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Carter v. Unknown Heirs/Health Service Unit

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

August 15, 2016

JOHNSON CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN HEIRS/HEALTH SERVICE UNIT, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY, DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pro se plaintiff Johnson Carter filed this complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the defendant’s delay in treating his collar bone injury violated his Eighth Amendment rights. Because the court has determined that Carter may proceed based on his initial partial payment of the filing fee under the in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, his complaint is ready for screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the reasons that follow, however, Carter may proceed no further unless he addresses the deficiencies in his complaint described below.

         ALLEGATIONS OF FACT[1]

         For purposes of the events alleged in his complaint, Carter was incarcerated at Jackson Correctional Institution (“JCI”), located in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Carter names as defendants unknown members of the Health Service Unit (“HSU”) staff, JCI and the State of Wisconsin.

         In May or June of 2012 or 2013, Carter injured his shoulder after tripping and falling on a concrete basketball court. When he fell, Carter heard his collar bone snap, noticed blood on his right arm and felt severe pain. He also had difficulty moving his right shoulder.

         Carter was then HSU. When Carter arrived there, he was cradling his right arm and asking for help. An HSU staff member told him that “with a serious collarbone injury like that, there is nothing we can do. You just have to let it grow back like that.” (Compl., dkt. #1, at 3.) Carter does not indicate that he received a diagnosis or treatment plan at that point.

         One month later, Carter contacted Senator Lena Taylor’s office regarding the lack of medical treatment he received at JCI, something he apparently had done once before. After contacting Sen. Taylor a second time, HSU performed an x-ray evaluation of Carter’s right shoulder, which showed that his collar bone was fractured.

         OPINION

         According to plaintiff, the one-month delay in medical treatment both aggravated the pain he was experiencing in his right shoulder and caused the pain to linger for more than a year. He also alleges that the delay in medical treatment resulted in a permanent deformity in his right shoulder, a limited range of motion, pain and weakness. Carter further alleges that he is afraid of seeking help from HSU, believing his medical treatment was delayed as retribution for contacting Senator Taylor regarding medical treatment at JCI in the past. Finally, he alleges that the pain in his shoulder injury was aggravated while working in JCI’s kitchen.

         Plaintiff’s allegations implicate the First and Eighth Amendments, but Carter may not proceed on his claims until he names a defendant who may be held liable under § 1983. In particular, claims under § 1983 must be alleged against “persons.” Here, plaintiff’s complaint names as defendants the HSU unit (although no specific staff member, even by description), JCI and the State of Wisconsin, but these are not “persons” under § 1983. Thus, each must be dismissed from the lawsuit. See Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (“neither a state nor its officials acting in their official capacities are ‘persons’ under § 1983”).

         Although plaintiff has failed to name a proper defendant, the court will nevertheless permit him to amend his complaint, because at least taking the allegations at face value, he may have a claim.

         I. Eighth Amendment

         A prison official may violate the Eighth Amendment if the official is “deliberately indifferent” to a “serious medical need.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976). A “serious medical need” may be a condition that a doctor has recognized as needing treatment, or one for which the necessity of treatment would be obvious to a lay person. Johnson v. Snyder, 444 F.3d 579, 584-85 (7th Cir. 2006). “Deliberate indifference” means that officials were aware that the prisoner needs medical treatment, but disregarded the risk by consciously failing to take reasonable measures. Forbes v. Edgar, 112 F.3d 262, 266 (7th Cir. 1997). Allegations of delayed care, even a delay of just a few days, may violate the Eighth Amendment if it caused the inmate’s condition to worsen or unnecessarily prolonged his pain. McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 640 (7th Cir. 2010)(“[T]he length of delay that ...


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