United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
TERRY F. MOORER, Magistrate Judge.
In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, Plaintiff challenges the medical care and treatment provided to him in October 2011 during his incarceration at the Montgomery County Detention Facility in Montgomery, Alabama. Specifically, Plaintiff complains Defendants denied him adequate medical care for pneumonia and a partially collapsed lung. Plaintiff also claims that Defendants exhibited deliberate indifferent to his health and safety by failing to house him in a "disease-free environment" which subjected him to exposure to Tuberculosis ["TB"]. Named as defendants are Quality Correctional Health Care, Inc., ["QCHC"], Nurse Kimberly Barefield, Nurse Sharon Thompson, Dr. Jerry Gurley, and Dr. Tatum McArthur. Plaintiff seeks damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. No. 1, Civil Action No. 2:12-CV-101-WHA; Doc. Nos. 1, 6, Civil Action No. 2:12-CV-526-WHA.
In accordance with the orders of the court, Defendants QCHC, Barefield, and Gurley ["the medical defendants"] filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary material in response to the allegations contained in the complaint. The court then informed Plaintiff that the medical defendants' special report, may, at any time, be treated as a motion for summary judgment, and the court explained to Plaintiff the proper manner in which to respond to a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff filed responses to the special report. This case is now pending on the medical defendants' motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the motion, Plaintiff's opposition to the motion, and the supporting and opposing evidentiary materials, the court concludes that the motion for summary judgment filed by the medical defendants is due to be granted.
I. 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. Rule 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."). 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 [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 the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence to support some element on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-324.
The medical 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 his 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 as required [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. Consequently, to survive Defendants' properly supported motions for summary judgment, Plaintiff is required to produce "sufficient [favorable] evidence" which would be admissible at trial supporting his claims for relief. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Rule 56(e), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. "If the evidence [on which the nonmoving party relies] is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-250 (internal citations omitted). "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. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2512, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990). Conclusory allegations based on subjective beliefs likewise cannot 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) (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...."). Hence, when a plaintiff fails to set forth specific facts supported by requisite evidence sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to his 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 323 ("[F]ailure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial."); Barnes v. Southwest Forest Industries, 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 74 th Avenue, Miami, Florida, 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. Secretary of the Dept. of Children and Family Services, 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). 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. Ltd., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (internal citations omitted). In cases where the evidence before the court which is admissible on its face or which can be reduced to admissible form indicates there is no genuine dispute of material fact and establishes the party moving for summary judgment is entitled to it as a matter of law, summary judgment is proper. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-324 (Summary judgment is appropriate where pleadings, evidentiary materials and affidavits before the court show there is no genuine dispute as to a requisite material fact.); Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Associates, 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. See 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, Plaintiff fails to demonstrate a requisite genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude the medical defendants' motion for summary judgment.
A. The Complaints
Plaintiff asserts an Eighth Amendment violation against Defendants claiming they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Plaintiff's complaints, amendment thereto, and supporting exhibits reflect that he signed up for sick call on October 3, 2011. Nurse Barefield examined Plaintiff on October 4, 2011, and prescribed him over-the-counter medication for a four day period. Because Plaintiff did not feel the medication was working he submitted another sick call request on October 7, 2011. He saw Nurse Thompson on October 8, 2011, and explained that he still had the same symptoms which he reported to Nurse Barefield on October 3, 2011. According to Plaintiff, Nurse Thompson informed him that because he had not responded to the medication prescribed by Nurse Barefield and complained of the same symptoms, he would need to be seen by the detention facility physician. Nurse Thompson noted on Plaintiff's sick call slip that he wanted to see the doctor. Plaintiff acknowledge this desired course of action by signing his name underneath Nurse Thompson's notation. Plaintiff underwent a chest x-ray for his complaints of a persistent cough, shortness of breath, and a wheezing sound in his chest. Dr. McArthur interpreted the x-ray a copy of which Dr. Gurley received on October 13, 2011. A decision was made to admit Plaintiff to the infirmary for treatment of his condition on October 13, 2011. Later that same day Plaintiff was transported to Jackson Hospital for further treatment. See Civil Action No. 2:12-CV-101-WHA, Doc. No. 1, Civil Action No. 2:12-CV-526-WHA, Doc. Nos. 1, 6 (including exhibits), & 7.
B. The Medical Claim
Plaintiff brings this suit against the medical defendants in their individual and official capacities. See Civil Action No. 12-CV-101-WHA, Doc. No. 19. These defendants assert they are entitled to sovereign immunity in their official capacities and qualified immunity in their individual capacities. Doc. No. 15. Alabama officials are immune from claims brought against them in their official capacities for monetary damages because the State is the real party in interest. Lancaster v. Monroe Cnty., Ala., 116 F.3d 1419, 1429 (11th Cir. 1997). QCHC is a private corporation which contracts with the Montgomery County Detention Facility to provide medical care and services to inmates in their custody and Defendants Gurley and Barley are employees of QCHC. There being no indication that these defendants are state officials, they are not entitled to sovereign immunity.
Regarding the medical defendants assertion that they are entitled to qualified immunity, Doc. No. 15, the Eleventh Circuit, relying upon the Supreme Court's reasoning in Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399 (1997), which declined to extend qualified immunity to privately employed prison guards, held that qualified immunity may not be extended to privately employed prison personnel. See Hinson v. Edmond, 192 F.3d 1342, 1345 (11th Cir. 1999), opinion amended by 205 F.3d 1264 (11th Cir. 2000); see also Swann v. Southern Health Partners, Inc., 388 F.3d 834, 837 (11th Cir.2004) ("The parties agree that as a private entity, SHP [a private corporation employed by the County to provide medical care to inmates at the county jail] is not entitled to assert a qualified immunity defense."). Accordingly, the medicals defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds.
To the extent Plaintiff seeks to state a claim against QCHC based on the conduct of its employees, such claim is due to be dismissed. Plaintiff cannot state a claim for relief against a corporation based on the actions of its employees. Specifically, while a corporation providing prison medical services may be liable under § 1983 if it is established that the constitutional violation was the result of the corporation's policy or custom, such a corporation may not be held liable under § 1983 on the basis of respondeat superior. See Harvey v. Harvey, 949 F.2d 1127, 1129-30 (11th Cir.1992); Buckner v. Toro, 116 F.3d 450 (11th Cir.1986); Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Instead, a plaintiff must allege that the corporation has a policy, practice, or custom that represents official policy that resulted in the alleged discouragement, delay, or denial of medical treatment to inmates so as to deny a plaintiff his constitutional rights. See Berdin v. Duggan, 701 F.2d 909, 914 ...