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Likely v. Struzick

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

August 14, 2014

ANGELA LIKELY, On Behalf of her Minor Son T.R.J., Plaintiff,
v.
BETTY STRUZICK, et al., Defendants.

RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

WALLACE CAPEL, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 action is before the court on a complaint filed by Angela Likely on behalf of her minor son T.R.J. At the time of filing this case, T.R.J. was confined in the custody of the Alabama Department of Youth Services ("DYS") at its Mt. Meigs Facility ("Mt. Meigs") in Mt. Meigs, Alabama.[1] In this complaint, Likely challenges the adequacy of medical and dental treatment provided to T.R.J. during his confinement at Mt. Meigs in April and May of 2011. Likely names the Betty Struzick, Clinical Coordinator for the ABSOP at Mt. Meigs, Barry Burkhart, Director of the Mt. Meigs ABSOP, Barbara Golden, a registered nurse who serves as the Nurse Coordinator for the Department of Youth Services at the Mt. Meigs Infirmary, Rick Taylor, a registered nurse employed at the facility, and Dr. Juan Chung, a physician assigned to Mt. Meigs, as defendants in this cause of action. Likely seeks declaratory relief and monetary damages for the alleged violations of T.R.J.'s constitutional rights.

Defendants filed a special report and relevant supporting evidentiary materials, including affidavits and medical/dental records, addressing Likely's claims for relief. Pursuant to the orders entered in this case, the court deems it appropriate to construe the aforementioned report as a motion for summary judgment. Order of June 27, 2011 - Doc. No. 11. Thus, this case is now pending on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of this motion, the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof and Plaintiff's response, the court concludes that Defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomm., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (citation to former rule omitted); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) ("The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.").[2] The party moving for summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record, including pleadings, discovery materials and affidavits], which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue [- now dispute -] of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-24.

Defendants have met their evidentiary burden and demonstrated the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact. Thus, the burden shifts to Plaintiff to establish, with appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine dispute material to this case exists. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3) ("If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact by [citing to materials in the record including affidavits, relevant documents or other materials] the court may... grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials - including the facts considered undisputed - show that the movant is entitled to it."). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263.

In civil actions filed by or on behalf of an inmate, federal courts
must distinguish between evidence of disputed facts and disputed matters of professional judgment. In respect to the latter, our inferences must accord deference to the views of prison authorities [and medical personnel]. Unless a prisoner can point to sufficient evidence regarding such issues of judgment to allow him to prevail on the merits, he cannot prevail at the summary judgment stage.

Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 530 (2006) (internal citation omitted). Consequently, to survive Defendants' properly supported motion for summary judgment, Likely is required to produce "sufficient [favorable] evidence" which would be admissible at trial supporting the claims of constitutional violations. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). "If the evidence [on which the nonmoving party relies] is merely colorable... or is not significantly probative... summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-50. "A mere scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for that party." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1576-1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 242). Conclusory allegations based on subjective beliefs are likewise insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact and, therefore, do not suffice to oppose a motion for summary judgment. Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564 n.6 (11th Cir. 1997) (A plaintiff's "conclusory assertions..., in the absence of [admissible] supporting evidence, are insufficient to withstand summary judgment"); Harris v. Ostrout, 65 F.3d 912, 916 (11th Cir. 1995) (grant of summary judgment appropriate where inmate produces nothing beyond "his own conclusory allegations" challenging actions of the defendants); Fullman v. Graddick, 739 F.2d 553, 557 (11th Cir. 1984) ("Mere verification of party's own conclusory allegations is not sufficient to oppose summary judgment...."); Evers v. Gen. Motors Corp., 770 F.2d 984, 986 (11th Cir. 1985) ("[C]onclusory allegations without specific supporting facts have no probative value."). Hence, when a plaintiff fails to set forth specific facts supported by requisite evidence sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to the case and on which the plaintiff will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the moving party. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322 ("[F]ailure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial."); Barnes v. Sw. Forest Indus., Inc., 814 F.2d 607, 609 (11th Cir. 1987) (If on any part of the prima facie case the plaintiff presents insufficient evidence to require submission of the case to the trier of fact, granting of summary judgment is appropriate.).

For summary judgment purposes, only disputes involving material facts are relevant. United States v. One Piece of Real Property Located at 5800 SW 74th Ave., Miami, Fla., 363 F.3d 1099, 1101 (11th Cir. 2004). What is material is determined by the substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Lofton v. Sec'y of the Dep't of Children and Family Servs., 358 F.3d 804, 809 (11th Cir. 2004) ("Only factual disputes that are material under the substantive law governing the case will preclude entry of summary judgment."). "The mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case." McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). To demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact, the party opposing summary judgment "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.... Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine [dispute] for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In cases where the evidence before the court which is admissible on its face or which can be reduced to an admissible form indicates there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the party moving for summary judgment is entitled to it as a matter of law, summary judgment is proper. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24 (summary judgment appropriate where pleadings, evidentiary materials and affidavits before the court show no genuine dispute as to a requisite material fact); Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001) (To establish a genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmoving party must produce evidence such that a reasonable trier of fact could return a verdict in his favor.).

Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation by the courts, a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of establishing by sufficient evidence a genuine dispute of material fact. Beard, 548 U.S. at 525; Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Thus, Plaintiff's pro se status alone does not mandate this court's disregard of elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case. In this case, the plaintiff fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude summary judgment.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Relevant Facts

On April 14, 2011, T.R.J. slipped and fell while on a work detail in Booker Hall, a residential dormitory at Mt. Meigs. When he fell, T.R.J. struck the back of his head on the floor. Jawunza Adair, the dorm supervisor, was present at the time of T.R.J.'s fall. Adair and another staff member, Ms. Sharp, immediately provided assistance to T.R.J. When the staff members approached T.R.J., he was conscious, alert, and able to follow instructions given to him. In accordance with these instructions, T.R.J. remained supine on the floor for a few minutes. While on the floor, T.R.J. did not complain of any pain, and Adair and Sharp did not observe any open wound or blood on T.R.J.'s head. As he rose from the floor, T.R.J. complained that his head hurt, and Ms. Sharp therefore escorted T.R.J. to the infirmary for evaluation and treatment.

On April 21, 2011 during dinner service, T.R.J. reported to Ferron Ford, a youth services aid, that he found a hard object in his peas. T.R.J. did not inform Ford that he bit into the object or that he had chipped his tooth on the object. T.R.J. likewise did not complain of pain to Ford nor did he request to go to the infirmary. Ford reported the incident to the dining hall staff who advised the object could have been a frozen pea. T.R.J. did not seek medical or dental treatment at any time from April 15, 2011 through April 25, 2011 for either his head injury or chipped tooth. Subsequently, Likely contacted officials with DYS complaining of the medical treatment provided to T.R.J. for the injury to his head and ensuing headaches. Based on the foregoing, Nurse Golden summoned T.R.J. to the facility's infirmary on April 26, 2011 for examination. In addition, T.R.J. was thereafter examined by medical personnel on multiple occasions for evaluation and treatment of his headaches and was also referred to a free world dentist for treatment of his chipped tooth.[3]

B. Deliberate Indifference

1. Defendants Struzick and Burkhart. Likely appears to complain that Defendants Struzick and Burkhart failed to intervene regarding the medical and dental treatment provided by health care professionals with respect to T.R.J.'s head injury and chipped tooth. The claim made against Defendants Struzick and Burkhart challenging the constitutionality of treatment provided by medical professionals entitles Plaintiff to no relief as

[t]he law does not impose upon correctional officials a duty to directly supervise health care personnel, to set treatment policy for the medical staff or to intervene in treatment decisions where they have no actual knowledge that intervention is necessary to prevent a constitutional wrong. See Vinnedge v. Gibbs, 550 F.2d 926 (4th Cir. 1977) (a medical treatment claim cannot be brought against managing officers of a prison absent allegations that they were personally connected with the alleged denial of treatment). Moreover, "supervisory [correctional] officials are entitled to rely on medical judgments made by medical professionals responsible for prisoner care. See, e.g., Durmer v. ...

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