United States District Court, W.D. Virginia
March 31, 2014
ERNEST C. HOLLAND, JR., Plaintiff,
DR. D. MILLER, et al., Defendants.
SAMUEL G. WILSON, District Judge.
Ernest C. Holland, Jr., a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se , filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs against eight defendants (correctional officials and medical personnel) associated with Keen Mountain Correctional Center (KMCC) and under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) against two of those defendants Holland complains about the adequacy or total lack of treatment for a host of medical conditions but the gravamen of this complaint distills to his lack of treatment for a painful hernia and the actions of two correctional officers who required him to comply with normal restraint procedures on one occasion despite his problematic medical condition. The defendants that have been served with process have moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on the grounds that Holland's complaint fails to allege a plausible claim for relief against them. The court agrees, except as to defendant Dr. D. Miller, the attending physician at KMCC, whom Holland alleges was at all relevant times "the physician and medical care provider at KMCC, who made nearly all medically related decisions regarding (Holland) while he was housed [there], " and who Holland alleges was deliberately indifferent in failing to order surgery for Holland's painful hernia. Accordingly, the court grants the various motions to dismiss except the motion of that single defendant. The court also dismisses Holland's claims against the two yet unserved defendants under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).
The court summarizes the main trust of Holland's complaint. Holland has several chronic medical conditions, including back problems, knee problems, acid reflux, and a hernia. Holland's back problems resulted from an injury he sustained while housed in a Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) facility in the mid-90s. Since then, he has had multiple evaluations and diagnostic studies and received treatment at various VDOC facilities from multiple physicians for his back, and later for his left knee and a hernia. some VDOC physicians discussed surgery with Holland, including one physician who told Holland surgery would worsen his back condition. Some physicians recommended and/or ordered surgery, including a physician at Powhatan Correctional Center on March 15, 2012.
The day after that recommendation, VDOC transferred Holland to KMCC, according to Holland, in an effort to interfere with his treatment. Holland has named, Gail Jones, an employee of the VDOC in the Central Classification Services Division in Richmond, Virginia as a defendant because he believes she was responsible for his transfer.
Upon his arrival at KMCC on March 16, 2012, Holland spoke with M. Coleman, an intake nurse, about his diagnosed medical problem sand the surgery and treatment that had been ordered. He complains that Nurse Coleman did not assess Holland or schedule any appointments for him at that time, and has named her as a defendant.
The day after arriving at KMCC, March 17, 2012, Holland fell and further injured his back and knee. Holland had asked to shower and, as part of a normal security procedure, the two correctional officers who arrived to escort Holland, Phillips and Horne, required Holland to kneel, be placed in leg irons and behind-the-back handcuffs, and then stand and walk backwards out of the cell. Holland told them that he could not comply with the normal procedure because of his back and knee problems. They, never the less, required Holland to comply, and Holland fell as he attempted to stand. Holland has named both Phillips and Horne as defendants.
Immediately after the fall, Holland filed an emergency grievance. Phillips signed the emergency grievance receipt; called C. Hawks, a Licensed Practical Nurse; and then returned to Holland's cell and asked him if it was a serious issue. Holland replied that it was serious, but Phillips never the less, according to Holland, told Nurse Hawkson the phone, "I don't think it's that serious. I think he's faking. Don't rush over here." Nurse Hawks answered Holland's grievance five hours later, checked Holland's vital signs, informed him his grievance did not meet the definition of an emergency,  and instructed him to "take it easy." Holland has named Nurse Hawks as a defendant.
Two days later, March 19, 2012, Holland submitted a sick-call request citing all of his described medical problems and also asking to be tested for Hepatitis C and HIV. According to Holland, while waiting to be seen, his hernia "popped out" on March 23, 2012, causing him severe pain. He then filed another emergency grievance, without explicitly referencing the hernia episode:
I am having very sharp pains in my abdomen! My right testical [sic] hurts very bad [sic] and there is a large knot on the right side of my pelvis. I have followed proper sick call procedures as instructed... yet it has been over a week and I have still not seen the doctor here or received any of the medications perscribed [sic] to me on 3-15-2012. The pill call nurse seems unconcerned when I told her I am in pain! Why is this medical dept. dening [sic] me medical care and percribed [sic] meds?
In response, P. Goins, a KMCC nurse, replied in writing that his grievance did not meet the definition of an emergency and instructed Holland to use sick-call procedures. Holland has named Nurse Goins as a defendant.
Dr. D. Miller, who Holland alleges to be the "physician and medical care provider at KMCC, who made nearly all medically related decisions regarding [Holland], " saw Holland for the first time five days later on March 28, 2012 (12 days after Holland's arrival at KMCC). According to Holland, Dr. Miller talked to Holland through the cell door, did not do a physical examination, and refused to provide any treatment. Holland had listed his hernia on his original sick-call request form, but Dr. Miller required Holland to place an other sick-call request to address the hernia. Dr. Miller saw Holland again six days later. Dr. Miller did not recommend or order surgery for any of Holland's conditions. Instead, Dr. Miller told Holland he would "never have the hernia removed" while he was in the VDOC and offered to treat him with a hernia belt and medication, including Flomax and a fiber supplement. Holland later sent Dr. Miller a request form asking "why he would never order an appropriate treatment for the hernia." Eugene A. Whited responded, stating "according to the physician's assessment, the hernia belt should take care of it at this time." Whited, who Holland states falsely purports to be a "Registered Nurse Certified by the Board (RNCB), " conducts all administrative and appointment activities, other than sick-call, in a "triage-like manner." He also arranges to implement physicians' orders. Dr. Miller did not order surgery for Holland, and Whited did not schedule any surgical appointments. Holland has named Whited and Dr. Miller as defendants.
The court concludes that Holland's complaint states a plausible deliberate indifference claim against Dr. Miller concerning the treatment of Holland's hernia but not against the other defendants.
The Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment protects prisoners from the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pains, " which includes "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." See Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97, 105 (1976). To succeed on an Eighth Amendment cruel-and-unusual-punishment claim, a prisoner must prove two things: "(1) that objectively the deprivation of a basic human need was sufficiently seriousr, ' and (2) that subjectively the prison officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.'" Johnson v. Quinones , 145 F.3d 164, 167 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting Wilson v. Seiter , 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)). The objective component is satisfied by proving a serious medical condition. Id . The subjective component is satisfied by showing a prison official's deliberate indifference. Id . Mere negligence does not constitute deliberate indifference; rather, a prison official must both be aware of the facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. Id .; see also Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 835, 837 (1994). "To establish that a health care provider's actions constitute deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, the treatment must be so grossly incompetent, inadequate, or excessive as to shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness." Miltier v. Borne , 896 F.2d 848, 851 (4th Cir. 1990) (citing Rogers v. Evans , 792 F.2d 1052, 1058 (11th Cir. 1986)). In this respect, the right to medical treatment is limited to that treatment that is medically necessary and not to "that which may be considered merely desirable." Bowring v. Goodwin , 551 F.2d 44, 48 (4th Cir. 1977).
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. As such, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Although the court construes the allegations of pro se plaintiffs liberally, De'Lonta v. Angelone , 330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003), to survive review, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " and the pleading must contain "enough fads to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007) (citation omitted). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Plaintiffs must offer enough facts "to nudge their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, " Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570, and from which the court, calling upon "its judicial experience and common sense, " can conclude that the pleader has "shown" that he is entitled to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a); Igbal, 556 U.S. at 679. On a motion to dismiss, the court is not at liberty to judge the credibility of the plaintiffs factual allegations, unless they are fanciful. Rather, the court must assume that those allegations are true and judge the complaint accordingly.
With the above precepts in mind, the court concludes that Holland has stated a plausible deliberate indifference claim against Dr. Miller but not the remaining defendants. Holland has plausibly alleged that he suffered from a painful hernia condition, that his condition was in need of treatment, and that Dr. Miller, out of deliberate indifference, refused the treatment Holland needed. Though Dr. Miller may very well show Holland's allegations to be untenable, the issue is before the court on a motion to dismiss, not on a motion for summary judgment with affidavits showing that Dr. Miller denied treatment because in his opinion it was not medically justified.
Holland's allegations against the other defendants stand on different footing. Holland has essentially alleged that his hernia treatment (as well as other surgical procedures Holland alleges he believes to be necessary) are subject to Dr. Miller's orders. Under the circumstances, Holland has not plausibly shown that subordinate medical personnel or correctional officials are or have been deliberately indifferent in failing to provide treatment that Dr. Miller, the physician in charge, has not directed. He has not plausibly alleged facts showing that the remaining defendants acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. That is, Holland has not plausibly shown that they understood or actually drew the inference that the medical treatment he was receiving was deficient or that their actions were designed to interfere with his medical treatment.
Holland claims that Phillips' and Horne's actions in requiring him to submit to customary restraint procedures during the incident in which he fell constituted deliberate indifference and amounted to excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. But a violation of the Eighth Amendment does not result from negligence. The prison official must both be aware of the facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of harm existed and he must have actually drawn that inference. Here, Holland has not pled facts showing the officers acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.
There are no facts in Holland's complaint that remotely suggest that Phillips and Horne believed they, in fact, would be exposing Holland to unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain by simply requiring him to comply with normal restraint procedures or that they were deliberately indifferent to his condition after he fell. To the contrary, the facts Holland pleads show that Phillips believed Holland was "faking" his injuries, but despite that belief facilitated Holland's treatment by transmitting an emergency grievance and continuously checking in on him. In short, he has not pled plausible Eighth Amendment claims against the two officers.
For the foregoing reasons, the court will dismiss all claims against all defendants except Dr. Miller.