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Christian v. Russell

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

November 20, 2019

AUBREY LEE CHRISTIAN PLAINTIFF
v.
VICKEY RUSSEL SHERIFF CHRIS DICKERSON JUDGE JOHN BISHOP JOHN DOE JAILER DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NEAL B. BIGGERS SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on the pro se prisoner complaint of Aubrey Lee Christian, who challenges the conditions of his confinement under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the purposes of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the court notes that the plaintiff was incarcerated when he filed this suit. The plaintiff has brought the instant case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a federal cause of action against “[e]very person” who under color of state authority causes the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants denied him adequate medical care for his central sleep apnea condition and that the general conditions of his confinement were unconstitutionally harsh.

         The defendants have moved for summary judgment; the plaintiff has not responded to the motion, and the deadline to do so has expired. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted, and judgment will be entered in favor of the defendants.

         Factual Allegations[1]

         Aubrey Lee Christian was arrested on June 6, 2018, and placed in the Itawamba County Jail in Fulton, Mississippi.[2] He a pretrial detainee because he could not post bail.[3] Mr. Christian suffers from a variety of medical conditions such as Hepatitis C, Lupus, and Central Sleep Apnea (the condition most relevant to this suit)[4] On June 8, 2018, Mr. Christian's mother arrived at the jail with his breathing machine to aid in managing his sleep apnea condition.[5] The breathing machine was filthy when Mr. Christian's mother left it at the jail. The defendants could not initially supply power to the breathing machine because there was no electrical outlet in Mr. Christian's cell.[6] On June 21, he was taken to the hospital for dizziness, shortness of breath, and chest pains[7] -- and was treated with aspirin and released.[8]

         After returning to the jail, Christian was placed in medical observation.[9] On June 28, 2018, jail staff provided him with his breathing machine.[10] On that same day, Mr. Christian requested to be removed from segregation; however, the defendants told him that segregation was the only place in the jail that he could use his breathing machine because the other cells had no electrical receptacles.[11]On July 5, Mr. Christian's breathing machine filter became unusable, which prevented him from using the machine.[12] He did not ask anyone, including his visitors, to bring him a replacement filter; as such, from July 5 to the date of the complaint, he was unable to use his breathing machine.[13]

         Mr. Christian also claims he was kept in segregation without a disciplinary hearing.[14] He alleges that while he was housed in segregation, his cell was infested with cockroaches, rats, and other vermin, as well as black mold. He also claims that sewage leaked into his cell.[15] Finally, Mr. Christian alleges that the defendants mismanaged his mail and refused to turn on the telephone so he could speak with his family.[16] He has not alleged any physical harm from his inability to use his breathing machine at the Itawamba County Jail - or as the result of any actions or omissions of the defendants in this case.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the “materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” show 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) and (c)(1). “The moving party must show that if the evidentiary material of record were reduced to admissible evidence in court, it would be insufficient to permit the nonmoving party to carry its burden.” Beck v. Texas State Bd. of Dental Examiners, 204 F.3d 629, 633 (5th Cir. 2000) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1066 (1988)). After a proper motion for summary judgment is made, the burden shifts to the non-movant to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Beck, 204 F.3d at 633; Allen v. Rapides Parish School Bd., 204 F.3d 619, 621 (5th Cir. 2000); Ragas v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998). Substantive law determines what is material. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id., at 248. If the non-movant sets forth specific facts in support of allegations essential to his claim, a genuine issue is presented. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 327. “Where the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Federal Savings and Loan, Inc. v. Krajl, 968 F.2d 500, 503 (5thCir. 1992).

         The facts are reviewed drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Allen, 204 F.3d at 621; PYCA Industries, Inc. v. Harrison County Waste Water Management Dist., 177 F.3d 351, 161 (5th Cir. 1999); Banc One Capital Partners Corp. v. Kneipper, 67 F.3d 1187, 1198 (5th Cir. 1995). However, this is so only when there is “an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994); see Edwards v. Your Credit, Inc., 148 F.3d 427, 432 (5th Cir. 1998). In the absence of proof, the court does not “assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts.” Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (emphasis omitted).

         The very purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings and assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Advisory Committee Note to the 1963 Amendments to Rule 56. Indeed, “[t]he amendment is not intended to derogate from the solemnity of the pleadings[;] [r]ather, it recognizes that despite the best efforts of counsel to make his pleadings accurate, they may be overwhelmingly contradicted by the proof available to his adversary.” Id. The non-moving party (the plaintiff in this case), must come forward with proof to support each element of his claim. The plaintiff cannot meet this burden with “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986), “conclusory allegations, ” Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 871-73, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 3180 (1990), “unsubstantiated assertions, ” Hopper v. Frank, 16 F.3d 92 (5th Cir. 1994), or by a mere “scintilla” of evidence, Davis v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 14 F.3d 1082 (5th Cir. 1994). It would undermine the purposes of summary judgment if a party could defeat such a motion simply by “replac[ing] conclusory allegations of the complaint or answer with conclusory allegations of an affidavit.” Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 3188 (1990).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must determine whether the non-moving party's allegations are plausible. Matsushita, supra. (emphasis added). “[D]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is context-specific, requiring the reviewing court to draw on its experience and common sense.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (discussing plausibility of claim as a requirement to survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)). In considering a motion for summary judgment, once the court “has determined the relevant set of facts and drawn all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party to the extent supportable by the record, [the ultimate decision becomes] purely a question of law.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381 (2007) (emphasis in original). “When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on the motion for summary judgment.” Id. at 380.

         Denial of Medical Treatment

         In order to prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim for denial of medical care, a plaintiff must allege facts which demonstrate “deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of prisoners [which] constitutes ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain' proscribed by the Eighth Amendment . . . whether the indifference is manifested by prison doctors or prison guards in intentionally denying or delaying access to medical care . . . .” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-105, 50 L.Ed.2d 251, 260 (1976); Mayweather v. Foti, 958 F.2d 91, 91 (5th Cir. 1992). The test for establishing deliberate indifference is one of “subjective recklessness as used in the criminal law.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). Under this standard, a state actor may not be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unless plaintiff alleges facts which, if true, 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.” Id. at 838. Only in exceptional circumstances may a court infer knowledge of substantial risk of serious harm by its obviousness. Id. Negligent conduct by prison officials does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 106 S.Ct. 662 (1986), Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 106 S.Ct. 668 (1986). This same subjective deliberate indifference standard applies to pretrial detainees under the Fourteenth Amendment as well as convicted inmates under the Eighth Amendment. See Hare v. City of Corinth, 74 F.3d 633, 648 (5thCir. 1996).

         A prisoner's mere disagreement with medical treatment provided by prison officials does not state a claim against the prison for violation of the Eighth Amendment by deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. Gibbs v. Grimmette, 254 F.3d 545 (5th Cir.2001), Norton v. Dimazana, 122 F.3d 286, 292 (5th Cir. 1997). “Deliberate indifference is not established when medical records indicate that [the plaintiff] was afforded extensive medical care by prison officials.” Brauner v. Coody, 793 F.3d 493, 500 (5th Cir. 2015). Nor is it established by a physician not accommodating a prisoner's requests in a manner he desired or the prisoner's disagreement with the treatment. Id.; Miller v. Wayback House, 253 Fed.Appx. 399, 401 (5th Cir. 2007). To meet his burden in establishing deliberate indifference on the part of medical staff, the plaintiff “must show that [medical staff] refused to treat him, ignored his complaints, intentionally treated him incorrectly, or engaged in any similar conduct that would clearly evince a wanton disregard for any serious medical needs.” Brauner, 793 F.3d at 498.

         Mr. Christian has not shown that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. He alleges that he received inadequate medical treatment because the defendants refused to allow him to use his breathing machine and refused to let him change the filters on the machine when they became unusable. The defendants, however, provided him with his breathing machine on June 28, 2018, just three days after his medical request to use it.[17] The defendants also accommodated the plaintiff so that could use his breathing machine at night.[18] There are no electrical outlets in the cells at the jail; thus, Ms. Russell moved Mr. Christian so that they could safely connect his breathing machine to a power source.[19] Mr. Christian also alleges that the defendants refused to let him change the filters on his breathing machine when it became unusable; however, he simply refused to tell someone in his family to obtain replacement filters.[20] He has not alleged that he requested filters from his family or those who visited him at the jail. The defendants also provided Mr. Christian with all his prescribed medicines, took him to doctor's and dentist's appointments when requested, and took him to the hospital when he was dizzy, short of breath, and had chest pains.[21]

         In this case, Mr. Christian “was afforded extensive medical care by prison officials.” Brauner v. Coody, 793 F.3d 493, 500 (5th Cir. 2015). He has not shown “that [medical staff] refused to treat him, ignored his complaints, intentionally treated him incorrectly, or engaged in any similar conduct that would clearly evince a wanton disregard for any serious medical needs.” Brauner, 793 F.3d at 498. Further, he has not alleged any harm from the defendants' actions or omissions regarding the breathing machine.[22] For these reasons, Mr. Christian has not established that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, and the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on this issue.

         General Conditions of Confinement

         “[T]he Eighth Amendment may afford protection against conditions of confinement which constitute health threats but not against those which cause mere discomfort or inconvenience.” Wilsonv. Lynaugh, 878 F.2d 846, 849 (5th Cir.1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 969 (1989)(citation omitted). “Inmates cannot expect the amenities, conveniences, and services of a good hotel.” Id. at 849 n.5 (citation omitted). Prison officials have certain duties under the Eighth Amendment, but these duties are only to provide prisoners with “humane conditions of confinement, ” including “adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care . . . .” Woods v. Edwards, 51 F.3d 577, 581 n.10 (5th Cir. 1995) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994)). When a pretrial detainee challenges the conditions of his confinement, the court must analyze his claims under the ...


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