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Seventh Circuit Revives Illinois Prisoner’s Claim Over Prison Work Injury

by Matthew Clarke

On December 15, 2022, the U.S. Courtof Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that a district court erred when it dismissed an Illinois prisoner’s lawsuit for misjoinder of defendants and claims. Finding the claims and defendants were in fact properly joined, the Court reinstated the prisoner’s complaint.

After he was admitted to the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in September 2017,  Jermari C. Dorsey was injured on his prison job at Robinson Correctional Center, while emptying an industrial washing machine that was not attached to a drain. A supervising guard named Julius refused him permission to seek medical attention. When his pain worsened the next day, he submitted a request for medical care and waited.

When finally admitted to the healthcare unit six days later, his severe leg pain was duly noted by an unnamed “Doe” Nurse with the state prison system’s privately contracted healthcare provider, Wexford Health Sources. But Doe also recorded her belief that Dorsey was exaggerating his symptoms. Why? She allegedly observed him approach the waiting room walking normally, only to begin limping and moaning once he thought himself under observation. Dorsey later called that entry false, alleging also that it negatively influenced his further treatment.

But first, two days after seeing Doe, Dorsey was called to receive medications. Guard Lt. Andrews refused requests for a “ride,” so Dorsey hobbled to the healthcare unit. Thinking the medications were for pain, he took them. After his symptoms worsened and he felt lightheaded, he discovered Dr. Doyle, a Wexford “psych doctor,” had prescribed anti-anxiety, anti-convulsant and anti-depressant medications without seeing him. Dorsey then refused to take the medications and was disciplined.

He eventually filed a pro se civil rights action over the injury in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois in January 2020, listing three claims and 12 defendants. On screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the district court held the 46-page complaint improperly joined unrelated claims and defendants. It ordered Dorsey to replead it. So he did, simplifying the complaint to 17 pages, six defendants and one claim.

However this attempt and one other failed to satisfy the district court, which dismissed the suit without prejudice in October 2020. Dorsey appealed, and the Seventh Circuit appointed representation by attorney Olaniyi Quddus Solebo with Paul Hastings LLP in San Francisco.

The Court then found that, with the exception of Wexford Health Sources, the defendants – Julius, Andrews, Doe and Doyle – were properly joined; the claims against them arose from a common occurrence or series of occurrences, the Court said, presenting a common question of law or fact. Since Dorsey failed to plead how Wexford Health Sources’ policies injured him, the firm was properly dismissed from the suit. But the Court reversed dismissal of the other defendants and remanded the case. See: Dorsey v. Varga, 55 F.4th 1094 (7th Cir. 2022).

The case has now returned to the district court, where Dorsey is once again proceeding pro se. His third amended complaint was accepted on January 9, 2023, dismissing all defendants except Julius, Andrews and Dr. Doyle. PLN will report updates as they are available. See: Dorsey v. Varga, USDC (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 3:20-cv-50030.