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Hammonds v. Theakston

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

September 20, 2019

STEPHEN HAMMONDS, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT THEAKSTON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This § 1983 case concerns the medical care that Plaintiff Stephen Hammonds received for his diabetes while incarcerated at DeKalb County Corrections Center. Defendants Dr. Robert Theakston and Matthew Martin filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 80). To resolve the motion for summary judgment, the court must analyze whether any reasonable official in the same circumstances as Dr. Theakston and Mr. Martin would have understood that administering only short-acting insulin to Mr. Hammonds, as opposed to both short-acting and long-acting insulin, violated his constitutional right to be free from the deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The court answers this overriding question in the negative and finds that Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity to Mr. Hammonds’s § 1983 claim and grants their motion for summary judgment.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A trial court can resolve a case on summary judgment only when the moving party establishes two essential elements: (1) no genuine disputes of material fact exist; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         Under the first element of the moving party’s summary judgment burden, “‘[g]enuine disputes [of material fact] are those in which the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant.’” Evans v. Books-A-Million, 762 F.3d 1288, 1294 (11th Cir. 2014) (emphasis added) (quoting Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996)). And when considering whether any genuine disputes of material fact exist, the court must view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015).

         Pursuant to these rules, the court next presents the facts supported by evidence on the record in the light most favorable to Mr. Hammonds.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Hammonds suffers from type 1 diabetes mellitus. To treat his diabetes, he regularly checks his blood glucose level and takes insulin.

         On September 29, 2014, Mr. Hammonds was arrested and booked into the DeKalb County Corrections Center. At the time of booking, he had short-acting R insulin and long-acting N insulin on his person, which the jail personnel confiscated. Short-acting R insulin counteracts the spike in glucose that occurs when eating a meal, whereas long-acting N insulin helps maintain a healthy baseline glucose level.

         Dr. Theakston directed Mr. Hammonds’s medical care in the jail. Dr. Theakston placed Mr. Hammonds on a regular insulin sliding scale regimen. According to this protocol, jail medical staff checked Mr. Hammonds’s blood sugar at least twice a day, and, depending on his blood sugar level, administered a dosage of only short-acting R insulin, not long-acting N insulin.

         According to Mr. Hammonds, the jail staff knew that he had to take both R insulin and N insulin. Mr. Hammonds testified that he told the arresting officer, the booking officer, nurses, jailers, and “everyone who would listen” that he required R insulin and N insulin. (Doc. 91-2 at 3–4).

         Nurse notes taken during a prior incarceration in 2007 at the same jail shows that jail staff treated Mr. Hammonds with both R insulin and N insulin then. (Doc 82-4 at 48–50, 54–56, 62–70). A medical screening form and nurse’s notes taken during a prior incarceration in 2013 show that Mr. Hammonds reported that he took both R insulin and N insulin, but that the jail staff treated him with only R insulin without issue then. (Doc. 82-4 at 72–73; Doc. 82-17 at 4–6). Dr. Theakston was also the jail physician during those two prior incarcerations.

         On October 3, 2014, Mr. Hammonds was “very sick and felt like [he] might not live.” (Doc. 91-2 at 4). He called his father from jail and said that he did not think that he would survive the night.

         Mr. Hammonds’s mother called 911 and told the operator that Mr. Hammonds was having a medical emergency at the jail. The 911 operator called Mr. Martin, the Chief Jail Administrator, to inform him about the call. The parties paint different pictures of how Mr. Martin responded, but, for purposes of summary judgment only, the court accepts Mr. Hammonds’s version of events.

         According to Mr. Hammonds, Mr. Martin called Mr. Hammonds’s mother back and “said he was going to make some arrests if anyone called 911 again and that he was tired of having his supper interrupted.” (Doc. 91-3 at 2). Mr. Martin admonished Mr. Hammonds’s mother for “misusing the 911 system, ” accused Mr. Hammonds of “just whining and crying and carrying on, ” and kept telling his mother that “someone was going to be arrested” for wrongfully calling 911. (Id. at 2–3; Doc. 82-46 at 10).

         According to Mr. Hammonds, after the phone call, jailers took Mr. Hammonds to an empty medical ward and gave him a phone with Mr. Martin on the other line. (Doc. 91-2 at 5). Mr. Hammonds testified that Mr. Martin threatened him with solitary confinement and “four walls to complain to” if his family called 911 again, after which “things would get worse for [him] and [his] family.” (Doc. 91-2 at 5).

         Two days after the 911 call, on October 5, 2014, the jail staff could not successfully treat Mr. Hammonds’s high blood sugar. So Dr. Theakston ordered Mr. Hammonds to be transported to the DeKalb County Regional Medical Center emergency room.

         Mr. Hammonds was hospitalized from October 5 to October 8, 2014 for diabetic ketoacidosis. The hospital treated Mr. Hammonds with IV insulin until the ketoacidosis was resolved on October 8, 2014, at which point the hospital discharged him back to the jail with instructions for the jail staff to administer 70/30 insulin (a mixture of R insulin and N insulin) twice a day, administer R insulin according to a sliding scale protocol, and call the hospital if Mr. Hammonds’s blood glucose level exceeded 400 mg/dl. (Doc. 82-23 at 3; Doc. 91-1 at 63).

         The jail followed the hospital’s discharge instructions and administered 70/30 insulin twice a day from October 8, 2014 until Mr. Hammonds’s release from jail on October 16, 2014. (Doc. 82-15 at 2). But the jail did not perfectly follow the hospital’s regular insulin sliding scale during those eight days. Mr. Hammonds twice had a blood glucose level exceeding 400 mg/dl. According to the hospital’s sliding scale, someone at the jail should have called the hospital for such a high level, but nobody ever did. And medical records show that, sometimes during Mr. Hammonds’s last eight days at the jail, the jail staff gave Mr. Hammonds a dose of R insulin smaller or larger than the dose required by the hospital’s sliding scale. (See Doc. 82-15 at 2; Doc. 91-1 at 30–32, 63).

         Mr. Hammonds alleges that the diabetic ketoacidosis that he suffered at the jail caused the diabetic peripheral neuropathy from which he now suffers. Disputed evidence on the record shows that ...


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