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James v. Eli

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 2, 2018

Thomas James Plaintiff-Appellant,
Lorenzo Eli, et al. Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued April 10, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 1:13-cv-541 - William T. Lawrence, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Flaum and Kanne, Circuit Judges.

          Flaum, Circuit Judge

         Plaintiff-appellant Thomas James, an inmate with the Arizona Department of Corrections, filed a pro se complaint against defendants-appellees, Dr. Lorenzo Eli and Dr. Nicolas Villanustre, for alleged deliberate indifference towards his medical care while he was incarcerated in Indiana. Plaintiff now appeals the summary judgment entered in favor of defendants, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by failing to recruit counsel to assist him. For the reasons stated below, we vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff has been incarcerated since 2002. He began his confinement in Arizona, but was transferred to New Castle Correctional Facility ("New Castle") in Indiana in April 2007. He returned to Arizona in April 2008.

         In October 2007, plaintiff developed an infected ingrown toenail while confined at New Castle. He submitted a "Health Needs Request" form to the prison's Health Unit on October 23, 2007. Eli, a New Castle staff physician, evaluated plaintiff the same day. Eli ordered culture and sensitivity tests and prescribed ointment, antibiotics, and dressing changes. He also prescribed Tylenol and a "lay-in pass, " which allowed plaintiff to receive meals in his cell for ten days. He scheduled a follow-up appointment in two weeks and referred plaintiff to the facility's foot doctor.

         Plaintiff returned to the Health Unit on October 30, 2007, complaining of pain. Eli informed plaintiff "that he needed to give the antibiotics a chance to work" and provided him a box of Ibuprofen. Eli saw plaintiff again at his two-week follow-up on November 6, 2007. Eli claims that by that time, plaintiff's toenail "looked much better." As a result, Eli continued plaintiff's antibiotic and pain prescriptions for another ten days and extended his lay-in pass for seven days.

         Eli had no further involvement in the treatment of plaintiff's toe. According to medical records, plaintiff saw another New Castle physician on November 20, 2017 and requested that his entire toenail be removed. The doctor granted plaintiff's request and afterwards prescribed crutches, pain medication, and antibiotics.

         Sometime later, plaintiff fell on a set of prison stairs and hit his chin on the handrail, injuring his jaw. He blames the fall on his injured toe, pain medications, and lack of adequate bedrest following his toenail removal procedure. According to plaintiff, his jaw "got better" and the swelling "went down" over the next few weeks. However, the swelling returned on December 25, 2007 after his left jaw "cracked" while he was eating. Two days later, on December 27, 2007, plaintiff explained the situation to Eli and submitted another Health Needs Request form.[1]

         On December 29, 2007, plaintiff was evaluated by another New Castle physician who ordered x-rays and prescribed Ibuprofen. When Eli examined plaintiff's x-rays on January 2, 2008, he observed a "fractured left mandible." He immediately transferred plaintiff to the emergency room at nearby Wishard Hospital and prescribed him pain medication. Wishard physicians confirmed plaintiff's diagnosis-a "comminuted left mandibular subcondylar fracture with anterior dislocation and displacement of the condyle"-and referred him to a plastic surgeon. In the meantime, Eli examined plaintiff again on January 3, 2008. He put plaintiff on a soft diet, continued his pain medication, and placed him in the infirmary.

         Dr. Villanustre, a plastic surgeon at Wishard Hospital, evaluated plaintiff on January 7, 2008. According to medical records, although plaintiff "still complain[ed] of pain" in his jaw, Villanustre noted that he had a "four fingerbreadth's mouth opening" with only "slight deviation of the chin towards the left." Villanustre further observed that plaintiff had "normal occlusion with no intraoral wounds, " and "minimal swelling on the left angle of the jaw." As a result, given "the length of time since the injury, " "good function" of plaintiff's jaw, and "normal occlusion, " Villanustre decided surgery was unnecessary. Instead, he prescribed a soft diet and a follow-up x-ray in two weeks.

         B. ...

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