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Johnson v. Lance

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

December 5, 2019




         This matter comes before the court on the pro se prisoner complaint of Jerry Douglas Johnson, 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 failed to provide him with adequate medical care after he was attacked and beaten by another inmate. The defendants have moved for summary judgment; the plaintiff has not responded to the motion, and the deadline to do so has expired. The matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the motion by the defendants for summary judgment will be granted, and judgment will be entered in favor of the defendants.

         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 deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, 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.

         Undisputed Material Facts[1]

         In August 2018, Johnson was a pretrial detainee at the Tate County Jail.[2] At 3:30 p.m. on August 14, he was assaulted by another inmate, James Turner, who caused trauma to Johnson's face and mouth.[3] His injuries included teeth that were knocked out and fractures to his facial bones.[4] The same day, he was taken to the emergency room at Tri-Lakes Hospital in Batesville, Mississippi.[5] A CT scan was performed on him and diagnosed Plaintiff with a “nondisplaced fracture traversing the anterior maxilla and anterior nasal spine.”[6] Panola Medical Center's follow-up instructions stated to “follow up with dentist ASAP.”[7] Medical staff at the Tate County Jail followed up with a dentist in 2 days, and Plaintiff saw Dr. Graves, a dentist, within that time.[8] He was provided medications in the jail, which he claimed did not help him.[9] On August 17, 2018, he claimed that he lost sight in one eye and lost 2 teeth.[10] He claimed that jail staff served him a food tray with regular food, which he had difficulty eating.[11]

         Dr. Graves, after examining Mr. Johnson, stated that he needed to see a maxillofacial surgeon.[12] Over the next week, Nurse Baker spoke with surgeons that the jail often used; however, they informed her that they no longer saw inmates.[13] Additionally, during that time frame, Nurse Baker spoke with Dr. Whittaker in Oxford, Mississippi, who stated he could not see Johnson because he would have to be seen at a hospital.[14] Eventually, Dr. Graves recommended Dr. Roberts, and Nurse Baker set an appointment at the first available time, August 29, 2018.[15] Nurse Baker informed Johnson on August 20, 2018, that he was scheduled to see the surgeon on August 29, 2018.[16] On a follow-up call, Dr. Roberts informed Nurse Baker that he declined to treat Plaintiff's injuries because his injuries were due to trauma.[17] Nurse Baker then provided Dr. Ruhl, a local physician and the jail doctor, with Johnson's x-rays and CT results.[18] Dr. Ruhl sent Johnson's x-rays to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist.[19] After examining Mr. Johnson's x-rays, the ENT informed Dr. Ruhl and Nurse Baker that Johnson had a closed, or non-displaced, fracture which did not require surgery.[20]

         He was taken to Baptist Desoto Hospital on September 7, 2018, for a follow-up CT scan on his chest.[21] He asked to see the results of that testing in a medical request filed on September 24, 2018, but he has not seen them.[22] On September 27, 2018, Dr. Graves fitted Plaintiff with partial dentures.[23]

         By October 12, 2018, Mr. Johnson had seen numerous medical providers (doctors, nurses, and a dentist) multiple times, and Dr. Ruhl told him that his injuries were healing properly.[24]

         Below is a timeline of Mr. Johnson's medical treatment, medical requests, and grievances:[25]

5/9/16 Inmate Medical Request: Vision/eye appointment for 5/13/16 in Coldwater at 11:00
4/17/18 Seen at Baptist Desoto with chief complaint of abscess (bumps on both sides of head); stated his niece was diagnosed with hand, foot, and mouth disease; has had fever for 2 days
Diagnosis: folliculitis on neck, chin, and scalp; was given antibiotics
6/2/18 Seen at Baptist Desoto with chief complaint of right sided chest pain; is a smoker; observed chills, fever, cough, chest pain (area of chest circled on anatomical drawing of chest area is the mid right rib cage area);
X-ray of chest was taken; Findings: no infiltrate, effusion, or pneumothorax, no abnormality
Ultrasound of gallbladder was taken; Impression is normal with exception of bowel gas
CT of chest was taken; Impression: an 11 mm noncalcified soft tissue nodule in lateral portion of right lower lobe labeled as pneumonia; recommends followup CT in 3 months
6/25/18 Medical Request: pain in my right lung need to see a doc.
“The doctor will be here tomorrow” - Nurse Baker, 6/25/18 at 3:10 p.m.
7/16/18 Medical Request: having problems with both lungs, the pain is almost unbearable it was just the right one now both of them having trouble breathing “This request has been answered” - Nurse Baker, 7/17/18 at 4:12 p.m.
7/20/18 Medical Request: I have a tooth that the filling has came out and broke off need to have it removed “I will make you a dentist appointment” - Nurse Baker, 7/24/18 at 1:47 p.m.
7/23/18 Medical Request: the steroid pack the doctor gave me has not helped my symptoms in my lungs still hurting its not a muscle its in are around my lungs can't coff sneeze are blow my nose with out pain it seems to be getting worse.from the front of my chest to the center of my back “This request has been answered” - Nurse Baker, 7/24/18 at 2:17 p.m.
7/26/18 Radiology Report to Tate County Jail: Results of X-ray to chest: Findings: no pneumonia, normal cardiac rhythm, no pleural effusion, no pneumothorax, overriding fracture of left lateral fifth rib seen with potential fracture of left sixth rib
8/9/18 Medical Request: its going to be the end of September before I see my primary care doctor I got a letter in mail from a lung specialist for me to come in.ASAP so if you will go ahead and schedule me to see the doctor for the lump in my chest “I will take care of it” - Nurse Baker, 8/9/18 at 12:15 p.m.
8/9/18 Inmate Medical Request and Nursing Assessment: complaint of chest pain on right side from knot; not on meds; reports pain across chest and shooting across breast bone; right side huts when palpated; has knot under right breast that is movable and hot to touch; knot is size of egg
8/10/18 Medical Request: just going to see if you would send me a heating chest is hurting
“I will see if I can get you one” - Nurse Baker, 8/13/18 at 11:16 a.m.
8/14/18 Medical Progress Notes of Nurse Baker[26]
Time: 1600: Nurse Baker was called to the nurse's station by Officer Armstrong to check on Johnson because he was assaulted by another inmate; she assessed his two front teeth missing and he had a split lip; she informed Lt. Alexander that Johnson needed to be transported to hospital; Johnson was taken to Panola Medical Center where he was seen at ER; ER doctors recommended that Johnson follow up with a dentist asap and was given meds; nurse had inmate transported to Dr. Graves on 8/15/18; Dr. Graves referred a doctor in Southaven, MS; Nurse Baker called the doctor and was informed that he no longer did surgery; Nurse Baker called Dr. Ruhl and instructed Nurse Baker to call Dr. Laurenzo in Oxford; Dr. Laurenzo's office referred to Dr. Whitaker in Oxford.
8/14/18 Seen at Panola Medical Center ER with chief complaint of dental pain and laceration on face
Diagnosis: fracture of nasal bones, initial encounter for closed fracture; laceration without foreign body of lip, initial encounter
Was prescribed medicine for pain and antibiotic with notation “follow up with dentist - asap”
CT's were done with findings: nondisplaced fracture of anterior maxilla (upper back jaw at hinge site) and anterior nasal spine (nose); cut on face; eyes are normal; mild sinus mucus
8/15/18 Tate County Jail Dental Report by Dr. Ruhl: has lost teeth 7 & 8 completely; began warm salty water rinses asap; give Sensodyne toothpaste; after healing, recommend partial bridge
8/15/18 Medical Request: Chief v. Byrd sir I have been laying in the zone all night can't breath and chest pain knocked out teeth and fractured bones in my face told staff but still setting here in pain unbearable!
“Request was closed without a response” - Lt. B. Sharp, 8/15/18 at 12:12 p.m.
8/15/18 Medical Request: They never brought me any soup the meds are hurting my stomach and could I get a ice pack please thank you sooo much
“I can bring you some ice but I can't bring you any soup because you took a lunch tray, that is policy” - Nurse Baker, 8/16/18 at 12:40 p.m.
8/15/18 Medical Request: My face and mouth pain is unbearable nurse Baker the meds are not helping I can't breathe threw my nose so taking a breath threw my mouth hurts so bac I feel like I'm going to pass out!
“I am sorry you're in pain. You have an appointment with a maxillofacial surgeon set up.” - Nurse Baker, 8/16/18 at 12:45 p.m.
8/16/18 Medical Request: Sheriff b.Lance sir I'm in pain can't even get my meds for lack of statt. Sargent. Alexander witnessed the dentist x-ray I have fractured bones in my face that need surgery ASAP. lost the sight in my right eye 2 teeth gone nasal cavity crushed I need medical attention.
Please respond! I'm filing grievance today. - 8/17/18 at 8:22 p.m.
“Request was closed without a response.” - Sheriff B. Lance, 9/24/18 at 9:55 a.m.
8/21/18 Medical Progress Notes of Nurse Baker (#13 in investigative)
Time: 0912 Spoke with Brianna at Dr. Whitaker's office and was instructed that Dr.
Whitaker can't see him because he would need to be seen in a hospital Time: 0914: spoke with Susan at Dr. Graves office and was told to try Dr. Roberts in Southaven, a maxillofacial surgeon)
Time: 0931: Spoke with Sandy at Dr. Roberts office and was instructed that Dr. Roberts ...

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