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Johnson v. Whitman

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division

May 26, 2015

JAMES WHITMAN, et al., Defendants.


L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jerry Wayne Johnson ("Johnson") brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Johnson alleges that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights when they were deliberately indifferent in providing medical treatment for a broken wrist Johnson suffered while incarcerated at the Winston County Jail. Johnson also brings a state law claim for negligence. Before the Court is Defendants George A. Lyrene, M.D. ("Lyrene"), Denise Cummings, ("Cummings"), Amber Thompson ("Thompson"), and Adam Whitehead's ("Whitehead") motion to dismiss Johnson's second amended complaint for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 40.) Also before the Court is Defendants James Whitman ("Whitman") and Rick Harris's ("Harris") motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 44.) Whitman and Harris also raise the defense of qualified immunity.

The issues have been fully briefed by the parties and are ripe for review. For the reasons set out below, Defendants' motions to dismiss are due to be granted.

I. Factual Background[1]

Johnson was incarcerated at the Winston County Jail ("Jail") in the summer of 2013. Defendant Harris was the Sheriff of Winston County, Alabama, during all times relevant to this suit, while Defendant Whitman was employed as a corrections officer at the Jail. Correctional Managed Care Consultants, LLC ("CMCC") was a private corporation that the County contracted with to provide medical care to prisoners at the Jail. Defendant Lyrene, a physician employed by CMCC, served as director of the medical program at the Jail. Defendants Cummings, Thompson, and Whitehead were also employed by CMCC, and provided nursing services for Jail inmates. CMCC was paid a flat fee of $5000.00 a month for providing medical services to inmates at the Jail.

On July 8, 2013, Johnson fractured his right wrist while an inmate at the Jail. On July 12, 2013, Cummings examined Johnson's wrist. She noted bruising and swelling, and treated the wrist injury with an ice pack. Though Johnson told Cummings that he believed the wrist to be broken, Cummings took no further action at that time.[2] On July 13, 2013, Defendant Thompson examined Johnson's wrist. Johnson indicated that he experienced pain when trying to move the wrist, and Thompson prescribed naproxen and acetaminophen for pain.[3] Thompson discussed Johnson's wrist with Dr. Lyrene, but no x-rays were ordered at the time. On July 18, 2013, Thompson saw Johnson again for an unrelated medical condition. Johnson's injured wrist was not discussed during this visit.

On August 29, 2013, Lyrene personally examined Johnson's wrist due to Johnson's continued complaints. Lyrene ordered x-rays to be taken. However, Dr. Lyrene noted at the time that, while he would look at the x-ray results, any damage to Johnson's wrist was likely already chronic. See Doc. 37, at ¶ 5. On September 11, 2013, Johnson was taken to an off-site hospital where he had his wrist x-rayed. On September 18, 2013, Dr. Lyrene again examined Johnson's wrist. Reviewing Johnson's x-rays, Lyrene diagnosed Johnson with a fractured wrist and indicated that he would discuss Johnson's condition with an orthopedist. On October 17, 2013, Lyrene saw Johnson again for a leg issue. During this visit, Lyrene noted that Johnson's right wrist did not flex or grip normally. However, Lyrene did not prescribe any additional treatment for the wrist injury at that time.

On November 13, 2013, Johnson was again examined by Dr. Lyrene for his wrist fracture. Johnson indicated that the wrist injury was still painful, and asked whether surgery was an option. Lyrene told Johnson that, after reviewing the x-rays with the orthopedist, he had determined that it was "too late" for surgery. Johnson's fracture ultimately healed in an malunion position. Johnson was released from the Jail in March of 2014, and had surgery to repair the malunion in his right wrist in May of 2014.

Johnson filed his complaint in this Court on April 16, 2014. Johnson originally brought claims against only Whitman and Harris, but amended his complaint on October 29, 2014 to include claims against the Lyrene, Cummings, Thompson, Whitman, and CMCC. Defendants Lyrene, Cummings, Thompson, Whitman, and CMCC filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. On March 2, 2015, this Court issued an order and memorandum of opinion finding that Johnson's first amended complaint failed to state a claim for deliberate indifference against the medical Defendants. The Court gave Johnson leave to amend his complaint with respect to the claims against CMCC and the medical staff.

Johnson filed his second amended complaint on March 12, 2015. Johnson has conceded that claims against Defendant Whitehead are due to be dismissed, but maintains that the other medical Defendants violated his Eight Amendment rights when they were deliberately indifferent in treating his broken wrist. Johnson also asserts supervisory liability claims against Defendants Harris, Whitman, and Lyrene. Lastly, Johnson brings state-law claims against CMCC, Lyrene, Cummings, and Thompson for negligence/wantonness.

The CMCC Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on March 22, 2015, and Defendants Harris and Whitman filed a motion to dismiss on March 26, 2015. Harris and Whitman also assert the defense of qualified immunity.

II. Standard of Review

A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, the facts alleged in the complaint must be specific enough that the claim raised is "plausible." See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) ("To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face .") (internal quotations omitted) (emphasis added). "To be plausible on its face, the claim must contain enough facts that allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Pouyeh v. Univ. of Ala. Dep't of Ophthamology, No. CV-12-BE-4198-S, 2014 WL 2740314, at *3 (N.D. Ala. June 16, 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678) (alteration in original). Conclusory statements of law may "provide the framework of a complaint, " but the plaintiff is required to support them with "factual allegations." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

The process for evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint has two steps. This Court "begin[s] by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. Conclusory statements and recitations of a claim's elements are thus disregarded for purposes of determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to access discovery. See Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 709 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 687). Next, this Court "assume[s] [the] veracity" of "well-pleaded factual allegations" and "determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. A complaint's factual matter need not be detailed, but it "must... raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

In reviewing the complaint, this Court "draw[s] on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Nonetheless, "[a] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of [the facts alleged] is improbable." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. This Court considers only "the face of the complaint and attachments thereto" in order to determine whether Plaintiff states a claim for relief. Starship Enters. of Atlanta, Inc. v. Coweta Cnty., Ga., 708 F.3d 1243, 1252 n.13 (11th Cir. 2013). Generally, the complaint should include "enough information regarding the material elements of a cause of action to support recovery under some viable legal theory.'" Am. Fed'n of ...

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