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Scinto v. Stansberry

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 4, 2016

PAUL SCINTO, SR., Plaintiff - Appellant,
WARDEN PATRICIA STANSBERRY, FCI - Butner-Low; SUSAN MCCLINTOCK, Camp Administrator, FPC-Butner; R. HOLT, Senior Officer Specialist; DR. PHILLIPS; OFFICER COORS, Defendants-Appellees, and FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice; HARLEY G. LAPPIN, Director, Bureau of Prisons; KIM WHITE, Mid Atlantic Regional Director, Defendants.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. James C. Dever III, Chief District Judge. (5:10-ct-03165-D)

          Argued: September 23, 2016


          Adam H. Farra, COHEN MILSTEIN SELLERS & TOLL PLLC, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Robert J. Dodson, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Paul J. Zidlicky, SIDLEY AUSTIN LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          John Stuart Bruce, Acting United States Attorney, G. Norman Acker, III, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellees.

          Before NIEMEYER, MOTZ, and WYNN, Circuit Judges.

         Affirmed in part and reversed in part by published opinion. Judge Wynn wrote the opinion, in which Judge Niemeyer and Judge Motz joined.

          WYNN, Circuit Judge:

         Plaintiff Paul Scinto, Sr. ("Plaintiff"), a former federal prisoner, sued several federal prison officials pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), alleging a number of violations under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Defendants are Dr. Derick Phillip ("Dr. Phillip"); Patricia Stansberry, former Federal Prison Camp Butner Warden ("Warden Stansberry"); and Susan McClintock, former Butner Camp Administrator ("Administrator McClintock"). Collectively, these Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims.

         On appeal, Plaintiff limits his arguments to the district court's dismissal of three claims that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff argues that, in dismissing these claims, the district court made credibility determinations and weighed the parties' evidence, thus violating the summary judgment standard.

         For the reasons that follow, we reverse the district court's disposition of the two Eighth Amendment claims against Dr. Phillip and Administrator McClintock but affirm its resolution of the claim against Warden Stansberry.


         The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of "cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. This prohibition "proscribes more than physically barbarous punishments." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976). It also encompasses "the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined." Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993). In particular, the Eighth Amendment imposes a duty on prison officials to "provide humane conditions of confinement . . . [and] ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). To that end, a prison official's "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain proscribed by the Eighth Amendment." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Prisoners alleging that they have been subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement must satisfy the Supreme Court's two-pronged test set forth in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994).

         First, Farmer's "objective" prong requires plaintiffs to demonstrate that "the deprivation alleged [was], objectively, 'sufficiently serious.'" Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)). To be "sufficiently serious, " the deprivation must be "extreme"--meaning that it poses "a serious or significant physical or emotional injury resulting from the challenged conditions, " or "a substantial risk of such serious harm resulting from . . . exposure to the challenged conditions." De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 634 (4th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In medical needs cases, like the case at bar, the Farmer test requires plaintiffs to demonstrate officials' deliberate indifference to a "serious" medical need that has either "been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or . . . is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention." Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008).

         Second, under Farmer's "subjective" prong, plaintiffs must show that prison officials acted with a "sufficiently culpable state of mind." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297). In conditions of confinement cases, the requisite state of mind is deliberate indifference. Id. To prove deliberate indifference, plaintiffs must show that "the official kn[ew] of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety." Id. at 837. Put differently, the plaintiff must show that the official was "aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exist[ed], and . . . dr[ew] th[at] inference." Id. (emphasis added). Deliberate indifference is "more than mere negligence, " but "less than acts or omissions [done] for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result." Id. at 835. It "lies somewhere between negligence and purpose or knowledge: namely, recklessness of the subjective type used in criminal law." Brice v. Va. Beach Corr. Ctr., 58 F.3d 101, 105 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835). Under this standard, mere "[d]isagreements between an inmate and a physician over the inmate's proper medical care" are not actionable absent exceptional circumstances. Wright v. Collins, 766 F.2d 841, 849 (4th Cir. 1985) (citing Gittlemacker v. Prasse, 428 F.2d 1, 6 (3d Cir. 1970)).

         In deliberate indifference to medical needs cases, Farmer's subjective prong requires proof of the official's "actual subjective knowledge of both the inmate's serious medical condition and the excessive risk posed by [the official's] action or inaction." Jackson v. Lightsey, 775 F.3d 170, 178 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837-39). A plaintiff can meet the subjective knowledge requirement through direct evidence of a prison official's actual knowledge or circumstantial evidence tending to establish such knowledge, including evidence "that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the very fact that the risk was obvious." Makdessi v. Fields, 789 F.3d 126, 133 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842).

         A plaintiff also makes out a prima facie case of deliberate indifference when he demonstrates "that a substantial risk of [serious harm] was longstanding, pervasive, well-documented, or expressly noted by prison officials in the past, and the circumstances suggest that the defendant-official . . . had been exposed to information concerning the risk and thus must have known about it . . . ." Parrish ex rel. Lee v. Cleveland, 372 F.3d 294, 303 (4th Cir. 2004) (first alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842). Similarly, a prison official's "[f]ailure to respond to an inmate's known medical needs raises an inference [of] deliberate indifference to those needs." Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 853 (4th Cir. 1990), overruled in part on other grounds by Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. However, even officials who acted with deliberate indifference may be "free from liability if they responded reasonably to the risk." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 844.


         Plaintiff entered federal custody at Federal Prison Camp Seymour Johnson in October 2002.[1] At that time, he suffered from myriad medical conditions, including hepatitis C, a knee infection, insulin-dependent diabetes, and high blood pressure. In the years that followed, Plaintiff was confined in various federal prison facilities. In particular, from June 2005 to March 2006, Plaintiff was incarcerated at Federal Prison Camp Butner in Butner, North Carolina. During that time, several incidents purportedly occurred and gave rise to a number of constitutional claims. Following a circuitous journey through the federal judicial system, the present appeal addresses only a subset of these claims.

         On February 28, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Bivens action pro se in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Plaintiff's original complaint sought relief for alleged violations of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, naming as defendants various federal officials, including the Bureau of Prisons, then-Bureau Director Harley Lappin, Regional Director Kim White, Warden Stansberry, Administrator McClintock, and Butner Correctional Officer Richard Holt ("Officer Holt"). After dismissing a number of these claims on jurisdictional and sovereign immunity grounds, the district court transferred Plaintiff's remaining claims against Warden Stansberry, Administrator McClintock, and Officer Holt to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Scinto v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 608 F.Supp.2d 4, 10 (D.D.C.), aff'd, 352 F.App'x 448 (D.C. Cir. 2009). Following a second appeal in this Circuit, Plaintiff successfully amended his complaint to include additional Eighth Amendment claims against defendants Dr. Phillip and Butner Correctional Officer Lawrence Coor ("Officer Coor"). Scinto v. Stansberry, 507 F.App'x 311 (4th Cir. 2013) (per curiam). Cross-motions for summary judgment followed and, on September 9, 2014, the district court denied Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment to the defendants on each of Plaintiff's claims.

         Plaintiff appeals only three of the claims dismissed on summary judgment, each arising under the Eighth Amendment. These include: (1) Plaintiff's claim against Dr. Phillip for allegedly denying Plaintiff insulin to treat his diabetes; (2) Plaintiff's claims against Dr. Phillip and Administrator McClintock for allegedly failing to provide aid in a medical emergency; and (3) Plaintiff's claim against Warden Stansberry for her alleged failure to provide Plaintiff with a diabetic diet during Plaintiff's incarceration in administrative segregation (the "Special Housing Unit"). We address the facts relevant to each claim below.


         "We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the facts and the reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Bonds v. Leavitt, 629 F.3d 369, 380 (4th Cir. 2011). Summary judgment must be granted "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). To survive summary judgment, "there must be evidence on which the ...

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