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Moore v. Corizon Medical Services

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

April 25, 2018

THURMON E. MOORE, II, #178615, Plaintiff,
v.
CORIZON MEIDICAL SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE I. INTRODUCTION

          GRAY M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is before the court on a complaint filed by Thurmon E. Moore, II, a state inmate, challenging conditions present during his prior term of incarceration at the Staton Correctional Facility. Specifically, Moore alleges that the defendants denied him adequate medical treatment for his osteoarthritis and refused to place him in a chronic care clinic for this condition. He also questions the constitutionality of co-payments assessed for certain treatment provided to him. Finally, Moore contends that correctional officials subjected him to unconstitutional conditions. Moore names as defendants Corizon Medical Services, the contract medical care provider for the state prison system;[1] Dr. Hugh Hood, the Regional Medical Director for Corizon; Dr. Karen Stone and Dr. Ronnie Herring, physicians at Staton during the time relevant to the complaint; Michelle Sagers-Copeland, Nancy Long, Cebria Lee, Tammra Wood, Regina Mitchell and Tamelria Tellis, nurses at Staton; Leeposey Daniels, Leon Forniss and John Crow, wardens at Staton; and Kim T. Thomas, the former commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections.[2] Moore seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and monetary damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. 1 at 1-2 & 27.

         The defendants filed a special report and relevant evidentiary materials in support of their report, including affidavits and certified copies of Moore's medical records, addressing the claims raised in the complaint. In these documents, the medical and correctional defendants maintain they did not act with deliberate indifference to Moore's medical needs and the correctional defendants deny they subjected Moore to unconstitutional conditions.

         After reviewing the special report filed by the defendants, the court issued an order on March 22, 2016 directing Moore to file a response to each of the arguments set forth by the defendants in their report, supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other evidentiary materials. Doc. 43 at 2. The order specifically cautioned that “unless within fifteen (15) days from the date of this order a party . . . presents sufficient legal cause why such action should not be undertaken . . . the court may at any time [after expiration of the time for the plaintiff filing a response to this order] and without further notice to the parties (1) treat the special report and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion for summary judgment and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion for summary judgment in accordance with the law.” Doc. 43 at 3. Moore filed a sworn response to this order on April 18, 2016. Doc. 49.

         Pursuant to the directives of the order entered on March 22, 2016, the court now treats the defendants' report as a motion for summary judgment and concludes that summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the defendants.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         “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) (internal quotation marks 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.”). 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 [dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that moving party has initial burden of showing there is no genuine dispute of material fact for trial). 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 appropriate evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24; Moton v. Cowart, 631 F.3d 1337, 1341 (11th Cir. 2011) (holding that moving party discharges his burden by showing the record lacks evidence to support the nonmoving party's case or the nonmoving party would be unable to prove his case at trial).

         When the defendants meet their evidentiary burden, as they have in this case, the burden shifts to the 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); Jeffery, 64 F.3d at 593-94 (holding that, once a moving party meets its burden, “the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits [or statements made under penalty of perjury], or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ” demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute of material fact). In civil actions filed by inmates, 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. 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). This court will also consider “specific facts” pled in a plaintiff's sworn complaint when considering his opposition to summary judgment. Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1098 (11th Cir. 2014). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict in its favor such that summary judgment is not warranted. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263; Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ. for Bibb Cnty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007). “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). “[T]here must exist a conflict in substantial evidence to pose a jury question.” Hall v. Sunjoy Indus. Group, Inc., 764 F.Supp.2d 1297, 1301 (M.D. Fla. 2011) (citation omitted). “When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation, 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, Moore's pro se status alone does not compel this court to disregard elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case.

         The court has undertaken a thorough and exhaustive review of all the evidence contained in the record. After this review, the court finds that Moore has failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

         III. DISCUSSION [3]

A. Absolute Immunity-Correctional Defendants

         To the extent Moore lodges claims against the correctional defendants in their official capacities and seeks monetary damages, these defendants are entitled to absolute immunity. Official capacity lawsuits are “in all respects other than name . . . treated as a suit against the entity.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). As the Eleventh Circuit has held,

the Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from entertaining suits by private parties against States and their agencies [or employees]. There are two exceptions to this prohibition: where the state has waived its immunity or where Congress has abrogated that immunity. A State's consent to suit must be unequivocally expressed in the text of [a] relevant statute. Waiver may not be implied. Likewise, Congress' intent to abrogate the States' immunity from suit must be obvious from a clear legislative statement.

Selensky v. Alabama, 619 Fed.Appx. 846, 848-49 (11th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, a state official may not be sued in his official capacity unless the state has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984), or Congress has abrogated the State's immunity, see Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 59 (1996).

Neither waiver nor abrogation applies here. The Alabama Constitution states that “the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.” Ala. Const. Art. I, § 14. The Supreme Court has recognized that this prohibits Alabama from waiving its immunity from suit.

Selensky, 619 Fed.Appx. at 849 (citing Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978)). “Alabama has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity in § 1983 cases, nor has Congress abated it.” Holmes v. Hale, 701 Fed.Appx. 751, 753 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Carr v. City of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         In light of the foregoing, defendants Forniss, Daniels, Thomas and Crow are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for all claims seeking monetary damages from them in their official capacities. Selensky, 619 Fed.Appx. at 849; Harbert Int'l, Inc. v. James, 157 F.3d 1271, 1277 (11th Cir. 1998) (holding that state officials sued in their official capacities are protected under the Eleventh Amendment from suit for damages); Edwards v. Wallace Comm. College, 49 F.3d 1517, 1524 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that damages are unavailable from a state official sued in his official capacity).

         B. Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs

         The claims presently before this court address medical treatment provided to Moore from mid-September 2014 until the filing of the instant complaint in early January 2016.[4] Specifically, Moore alleges that the medical defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis. Doc 1 at 3-14. Moore further argues that the correctional defendants, as wardens, are responsible for ensuring that he receive appropriate medical treatment. Doc. 1 at 2 & 13. These assertions entitle Moore to no relief.

         1. Standard of Review

         To prevail on a claim concerning an alleged denial of medical treatment, an inmate must-at a minimum-show that the defendant acted with deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976); Taylor v. Adams, 221 F.3d 1254 (11th Cir. 2000); McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248 (11th Cir. 1999); Waldrop v. Evans, 871 F.2d 1030, 1033 (11th Cir. 1989). Medical and correctional personnel may not subject an inmate to “acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106; Adams v. Poag, 61 F.3d 1537, 1546 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding, as directed by Estelle, that a plaintiff must establish “not merely the knowledge of a condition, but the knowledge of necessary treatment coupled with a refusal to treat or a delay in [the acknowledged necessary] treatment”).

         That medical malpractice-negligence by a physician-is insufficient to form the basis of a claim for deliberate indifference is well settled. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-07, 97 S.Ct. 285, 292, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976); Adams v. Poag, 61 F.3d 1537, 1543 (11th Cir. 1995). Instead, something more must be shown. Evidence must support a conclusion that a prison [medical care provider's] harmful acts were intentional or reckless. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833-38, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 1977-79, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994); Cottrell v. Caldwell, 85 F.3d 1480, 1491 (11th Cir. 1996) (stating that deliberate indifference is equivalent of recklessly disregarding substantial risk of serious harm to inmate); Adams, 61 F.3d at 1543 (stating that plaintiff must show more than mere negligence to assert an Eighth Amendment violation); Hill v. DeKalb Regional Youth Detention Ctr., 40 F.3d 1176, 1191 n. 28 (11th Cir. 1994) (recognizing that Supreme Court has defined “deliberate indifference” as requiring more than mere negligence and has adopted a “subjective recklessness” standard from criminal law); Qian v. Kautz, 168 F.3d 949, 955 (7th Cir. 1999) (stating “deliberate indifference” is synonym for intentional or reckless conduct, and that “reckless” conduct describes conduct so dangerous that deliberate nature can be inferred).

         Hinson v. Edmond, 192 F.3d 1342, 1345 (11th Cir. 1999).

         An Eighth Amendment violation requires proof of both objective and subjective elements. Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1099 (11th Cir. 2014). With respect to the requisite objective elements of a deliberate indifference claim, an inmate must first show “an objectively substantial risk of serious harm . . . exist[ed]. Second, once it is established that the official [was] aware of this substantial risk, the official must [have] react[ed] to this risk in an objectively unreasonable manner.” Marsh, 268 F.3d at 1028-29. As to the subjective elements, “the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. . . . The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual conditions; it outlaws cruel and unusual punishments. . . . [A]n official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837-38 (internal quotation marks omitted); Campbell v. Sikes, 169 F.3d 1353, 1364 (11th Cir. 1999) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 838) (“Proof that the defendant should have perceived the risk, but did not, is insufficient.”); Cottrell v. Caldwell, 85 F.3d 1480, 1491 (11th Cir. 1996) (same). The conduct at issue “must involve more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's interests or safety . . . . It is obduracy and wantonness, not inadvertence or error in good faith, that characterize the conduct prohibited by the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, whether that conduct occurs in connection with establishing conditions of confinement, supplying medical needs, [providing security for inmates], or restoring official control over a tumultuous cellblock.” Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986).

         In order to establish “deliberate indifference to [a] serious medical need . . ., Plaintiff[] must show: (1) a serious medical need; (2) the defendant['s] deliberate indifference to that need; and (3) causation between that indifference and the plaintiff's injury.” Mann v. Taser Int'l, Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1306-07 (11th Cir. 2009). When seeking relief based on deliberate indifference, an inmate is required to establish “an objectively serious need, an objectively insufficient response to that need, subjective awareness of facts signaling the need and an actual inference of required action from those facts.” Taylor, 221 F.3d at 1258; McElligott, 182 F.3d at 1255 (holding that, for liability to attach, the official must know of and then disregard an excessive risk to the prisoner). Regarding the objective component of a deliberate indifference claim, the plaintiff must first show “an objectively serious medical need[] . . . and second, that the response made by [the defendants] to that need was poor enough to constitute an unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, and not merely accidental inadequacy, negligen[ce] in diagnos[is] or treat[ment], or even [m]edical malpractice actionable under state law.” Taylor, 221 F.3d at 1258 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). To proceed on a claim challenging the constitutionality of medical care, “[t]he facts alleged must do more than contend medical malpractice, misdiagnosis, accidents, [or] poor exercise of medical judgment.” Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-33 (1986).

         In addition, “to show the required subjective intent . . ., a plaintiff must demonstrate that the public official acted with an attitude of deliberate indifference . . . which is in turn defined as requiring two separate things[:] awareness of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists [] and . . . draw[ing] of the inference[.]” Taylor, 221 F.3d at 1258 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, deliberate indifference occurs only when a defendant “knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the [defendant] must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists and he must also draw the inference.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837; Johnson v. Quinones, 145 F.3d 164, 168 (4th Cir. 1998) (holding that defendant must have actual knowledge of a serious condition, not just knowledge of symptoms, and ignore known risk to serious condition to warrant finding of deliberate indifference). Furthermore, “an official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 838. When medical personnel attempt to diagnose and treat an inmate, the mere fact that the chosen “treatment was ineffectual . . . does not mean that those responsible for it were deliberately indifferent.” Massey v. Montgomery Cnty. Det. Facility, 646 Fed.Appx. 777, 780 (11th Cir. 2016).

In articulating the scope of inmates' right to be free from deliberate indifference, . . . the Supreme Court has . . . emphasized that not “every claim by a prisoner that he has not received adequate medical treatment states a violation of the Eighth Amendment.” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105, 97 S.Ct. at 291; Mandel [v. Doe, 888 F.2d 783, 787 (11th Cir. 1989)]. Medical treatment violates the eighth amendment only when it is “so grossly incompetent, inadequate, or excessive as to shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness.” Rogers, 792 F.2d at 1058 (citation omitted). Mere incidents of negligence or malpractice do not rise to the level of constitutional violations. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106, 97 S.Ct. at 292 (“Medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner.”); Mandel, 888 F.2d at 787-88 (mere negligence or medical malpractice ‘not sufficient' to constitute deliberate indifference); Waldrop, 871 F.2d at 1033 (mere medical malpractice does not constitute deliberate indifference). Nor does a simple difference in medical opinion between the prison's medical staff and the inmate as to the latter's diagnosis or course of treatment support a claim of cruel and unusual punishment. See Waldrop, 871 F.2d at 1033 (citing Bowring v. Godwin, 551 F.2d 44, 48 (4th Cir. 1977)).

Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1505 (11th Cir. 1991). “[A]s Estelle teaches, whether government actors should have employed additional diagnostic techniques or forms of treatment is a classic example of a matter for medical judgment and therefore not an appropriate basis for grounding liability under the Eighth Amendment.” Adams, 61 F.3d at 1545 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To show deliberate indifference, the plaintiff must demonstrate a serious medical need and then must establish that the defendant's response to the need was more than “merely accidental inadequacy, negligence in diagnosis or treatment, or even medical malpractice actionable under state law.” Taylor, 221 F.3d at 1258 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Garvin v. Armstrong, 236 F.3d 896, 898 (7th Cir. 2001) (holding that “[a] difference of opinion as to how a condition should be treated does not give rise to a constitutional violation”); Hamm v. DeKalb Cnty., 774 F.2d 1567, 1575 (11th Cir. 1985) (holding that the mere fact an inmate desires a different mode of medical treatment does not amount to deliberate indifference violative of the Constitution); Franklin v. Oregon, 662 F.2d 1337, 1344 (9th Cir. 1981) (holding that prison medical personnel do not violate the Eighth Amendment simply because their opinions concerning medical treatment conflict with that of the inmate-patient); Amarir v. Hill, 243 Fed.Appx. 353, 354 (9th Cir. 2007) (holding that defendant's “denial of plaintiff's request to see an outside specialist . . . did not amount to deliberate indifference”); Arzaga v. Lovett, 2015 WL 4879453, at *4 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 14, 2015) (finding that plaintiff's preference for a second opinion is “not enough to establish defendant's deliberate indifference” as the allegation does “not show that defendant knowingly disregarded a serious risk of harm to plaintiff” nor that defendant “exposed plaintiff to any serious risk of harm”).

         2. Medical Defendants

         Moore asserts he suffers pain in his back, hips, and knees due to degenerative bone spurring with swelling to the hands, fingers and toes for which he has been denied appropriate medication to alleviate his pain and diagnostic tests to determine the source of his pain. Doc. 1 at 4. Moore further contends that his attending physicians did not prescribe narcotics or Ultram, [5] refused to order MRI or CRT scans to aid in the assessment of his condition, and failed to refer him to an outside bone specialist. Doc. 1 at 3-14. Moore further complains that the medical defendants refused to place him on chronic care for his osteoarthritis even though this condition is chronic in nature. Doc. 1 at 4. Finally, Moore maintains that medical personnel failed to provide him medical profiles for bottom bunk, cane, front of the line, and no prolonged standing. Doc. 1 at 5 & 14.

         The medical defendants adamantly deny that they acted with deliberate indifference to Moore's medical needs during the time relevant to this complaint or at any other time. Instead, they maintain that Moore had continuous access to health care personnel and received treatment from medical professionals for his chronic pain, including evaluations and examinations by the nursing staff comprised of licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and certified registered nurse practitioners[6] (see Doc. 42-14 at 35-36 & 47-59); evaluations and consultations with facility physicians (see Doc. 42-14 at 38-46); prescriptions for various medications to alleviate his pain and discomfort such as Ultram (tramadol), Mobic (meloxicam), Prednisone, Tylenol, and an analgesic balm (see Doc. 42-14 at 18-32); issuance of medical profiles for a bottom bunk, cane, limited standing and front of the line (see Doc. 42-14 at 7-8, 13-14, 16 & 18); and provision of x-rays to evaluate his conditions (see Docs. 42-12 at 21-22 & 42-15 at 14-18). The medical records further demonstrate that medical personnel at Staton evaluated Moore each time he appeared at sick call or medical appointments with complaints related to his chronic pain, assessed his need for treatment, prescribed medications to alleviate the pain associated with his condition when they deemed such necessary, issued medical profiles as warranted, and provided treatment to Moore in accordance with their professional judgment.

         The defendants submitted affidavits and relevant medical records in response to the claims presented by Moore. The affidavits are corroborated by the objective medical records contemporaneously compiled throughout the treatment process. In his affidavit, Dr. Hood provides a synopsis of the treatment provided to Moore upon his transfer Draper.

Mr. Moore transferred from Limestone to Staton Correctional Facility on December 9, 2013. (COR089).[7] Five days after arriving at Staton, Mr. Moore began submitting multiple sick call request forms [requesting] a bottom bunk profile and additional pain medication. (COR093-98). In response to these initial sick call request forms, the Staton medical staff evaluated Mr. Moore and this examination did not reveal ...

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