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Murray v. Correct Care Solutions, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

January 18, 2017

AMY M. MURRAY, Administrator of the Estate of Shannon H. Crane, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECT CARE SOLUTIONS, LLC, PAUL STAIRS, GLENN WISE, BEVERLY DANIELS, and ANNETTE BROOKS, Defendants.

          OPINION

          John A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Shannon Crane, a convicted inmate, died at Riverside Regional Jail (the "Jail"). Two days before his death, Crane complained of breathing difficulties. A nurse in the Jail's medical department reported Crane's complaint and his low blood-oxygen level to Paul Stairs, the on-call doctor. Stairs ordered administration of oxygen to Crane and continued monitoring. Two days later, Crane died. Amy Murray, the Administrator of Crane's Estate, sued Stairs, among others, for deliberate indifference and wrongful death. Stairs has moved to dismiss certain claims against him. Because Stairs did not act with deliberate indifference or gross negligence to Crane's medical need, the Court grants Stairs's motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Crane transferred to the Jail in November 2013. At intake, Crane had no prior history of heart problems or high blood pressure. During his incarceration, until the events surrounding his death, Crane had no record of a need for oxygen therapy.

         In February 2015, Crane complained of breathing issues. A nurse in the Jail's medical department took Crane's vitals, including a pulse oximeter reading-a test that estimates the saturation of oxygen in the blood ("Sp02"). The nurse notified Stairs, the on-call doctor, of Crane's lower-than-normal Sp02 level.[1] Stairs ordered the nurse (1) to administer oxygen to Crane and (2) to place him in medical housing for monitoring. This communication between Stairs and the nurse occurred over telephone or through some other electronic means, meaning Stairs never actually saw Crane. After giving this order, Stairs did not receive any updates on Crane, did not follow up, and did not provide Crane with further services.

         Pursuant to Stairs's order, the nurse administered oxygen to Crane. She re-checked his vitals, which revealed a normal Sp02 level. The nurse did not follow-up any further, nor did the nurses that worked the next day.

         Early the following morning, Crane was found lifeless in his cell. Efforts to revive him failed, and emergency personnel pronounced him dead. Crane died of hypertensive cardiomyopathy.[2]

         II. DISCUSSION [3]

         Murray, the Administrator of Crane's Estate, has sued Stairs, three nurses, and Correct Care Solutions, LLC, the company contracted to provide medical services at the Jail. Against Stairs, in Count I, Murray alleges an Eighth Amendment violation based on Stairs's deliberate indifference to Crane's serious medical needs. In Count III, she alleges wrongful death, asserting the theories of simple negligence, gross negligence, and willful and wanton negligence. Stairs asks this Court to dismiss Count I in full and Count III in part.

         A Count I: Deliberate Indifference

         The Court will dismiss Count I against Stairs because his conduct does not rise to the level of deliberate indifference. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. Const, amend. VIII. This prohibition extends to conditions of confinement in prisons and, relevant here, includes a duty of prison officials to provide adequate medical care. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). Inadequate medical care rises to the level of a constitutional violation when a prison official shows deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Id.

         The test for this type of claim has an objective and a subjective component. Objectively, the prisoner's medical need must be sufficiently serious, meaning that the medical need "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." Scinto v. Stansberry, 841 F.3d 219, 225 (4th Cir. 2016) (citation, quotation marks, and alternation omitted). Subjectively, the prison official must have shown deliberate indifference, meaning he had "actual subjective knowledge of both the inmate's serious medical condition and the excessive risk posed by the official's action or inaction." Id. at 226 (citation, quotation marks, and alternation omitted). On the sliding scale of culpable mental states, deliberate indifference falls closest to criminal recklessness, requiring more than negligence, but less than purpose or knowledge. Id. at 225.

         In this case, Stairs (1) heard about Crane's breathing issues and low blood oxygen levels, and then (2) ordered administration of oxygen and further monitoring. In other words, Stairs learned about Crane's serious medical need from the nurse, and then took action by ordering the nurse to administer oxygen and to monitor Crane. Stairs treated the medical need (i.e., the low Sp02 level) of a patient.[4] After treating Crane's low Sp02 level, Stairs did not know about any further serious medical needs that he needed to address, especially seeing as Crane had no record of a need for oxygen therapy and no history of heart problems or high blood pressure. These facts do not plausibly allege indifference, let alone deliberate indifference. Consequently, the Court must dismiss Count I against Stairs.

         B. Count ...


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