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Turner v. Ruffin

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

June 2, 2017

Ronncy Earl Turner, Plaintiff,
Wyatt Ruffin and Mary Mayhue, Defendants.


         Ronney Earl Turner, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. alleging that he suffered deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs that resulted in his loss of a tooth. The matter is presently before the Court on Motions for Summary Judgment filed separately by defendants Wyatt Ruffin, D.D.S., and Mary Mayhue. RDA. Also pending are a Motion for Default Judgment by the plaintiff and a Motion for Leave to File Out of Time Response by defendant Mayhue. For the reasons which follow, plaintiffs Motion for Default Judgment will be denied, defendant May hue's Motion for Leave to File Out of Time Response will be granted, and both Motions for Summary Judgment will be granted.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, an inmate confined at Sussex II Slate Prison ("Sussex II"). commenced this lawsuit in May, 2016, alleging that he requested dental service for a tooth from which a filling had fallen out on December 18. 2014, Plaintiff saw dentist Wyatt Ruffin on February 20, 2015, and allegedly was scheduled for a restorative procedure on the tooth. However, plaintiff was not seen again until August 3, 2015, some 24 weeks later, and by then, the tooth was unsalvageable and had to be extracted. Plaintiff named Dr. Ruffin and Mary Mayhue, a registered dental assistant ("RDA") as defendants, and as relief he sought monetary damages and injunctive relief mandating improved dental care for Virginia prisoners.[1]

         On December 13, 2016, defendant Dr. Ruffin filed a Motion for Summary Judgment with a supporting memorandum of law and exhibits, and supplied plaintiff with the notice required by Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975) and Local Civ. R. 7(J). (Dkt. No. 17-20) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion on January 11, 2017. (Dkt. No. 28).

         Meanwhile, on December 19, 2016, plaintiff moved for the entry of a default judgment against defendant Mayhue, on the ground that she had failed to file an answer or other responsive pleading in accordance with the Notice of Lawsuit and Request for Waiver of Service. (Dkt. No. 21) Two days later, Mayhue, through counsel, filed her Opposition to Motion for Entry of Default Judgment. (Dkt. No. 23) In it, counsel explained that he had been retained by the Virginia Division of Risk Management ("DRM") to represent Dr. Ruffin, and a Motion for Summary Judgment was timely filed on Ruffin's behalf. However, at the time the Notices of Lawsuit were issued, Mayhue was no longer employed at Sussex II, and DRM accordingly sent her the Notice of Lawsuit along with a Former Employee's Request for Coverage. Due to a miscommunication Mayhue did not receive the documents until December 20, 2016, and at that time counsel was appointed to represent her as well as Dr. Ruffin. The following day counsel filed both the Opposition to Motion for Entry of default as well as a Motion for Leave to File an Out of Time Response to the Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 24) Under these circumstances, and mindful both that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals strongly favors a policy that cases be decided on the merits, United States v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450 453 (4th Cir. 1993), and that the minimal delay in Mayhue's filing of a responsive pleading caused plaintiff to suffer no prejudice, Wilson v. Turner, 2014 WL 4426126 (D. Md. Sept. 2, 2014), defendant Mayhue's Motion for Leave to File an Out of Time Response will be granted, and plaintiffs Motion for Entry of Default Judgment against Mayhue will be denied.

         On January 30, 2017, Mayhue filed a Motion for Summary Judgment with a supporting memorandum, and provided plaintiff with the appropriate Roseboro notice. (Dkt. No. 29-31) Plaintiff submitted a response in opposition to the motion on February 24, 2017. (Dkt. No.33) Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for disposition.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of proving that judgment on the pleadings is appropriate. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (moving party bears the burden of persuasion on all relevant issues). To meet that burden, the moving party must demonstrate that no genuine issues of material fact are present for resolution, Id. at 322. Once a moving party has met its burden to show that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to point out the specific facts which create disputed factual issues. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, a district court should consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of that party. United States v. Diebold. Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). Those facts which the moving party bears the burden of proving are facts which are material. "[T]he substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts which might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine when, "the evidence ., . create[s] [a] fair doubt; wholly speculative assertions will not suffice." Ross v. Communications Satellite Corp., 759 F.2d 355, 364 (4th Cir. 1985). Thus, summary judgment is appropriate only where no material facts are genuinely disputed and the evidence as a whole could not lead a rational fact finder to rule for the non-moving party. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         III. Undisputed Facts

         The following material facts are undisputed. Dr. Ruffin is employed by the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") and is the only dentist at Sussex II. Dkt. No. 19, Ex. 1, Ruffin Aff. ¶¶ 1, 3. The facility houses approximately 1250 inmates, and in his five-day workweek Dr. Ruffin sees about 50 inmates, including all new inmates within 30 days of their arrivals. The average wait time for routine dental services can span months, depending on the demands on Dr. Ruffin's time and the specific nature of the required services. Id., ¶ 3.

         At a scheduled appointment with Dr. Ruffin on February 20, 2015, plaintiff complained of sensitivity in tooth # 21. Prior to the appointment, Dr. Ruffin had reviewed plaintiffs dental records, and noted that the problem with plaintiffs tooth # 21 had been ongoing for many years. Dentists who had preceded Dr. Ruffin at Sussex II had filled tooth # 21 with DO Amalgam in October, 2006, and had refilled it with the same substance in February, 2010 and October, 2011. In March, 2013, after his arrival at Sussex II, Dr. Ruffin saw plaintiff and measured a 9-mm pocket between plaintiffs tooth # 20 and tooth #21, which indicated advanced periodontal disease. In June, 2013, Dr. Ruffin replaced the earlier restoration of tooth #21 with a DO Composite. Id., ¶ 4.

         At plaintiffs February 20, 2015 appointment, Dr. Ruffin determined that recurrent decay had occurred in tooth # 21 due to poor oral hygiene, and that plaintiff should return for a restorative procedure. Until the decay was removed Dr. Ruffin would be unable to determine if the tooth could be restored or if it would require extraction. Id., ¶

         Plaintiff returned to the dental clinic on August 3, 2015. When Dr. Ruffin removed the decay from tooth # 21 he saw that it had a carious exposure, or uncovering of the tooth pulp, and accordingly he recommended extraction of the tooth. His determination that the tooth could not be salvaged was based on three factors: (1) the carious exposure; (2) there was insufficient tooth structure remaining to hold a filling; and (3) there was advanced bone loss associated with the tooth. Dr. Ruffin informed plaintiff of these findings and extracted the tooth. Id., ¶ 6.

         During the period between plaintiffs appointments on February 20 and August 3, 2015, he never requested any pain medication or emergency or urgent dental treatment from Dr. Ruffin. Id., ΒΆ 7. Dr. Ruffin attests that "[i]t takes years for a tooth to decay to the terrible condition in which [he] found plaintiffs tooth #21, " and the "six-month wait in between plaintiffs February 2015 appointment and his return to the clinic on ...

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