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Chatham v. Davis

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 17, 2016

Jocelyn Chatham, Administrator of the Estate of Marvin T. McDonald, Plain tiff-Appellant,
Randy Davis, Warden, Pinckneyville Correctional Center, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued October 26, 2015

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. ll-cv-00650 - Stephen C. Williams, Magistrate Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          Sykes, Circuit Judge.

         Marvin McDonald died after suffering an asthma attack while he was an inmate at Pinckney-ville Correctional Center, an Illinois prison. His estate, administered by Jocelyn Chatham, sued the prison's warden, Wexford Health Services (a private corporation contracted to run the prison's healthcare unit), a prison doctor and nurse, and several prison guards under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Chatham claimed that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to McDonald's serious medical needs, violating his rights under the Eighth Amendment. A magistrate judge entered summary judgment for the warden and Wexford. The other claims went to trial, and a jury found for the remaining defendants. Chatham now appeals, challenging the order granting summary judgment for the warden and Wexford. She also challenges the denial of her motions for leave to amend her complaint, for discovery sanctions, and for a new trial.

         We affirm. The magistrate judge was right to enter summary judgment for the warden and Wexford. Chatham did not produce evidence to support a reasonable inference that the warden consciously disregarded a substantial risk of harm to McDonald. Nor did she have evidence showing that a Wexford policy, practice, or custom caused a constitutional injury. Finally, the judge did not abuse his discretion in declining to allow leave to amend, impose a discovery sanction, or grant a new trial.

         I. Background

         McDonald was an inmate at Pinckneyville Correctional Center, an Illinois prison, and was housed in the segregation unit. At about 5 p.m. on May 26, 2010, he began to suffer an asthma attack in his cell. His symptoms persisted, and after a few hours, he told his cellmate about his situation. Unlike certain other units in the prison, the segregation cells did not have emergency call buttons, so his cellmate banged on the cell door to alert the guards. A guard eventually responded and escorted McDonald to the prison's healthcare unit. By that time it was approximately 12:15 a.m.

         Pinckneyville's healthcare unit is run by Wexford, a private company under contract with the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"). The healthcare unit was supposed to be managed by a permanent medical director, but the post had been vacant for more than a year. To cover the position, two Wexford doctors split the medical director's responsibilities: Dr. Jill Wahl, a traveling medical director, and Dr. Dennis Larson, a regional medical director.

         When McDonald arrived at the healthcare unit, he was wheezing and using his accessory muscles to breathe. Nurse Rhonda Reuter checked his vital signs, assessed the oxygen saturation in his blood, and measured his peak expiratory flow rate, which was extremely low. Nurse Reuter started him on oxygen and administered an albuterol nebulizer and epinephrine. She then phoned Dr. Larson for a consult.

         Dr. Larson was on call for about a dozen IDOC facilities that evening, although he was only the backup on-call doctor for most of these facilities. He slept through Nurse Reuter's call. At about 2 a.m. he finally returned her call and was briefed on McDonald's situation. He continued the oxygen, prescribed more albuterol, and added prednisone, a steroid. Dr. Larson called back again about a half hour later to check on McDonald's status and was told that he was still using his accessory muscles to breathe. At that point Dr. Larson ordered McDonald transferred to Pinckneyville Community Hospital via ambulance, calling ahead to alert the emergency-room staff of his condition.

         In the ambulance McDonald was given more albuterol and another asthma medication. He arrived at the hospital at 3:45 a.m. and was seen by a Dr. Reyes 15 minutes later. Dr. Reyes treated him with more albuterol, still another medication to aid in breathing, and more epinephrine. These treatments continued throughout the early morning hours. At 5:20 a.m. McDonald was still having difficulty breathing, so Dr. Reyes inserted a breathing tube. The initial attempt to insert the tube failed, but by 5:44 a.m. intubation was achieved. It was too late. A Code Blue was called at 5:53 a.m. McDonald died at 6:09 a.m.

         Chatham, the administrator of McDonald's estate, filed this § 1983 suit alleging that various prison officials and Wexford were deliberately indifferent to McDonald's serious medical needs in violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. In addition to Wexford, the named defendants included Randy Davis, the Pinckneyville warden; Dr. Larson and Nurse Reuter; and the guards who were responsible for monitoring McDonald on the date in question. The claims against the warden and Wexford focused on the lack of a permanent medical director in the healthcare unit and the lack of emergency call buttons in the segregation-unit cells. The complaint also alleged that Wexford failed to adequately train Nurse Reuter in 911 protocols specific to asthma-related emergencies like McDonald's. A magistrate judge entered summary judgment for Warden Davis and Wexford on these claims.

         The claims against the remaining defendants-Dr. Larson, Nurse Reuter, and the prison guards-were allowed to proceed. Before trial but after the expiration of the court's deadline to amend the pleadings, Chatham sought leave to file a third amended complaint to add state-law claims against Nurse Reuter and Dr. Larson. The magistrate judge denied the motion. Chatham also moved for discovery sanctions against Wexford for dragging its feet in disclosing its treatment protocols relating to asthma. That motion, too, was denied. ...

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