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Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Civil Rights Suit against Cook County Jail

by Derek Gilna

Kevin Dixon was a pretrial detainee at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois when he was diagnosed with a paratracheal mass. Unfortunately, according to the Seventh Circuit, medical personnel at the facility “were aware of the problem, but they accused [him] of malingering, gave him over-the-counter analgesics, and ordered him to seek psychiatric care.” Later taken to a hospital when his condition rapidly deteriorated, Dixon died of lung cancer in January 2009.

After her appointment as the administrator of his estate, Dixon’s mother filed a § 1983 federal civil rights action against Cook County and a doctor and nurse who worked at the jail’s Cermak Acute Care Facility. According to the complaint, “County policy resulted in such poor communication among the medical providers who saw Dixon that nobody put all the pieces together, figured out what was wrong and how serious it was, and took appropriate steps, ... [and] the individual defendants knew about (or had reason to know of) Dixon’s condition and were deliberately indifferent in the face of that knowledge.”

The county and individual defendants filed a F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief could be granted, which was granted by the district court. Dixon’s estate appealed and the Seventh Circuit reversed.

According to the Court of Appeals, “[t]o state a claim for relief based on inadequate medical care while in detention, a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) an objectively serious medical condition and (2) that the defendant subjectively ‘acted with a “sufficiently culpable state of mind”’ in failing to provide adequate care or treatment for that condition,” citing Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645 (7th Cir. 2005) [PLN, Oct. 2006, p.23].

The appellate court was obviously troubled by the fact that although Dixon’s medical condition was clearly not curable, he received no palliative care to relieve his suffering. Further, while it was entirely possible that a jury could find the conduct of the defendants was “plainly inappropriate,” jurors might also “draw the opposite inference.” That was enough to defeat a motion to dismiss, the Court of Appeals said, and “for the district court to take another look at these allegations.... Without prejudging the result, we thus vacate this part of the district court’s judgment as well and return it for a second look.” See: Dixon v. County of Cook, 819 F.3d 343 (7th Cir. 2016). 

Related legal case

Dixon v. County of Cook


 

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