Hughes v. Joliet Correctional Center, 89-1629

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Citation931 F.2d 425
Docket NumberNo. 89-1629,89-1629
PartiesSteven HUGHES, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. JOLIET CORRECTIONAL CENTER, Dr. Stanley Harper, and Jeannie Koehler, Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date18 April 1991

Suzanne Isaacson, Jeffrey R. Tone, Sidley & Austin, Roslyn C. Lieb, Chicago Lawyers' Committee, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff-appellant.

Deborah L. Ahlstrand, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of Atty. Gen., Chicago, Ill., for defendants-appellees.

Before BAUER, Chief Judge, POSNER, Circuit Judge, and ESCHBACH, Senior Circuit Judge.

POSNER, Circuit Judge.

This appeal concerns the outer bounds of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the use of summary judgment, and the standards for requesting counsel to assist indigents in civil cases. The plaintiff, Steven Hughes, is an inmate in an Illinois state prison. The defendants are the prison, and a doctor and a nurse on the prison's staff. The prison is insulated from suit by the Eleventh Amendment, Santiago v. Lane, 894 F.2d 218, 220 n. 3 (7th Cir.1990), so was properly dismissed. The judge, after refusing to request counsel to assist Hughes, dismissed the other two defendants--and the case--on the ground that the complaint failed to state a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

The complaint narrates a tale of serious medical malpractice. Maybe worse--maybe a tale of that "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners" that turns a malpractice case into a case of cruel and unusual punishment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105, 97 S.Ct. 285, 291, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976); Kelley v. McGinnis, 899 F.2d 612, 616 (7th Cir.1990) (per curiam). On February 22, 1985, Hughes was transferred to the Joliet Correctional Center to begin serving an eight-year term. Upon being received at the Center he complained to a doctor about weakness in both legs as a result of a gunshot wound for which he had been hospitalized for two months and which had injured his spine. He was on crutches. The doctor gave him some pain medication. The next day, Hughes was unable to get out of bed. When on the following morning, a Sunday, nurse Koehler, one of the defendants, walked by Hughes' cell, he complained to her that he could not walk to the chow hall because his back hurt when he tried to stand up, that his legs were very weak, and that he had to see a doctor. The nurse told him he would have to wait till Monday because there was no doctor on duty at the Joliet Correctional Center on Sunday. Later that day Hughes repeated his complaints to a guard and asked to take his meals in his cell, as he had been permitted to do the previous day. The guard checked with nurse Koehler who told him that nothing was wrong with Hughes and that he could go and get his own food--so he simply skipped his meals on Sunday. That evening, while attempting to switch on the light in the ceiling of his cell--which could be done only by screwing the light bulb into the socket--Hughes fell off his bed. A guard came by, and Hughes told her he could not move. Hughes was then taken to the prison hospital and given pain medication.

It was not until 1:30 the following afternoon that Hughes, in the prison hospital, was X-rayed; and it was not until the day following that that he was seen, for the first time since entering Joliet, by a doctor--defendant Harper. "Dr. Harper said he had never seen an X-ray of me before and said that he could see where my vertebrae had been tore out and that some bullet fragments were still around my spine; however, he stated that he saw no new damage. He also stated that he was not a spine or back specialist, but he did say that he wanted to see me walking soon." This was on Tuesday. The next day Harper told Hughes "that he thought I could walk but was not sure. I told Dr. Harper that the pain medication was not helping me and he stated that he was not going to give me anything else for my pain, and that he thought I was full of bullshit." A week later, Hughes, who was still in the prison hospital, told Harper that he had no feeling in his legs and could not move them. He asked for a wheelchair and also to see a specialist in spinal injuries. Dr. Harper's response was to order Hughes transferred to the psychiatric ward, where nurse Koehler removed Hughes's crutches and leg brace because psychiatric patients are not permitted to have such things. Also (as alleged in a subsequent pleading), Harper ordered Hughes's bed moved away from the toilet, so that he would have to walk to the toilet in order to use it. On April 4, Hughes was finally examined by a neurologist, who told him he will never walk again.

These are the facts alleged in the plaintiff's pleadings. They may well be exaggerated, even false, in material respects. But for purposes of deciding whether the complaint fails to state a claim, we must assume that they are true.

If Harper and Koehler were merely careless in their diagnosis and treatment of Hughes--being honestly convinced that he was a malingerer, as the medical reports in Hughes's file (of which more shortly) state--then Hughes clearly is in the wrong court. He should be pursuing a malpractice action in an Illinois state court. If on the other hand Harper and Koehler were trying to cripple Hughes, then, equally clearly, they are guilty of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment, for which federal law gives Hughes a remedy. We do not understand Hughes to be charging so extreme a form of misconduct. But we do think he is charging a form of misconduct that, while less egregious, is actionable under the cruel and unusual punishments clause. The facts suggest that these two defendants--particularly Dr. Harper--were treating Hughes not as a patient, but as a nuisance; that they were not only careless of his welfare, but indifferent to it; that although they doubtless underestimated the severity of his injury, at the same time they were insufficiently interested in his health to take even minimum steps to guard against the possibility that the injury was severe. Such words and deeds as telling Hughes he was full of bullshit, shifting him to the psychiatric ward where he would not be allowed to have his crutches and leg brace, and ordering the bed moved away from the toilet so that Hughes would have to get up and walk to it (without the aid of crutches, since he was still in the psychiatric ward) suggest more than mere neglect--suggest hostility, brutality, even viciousness. And this in dealing with a man who had entered the prison on crutches just days before, after two months in the hospital recovering from a spinal injury. The facts alleged are not as raw as those alleged in Williams v. Vincent, 508 F.2d 541 (2d Cir.1974), where (according to the complaint) the plaintiff's ear had been cut off by another inmate and the prison doctor told the plaintiff "he did not need his ear," threw away the severed portion in front of the plaintiff, and then sewed up the stump. But they are raw enough to defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Rather similar allegations were held to state a claim in both Cummings v. Roberts, 628 F.2d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir.1980), and Mullen v. Smith, 738 F.2d 317, 319 (8th Cir.1984) (per curiam). See also Wood v. Sunn, 865 F.2d 982, 985, 989-90 (9th Cir.1988).

The case is complicated, however, by the fact that the defendants not only moved to dismiss the complaint for...

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