You Can’t Ignore a Pain in the Butt, Court Says

     CHICAGO (CN) – A man who says his golf-ball-sized hemorrhoids have gone untreated in prison may finally get relief after the 7th Circuit ordered immediate action.
     Anthony Wheeler named 36 defendants in a 2011 complaint over injuries he allegedly suffered at Pinckneyville Correctional Center. Among those claims, 54-year-old Wheeler says that he suffers excruciating pain because certain officials and the prison’s medical provider, Wexford Health Source, have failed to treat his hemorrhoid condition.
     Wheeler, who had undergone repeated colonoscopies and been recommended for hemorrhoid surgery by a prison doctor, filed repeated requests with the Southern District of Illinois for injunctive relief.
     To this day, however, U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan has still failed to screen Wheeler’s complaint as required under federal law. Such screening serves to weed out any of the more frivolous or malicious claims in a given complaint.
     After Wheeler’s first two injunction demands went unanswered, he finally denied the third. That decision notes that the complaint is still unscreened, and it emphasizes that little harm could come if the court delays action until the defendants serve their responses.
     A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court called Reagan’s reasoning “inadequate.”
     “To the extent that the judge believed that his delay in screening the complaint justifies denying relief … he was very far wrong,” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the court. “A judge’s failure to act earlier is a reason to act now, not a reason to deny an otherwise meritorious motion. Just as prison administrators must deal promptly with their charges’ serious medical problems, so federal judge must not leave litigants to bear pain indefinitely.” (Parentheses and emphasis in original.)
     The ruling, issued in typescript form late Monday, directs Reagan to take immediate action.
     “This complaint should have been screened before the end of September 2011,” Easterbrook wrote. “The district court must complete that task swiftly. On the day our mandate is received, the judge must authorize service of process on all defendants involved in the treatment of Wheeler’s hemorrhoids. The court must give these defendants a short time to respond to the motion for a preliminary injunction and promptly conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Wheeler is entitled to relief.”
     The panel also instructed Reagan to “give serious consideration to recruiting counsel to assist Wheeler,” who has so far proceeded pro se.
     Wheeler’s unwieldy complaint likely contributed to the trial court’s inaction, the judges noted.
     “The more claims and defendants in a complaint, the longer screening will take,” Easterbrook wrote. “The more frivolous claims in a complaint, the more a judge is apt to infer (if only subconsciously) that the plaintiff is crying wolf with respect to all of the claims.” (Parentheses in original.)
     Noting the hemorrhoid documentation that Wheeler submitted with his complaint, however, the panel agreed that “Wheeler is not fantasizing.”
     Wheeler claims that the prison’s high-soy diet has caused his health issues. The diet, implemented by Illinois as a money-saving measure, has been the source of litigation claiming that the up-to-100-gram daily serving of soy is unconstitutionally detrimental to inmate health.
     The Illinois Department of Corrections reports that Wheeler is now serving 27 years at Danville Correctional Center for seven counts of robbery. Wheeler’s record, which dates back to 1976, includes other convictions for juvenile pimping and attempted murder.

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