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Smith v. Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority-Lynchburg

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

December 22, 2017



          Hon. Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge.

         Anthoine Dewayne Smith, a Virginia prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a verified complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff names as defendants the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority-Lynchburg ("Authority"); Timothy Trent, Administrator of the Blue Ridge Regional Jail ("Jail"), Nurse Jones, and Correctional Officers Newland and Gaddy. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, to which Plaintiff responded, making this matter ripe for disposition.[1] After reviewing the record, the court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment.


         On February 22, 2016, Newland was driving the Jail's inmate transport van while Gaddy, Plaintiff, and other inmates were passengers. Somewhere between the local courthouse and the Jail, the transport van accidentally struck another vehicle.[2] Newland exited the transport van, inspected it for damage, and spoke with the inmates inside. Plaintiff complained of back pain because his body hit part of the steel cage inside the van upon impact, and Newland drove the transport van back to the Jail approximately five minutes away. Upon arriving, Newland and Gaddy asked the inmates if they needed medical attention at the Jail, and1 they declined. Plaintiff said he had been "joking" about being hurt. Consequently, Plaintiff was returned to his cell.

         The next day, medical staff received Plaintiffs written request complaining that his back was tight. Nurse Jones examined Smith the same day. She noted in the medical record that Plaintiff showed no acute distress and entered the medical department without mobility issues. Plaintiff presented only with verbal complaints of lower back pain, and his lower back showed no signs of bruising, redness, swelling, or deformity. On palpitations to the lower back area, Plaintiff responded, "That hurts." Plaintiff demanded to be taken to a hospital for X rays. Although the injuries appeared minor to Nurse Jones, she decided to keep Plaintiff housed in the more supportive beds in the medical department until the facility doctor could examine Plaintiff.[3]Nurse Jones contacted the doctor, who ordered Tylenol and Flexeril, a muscle relaxer.

         Two days after the accident, the facility doctor examined Plaintiff and diagnosed the complaint as lumbar strain. The doctor ordered Tylenol for five more days, Flexeril for ten more days, and for Plaintiff to remain in the medical department for monitoring.

         Plaintiff remained in the medical department until March 4. During that time, nurses checked on Plaintiff daily, and he did not complain of pain except about mild soreness on February 27. Nonetheless, Plaintiff did not exhibit suffering pain on other days. For example, on February 24, Plaintiff was conversing with other inmates while on his bed with both legs pulled up and bent knees. On February 28, Plaintiff was moving in the cell without complaint. On March 4, Plaintiff told medical staff he was "good" to be released back to general population.

         On April 1, 2016, a Jail administrator told Nurse Jones to add Plaintiff to the medical appointment list because Plaintiff filed a form complaining about back pain related to the accident in February. Nurse Jones scheduled the appointment for April 4, 2016. Plaintiff came to medical to be seen but refused to pay the medical fee, stating, "I'm not paying for this. You all aren't doing anything." Plaintiff was transferred away from the Jail on April 4, 2016.

         Plaintiff faults Defendants for "fail[ing] to respond reasonably" to his complaint of back pain because he did not receive X rays, an MRI, or a CT scan. Plaintiff concludes that Nurse Jones', Newland's, and Gaddy's acts and omissions constitute the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiff also concludes that Defendants "retaliated" against him for filing administrative grievances.


         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss that presents information outside the pleadings that the court will not exclude. Consequently, the court treats the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment.[4] A party is entitled to summary judgment if the pleadings, the disclosed materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those necessary to establish the elements of a party's cause of action. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact exists if, in viewing the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. The moving party has the burden of showing - "that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the movant satisfies this burden, then the non-movant must set forth specific facts that demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of fact for trial.[5] Id. at 322-24. "Mere unsupported speculation... is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ennis v. Nat'l Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995). A party is entitled to summary judgment if the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find in favor of the non-movant. Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir. 1991). A plaintiff cannot use a response to a motion for summary judgment to amend or correct a complaint challenged by the motion for summary judgment. Cloaninger v. McDevitt, 555 F.3d 324, 336 (4th Cir. 2009).

         A government official sued under § 1983 may invoke qualified immunity. Cooper v. Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153, 158 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). "The doctrine of qualified immunity 'balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.'" Smith v. Ray, 781 F.3d 95, 100 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)). The "qualified immunity analysis typically involves two inquiries: (1) whether the plaintiff has established the violation of a constitutional right, and (2) whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation." Raub v. Campbell, 785 F.3d 876, 881 (4th Cir. 2015); see In re Allen, 106 F.3d 582, 593 (4th Cir. 1997) ("[A]n official may claim qualified immunity as long as his actions are not clearly established to be beyond the boundaries of his discretionary authority."). A "court may address these two questions in the order ... that will best facilitate the fair and efficient disposition of each case." Estate of Armstrong v. Vill. of Pinehurst. 810 F.3d 892, 898 (4th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). A plaintiffs claim "survives summary judgment, however, only if [the court] answer[s] both questions in the affirmative." Id.



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