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Lee v. Morris

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

January 15, 2014

DENNIS O'NEAL LEE (#101953), Plaintiff,


MICHAEL P. MILLS, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendant, Timothy Morris, was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical condition. Specifically, he alleges that Defendant, as Warden of the Mississippi State Penitentiary, refused to allow Plaintiff to wear a medically prescribed head covering, and that Plaintiff suffered serious sunburns to his scalp as a result. Defendant has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, and Plaintiff has responded. Having reviewed the submissions and arguments of the parties, as well as the applicable law, the Court finds that Defendant's motion should be granted, for the reasons that follow.

Procedural History

Plaintiff is an inmate in the Mississippi Department of Corrections and is currently housed at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution. He filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the following defendants: Wexford Health Source, Inc.; Christopher Epps; E.L. Sparkman; Billy Smith; Earnest Lee; Vicky Knowels; Timothy Morris; Gloria Perry; Norma Evans; Dr. Lorenzo Cabe; Dr. Dennis Gregory; Dr. Kim; Dr. Juan Santos; Robert Tucker; John Doe; and James Doe. He alleged that some defendants failed to ensure that the proper sanitary regulations were followed when the State gave haircuts to prisoners, which resulted in him contracting a scalp infection that the other defendants failed to properly treat.

Plaintiff clarified his allegations at a Spears [1] hearing held on January 24, 2013. After the hearing, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claim that the defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs by failing to adequately treat his scalp infection, and it dismissed his claim relating to the defendants' alleged failure to follow State sanitary regulations.[2] The Court retained Plaintiff's claim alleging that Timothy Morris, hereinafter "Defendant", acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs by confiscating Plaintiff's head scarf. This is the sole remaining claim before the Court.

Plaintiff's Allegations

Plaintiff alleges that he received a scalp infection sometime after his arrest in 2009 as the result of unsanitary prison barbering practices and began receiving treatment for his scalp condition at the Carroll Montgomery Regional Correctional Facility ("CMCRCF") in March 2010. Plaintiff maintains that when treatment there proved to be largely unsuccessful, he was transported to the Mississippi State Penitentiary ("MSP") for more intense treatment and for the possibility of an outside referral. Plaintiff contends that he was transported between CMCRCF and MSP for treatment several times between November 2010 and August 2012.

One of Plaintiff's prescribed treatments was a therapeutic coal tar extract shampoo, which makes him more susceptible to sunlight. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Okunoren at CMCRCF, gave him a medical profile[3] that allowed him to wear a head scarf to prevent his head from being sunburned, as well as to prevent the spread of his contagious infection.[4]

Plaintiff contends that he was given medical scarf profiles in November 9, 2010 and June 9, 2011. Plaintiff maintains that he was transferred to MSP in September 2011, and that he gave his profile papers to a lieutenant at that time. He alleges that the medical profile was never returned to him, and that he was transported back to CMCRCF in September 2011. He maintains that he was transported to MSP again in February 2012, and that, while he did not have the profile in his possession, he encountered no problems wearing his black medical scarf once prison officials saw the condition of his head.

Plaintiff alleges that on July 31, 2012, however, a lieutenant ordered Plaintiff to remove his head scarf and took him to Defendant, who had recently become a warden at MSP. Plaintiff contends that Defendant refused to allow Plaintiff to wear the head scarf and informed his officers to write Plaintiff a Rule Violation Report ("RVR") if they saw Plaintiff with anything on his head. Plaintiff alleges that he wrote Defendant and explained the necessity of the head scarf, but that Defendant failed to respond. As a result, Plaintiff maintains, he received several RVRs for wearing a head covering. He contends that when he finally decided not to wear the head covering for fear of getting more RVRs, he received sunburn. Specifically, Plaintiff maintains that he received excessive sun exposure during trips to the dining hall, where inmates are forced to stand outside for up to thirty minutes at times. One of these sunburns was so severe, he argues, that he was rendered unconscious and had to be transported to the hospital by ambulance.

Plaintiff contends that not only was he forced to suffer needlessly as a result of the confiscation of his head scarf, but that Defendant also subjected other inmates to an unnecessary risk of contracting his infection. He contends that Defendant finally dismissed Plaintiff's RVRs and allowed him to resume wearing a head covering after Plaintiff lost consciousness on August 28, 2012, which Plaintiff maintains is evidence of Defendant's awareness of his wrongdoing. Plaintiff asserts that he is entitled to an award of damages and an order compelling Defendant to properly treat his scalp condition.

Defendant's Allegations

Defendant alleges that he is entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution for the claim against him in his official capacity. He also argues that, as he did not violate any of Plaintiff's clearly established federal rights, he is entitled to qualified immunity as to the claim against him in his individual capacity. Defendant admits that he refused to allow Plaintiff to wear a head scarf. He contends, however, that he was not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical needs and argues that he never saw a prescription allowing Plaintiff to wear a "homemade scarf." ( See Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B). Defendant alleges that Plaintiff received treatment for his medical condition, and that his medical records do not contain a profile allowing Plaintiff to wear a scarf on his head. ( See id., Ex. A). He notes that he could not have allowed Plaintiff to wear a homemade scarf without a prescription from medical professionals, as doing so would allow Plaintiff to violate prison rules. ( See id., Ex. B). He maintains, therefore, that his actions were objectively reasonable.

Defendant also argues that Plaintiff is not allowed to recover damages for any mental or emotional injury, as he cannot demonstrate that he suffered any physical injury as a result of Defendant's actions. He maintains that any injury suffered by ...

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