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Fitzgerald v. Patel

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

September 11, 2017




         Shalamar D. Fitzgerald, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendant, Dr. Chandrakant Patel, denied him mental health treatment. Dr. Patel filed a motion to dismiss, and Fitzgerald responded, making this matter ripe for disposition. Having considered the record, the court will grant defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 15, 2015, while housed at Green Rock Correctional Center, Fitzgerald went to the treatment building to meet with Dr. Patel to discuss his “possible needs to start or continue psychiatric medication” and to “discuss how such medication might effect” him. The medical records that Fitzgerald attached to his complaint show that he was previously diagnosed with “depressive disorder unspecified, ” and at the time of the appointment he was already taking citalopram[1]. At the appointment, Dr. Patel continued Fitzgerald on citalopram and also prescribed trazodone, [2] and Fitzgerald consented to treatment with these medications. Fitzgerald alleges, however, that Dr. Patel failed to check the Federal Drug Administration's (FDA) “safety information alert” which indicated that the two medications had “a reaction to each other.” On May 16, 2015, Dr. Patel noted in the medical records that he had received a pharmacy alert regarding cardiac induction on a combination of citalopram and trazodone. He also noted that he would discontinue citalopram “in favor of” trazodone and would “review choices” with Fitzgerald in about one month. Fitzgerald did not take the combination of medications before the citalopram was discontinued. (Compl. 4-5, Dkt. No. 1; Compl. Attach. 2.)

         When Fitzgerald went to his appointment with Dr. Patel on June 13, 2015, he was “worked up and a little angry about the FDA alert.” Dr. Patel offered him alternative medications to replace the citalopram. Dr. Patel's notes in the medical records attached to the complaint indicate that Fitzgerald agreed to take Prozac, “but [he] wanted to know ‘everything' about it.” Although Fitzgerald signed the consent form for receiving Prozac with the trazodone, he wrote on the form that he “was not given a chance to decide what's best for [him and he] was told [to] pick something because [he had] to go.” Dr. Patel noted that he took Fitzgerald's comments to mean that Fitzgerald was “effectively rescinding [his] consent.” Accordingly, Dr. Patel did not prescribe the Prozac, and Fitzgerald continued on the trazodone until his next appointment. (Id.)

         Fitzgerald requested a mental health assessment and was evaluated by a psychology associate on July 14, 2015. During the assessment, the psychology associate informed Fitzgerald that a screening he had undergone two weeks prior suggested that he had “mild depression.” The plan indicated that mental health services would be provided as needed. (Id.)

         On July 17, 2015, at his monthly appointment with Dr. Patel, Fitzgerald and Dr. Patel discussed the “effects” that Fitzgerald had been experiencing and the “changes” he had been going through since his citalopram had been discontinued. Ultimately, they agreed that Fitzgerald should take Prozac with the trazodone, and Fitzgerald consented to treatment with those medications. (Id.)


         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint to determine whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim; “it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Legal conclusions in the guise of factual allegations, however, are not entitled to a presumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).

         Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and quotations omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” id., with all the allegations in the complaint taken as true and all reasonable inferences drawn in the plaintiff's favor, Chao v. Rivendell Woods, Inc., 415 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2005). Rule 12(b)(6) does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Consequently, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). A claim is plausible if the complaint contains “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, ” and if there is “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678.

         In order to allow for the development of a potentially meritorious claim, federal courts have an obligation to construe pro se pleadings liberally. See, e.g., Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (citation omitted). Moreover, “[l]iberal construction of the pleadings is particularly appropriate where . . . there is a pro se complaint raising civil rights issues.” Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978)). Nevertheless, “[p]rinciples requiring generous construction of pro se complaints are not . . . without limits.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). “A pro se plaintiff still must allege facts that state a cause of action.” Bracey v. Buchanan, 55 F.Supp.2d 416, 421 (E.D. Va. 1999) (quoting Sado v. Leland Mem'l Hospital, 933 F.Supp. 490, 493 (D. Md. 1996)).

         B. Denial of medical care

         Fitzgerald alleges that Dr. Patel was deliberately indifferent to his serious mental health needs and that Dr. Patel violated Fitzgerald's constitutional rights by prescribing the two medications without first reviewing the FDA alert and by denying him medication for two months. The court finds that Fitzgerald's allegations are insufficient to rise to ...

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