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Ellis v. Outlaw

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

September 24, 2014

LESTER LEE ELLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN OUTLAW and MTC-MEDICAL DEPT., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL P. MILLS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Lester Lee Ellis, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs. Defendant Tim Outlaw has moved for summary judgment, and Defendant MTC-Medical Dept. has filed a motion to dismiss. Having reviewed the submissions and arguments of the parties, as well as the applicable law, the Court finds that Defendants' motions should be granted, for the reasons that follow.

Background

Lester Ellis is an inmate in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections ("MDOC") who is currently housed at the Marshall County Correctional Facility ("MCCF") in Holly Springs, Mississippi. He filed the instant §1983 action against MCCF's senior warden, Tim Outlaw, and against the Medical Department of the Management &Training Corporation ("MTC - Medical Dept."), the entity operating MCCF, alleging that they allowed him to go without food for three days in February 2013 after Ellis injured his back and was unable to walk to the dining hall.

Ellis contends that he injured his back on February 1, 2013, after he picked up a box in the facility's kitchen. On that date, he was transported by stretcher to MCCF's medical clinic, where he was given some pain medication and a three-day "lay-in, " or medical excuse, from work. Ellis maintains that he was at the infirmary for approximately thirty minutes before he was taken by wheelchair back to his housing unit and put into bed. The next morning, he contends, he was unable to get out of bed due to back pain. Ellis alleges that he could not get out of bed to go to the dining hall or to the bathroom, and that he was told by staff members that he could not be brought any meals because he did not have a lay-in specifically stating that he needed a food tray. Ellis contends that he was further informed that MCCF does not provide lay-in food trays to inmates. Ellis states that because he was unable to get out of bed, he went without food from February 2, 2013, until February 5, 2013, when he was finally able to walk to the dining hall.

Ellis concedes that he suffered no lasting injury as a result of Defendants' alleged misconduct, but he maintains that Defendants' failure to issue him a "lay-in with tray" or admit him to the infirmary reflects a deliberate indifference to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Defendant Tim Outlaw's Motion for Summary Judgment

Defendant Tim Outlaw claims that he is entitled to summary judgment as to Ellis' claims against him. Summary judgment is required "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute regarding a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining the appropriateness of summary judgment, all facts are considered in favor of the nonmoving party, including all reasonable inferences therefrom. Banc One Capital Partners Corp. v. Kneipper, 67 F.3d 1187, 1198 (5th Cir.1995). However, in the absence of proof, the court does not "assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994)(emphasis omitted).

Summary judgment is proper, then, "where a party fails to establish the existence of an element essential to his case and on which he bears the burden of proof. A complete failure of proof on an essential element renders all other facts immaterial because there is no longer a genuine issue of material fact." Washington v. Armstrong World Indus., 839 F.2d 1121, 1122 (5th Cir.1988) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal citations omitted)). The nonmovant cannot rely upon "conclusory allegations, speculation, and unsubstantiated assertions" to satisfy his burden, but rather, must set forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue as to every essential element of his claim. Ramsey v. Henderson, 286 F.3d 264, 269 (5th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted); Morris v. Covan World Wide Moving, Inc., 144 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 1998). Summary judgment should be granted if "critical evidence is so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant." Armstrong v. City of Dallas, 997 F.2d 62 (5th Cir.1993).

It is well established that "[p]rison officials violate the constitutional proscription against cruel and unusual punishment when they are deliberately indifferent to a prisoner's serious medical needs, as doing so constitutes unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297 (1991). The test for deliberate indifference is "one of subjective recklessness as used in the criminal law." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1993). A prison official is not liable under this standard in a § 1983 case unless the plaintiff alleges facts which, if proven, would establish that the official "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; 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." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 838.

To successfully make a showing of deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must demonstrate that prison officials engaged in conduct that "clearly evince[s] a wanton disregard for any serious medical needs." Gobert v. Caldwell, 463 F.3d 339, 346 (5th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted). Negligence will not support the finding of a constitutional violation. Oliver v. Collins, 914 F.2d 56, 60 (5th Cir. 1990). Additionally, a plaintiff's disagreement with medical professionals as to his treatment is insufficient to state a claim of deliberate indifference. Norton v. Dimazana, 122 F.3d 286 (5th Cir. 2001).

Ellis' medical records indicate that he was seen in the prison infirmary on February 1, 2013, complaining of lower back pain and an inability to move. (Mot. Summ J., Ex. A-1). Ellis' lower spine was x-rayed. ( Id. at 8). These records note that Ellis was, at that time, able to raise his upper body without difficulty while lying in bed; he was able to bring both legs up to his chest and roll to his right side without difficulty; and he was able to stand and get on a stretcher with little assistance. ( Id. at 3). At the conclusion of the examination, Ellis was given Ibuprofen and a "lay-in" excuse to miss work from February 2 through February 5, 2013, though he was not admitted to the infirmary. ( Id. at 3, 9). A follow-up examination was also planned. ( See id. at 3).

Ellis returned to the infirmary on February 5, 2013, complaining of severe left lower back pain, muscle tightness, and swelling to that part of his back. ( Id. at 5). He was also noted as having high blood pressure, and he reported that he had run out of his blood pressure medication. ( Id. ). A nurse practitioner treated Ellis and diagnosed him with lower back strain. ( Id. at 6). He was given anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers. ( Id. at 6).

On February 19, 2013, Ellis submitted a written grievance through MDOC's Administrative Remedy Program ("ARP") complaining about the lack of medical treatment and lack of meals between February 1 and February 5, 2013. ( See ECF No. 1, 7). The first-step response from L.M. Darnell states that Ellis' medical records were carefully reviewed, and those medical records show that Ellis' mobility was good on February 1, 2013. ( Id. at 9). Darnell further states that there is no documentation in Ellis' records that he was unable to get out of bed to attend meals between February 1 and February 5, 2013, and she notes that he was provided with pain medication on both February 1 and February 5, 2013. ( Id. ). She also ...


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