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Triplett v. Banks

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

May 13, 2019




         Plaintiff Robert Warren Triplett, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 prisoner civil rights complaint alleging unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI), including an allegation of deliberate indifference to his medical needs. Plaintiff complains about inadequate medical care for: (1) a sinus infection and related vertigo; and (2) a facial lesion that he fears might be skin cancer. Plaintiff also alleges unauthorized medical charges stemming from medical treatment at SMCI. Defendants Dr. Ronald Woodall, Dr. Charmaine McCleave, Nurse Kera Hardy, and Nurse Practitioner Gwendolyn Woodland (Medical Defendants) filed a motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's medical claims. Doc. [109]. Plaintiff filed a response on January 14, 2019. Doc. [123]. Plaintiff previously had filed on November 19, 2018, a motion requesting an extension of time to respond to the Medical Defendants motion for summary judgment. Doc. [115]. The Court grants Plaintiff's motion for extension to the extent that the Court deems Plaintiff's response of January 14, 2019, to be timely.

         Law and Analysis

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 provides that “[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); Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). Where the summary judgment evidence establishes that one of the essential elements of the plaintiff's cause of action does not exist as a matter of law, all other contested issues of fact are rendered immaterial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Topalin v. Ehrman, 954 F.2d 1125, 1138 (5th Cir. 1992). In making its determinations of fact on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence submitted by the parties in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. McPherson v. Rankin, 736 F.2d 175, 178 (5th Cir. 1984).

         The moving party has the duty to demonstrate the lack of a genuine issue of a material fact and the appropriateness of judgment as a matter of law to prevail on its motion. Union Planters Nat'l Leasing v. Woods, 687 F.2d 117 (5th Cir. 1982). The movant accomplishes this by informing the court of the basis of its motion, and by identifying portions of the record which highlight the absence of genuine factual issues. Topalian, 954 F.2d at 1131. “Rule 56 contemplates a shifting burden: the nonmovant is under no obligation to respond unless the movant discharges [its] initial burden of demonstrating [entitlement to summary judgment].” John v. State of Louisiana, 757 F.3d 698, 708 (5th Cir. 1985). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is presented, the nonmoving party must rebut with “significant probative” evidence. Ferguson v. Nat'l Broad. Co., Inc., 584 F.2d 111, 114 (5th Cir. 1978).

         Inadequate Medical Care

         Plaintiff alleges that he did not receive constitutionally adequate medical care for his sinus infection and facial lesion. To state a constitutional claim for denial of adequate medical care, a plaintiff must demonstrate that defendants were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's serious medical needs, such that it constituted an unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A prison official is not liable for the denial of medical treatment unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety. Harris v. Hegmann, 198 F.3d 153, 159 (5th Cir. 1999). The Constitution guarantee prisoners “only adequate, not optimal medical care.” Spriggins v. LaRavia, 2012 WL 1135845, at *4 (E.D. La. Apr. 4, 2012) (emphasis in original), citing Gobert v. Caldwell, 463 F.3d 339, 349 (5th Cir. 2006). An allegation of malpractice or mere negligence is insufficient to state a claim. Hall v. Thomas, 190 F.3d 693, 697 (5th Cir. 1999). Moreover, the fact that a prisoner disagrees with the type of medical treatment does not constitute a constitutional deprivation. Norton v. Dimazana, 122 F.3d 286, 292 (5th Cir. 1997). A delay in medical care may, under certain circumstances, state a claim for constitutionally inadequate medical care. See Mendoza v. Lynaugh, 989 F.2d 191, 195 (5th Cir. 1993). A “delay in medical care can only constitute an Eighth Amendment violation if there has been deliberate indifference, which results in substantial harm.” Id. at 195. However, “the decision whether to provide additional treatment ‘is a classic example of a matter for medical judgment.'” Domino v. Texas Dep't of Crim. Justice, 239 F.3d 752, 756 (5th Cir. 2001). Disagreements about whether an inmate should be referred to a specialist as part of ongoing treatment do not constitute deliberate indifference. See Alfred v. Texas Dep't of Criminal Justice, No. 03-40313, 2003 WL 22682118, at *1 (5th Cir. Nov.13, 2003); Hickman v. Moya, No. 98-50841, 1999 WL 346987, at *1 (5th Cir. May 21, 1999).

         Sinus Condition

         With respect to treatment of Plaintiff's sinus condition and vertigo, Plaintiff alleges that for approximately one month, between December 10, 2015 and January 16, 2016, he received little or no treatment. Doc. [1] at 70. Plaintiff's primary complaint is that he feels he should have been prescribed an antibiotic. Plaintiff testified at the screening hearing that the medical defendants refused to give him antibiotics on several occasions. Doc. [86] at 33. He later asserted that “any reasonable doctor or nurse practitioner should prescribe” antibiotics for a sinus condition. Id. at 37. In his response to summary judgment, Plaintiff asserts that it should be obvious to any layman that sinus infections should be treated with antibiotics. Doc. [123] at 2. Plaintiff admitted that on at least one occasion Nurse Woodall prescribed antibiotics, and he stated that Dr. Woodall “normally will prescribe them.” Doc. [86] at 19. As demonstrated by the medical records and Plaintiff's assertions, he merely disagrees with the type and course of treatment he received, which does not rise to level of a constitutional violation.

         The medical records repeatedly demonstrate that in fact Plaintiff did receive ongoing medical treatment for his sinus condition. See Doc. [112]. Such treatment included examinations by medical providers and provision of medications such as Tylenol, Claritin, cold packs, and eventually an antibiotic. Plaintiff submitted his first sick call request related to the allegations in this complaint in mid-December 2015. He was seen by medical staff on December 13, 2015. Doc. [112] at 1-2. At that time, Plaintiff had a prescription for Tylenol, which was not set to expire until December 30, 2015. Id. at 2. Defendant Nurse Woodland examined Plaintiff on December 17, 2015. Id. at 4-5. He was referred to Defendant Dr. McCleave and examined by her that same day. Id. at 5-6. Dr. McCleave prescribed Claritin to Plaintiff and gave him a shot of Toradol for his complaints of neck pain. Doc. [123-1] at 9-10. Plaintiff was examined on December 28, 2015, by Defendant Nurse Hardy, who referred Plaintiff to a medical provider. Doc. [112] at 6. Nurse Hardy performed another examination on January 7, 2016 and referred Plaintiff to a medical provider. Id. at 9. According to Plaintiff, Nurse Hardy offered him decongestants during each of these visits, which Plaintiff refused because he wanted to be examined by a doctor instead. Doc. [86] at 37; Doc. [123] at 2-3. On January 16, 2016, Dr. Woodall examined Plaintiff for complaints of sinus congestion. Doc. [112] at 11-13. Dr. Woodall prescribed an anti-inflammatory, an antibiotic and a cold pack for Plaintiff's symptoms. Id.

         During the screening hearing, Plaintiff admitted to seeing medical providers on several occasions. See Doc. [86] 16-21. He even stated that Defendants McCleave and Woodland “are pretty good about doing an examination”. Id. at 33. He also admitted to receiving antibiotics on one occasion, receiving cold packs from Dr. Woodland, receiving two prescriptions for Antivert to treat vertigo, and being offered by Nurse Hardy cold packs, antihistamines, and a decongestant. Id. at 17, 19, 34-35, 37. In his response to summary judgment, Plaintiff recites with considerable detail the numerous visits, interactions, and treatments he received from medical personnel. See Doc. [123] at 1-5. Although he expresses disagreement with the course of treatment and treatment options, his pleading offers additional support for the conclusion that Defendants were not deliberately indifferent to his medical condition from December 2015 to January 2016. Based on the foregoing, there is no genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's sinus condition during the relevant time frame.

         Plaintiff also points to slight delays in being examined by a medical provider at SMCI or in receiving prescribed medications. None of these delays rise to the level of deliberate indifference. See Mendoza v. Lynaugh, 989 F.2d 191, 193 (5th Cir. 1993); Hunt v. Uphoff, 199 F.3d 1220, 1224 (10th Cir. 1999). As reported in the medical records, Plaintiff was seen by medical providers on at least six occasions between December 12, 2015, and January 16, 2016, and he received various medications as treatment.

         Facial ...

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