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Clegg v. Bradford

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

November 15, 2018

JEFFREY SCOTT CLEGG, Plaintiff,
v.
DOCTOR BRADFORD, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION[1]

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is before the court on an amended complaint filed by Jeffrey Scott Clegg, a former state inmate. In this complaint, Clegg alleges Dr. Bradford, an optometrist contracted to provide services to state inmates, violated his constitutional rights by failing to timely provide him a new pair of prescription eyeglasses during a prior term of incarceration at the Bullock Correctional Facility. Doc. 5 at 7-8. Clegg alleges the defendant deprived him of due process and equal protection with respect to provision of his eyeglasses. Despite the assertion of a due process violation, the claim presented by Clegg regarding the alleged denial of adequate optometry services arises under the Eighth Amendment and its protection against deliberate indifference to an inmate's health, not the Due Process Clause. Clegg seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and monetary damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. 5 at 9, Doc. 33 at 1 & Doc. 49 at 1.

         The defendant filed a special report, supplemental special report and relevant evidentiary materials in support of his reports, including affidavits and certified copies of Clegg's medical records, addressing the claims raised in the complaint. In these documents, Dr. Bradford denies he acted with deliberate indifference to Clegg's medical needs and argues Clegg fails to allege a cognizable equal protection claim.

         After reviewing the special reports filed by the defendant, the court issued an order on August 23, 2016 directing Clegg to file a response to each of the arguments set forth by the defendant in his reports, supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other evidentiary materials. Doc. 22 at 1-2. 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 reports 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. 22 at 3. Clegg filed responses to this order, including sworn declarations.

         Pursuant to the directives of the order entered on August 23, 2016, the court now treats the defendant's reports as a motion for summary judgment and concludes that summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the defendant.

         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); Rule 56(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. (“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); Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 529 (2006) (holding that a court “must examine the record to see whether the [party moving for summary judgment], in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, affidavits and the like, has demonstrated the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact, and his entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.”) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); 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 that the record lacks evidence to support the nonmoving party's case or that the nonmoving party would be unable to prove his case at trial).

         When the moving party meets its evidentiary burden, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish, with appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine dispute material to his case exists. At this juncture, the court “must determine whether [the plaintiff], who bears the burden of persuasion has by affidavits or as otherwise provided in Rule 56 . . . set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine [dispute of material fact] for trial.” Beard, 521 U.S. at 529 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); 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.). 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 a party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable fact-finder 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).

[This court] recognize[s] that at this stage [it] must draw “all justifiable inferences in [the plaintiff's] “favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In doing so, however, we 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. Overton [v. Bazetta, 539 U.S. 126, 132 (2003)]. 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, 548 U.S. at 530.

         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; McKeithen v. Jackson, 606 Fed.Appx. 937, 938 (11th Cir. 2015); Ivory v. Warden, 600 Fed.Appx. 670, 675 (2015). Thus, Clegg'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, including Clegg's medical records. After this review, the court finds that Clegg has failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendant on his claims regarding alleged violations of his constitutional rights.

         III. DISCUSSION [2]

         A. Deliberate Indifference

         The claims presently before this court address actions taken by Dr. Bradford in an effort to fit Clegg for eyeglasses from October 19, 2015 until mid-April of 2016. Specifically, Clegg alleges Dr. Bradford acted with deliberate indifference to his need for new eyeglasses because Dr. Bradford did not initially determine the correct prescription for his eyeglasses and then failed to timely order eyeglasses in accordance with a prescription issued by an outside ophthalmologist. Doc. 5 at 7-8. Dr. Bradford denies Clegg suffered a serious medical need - a need which, if left untreated, posed a substantial risk of serious harm - or that he acted with deliberate indifference to Clegg's eye care. Doc. 21 at 11-14. It is likewise undisputed that throughout the time relevant to the complaint Clegg maintained a pair of eyeglasses within his possession which adequately corrected his vision.

         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 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 ...

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