United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
DAVID F. SPRINKLE, Plaintiff,
M.D. ALI, ET AL. Defendants.
GLEN E. CONRAD, Chief District Judge.
David Sprinkle, proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 while serving a criminal sentence of imprisonment. Sprinkle alleges that while he was incarcerated at the Western Virginia Regional Jail ("the jail"), medical personnel provided inadequate treatment for his chronic pain, treated him differently than other inmates with pain issues, and interfered with and punished him for his attempts to use the jail grievance procedures, in violation of his constitutional rights. Upon review of the record, the court finds that the defendants are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law as to Sprinkle's claims regarding his medical care and that their motions to dismiss must be granted as to his remaining claims.
Sprinkle sues Dr. Ali, the jail's physician; Head Nurse Buschor; and Captain Tuck, who oversees medical care for inmates at the jail. The doctor and nurse filed a motion to dismiss, Sprinkle responded, the defendants filed a reply and motion for summary judgment, and Sprinkle responded again. Capt. Tuck filed a motion to dismiss, supported with an affidavit and medical records, to which Sprinkle responded, making all defendants' motions ripe for disposition.
The following facts are presented in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (noting that all evidence must be construed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment).
Sprinkle suffers from polycystic kidney disease ("PKD"), an incurable genetic disorder in which non-cancerous, fluid-filled sacs, called cysts, form in the kidneys. Treatment of PKD patients is directed at managing complications associated with PKD, including back or abdominal pain; hypertension, also called high blood pressure; and hypertension-related headaches. Often pain associated with PKD can be managed with over-the-counter, non-narcotic pain medication.
Sprinkle arrived at the jail on December 27, 2012, as a pretrial detainee. During his medical intake interview, he told staff about his history of PKD, high blood pressure, and arthritis in his left ankle and other joints. Sprinkle reported that doctors in the past had prescribed Lortab and Percocet for his pain. The interviewer's notes indicate that Sprinkle did not report or appear to be in any pain at that time. Nurse Buschor advised Sprinkle that he would be placed on withdrawal from such opioid medications, because they were reserved for acute pain, while chronic pain was managed with non-opioid medications. Sprinkle stated that he did not want to undergo opioid withdrawal. Dr. Ali states that because Sprinkle did not appear to be in pain while at the jail, the medical staff "had concerns that he was drug seeking." (Ali Affid. ¶5, ECF No. 26-2.)
Medical staff monitored Sprinkle's blood pressure and prescribed medications designed to keep it under control, although Sprinkle did not always comply with the doctor's directions about medications. When Sprinkle complained of pain, staff provided him regularly with Tylenol. On January 3, 2013, Dr. Ali examined him and prescribed Tylenol and Mobic for pain. A few days later, on January 8, when Sprinkle complained about not receiving the pain medications he had requested, Nurse Buschor reviewed records from his treating physician and told him that he did not have a current prescription for narcotics. He complained that since other inmates at the jail received narcotic pain medication, the jail staff should prescribe it for him as well.
Dr. Ali saw Sprinkle on January 10 and noted that he was sitting comfortably and in no distress. The doctor prescribed Neurontin and a higher dose of Tylenol at bedtime. When Sprinkle complained on January 16 about ankle pain, staff advised him to give the Neurontin a chance to take effect.
On January 18, Sprinkle complained of experiencing a "transient ischemic attach ("TIA") caused by his PKD and chronic pain. Staff noted that he walked to the medical department and climbed on the examination table without problems, was alert and oriented, and his speech, neurological, and strength exams were normal. His blood pressure was high and was treated with medication. Sprinkle began demanding his pain medication and asked the nurse to call his prior doctor. When she did so, she learned that at Sprinkle's last pre-incarceration appointment on November 12, 2012, his doctor had instructed Sprinkle to gradually reduce his use of his prescription medication for pain control. The doctor had also intended to help Sprinkle arrange for full time management of his care by a nephrologist. After this conversation, jail staff placed Sprinkle in "medical segregation" for observation and arranged for him to see a specialist.
Dr. Ali examined Sprinkle again on January 24. Sprinkle told the doctor that he had stopped taking all of his medications because he did not know which one was causing his legs to swell. His blood pressure was high, and Dr. Ali changed his medication for that condition and released him into the general population.
Sprinkle saw a specialist, Dr. Ballenger, on January 29, 2013, for evaluation of his PKD. Dr. Ballenger recommended testing to rule out a brain aneurism, recommended a certain dose of Lortab every six hours as needed for pain, adjusted the blood pressure medication, and suggested a follow up exam in one month. Dr. Ali followed the specialist's plan and provided Sprinkle with the suggested narcotic pain medication, but at a smaller dose than the specialist recommended. The doctor told Sprinkle, "At no point since your arrival has medical seen you appear to be in any pain." (Compl. 4.) On March 4, 2013, Sprinkle filed a medical request for his Lortab to be reordered, but the medical staff advised him that he was "not approved to have [the medication] reordered." (ECF No. 25-1, at p. 27.) Sprinkle was transferred to another jail on March 6, 2013.
The court construes Sprinkle's complaint as asserting the following claims under § 1983: (1) the defendants' policy of not treating chronic pain with narcotic medication deprived him of necessary treatment; (2) the defendants did not follow measures prescribed by plaintiff's prior treating doctors; (3) the defendants failed to request all relevant medical reports about plaintiff's prior treatment; (4) the defendants provided him with a different dose of narcotic pain medication than the kidney specialist recommended and then allowed the prescription to run out; (5) the defendants unfairly refused to treat plaintiff's chronic pain with narcotic pain medication, although other inmates at the jail did receive such drugs; (6) Capt. Tuck denied plaintiff access to the grievance procedure by ruling his requests for certain medication to be "nongrievable" and by refusing to provide ...