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Williams v. McGee

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Hattiesburg Division

February 13, 2018




         Before the Court is the Second Motion for Summary Judgment [42] filed by Defendants in this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, Daniel Louis Williams, has not responded to the motion. For the reasons explained in this opinion, the Court finds that the motion for summary judgment should be granted.

         I. CLAIMS

         Williams is currently a post-conviction inmate housed at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution (“SMCI”). He alleges that his constitutional rights were violated while he was a pre-trial detainee at the Forrest County Detention Center (“FCDC”) during 2014 and 2015. Defendants are Sheriff Billy McGee and officers at FCDC, as follows: Captain Donell Brannon, Sergeant Jason Milsap, Sergeant Andrea Estrada, Phillip Jackson, Brandon Freeman, Charles Sanders, Shane Giacone, Richard Laubesher, Adrian Jones, and Greg Anderson. Defendant Derek Bourne remains unserved.

         In a previous opinion [40], the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants as to all of Williams's claims, with the exception of his claim for denial of dental care. The Court denied summary judgment without prejudice as to that claim on the basis that the Defendants failed to provide sufficient evidentiary support for the motion. Subsequently, Defendants filed the present motion on Williams's claims of denial of dental care, supported by additional medical records.

         As explained in the Court's prior opinion, Williams alleges that Defendants denied him adequate dental care when he broke or chipped two wisdom teeth in March 2014 and June 2014, and for the following months until he saw a dentist in May 2015. [34] at 12-16. He alleges that one tooth broke in half in March 2014, and that he suffered a chip to the other one in June 2014. Id. at 12-13. He admits that the nurses gave him ibuprofen for his pain, but he argues that he was informed by FCDC officers and medical personnel that his family would have to pay for any non-emergency dental work. Id.; [38-2] at 5, 9, 14, 15, 21. At the omnibus hearing, Williams admitted that he was sent to a dentist in May 2015, at which time the dentist pulled one of his teeth. [34] at 15-16. Williams alleges that the dentist arranged a follow-up appointment to extract the second tooth, but that Defendants refused to transport him to the second appointment. Id. As of July 27, 2015, Williams was no longer in the custody of FCDC. See [46] at 174-175.


         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states, in relevant part, that A[t]he 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.@ Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue of fact is genuine if the "'evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Lemoine v. New Horizons Ranch and Center, 174 F.3d 629, 633 (5th Cir. 1999)(quoting Colston v. Barnhart, 146 F.3d 282, 284 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 119 S.Ct. 618 (1998)). Issues of fact are material if Aresolution of the issues might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Lemoine, 174 F.3d at 633. The Court does not, "however, in the absence of any proof, assume the nonmoving [or opposing] party could or would prove the necessary facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994)(en banc)(emphasis omitted). Moreover, the non-moving party's burden to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, " Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986), is not satisfied by "conclusory allegations" or by "unsubstantiated assertions, " or by only a "scintilla" of evidence. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.


         Williams alleges that Defendants denied him dental care related to his wisdom teeth in 2014 and 2015. [1]; [7]; [10]; [34] at 12-16. At the omnibus hearing, Plaintiff testified that each of the Defendants, with the exception of Defendant Sheriff Billy McGee, relayed to him that FCDC's policy required his family to pay for dental treatment. [34] at 26-32. As to Defendant McGee, Williams testified that McGee did not do anything to him personally or fail to do anything that violated his constitutional rights. Id. at 26-28. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the denial of dental treatment claims in both their official and individual capacities.

         “Deprivation of dental treatment may constitute deliberate indifference.” Green v. Hendrick Medical Center, 2001 WL 300844, *4 (5th Cir. Mar. 7, 2001)(unpublished)(citing Harris v. Hegmann, 198 F.3d 153, 159-160 (5th Cir. 1999)). Furthermore, “delay in medical care can only constitute an Eighth Amendment violation if there has been deliberate indifference, which results in substantial harm.” Mendoza v. Lynaugh, 989 F.2d 191, 195 (5th Cir. 1993). “Neither an incorrect diagnosis nor the failure to alleviate a significant risk that an official should have perceived but did not is sufficient to establish deliberate indifference.” Jackson v. Dunn, 610 F. App'x 397 (5th Cir. 2015)(affirming grant of summary judgment on Mississippi prisoner's claim for deliberate indifference to dental needs). Likewise, “unsuccessful treatment, medical malpractice, and acts of negligence do not constitute deliberate indifference; nor does a prisoner's disagreement with his medical treatment, absent exceptional circumstances.” Id. Moreover, the issue of whether “additional diagnostic techniques or forms of treatment is indicated is a classic example of a matter for medical judgment.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 107 (1976).

         To state claims against the Defendants in their individual capacities, "the plaintiff must allege facts reflecting the defendants' participation in the alleged wrong, specifying the personal involvement of each defendant." Jolly v. Klein, 923 F.Supp. 931, 943 (S.D. Tex. 1996). Supervisory officials, moreover, "cannot be held liable for the actions of subordinates under any theory of vicarious liability." Id. "Supervisory officials may be held liable only if: (i) they affirmatively participate in acts that cause constitutional deprivation; or (ii) implement unconstitutional policies that causally result in plaintiff's injury." Mouille v. City of Live Oak, 977 F.2d 924, 929 (5th Cir. 1992). In other words, in a § 1983 case, liability for an employee's actions may not be imputed to employers under a theory of respondeat superior.

         Turning to Williams's claims against Defendant Sheriff McGee, Plaintiff testified at the omnibus hearing that he had sued McGee because he was the sheriff, not because McGee had done anything personally or failed to do anything personally to him that violated his constitutional rights. [34] at 27. There is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). Williams has failed to come forward with any evidence, or even allege, that Defendant McGee was aware of his dental condition. Accordingly, McGee is entitled to summary judgment on Williams's claims against him in his personal capacity.

         Plaintiff's claims of denial of dental care against the remaining defendants in their personal capacities also fail. At the omnibus hearing, Plaintiff clarified that he had sued the remaining defendants, all officers at FCDC, not because they ever refused to take him to sick call, but because they relayed to him that FCDC's policy requires inmates to pay for non-emergent dental care. [34] at 27-32. Although Williams testified at the hearing that he believed that Defendants Brannon and Milsap played a role in determining whether he could obtain off-site dental care, he has failed to come forward with any evidence, other than his unsupported suppositions, that these or any other defendant officer could make decisions regarding his dental care. ...

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