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Freeman v. Wells

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

March 31, 2018

JOSHUA A. FREEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
D. WELLS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Joshua A. Freeman, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by denying him adequate medical treatment for ulcerative colitis.[1] Defendants filed motions to dismiss (Dkt. Nos. 37 and 40), and Freeman responded, making this matter ripe for disposition. Having considered the record and for the reasons stated herein, the court will grant in part and deny in part the motion to dismiss of defendants Nurses Wells, Crawford, Parks, and Sellers, and Dr. Stevens and will grant the motion to dismiss of defendants Warden Kanode, Chief Physician Amonette, Health Services Director Herrick, and Deputy Director of Administration Scott.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Freeman alleges that on December 14, 2016, he started experiencing symptoms of ulcerative colitis. On December 15, 2016, Freeman submitted a request for services to the medical department at River North Correctional Center (River North), asking to be seen as soon as possible “before the symptoms worsen.” Defendant Nurse Crawford responded the next day and indicated that Freeman was on a list to be seen by the doctor. On December 19, 2016, Freeman was called to the medical department for a sick call evaluation by defendant Nurse Parks. Freeman advised Nurse Parks that his symptoms of ulcerative colitis were “persistent” and that he was experiencing increased rectal mucus and bleeding, abdominal pains, and discomfort. Nurse Parks said that Freeman would be placed on a list to see defendant Dr. Stevens and advised Freeman that he should return to the medical department if his condition worsened. Nurse Parks refused to provide or request an order of pain medication to alleviate Freeman's severe abdominal pains.

         Approximately eight days later on December 27, 2016, Freeman filed an emergency grievance to the medical department, informing them that he needed to be seen because he was “experiencing symptoms and had developed an unbearable pain in [his] lower left abdomen.” Defendant Nurse Wells responded that evening, deeming his grievance non-emergent and advising him that he was on the doctor's list.

         On January 3, 2017, Freeman submitted another emergency grievance to the medical department, informing them that he was having “severe symptoms” of ulcerative colitis for over fourteen days and “severe abdominal pains and continuous rectal bleeding that was mixed with mucus” for nineteen days. He also told medical staff that the rectal bleeding was a lot more frequent and heavy and that the symptoms were far worse than they had been. Nurse Crawford responded that morning, deemed his grievance non-emergent, and advised him that he was placed on a list to be seen by the doctor.[2] On January 4, 2017, Freeman informed Nurse Sellers that his abdominal pain and rectal bleeding had worsened.

         On January 10, 2017, Freeman was seen by Dr. Stevens. Freeman described the severity of abdominal pains and advised that he was still defecating blood. Freeman claims that Dr. Stevens adopted Nurse Crawford's recommendation that Freeman continue medication, [3] which Nurse Crawford “made without [] ever speaking with [Freeman].” Freeman states that he showed Dr. Stevens that he should not take that medication because it “shouldn't be provided to a person suffering from abdominal pains and rectal bleeding.” Freeman claims that he also informed Dr. Stevens that psyllium fiber “is not a medication to treat [u]lcerative [c]olitis.” According to Freeman, Dr. Stevens disregarded everything that Freeman told him and continued the medication. When Freeman advised Dr. Stevens that he had not been provided pain medication for twenty-five days, Dr. Stevens told Freeman to utilize “sick call procedures and inform the nurses that you are in pain.” Freeman told Dr. Stevens that he filed two emergency grievances and that with both he was told the grievance was deemed non-emergent with responses that responded that he was on the doctor's list. Freeman explained that he also informed “multiple nurses” that he was in pain and he was told that he needed to see a doctor first. Freeman allegedly told Dr. Stevens that he was still having severe abdominal pains and would like to be prescribed a pain medication, but Dr. Stevens did not prescribe a pain medication. Freeman also asked why he had not been prescribed an antibiotic to “fight off any infections that may have arisen due to the damaging inflammation and the daily bleeding, ” and Dr. Stevens said that he did not believe that Freeman had any infections in his body. Freeman asked him how he could know since no blood or stools were tested since June 2013. Dr. Stevens did not answer Freeman's question, but he said he would submit a referral for a gastroenterology consultation and order lab work. Freeman continued to suffer “severe abdominal pains and daily rectal bleeding” for nearly a month until February 7, 2017, when the symptoms “diminish[ed].”

         Freeman argues that Dr. Stevens and Nurses Wells, Crawford, Parks, and Sellers were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. These defendants argue that Freeman failed to allege that they acted with deliberate indifference, that they are entitled to qualified immunity, and that they are not liable for damages in their official capacities.

         Freeman alleges that defendant Warden Kanode was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical in two ways. First, Warden Kanode failed to “intervene or correct implemented medical procedures utilized” at the facility. Second, Warden Kanode passively accepted medical staff's assurance of providing adequate medical care without conducting an independent investigation into Freeman's claims of being denied treatment for daily rectal bleeding and severe abdominal pains.

         Freeman alleges that defendants Amonette, the Chief Physician of the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC); Herrick, the Health Services Director of the VDOC; and Scott, the Deputy Director of Administration, were deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs when they developed or approved VDOC policies that did not include ulcerative colitis “as a chronic care condition.” Freeman believes that they all knew ulcerative colitis could “deteriorate into a more serious problem” if left untreated.

         These defendants argue that Freeman failed to allege that they were personally involved in violating his rights or deliberately indifferent, that they are entitled to qualified immunity, and that they are not liable for damages in their official capacities.

         II. DISCUSSION

         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 ...


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