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Brown v. Banks

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

January 31, 2017

DENNIS JAMES BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. A. BANKS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION (GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT)

          HENRY E. HUDSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Dennis James Brown, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action.[1] Brown's claims flow from the alleged unconstitutional treatment Brown received from Lt. A. Banks and Dr. Inder Gujral in the aftermath of Brown's hernia surgery. Brown contends that:

Claim 1 (a) Defendant Banks violated Brown's rights under the Eighth Amendment when, on February 10, 2015, he ordered Brown to move some heavy boxes and refused to allow anyone to assist Brown in moving the boxes. (Compl. 6-7, ECF No. 1 .)[2](b) Defendant Banks violated Brown's rights under the Eighth Amendment when he falsely charged Brown with disobeying a direct order and had Brown locked in segregation for thirty-six (36) days. (Id. at 6.)
Claim 2 Defendant Gujral failed to provide Brown with adequate medical care following Brown's injury on February 10, 2015. (Id. at 4.)

By a separate Memorandum Opinion, the Court dismissed Claims 1(a) and 1(b) against Defendant Banks. The matter is before the Court on the Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Brown (ECF Nos. 30, 48) and Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Dr. Gujral (ECF No. 43). For the reasons set for below, Dr. Gujral's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted and Brown's Motions for Summary Judgment will be denied.

         Before turning to the facts established for purposes of summary judgment, it is appropriate to trace the evolution of Brown's claims against Dr. Gujral. In his Complaint, Brown asserted that following his reinjury of his hernia on February 10, 2015, until the end of November of 2015, "Doctor Gujral has not done anything to help me, or send me to any specialist to find out what damages was done on 2-10-15." (Compl. 4.) As reflected below, the evidence shows that is simply not true. On April 16, 2015, Dr. Gujral sent Brown to Dr. Diep at Southampton Surgical Associates for continuing pain related to his hernia. (Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1, Ex. A "Medical Records" 31.) Dr. Diep concluded there was "no recurrent hernia at this time" and "his chronic pain will likely improve over the next few months." (Id. at 32.) When Brown continued to complain of pain, Dr. Gujral ordered multiple kidney, ureter, and bladder x- rays, ordered multiple abdominal and pelvic CT scans, prescribed pain medication, and secured an additional surgical consultation.

         Given the lack of merit of his initial claim, Brown's claim has now evolved to where he insists that Dr. Gujral violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment because he failed to provide Brown with adequate pain medication and inordinately delayed in requesting a follow-up examination with Brown's surgeon. Accordingly, the Court deems Brown to raise the following claims:

Claim 2 Defendant Gujral failed to provide Brown with adequate medical care following Brown's injury on February 10, 2015 by: (a) failing to send Brown to a specialist; (b) failing to promptly arrange a follow-up appointment with the surgical group that performed Brown's hernia surgery (PL's Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 2-3, ECF No. 49); and, (c) failing to provide adequate pain medication (see, e.g., id.)

         I. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Summary judgment must be rendered "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). It is the responsibility of the party seeking summary judgment to inform the court of the basis for the motion, and to identify the parts of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file." Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). When the motion is properly supported, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and, by citing affidavits or '"depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."' Id. (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) and 56(e) (1986)). In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the Court "must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." United States v. Carolina Transformer Co., 978 F.2d 832, 835 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). However, a mere "'scintilla of evidence'" will not preclude summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251 (quoting Improvement Co. v. Munson, 81 U.S. (14 Wall.) 442, 448 (1872)).

         In support of his Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant Gujral submitted his own declaration (Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1 ("Gujral Decl., " ECF No. 44-1), and a copy of Brown's medical records (Gujral Aff. Ex. A ("Medical Records").[3] Brown responded to the Motion for Summary Judgment. In considering the propriety of summary judgment, the Court will consider the sworn statements Brown tendered in support of his Motions for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 30-2, "Brown Aff."; ECF No. 46, "Brown Decl."). Of course, the facts offered by affidavit or sworn declaration must also be in the form of admissible evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4). In this regard, the statement in the affidavit or sworn declaration "must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated." Id. Therefore, "summary judgment affidavits cannot be conclusory or based upon hearsay." Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 962 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted).

         Brown has submitted a number of conclusory statements that run afoul of this prohibition. For example, in his Affidavit, Brown swears that:

Between February 11, 2015, and October 26, 2015 . . ., I repeatedly informed Dr. Gujral and his staff that I was experiencing extreme pain in the area of my surgery-----I requested pain-relieving medication to relieve my pain and suffering. Throughout that entire period of time, Defendant Dr. Gujral and his staff disregarded all of my pleas and requests for treatment.

(Brown Aff. ¶ 6, ECF No. 30-2.) Vague statements of this ilk fail to create material disputes of fact. See United States v. Roane, 378 F.3d 382, 400-01 (4th Cir. 2004) (observing that "[a]iry generalities" and "conclusory assertions" cannot "stave off summary judgment") (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citation omitted).

         In light of the foregoing submissions and principles, the facts set forth in the next section are established for purposes of Dr. Gujral's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. FACTS PERTINENT TO SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         In January of 2015, Brown was confined in Sussex II State Prison ("SUSP"). (Brown Decl. ¶ 5.) On January 27, 2015, Brown underwent surgery for a right inguinal hernia. (Gujral Decl. ¶5.) The surgery was conducted at Southampton Memorial Hospital. (Id.) The surgeon repaired the hernia with "plug and mesh." (Id.) The surgical consultation report recommended that Brown not perform any heavy lifting or strenuous activity for three weeks. (Id. ¶ 6.) The consultation report further recommended a follow-up appointment in the surgical clinic in three weeks. (Medical Records 20.)

         On February 5, 2015, Dr. Gujral examined Brown in a follow-up appointment in light of Brown's hernia repair surgery. (Gujral Decl. ¶ 7.) Dr. Gujral noted that Brown's "wound was healing well, there was no redness and no drainage found. [Dr. Gujral] found that [Brown] had good bowel sounds present." (Id.) Dr. Gujral informed Brown that he could be discharged from the infirmary. (Id.) Dr. Gujral ordered that Brown not "engage in any heavy lifting, sports, or strenuous activity for three weeks, and that he be given a bottom bunk for six weeks. [Dr. Gujral] requested that [Brown] be seen in follow[-]up in the Surgery Clinic in three weeks." (Id.)

         On February 10, 2015, despite Brown's protestations that it was against his surgeon's orders, Defendant Banks demanded that Brown lift several heavy boxes. (Brown Decl. ¶ 7.) On February 11, 2015, the nursing staff examined Brown in the segregation unit and noted that his vital signs were stable and Brown did not have any signs of physical injury and voiced no complaints. (Gujral Decl. ¶ 8.) The nursing staff recommended, and Dr. Gujral "signed off on the recommendation, that [Brown's] lifting restrictions be extended for two additional weeks and that [Brown] should apply a warm compress to the wound site for fifteen minutes two times a day." (Id.)

         On February 19, 2015, Brown had a follow-up visit with respect to his surgery, but it is unclear from the record who examined Brown or where he was examined. (Medical Records 25; Gujral Decl. ¶ 9.)

         On February 24, 2015, the nursing staff examined Brown for his complaints of possible hernia re-injury a week prior. (Gujral Decl. ¶ 10.) In the history section of the sick-call note, Brown stated he may have reinjured himself by lifting his mattress. (Id.)

         "Upon examination, the nurse found that [Brown] was alert, there were no signs of distress noted, there was tenderness found at the surgical incision site, but there was no drainage found. The nurse recommended that [Brown] be placed on the physician's list to be evaluated." (Id.)

         On March 5, 2015, Dr. Gujral evaluated Brown for his complaints of reinjuring his hernia and constipation. (Id. ¶ 13.) During that visit, Brown "claimed to have linear discomfort in his right groin area after picking up an object. [Dr. Gujral] noted that [Brown] was otherwise doing well [and] found that [Brown] was healing well with respect to his hernia repair...." (Id.) Dr. Gujral told Brown to "refrain from lifting greater than ten pounds for twelve weeks." (Id.) Dr. Gujral's abdominal examination of Brown was "negative." (Id.) Dr. Gujral ordered Colace for Brown's complaints of constipation. (Id.) Dr. Gujral did not prescribe any pain medication. (Brown Decl. 12.)

         On April 7, 2015, the nursing staff at SUSP examined Brown for his complaint of right side pain for which Brown requested x-rays. (Gujral Decl. ¶ 14.) The nursing staff noted that Brown "complained of shooting pain down his right side and had a history of hernia repair." (Id.) The nursing staff further noted that Brown was alert, oriented and not in distress. (Id.) Additionally, Brown "demonstrated a good range of motion, " but "his abdomen was lightly rigid on the right side. The nurse recommended that [Brown] be referred to the physician for evaluation." (Id.)

         On April 13, 2015, Dr. Gujral evaluated Brown "in follow[-]up for his hernia repair surgery and his complaints of right sided pain." (Id. ¶ 15.) Dr. Gujral noted that Brown "continued to complain of pain on the right side of his abdomen, and the pain radiated to the right subcostal region." (Id.) Upon examination, Dr. Gujral found that Brown's

wound was healed and there was no drainage or swelling present. [Brown's] abdomen was soft, non-tender and bowel sounds were present. [Dr. Gujral] explained to [Brown] that there was no acute problem or abnormal findings present. [Brown] stated that he wanted to go and see the physician who performed the surgery (Dr. Yancey). As such, a ...

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