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Cameron v. Thomas

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 22, 2018

KIM THOMAS, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Johnny L. Cameron, a former prison inmate proceeding pro se, filed his complaint under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. (Doc. 29 at 5-21). This action was referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72(a)(2)(R), and is now before the undersigned on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. After careful review of the pleadings, and for the reasons set out below, it is ordered that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted in favor of Defendants and that the claims asserted against Defendants Kim Thomas and Corizon, Inc., be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Summary of Allegations.

         Plaintiff brings this action against former ADOC Commissioner Kim Thomas (“Thomas”) and Corizon, Inc. (“Corizon”) for inadequate medical care (including denied or delayed access to doctors, medications, and surgeries) while within the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections (“ADOC”). According to Cameron, he suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and has had bilateral knee and hip replacements in the past. On October 31, 2003, he was transferred to Kilby Correctional Facility (“Kilby”) from the county jail. (Doc. 29 at 11). During the intake procedure at Kilby, Cameron was informed that the prison would not administer the prescribed medications he brought with him from his free world primary care doctor, orthopedic specialist, pain management specialist, and psychiatrist. (Id.). The nursing staff told him that it was ADOC's policy not to dispense those types of medications, namely the prescription pain medications. (Id.). However, he was informed by one nurse that he would be placed on a list to see a doctor to discuss his medical conditions and need for medications. (Id.).

         On December 14, 2013, while incarcerated at Kilby, Cameron, who walks with the assistance of forearm crutches, alleges he was forced by a sergeant to enter the chow hall through the main entrance, rather than the handicapped entrance. (Id. at 11). While in the chow hall, Cameron fell to the floor when his crutches slipped out from under him due to liquids on the floor. (Id. at 11). An officer immediately helped Cameron off the ground and had another inmate escort him to the infirmary to be examined. (Id. at 11-12). After waiting approximately one hour, the nursing staff screened Cameron and contacted the institutional doctor by telephone. (Id. at 12). The doctor prescribed Motrin for Cameron's pain and ordered an x-ray scan to be taken on the following Monday (two days later). (Id.). Cameron was advised that he would see the doctor after the x-ray was reviewed. (Id.). Diagnostic scans were taken of Cameron's hip on December 16, 2013, but Cameron was not called in to be examined by the doctor. (Id. at 12, 190).

         On January 6, 2014, Cameron filed a medical grievance at Kilby on the ground that he had yet to be seen by a doctor at Kilby for his chronic pain and his December 14, 2013 fall. (Id. at 12, 760). Cameron alleges that before receiving a response to his grievance, he was transferred to Fountain Correctional Facility (“Fountain”) on January 14, 2014.[1] (Id. at 760).

         Cameron alleges that once he was incarcerated at Fountain, he filed numerous sick call requests, grievances, and medical complaints, but he was not examined by a doctor until March 2014. (Id. at 13). When Cameron saw the institutional doctor on March 12, 2013, the institutional doctor informed him that his medical jacket reflected that Cameron's December 2013 x-ray showed there might be “some damage” to his hip, but without prior scans for comparison, it was impossible to know the extent. (Id. at 13). As a result, the doctor ordered new x-ray scans of Cameron's right hip. (Id. at 206). The new x-ray scans were compared to the prior x-ray scans. The new x-ray scans showed migration of the prosthesis into the right iliac bone. (Id.). Possible septic or aseptic loosening were also noted. (Id.). On March 20, 2014, the institutional doctor referred Cameron to an orthopedic specialist, Dr. Corbett. (Id. at 13, 208-10).

         A week later, on March 27, 2014, Dr. Corbett opined that Cameron's right hip socket cup was out of place. (Id. at 13). He recommended joint replacement surgery, and referred Cameron to Dr. Sudakar Madanagopal at South Alabama Medical Center for surgery. (Id.). The surgical procedure to repair Cameron's dislocated acetabulum cup was performed by Dr. Madanagopal on August 28, 2014. (Id.). Cameron claims he suffered extreme pain during the months the surgery was delayed. (Id.). He also contends that that this delay in treatment constituted “cruel and unusual punishment, ” “torture, ” and “deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.” (Id. at 14).

         Additionally, Cameron alleges he was denied or received delayed medical treatment for kidney cysts after he reported having chills and sweats the weekend of July 4, 2015. (Id. at 15). According to Cameron, he informed a nurse of his symptoms at pill call and she “pointed something at [him] from behind a locked grill gate and said, ‘you don't have a temp.'” (Id.). Cameron claims subsequent thereto, on July 14 and 15, 2015, he began to urinate blood. (Id.). He took a collected sample of the urine to the infirmary where it tested positive for blood. (Id.). However, the nurse told him to “go back down the hall.” (Id.). A renal ultrasound was conducted on July 20, 2015 and revealed bilateral renal cysts. (Id.). Cameron alleges that he was only prescribed a course of antibiotic treatment, and that after urinating blood for three weeks, the bleeding spontaneously stopped. (Id.).

         In addition, Cameron claims that his right knee replacement is failing, that Defendants have been aware that he needs a surgical repair for a year, and that they have refused to provide him with the surgery recommended by the orthopedic specialist. (Id. at 15-16). He claims that instead of following the specialist's recommendation, ADOC and Corizon sent him to someone else who recommended that he try a knee brace. (Id. at 16).

         Lastly, Cameron alleges he was forced to sleep on a steel bunk with a thin mat and was denied an egg crate mattress or hospital mattress while incarcerated. (Id.). Cameron contends that when he asked the medical staff at Kilby and Fountain about an egg-crate mattress or a hospital mattress, he was told that ADOC stopped them from doing that. (Id.). He also asserts that an ADOC official at Kilby said, in response to his mattress request, that he could not have one because if he had not done what he did to be incarcerated, he would not need one. Cameron maintains that this is the prevailing attitude shared by ADOC and medical personnel, and that given the condition of his hip, such treatment amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.[2] (Id.).

         Cameron is suing Defendants in their official and individual capacities, is seeking seeks monetary damages for the alleged Eighth Amendment violations, [3] and is requesting a trial by jury. (Id. at 8).

         II. Procedural History.

         Cameron filed this action in December 2015 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. (Doc. 29 at 1). After Defendants Thomas and Corizon filed their Answer, Special Report, and Supplemental Special Report (doc. 29 at 3), the Court concluded that because the bulk of Cameron's claims relate to medical treatment he received while incarcerated at Fountain, which is located within the Southern District of Alabama, the case should be transferred to this District. Notwithstanding objections by Cameron, the case was to the Southern District of Alabama on May 10, 2016. (Doc. 29 at 4, 803-811).

         Cameron sought to amend his complaint to add additional Defendants, but his request was denied because he failed to allege a causal connection between the individuals he sought to add and the alleged constitutional violations. The Court also determined that an amendment at this juncture would be prejudicial. (Doc. 47, 49, 50). Thus, the operative complaint for this action is the original complaint filed in the Middle District of Alabama, naming Defendants Corizon, Inc., and Kim Thomas.

         The Court entered an order notifying the parties that Defendants' Answer and Special Reports were being converted into a motion for summary judgment, and giving them an opportunity to file briefs and materials in support or opposition. (Doc. 51). Cameron filed responses opposing summary judgment (Docs. 35, 54). The motion for summary judgment is now ripe for consideration.

         III. Summary Judgment Standard.

         Summary Judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Garczynski v. Bradshaw, 573 F.3d 1158, 1165 (2009) ("[S]ummary judgment is appropriate even if 'some alleged factual dispute' between the parties remains, so long as there is 'no genuine issue of material fact.'" (emphasis omitted)).

         The party asking 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 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact, or by showing, or pointing out to, the district court 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.

Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324. To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). On the other hand, the evidence of the nonmovant must be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

ThyssenKrupp Steel USA, LLC v. United Forming, Inc., 926 F.Supp.2d 1286, 1289-90 (S.D. Ala. Jan. 29, 2013) (citations omitted).

         The requirement to view the facts in the nonmoving party's favor extends only to "genuine" disputes over material facts. A genuine dispute requires more than "some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Garczynski, 573 F.3d at 1165 (internal citations omitted). A "mere scintilla" of evidence is insufficient; the nonmoving party must produce substantial evidence in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. In addition, "[t]here is no burden upon the district court to distill every potential argument that could be made based upon the materials before it on summary judgment." Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 599 (11th Cir. 1995). More importantly, where "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, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007); see also Logan v. Smith, 439 Fed.Appx. 798, 800 (11th Cir. Aug. 29, 2011) ("In cases where opposing parties tell different versions of the same events, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record- such that no reasonable jury could believe it-a court should not adopt the contradicted allegations." (citations omitted) (unpublished)).[4]

         IV. Discussion.

         In his complaint, Cameron sets forth three grounds of alleged constitutional violations by Defendants Corizon and Thomas:

Ground One: Denying access to see a doctor, delaying access to needed serious medical care, treatment and surgery, denying access to an orthopedic specialist, confiscating and refusing to give medications prescribed by free-world orthopedic pain specialist and psychiatrist.
Ground Two: Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, cruel and unusual punishment, deliberate indifference to pain and suffering and needs of inmates with special conditions and needs and treatments, and to the handicap.
Ground Three: Torturous, needless, and unjustified delay of eight (8) months, in needed surgery to repair a painful totally dislocated hip replacement socket cup (acetabular cup revision) and extensive damage and torturous pain caused by the delay and forced to hobble around on it for 8 months.

(Doc. 29 at 6-7). For purposes of clarity, Cameron's claims have been regrouped based on the facts, allegations, and defenses contained in the parties' pleadings. The Court will now discuss each in turn.

         A. The PLRA Bars Plaintiff's Claim Against Defendants Because Plaintiff Failed to Exhaust His Administrative Remedies.

         In their Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants argue that Cameron is barred from bringing this action due to his failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). The PLRA states that:

No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). "Section 1997e(a) is intended to force inmates to give authorities a chance to correct constitutional violations before resorting to federal suit and to prevent patently frivolous lawsuits." Horne v. Nevil, 2017 WL 9486058 at *4, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44613 at *9 (S.D. Ga. March 7, 2017). “Congress has provided in §1997e(a) that an inmate must exhaust irrespective of the forms of relief sought and offered through administrative remedies.” Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 n.6, 121 S.Ct. 1819, 149 L.Ed.2d 958 (2001). Further, the exhaustion requirement of the PLRA “applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong, ” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532, 122 S.Ct. 983, 152 L.Ed.2d 12 (2002), and is required even if the available administrative remedies are futile or inadequate. Harris v. Garner, 190 F.3d 1279, 1285-86 (11th Cir. 2005).

         Exhaustion of all available administrative remedies is a precondition to litigation and is mandatory. See Ross v. Blake, __ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1853, 195 L.Ed.2d 117, 120 (2016) ("That mandatory language means a court may not excuse a failure to exhaust, even to take "special circumstances" into account.); Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 165 L.Ed.2d 368 (2006) ("Exhaustion is no longer left to the discretion of the district court, but is mandatory."). The Supreme Court has noted that each prison sets its own administrative remedies, Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218, 127 S.Ct. 910, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007), and that "[p]roper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings." Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90-91. Thus, prisoners must go beyond merely filing a grievance and are required by the PLRA's exhaustion requirement to "properly take each step within the [prison's] administrative process," including appealing denials of relief. Johnson v. Meadows, 418 F.3d 1152, 1157 (11th Cir. 2005).

In order to determine whether Plaintiff fully exhausted his available administrative remedies, the Court thus first examines and consider [sic] both the Defendants' and the Plaintiff's version of the facts, taking the Plaintiff's version of the facts as true. Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1082 (11th Cir. 2008). "If in that light, the defendant is entitled to have the complaint dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, it must be dismissed." Id. If the complaint is not subject to dismissal at the first step, then the court shall proceed to make specific findings in order to resolve disputed factual issues related to exhaustion. Id. The defendants bear the burden of pleading and proving that the plaintiff has failed to exhaust available administrative remedies. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216, 127 S.Ct. 910, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007).

Shepard v. Fla. Dep't of Corr., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53046 at *24-25 (S.D. Fla. Apr. 5, 2017).

         The Supreme Court has specified three "circumstances in which an administrative remedy, although officially on the books, is not capable of use to obtain relief." Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1853. First, "an administrative procedure is unavailable when (despite what regulations or guidance materials may promise) it operates as a simple dead end - with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates." Id. at 1859. "Next, an administrative scheme might be so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use." Id. Finally, a grievance process is rendered unavailable "when prison administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of [it] through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation." Id. at 1860. The law is also well settled that "the question of exhaustion under the PLRA [is] a 'threshold matter' that [the court must] address before considering the merits of the case.” Myles v. Miami-Dade Cnty. Corr. & Rehab. Dep't, 476 Fed.Appx. 364, 366 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1286 (11th Cir. 2004)).

         The Eleventh Circuit has set out a two-part test to determine whether or not a suit may be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. See Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1082 (11th Cir. 2008). First, a court “looks to the factual allegations in the defendant's motion to dismiss and those in the plaintiff's response, and if they conflict, take the plaintiff's version of the facts as true. If, in that light, the defendant is entitled to have the complaint dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, it must be dismissed.” Id. at 1082. If the complaint is not subject to dismissal, then the court “proceeds to make specific findings in order to resolve the disputed factual issues related to exhaustion.” Id.

         In the current action, Defendants have submitted that Corizon provides an administrative remedy for inmate complaints through a grievance procedure. Defendants explain this procedure as follows:

The grievance process is initiated when an inmate submits a Medical Grievance form to [the Health Services Administrator (HSA)] through the institutional mail system. After reviewing Medical Grievance, [the HSA or her designee] then provide[s] a written response [to the grievance] within approximately ten (10) days of receipt of the Inmate Grievance. The written response to a Medical Grievance is included on the bottom portion of the same form containing an inmate's Inmate Grievance. Below the portion of the form designated for the "Response," the following notation appears:
As stated in the Medical Grievance forms, the second step of the grievance process involves the submission of a formal Grievance Appeal, at which time the inmate may be brought in for one-on-one communication with the medical staff, the Director of Nursing or [the Health Services Administrator]. A written response to a formal Grievance Appeal is provided within approximately five (5) days of receipt.
Medical Grievance forms are available from the correctional officers at Fountain. Inmates are instructed to place completed Medical Grievance forms in the sick call boxes located throughout the facility. When received in the Health Care Unit, Medical Grievance forms are sent to the Health Services Administrator by the medical records clerk or administrative assistant. The Health Services Administrator reviews the grievances daily, provides a written response within approximately ten (10) days at the bottom of the form and returns a copy of the completed forms to the inmate. The Health Services ...

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