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Illinois Prisoner Gets Mixed Results in Appeal of Suit Against Wexford and Doctors

The court’s March 16, 2021 opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Illinois prisoner Michael Thomas. While at Hill Correctional Center on March 23, 2011. Thomas broke his hand in the midst of a fight. He received medical attention at Hill with his hand being put in a cast and a low bunk permit to avoid further injury.

A May 9, 2011, X-ray showed the hand had begun to heal, but it was still fractured. Thomas was transferred on May 11, 2011, to Stateville Correctional Center. Before he left Hill, he was told the cast had to be removed and that it would be replaced at Stateville. Thomas allowed the cast to be removed. The cast, however, was not replaced at Stateville.

A doctor at Stateville reviewed Thomas’s May X-ray on June 19, 2011, concluding the fracture remained “unresolved.” On June 30, 2011, a physician’s assistant looked at the same x-ray and determined Thomas needed no further treatment. Yet, an August 2011 doctor’s note said the fracture was still healing and in December 2011 Thomas was sent for ten months of physical therapy.

Thomas was subsequently denied renewal of his low bunk permit and was not given treatment for lingering complications for hand injury. Another issue was the failure to treat Thomas’s prostrate condition. He sued Wexford and Drs. Saleh Obaisi and Aline Martija for violating the Eighth Amendment. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and Thomas appealed.

The Seventh Circuit looked at the conduct of Obaisi first. It noted that the failure to grant a low bunk pass can support a finding of deliberate indifference. See: Palmer v. Franz, 928 F.3d 560 (7th Cir. 2019). Similarly, a physician’s delay, even if brief, in referring a prisoner to a specialist in the face of a known need for specialist treatment may also reflect deliberate indifference. See: Goodloe v. Sood, 947 F.3d 102 (7th Cir. 2020).

The court found the record revealed disputed facts that could only be resolved at trial. While Obaisi asserted Thomas never requested a low bunk permit, the court found a jury could conclude he repeatedly did and Thomas’s testimony and grievances could support such a finding. The jury could conclude that Thomas was either placed in an “upper bunk between August 2014 and January 2015 or at a minimum that he feared an imminent loss of his now unprotected low-bunk privilege. Or the jury might see Thomas’s behavior as bad-faith pestering.”

Likewise, the jury could conclude that Obaisi failed to act for many months in referring Thomas to a specialist for treatment of his hand injury. Finally, the court concluded Obaisi could be found deliberately indifferent to Thomas’ prostrate condition by failing to renew a Flomax prescription. The Seventh Circuit reversed the grant of judgment for Obaisi due to a dispute in the material facts. There was no proof that Martija had anything to do with the delays, and there were no factual allegations of a policy by Wexford that related to the alleged Eighth Amendment violations, so the judgments affirmed the judgment in their favor. See: Thomas v. Martija, 991 F.3d 763 (7th Cir. 2021). 

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Related legal cases

Thomas v. Martija

Goodloe v. Sood

Palmer v. Franz