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Custis v. Clarke

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

March 8, 2018

RYRICA NIKITA CUSTIS, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD CLARKE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Ryricka Nikita Custis, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendants Earl Barksdale, M. Younce, D. Edwards, P. Harless, and E. Sowards denied him adequate medical care, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, while he was housed at the Red Onion State Prison (“Red Onion”). Specifically, Custis alleges in his verified complaint that he was denied a bottom bunk assignment as ordered by a Red Onion physician in September 2015. (Dkt. No. 13.) Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that defendant Barksdale was not personally involved in any deprivation of rights, that plaintiff is not entitled to damages from defendants in their official capacities, that defendants were not deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need, and that defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 32.) Custis responded to the motion for summary judgment, making this matter ripe for disposition. (Dkt. No. 35.) Upon review of the record, the court concludes that defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 5, 2015, Custis was transferred from Sussex I State Prison to Red Onion and assigned to a bottom bunk in general population housing. Custis was later re-assigned to a top bunk on August 11, 2015, and then transferred to a medical cell on September 1, 2015, after he requested medical treatment for pain in his toes and right foot. On September 1, Dr. Smith treated Custis for low back pain related to an injury he suffered the year before at another prison, noting that Custis had bi-lateral foot pain and two amputated toes. Dr. Smith issued a medical order for Custis to be assigned to a bottom bunk for six months pending resolution of a separate order for special shoes. A nurse's note dated September 1 indicated that medical staff had seen Dr. Smith's order that day. The medical staff, however, did not complete the Medical Bottom Bunk Assignment Form or enter Dr. Smith's order until two weeks later on September 15, 2015. Meanwhile, Custis was released from the medical cell on September 3 and alleges that he was deliberately returned to his top bunk assignment, which was the assignment he held prior to being admitted to medical housing.[1] (Am. Compl. at 2-3, Dkt. No. 13; Smith Aff. ¶¶ 3-7, Dkt. No. 21-1.)

         Custis alleges that on September 7, 2015, he submitted an offender request and notified Edwards of his medical order assigning him to a bottom bunk despite actually being in a top bunk. Custis alleges that Edwards, an official in the records department, had the authority to change Custis's bunk assignment or notify the appropriate prison official to do so. Nurse Harless responded to the offender request, as seen by Custis on September 11; however, Custis alleges that she failed to help him or notify the appropriate official to correct his bunk assignment. On September 17, Custis notified Edwards again by submitting an offender request to be changed from the top bunk to a bottom bunk. Custis alleges that Edwards responded on September 24, instructing Custis to speak with his assigned counselor or unit manager. Consequently, that same day, Custis submitted an offender request to Warden Barksdale, Unit Manager Younce, and Counselor Sowards, repeating his complaint of being in a top bunk despite his medical order for a bottom bunk. Custis alleges he received no response and no action was taken. (Am. Compl. at 2-4, Dkt. No. 13.)

         In their motion for summary judgment, defendants state that after Custis was received at Red Onion on February 5, 2015, he was assigned a bottom bunk in general population but subsequently had several changes in housing assignments. Defendants state that Custis was moved within Red Onion to assignments in segregation, medical, and mental health housing, and was then “mistakenly moved to a top bunk assignment on August 11, 2015.” Custis was later transferred to a medical cell on September 1, 2015, and returned to his top bunk assignment on September 3, 2015. When Custis was seen by the prison physician on September 1, his medical records note that he had “back pain” and his “feet hurt, ” but was in “no acute distress.” (Med. Rec. at 2, Dkt. No. 21-2.) Defendants state that on October 9, 2015, Unit Manager Younce responded to an “Informal Complaint” from Custis and noted that he had been moved to a bottom bunk assignment on October 4, 2015. Following this bunk assignment, defendants state that Custis remained in a bottom bunk at Red Onion, with the exception of a ten-day segregation assignment, until his transfer to Wallens Ridge State Prison on August 31, 2016. (Younce Aff. ¶¶ 4, 6, Dkt. No. 33-1.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         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 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. Id. at 322-24. 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). “Mere unsupported speculation [ ] is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion.”[2] Ennis v. Nat'l Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio. Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995).

         B. Official Capacity Damages

         As a threshold matter, to the extent Custis brings this action against the defendants in their official capacities for monetary damages, such claims are not cognizable under § 1983. “[N]either a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are ‘persons' under § 1983.” Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70 (1989). Because the prison official defendants in their official capacities are not “persons” who can be sued under § 1983, the court must dismiss Custis's claims against them.

         C. Denial of Medical Care

         Custis alleges that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by denying him medical care when he received a top bunk assignment despite the Red Onion physician's medical order assigning him to a bottom bunk. Specifically, Custis argues that the physician's September 1, 2015 order assigning him to a bottom bunk was deliberately ignored by defendants, causing him to suffer pain from putting pressure on his foot to climb to the top bunk until he was moved to a bottom bunk on October 4, 2015. Defendants allege they did not deliberately deny Custis his ...


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