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Smith v. Keefee Commissary Network LLC

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

March 31, 2018

TANYA MICHELLE SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
KEEFE COMMISSARY NETWORK, LLC., [1] et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Tanya Michelle Smith, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to unsafe work conditions and her serious medical needs.[2] All defendants except the Medical Department filed motions to dismiss (Dkt. Nos. 30, 33, and 59), and Smith responded, making this matter ripe for disposition. Having considered the record, the court will sua sponte dismiss Smith's claims against the Medical Department and grant the other defendants' motions to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Smith alleges that on April 29, 2015, she was working in the commissary at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (Fluvanna) and helping another inmate unload freight from the loading dock. Unfortunately, she became pinned in the door jamb when she collided with the inmate who was operating a pallet jack that was loaded “to capacity.” Smith claims that the pallet jack malfunctioned and lost power, pinning Smith “from [her] left collarbone to [her] lower left waist.” The inmate manually moved the pallet jack off of Smith. The supervisor of Keefe Commissary Network, LLC (Keefe), the company that supplies the commissary items at Fluvanna, was notified immediately of the accident, and a report was written. The assistant supervisor of Keefe took Smith to the medical department. When they arrived, two medical unit nurses advised them that “sick call was closed” and that Smith should submit a sick call request. The assistant manager continued to seek medical help by taking Smith to the “acute side” of the medical unit. Smith was seen by a nurse and was given an “ice glove.” (Compl. 4, Dkt. No. 1.)

         In the months following the accident, Smith went to at least twenty-two medical appointments and was seen by at least five doctors, many nurses, and/or other medical staff. During this time, she was prescribed various pain medications and had multiple x-rays taken. Although she was prescribed pain medications, it appears that various nurses did not always dispense these medications to Smith as they were prescribed. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1, 4; Exh. C, Dkt. No. 1-1, 4; Exh. J, Dkt. No. 1-1, 21-23, 28; Exh. K, Dkt. No. 1-1, 32-33; Exh. N, Dkt. No. 1-1, 56-57.)

         After seven months of “excruciating pain, ” Smith was referred to the University of Virginia (UVA) Orthopedic Clinic on November 13, 2015. Smith was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff and bicep injuries and was ultimately scheduled for surgery on October 14, 2016. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1, 4.)

         The many offender requests, informal complaints, and grievances attached to Smith's complaint present disjointed allegations against defendants Drs. Kamal and Gable. On October 17, 2015, Smith had a medical appointment with Dr. Kamal, but Smith “didn't quite understand her diagnosis and what the x-ray showed.” Dr. Kamal prescribed a sling and pain medication for fourteen days, told Smith that her shoulder pain was from an old injury and that her pain on the top of her breast was because her bra was too tight, and gave Smith a note excusing her from work for fourteen days. On November 24, 2015, Smith noted she was not receiving pain medication that Dr. Kamal had prescribed for her to take twice a day. On January 28, 2016, Smith “fe[lt] as though Dr. Kamal is helpful but [Smith] need[s] to see a more qualified d[octo]r who addresses all of the problems concerning [her] bones.” On August 8, 2016, Smith received two x-ray lab results from Dr. Kamal, stating that the results reflected “acceptable levels, ” but Smith was “concern[ed]” about “what particular lab(s) results are acceptable and [that] Dr. Kamal ha[d]n't scheduled a[] follow-up to discuss these results and compare.” On October 26, 2016, Dr. Kamal ordered an egg crate and wedge pillow for Smith.

         On March 9, 2017, Dr. Gable referred Smith to a doctor at UVA for a follow-up appointment, where the doctor recommended that Smith have physical therapy three days per week. On March 22, 2017, Smith tried to tell Dr. Kamal that Dr. Farley, who is not a defendant, had only been giving Smith physical therapy one day per week, but Smith did not “get any type of assistance” from Dr. Kamal; instead, Dr. Kamal “completely ignored any references [Smith] made about this issue, ” and it took seven months for Dr. Kamal and two other doctors to “consider that [Smith's] injury was beyond their medical expertise.” (Exh. E, Dkt. No. 1-1, 6; Exh. I, Dkt. No. 1-1, 16; Exh. J, Dkt. No. 1-1, 26, 30; Exh. K, Dkt. No. 1-1, 31; Exh. L, Dkt. No. 1-1, 37; Exh. M, Dkt. No. 1-1, 39.)

         Smith also filed a “Medical Timeline” that covers the time period between when the accident occurred on April 29, 2015, and July 7, 2017. The timeline confirms the details of various medical appointments referenced throughout the offender requests, informal complaints, and grievances that Smith filed with her complaint and provides new details.[3]

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Fluvanna Medical Department

         Smith names the Fluvanna Medical Department as a defendant. To state a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege facts indicating that she has been deprived of rights guaranteed by the Constitution or laws of the United States and that this deprivation resulted from conduct “committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (emphasis added). Because a medical department is not a legal entity, it is not a “person” subject to suit under § 1983, and Smith cannot maintain this action against it. See Harden v. Green, 27 F. App'x 173, 178 (4th Cir. 2001) (“The medical department of a prison may not be sued, because it is not a person within the meaning of § 1983.”). Accordingly, the court will dismiss Smith's claims against the Medical Department pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1).

         B. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         The remaining defendants-Warden Dillman, Keefe, and Drs. Kamal and Gable-have filed motions to dismiss. 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. ...


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