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Miller v. Blue Ridge Regional Jail

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

July 6, 2018

KEVIN D. MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
BLUE RIDGE REGIONAL JAIL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Kevin D. Miller, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations to his Eighth Amendment rights while housed at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority (“BRRJA”).[1] In his verified amended complaint and affidavit, Miller claims that defendants BRRJA, Nurse Teresa Jones, and Major Raymond Espinoza denied him proper dental treatment after Miller chipped his two front teeth from slipping in his cell. Specifically, Miller alleges that defendants refused to send him to a private dentist outside of the jail, absent payment from his inmate account, and offered him limited dental treatment. Am. Compl., Docket No. 10; Miller Verified Statement, Docket No. 2.

         Presently pending is defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), on the grounds that Miller fails to state an Eighth Amendment claim, that Nurse Jones and Major Espinoza are entitled to qualified immunity, and that the BRRJA is not an entity amenable to suit under § 1983. Docket No. 19. In support, defendants submitted the sworn affidavits of Nurse Jones, Major Espinoza, jail dentist Dr. James Peery, as well as Miller's medical and dental records. Docket No. 20. Miller responded, Docket No. 27, and this matter is ripe for disposition. Defendants presented materials outside of the pleadings for consideration, and thus I will treat defendants' motion as one for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). For the reasons that follow, I will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I.

         On January 31, 2017, Miller filed a written Inmate Request to see the dentist, stating that he chipped his two front teeth that day and was experiencing severe pain. Miller was examined by a nurse that same day, but was not treated by a dentist. On February 1, 2017, Miller submitted another written Inmate Request, repeating that he had chipped his teeth and was in severe pain. On February 10, 2017, Miller was examined by dentist Dr. Peery, who is not a named defendant, at the jail. Miller alleges he told Dr. Peery that he had slipped while in his cell and chipped his teeth on his bunk. After Dr. Peery examined him, Miller alleges that Dr. Peery recommended Miller be sent to a private dentist outside of BRRJA to have his teeth capped and have a root canal due to the severity of his chipped teeth. Am. Compl. at 3, Docket No. 10; Miller Verified Statement at 2-3, Docket No. 2.

         On February 13, 2017, Miller submitted a grievance and spoke with Major Espinoza in person, repeating his request for dental treatment and articulating his continued tooth pain. Am. Compl. at 2-3, Docket No. 10. At this time, Miller alleges he remained in severe pain and was unable to eat, drink, or speak without discomfort. Id. Miller repeated to Major Espinoza that Dr. Peery recommended he be sent to a private dentist outside the jail, and Miller requested that the BRRJA pay for the outside treatment. Miller alleges that Espinoza ignored Miller's pain and “clearly look[ed] pass [sic] Dentist James Peery's recommendation to be sent out to have [his] teeth fixed” because Miller could not pay for dental treatment outside of the prison. Id. Miller continued to seek dental treatment for his chipped teeth, and went to sick call on February 14, 2017. Miller was seen by Nurse Jones and explained to her that he continued to experience severe pain.[2] That same day, Miller submitted two more written Inmate Requests, stating that Nurse Jones failed to sign him up to be seen by the dentist and explaining that he needed to see the dentist to obtain an estimate of the cost of having his teeth capped. Miller Verified Statement at 2-3, Docket No. 2. Miller insisted that having his teeth capped would be the proper remedy, but Miller alleges Nurse Jones “disregarded” Dr. Peery's recommendation and refused because Miller could not pay for dental treatment outside what was offered at the jail. Am. Compl. at 3, Docket No. 10. On February 15, 2017, Miller submitted another written Inmate Request stating that he was unable to eat or drink due to the continued severe pain. That day, Miller met with Nurse Jones and requested that he receive treatment that permanently “fixed” his teeth rather than temporarily address it, which Miller alleges that Nurse Jones again “disregarded.” Miller Verified Statement at 6, Docket No. 2.

         In the defendants' version of events, Nurse Jones, Major Espinoza, and Dr. Peery submit sworn affidavits to contend that Miller was provided appropriate treatment for his dental injuries. Nurse Jones submits in her affidavit that January 31, 2017 was the first day Miller complained of his chipped teeth. Miller was examined by another nurse that same day, who administered Miller 400 milligrams of ibuprofen for five days to treat the pain. Jones Decl. ¶¶ 4-5, Docket No. 20-1. Nurse Jones asserts that Dr. Peery could not see Miller on that day because he contracts with BRRJA to visit the jail twice a month and was not on site on January 31, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. The next time Dr. Peery was scheduled to be at the jail was February 10, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 6- 8.

         In his affidavit, Major Espinoza submits that he replied to Miller's February 1st Inmate Request the same day to instruct Miller on filing the correct dental appointment paperwork. Espinoza Decl. ¶ 2, Docket No. 20-2. Major Espinoza asserts that Miller submitted a grievance on February 6, 2017, “indicat[ing] [Miller] was made aware that the services offered by the Jail dentist only included fillings and extractions. Miller stated that was unacceptable and that he wanted his teeth ‘fixed,' seeming to indicate that he wanted a cosmetic procedure to restore his teeth[.]” Id. ¶ 4. Major Espinoza asserts he emailed Nurse Jones on February 7th to inquire about her knowledge of Miller's chipped teeth. Nurse Jones replied that Miller was treated the same day he first complained of his chipped teeth with ibuprofen and that prison staff had sent Miller the required dental paperwork for Miller to complete in order to see Dr. Peery when he next visited the jail. Id. ¶ 5. Major Espinoza asserts that Miller had not filled out the paperwork by that time, so Espinoza reiterated this instruction on February 8, 2017 to assist Miller in making the dentist's appointment. Id. ¶ 6.

         On February 10, 2017, Dr. Peery treated Miller and asserts that Miller relayed symptoms of “thermal sensitivity consistent with pulpal exposure.” Peery Decl. ¶ 5, Docket No. 20-3. Dr. Peery diagnosed these symptoms to be the result of exposed dentin, and therefore would likely be alleviated with dentinal coverage. Dr. Peery asserts he only offers certain types of dental services at the jail, temporary fillings, bondings, and extractions, and he does not offer any cosmetic services. Based on his diagnosis, Dr. Peery recommended that either extraction or temporary bonding would alleviate Miller's symptoms and provide relief for his pain. Id. ¶¶ 5-6, 9. Miller, however, did not want his teeth extracted. Dr. Peery asserts that Miller requested Dr. Peery write an order for Miller to see an outside dentist for alternative treatment. Id. ¶ 5. Despite the medical order for Miller to see a private dentist, Major Espinoza asserts that BRRJA policy requires inmates to pay up front for fees associated with visits to medical providers outside the jail. Espinoza Decl. ¶ 10, Docket No. 20-2.

         On February 14, 2017, Miller complained of continued tooth pain at sick call; Nurse Jones asserts she directed another nurse to call Dr. Peery to determine proper treatment. Jones Decl. ¶ 13, Docket No. 20-2. As a result of that phone call, Nurse Jones asserts that Dr. Peery prescribed a ten-day supply of ibuprofen and stated he would examine Miller the next time he was scheduled to be at the jail. Id. On February 15, 2017, Miller wrote in his Inmate Request that he was unable to eat or drink due to his severe tooth pain, and Major Espinoza asserts that he responded to Miller the next day. In his response, Major Espinoza informed Miller that the jail dentist would determine what course of treatment was appropriate, and that in the interim, the Jail Medical Department (“Medical”) would start Miller on a liquid diet to ensure he could eat and drink. Espinoza Decl. ¶ 15, Docket No. 20-2. Nurse Jones asserts that February 15, 2017, was the first time she was made aware that Miller had trouble eating or drinking, and she moved Miller to be housed in Medical so she could monitor Miller's liquid diet and his pain level. Jones Decl. ¶¶ 12-13, Docket No. 20-1. Nurse Jones kept Miller in Medical for ten days, from February 15, 2017 until February 24, 2017, during which Miller was administered ibuprofen each day for pain per Dr. Peery's instructions. Id. ¶ 12. Nurse Jones asserts that Miller “voiced no complaints of pain during his time in Medical.” Id. ¶ 13.

         On February 23, 2017, [3] Dr. Peery examined Miller for a second time at the jail, and told Miller that he could not do a root canal or cap Miller's teeth the way Miller requested. Instead, Dr. Peery insisted that bonding Miller's teeth would be the appropriate treatment. In his affidavit, Dr. Peery asserts that Nurse Jones was present for the exam and that Dr. Peery repeated his observation that Miller's uncovered dentin was the source of Miller's pain. Peery Decl. ¶ 8, Docket No. 20-3; Medical Records, Docket No. 20-3, Ex. A. Dr. Peery states he brought the requisite materials and tools to the jail that day with the intention of performing the bonding procedure, which Dr. Peery states would “almost certainly” have alleviated Miller's pain. Id. ¶ 9. Dr. Peery and Nurse Jones assert that Miller refused treatment and again insisted on a repair of his chipped teeth that included cosmetic services.[4]

         Ultimately, the February 23, 2017 appointment did not result in Dr. Peery repairing Miller's chipped teeth. Nor did Dr. Peery order any further special diet or pain medications for Miller. Jones Decl. ¶ 15, Docket No. 20-1. Nurse Jones then released Miller from Medical as the ten-day observation period concluded on February 24, 2017, and Miller did not submit further complaints. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Major Espinoza asserts that he considered this matter resolved when Miller refused treatment for the second time with Dr. Peery. Espinoza Decl. ¶ 17, Docket No. 20-2.

         For his injuries, Miller seeks “the proper and necessary treat[ment] in having [his] teeth fixed bye [sic] being sent out to have them capped.” Miller further seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages as ...


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