F.3d 849, 854 (7th Cir. 2019); Sloan v. Am. Brain Tumor Ass'n, 901 F.3d 891, 893 (7th Cir. 2018).

         Courts should not demand “too much specificity” in complaints alleging race discrimination. Freeman v. Metro. Water Reclamation Dist. of Greater Chi., 927 F.3d 961, 965 (7th Cir. 2019); see also Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 916 (7th Cir. 2005) (discussing “liberal” pleading requirements “particularly with regard to Equal Protection claims”). And a plaintiff alleging discrimination “need not allege each evidentiary element of a legal theory to survive a motion to dismiss.” Freeman, 927 F.3d at 965. Notably too, a complaint filed pro se must be “liberally construed and not held to the stringent standards expected of pleadings drafted by lawyers.” McCormick v. City of Chicago, 230 F.3d 319, 325 (7th Cir. 2000).

         Still, even under these liberal pleading standards, “allegations in the form of legal conclusions are insufficient” to state a claim. Tierney v. Advocate Health & Hosps. Corp., 797 F.3d 449, 451 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 694 F.3d 873, 885 (7th Cir. 2012)). So are “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Id. (quoting Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014)); see also Walton v. First Merchants Bank, 772 Fed.Appx. 349, 350-51 (7th Cir. 2019) (noting that although the burden to allege race discrimination was “not high, ” plaintiff's complaint nevertheless “fell short”), cert. denied, No. 19-93, 2019 WL 4922720 (Oct. 7, 2019).

         II. Facts

         In November 2016, Plaintiff George Taylor went to the IDHS office in Lombard to reapply for Medicaid and SNAP benefits. [8] ¶ 6.[1] He met with Javier Nunez, a caseworker, who told Taylor that he “should have a job.” [8] ¶¶ 7-8, 61. Taylor responded that he had applied for Social Security benefits because he suffered from seizures. [8] ¶ 8. At the end of the interview, Nunez told Taylor that he was approved for a full year of medical benefits. [8] ¶¶ 9-10, 61. Nunez added that Taylor needed to find a job by January 1 or his SNAP benefits would be terminated. [8] ¶¶ 9-10, 61. Taylor asked Nunez why, if he had just been reapproved for a full year, his benefits would terminate in two months. [8] ¶ 10. Nunez responded that there was a new policy in effect as of January 1. [8] ¶ 10. Taylor felt that Nunez was annoyed by his questions and acted “inconsiderate, ” “careless, ” and “unconcerned.” [8] ¶¶ 7-8. Taylor and his girlfriend later looked online and could not find any information about a new policy requiring employment for Medicaid or SNAP eligibility. [8] ¶ 12.

         On January 9, when Taylor's girlfriend tried to pick up his medication, the pharmacy told her that Taylor's benefits had been “cut off” and the medication cost $156. [8] ¶ 13. She called Taylor, who said he had enough medication to last two more days and that he would straighten it out. [8] ¶ 14. Taylor actually had enough medication for only one day. [8] ¶¶ 14, 26.

         The next morning, Taylor called IDHS. [8] ¶ 15. A representative said that Taylor's benefits had been canceled because IDHS had sent him a redetermination letter in the mail, and Taylor had failed to return it. [8] ¶ 16. Taylor explained that he had just been reapproved for benefits in November, so was not scheduled to be redetermined, and, in any event, he had not received any redetermination letter. [8] ¶¶ 17-18. Taylor spoke to three different representatives, who all said there was nothing they could do; they told him to visit the Lombard office and speak with a caseworker as soon as possible. [8] ¶¶ 19-24.

         Taylor could not come up with the money for his prescription that day and ran out of medication. [8] ¶¶ 26, 77. Starting at 11:30 p.m., he began to experience seizures that lasted about 10-15 seconds. [8] ¶ 27. By 6 a.m., he had experienced three or four short seizures. [8] ¶¶ 27-29. At 9 a.m., Taylor's girlfriend walked into their bedroom while Taylor was having a “[b]ig seizure, ” which lasted two minutes; afterward, Taylor was “out of it” for about 30 minutes and did not remember that he had just had a seizure. [8] ¶ 31-32. Around 12:30 p.m., Taylor's aunt brought him a one-day supply of his medication. [8] ¶ 33.

         Taylor called the IDHS redetermination hotline later that day and explained what had happened. [8] ¶ 34. A representative told Taylor that he needed to fill out a redetermination form and send it back. [8] ¶ 34. IDHS designated his application an emergency application. [8] ¶ 35. In the meantime, Taylor's girlfriend and family were able to pick up a one-day supply of his medication every day. [8] ¶¶ 37-39.

         On January 18, Taylor returned to the IDHS office in Lombard. [8] ¶ 44. After retrieving Taylor's case file on her computer, a caseworker told Taylor that his benefits should not have been canceled, and she did not know what had happened. [8] ¶¶ 44-45. The caseworker tried to open a new case for Taylor but experienced computer issues, so said she would open a case for him within the next day or two. [8] ¶ 46. She told Taylor that she would call him, and he would not have to return to the office. [8] ¶ 46. The caseworker never called, so, on January 24, Taylor returned to the Lombard office and met with a different caseworker [8] ¶¶ 47-48. That caseworker said no one had taken any action on his case the previous week, and his file did not reflect that he had come in. [8] ¶ 49. Both caseworkers Taylor met with in January said no new policy had gone into effect on January 1, and observed that there was no caseworker name in Taylor's file associated with his November visit. [8] ¶¶ 45, 50.

         During the second January visit, Nunez walked by while Taylor was meeting with the caseworker. [8] ¶ 51. Taylor pointed Nunez out to her as the person responsible for canceling his benefits. [8] ¶ 51. Taylor added that Nunez had tried to hide his involvement by removing his name from Taylor's file. [8] ¶ 51. The caseworker advised Taylor that a “computer glitch” had likely caused his benefits to terminate. [8] ¶ 51. Taylor observed that it was “funny” that the computer glitch had happened to “the ...


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