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Jones v. Singh Gujral

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

July 17, 2018

GEORGE LEE JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. INDER JEET SINGH GUJRAL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          John A. Gibney, Jr. Judge

         George Lee Jones, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauper is, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Jones alleges that Defendant Dr. Inder Jeet Singh Gujral ("Defendant Gujral"), a physician at Sussex II State Prison, was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment.[2] (Compl. 4, ECF No. I.)[3] By Memorandum Order entered on September 5, 2017, the Court denied without prejudice Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 31.) The matter is now before the Court on the Defendant's Second Motion for Summary Judgment. ("Motion for Summary Judgment," ECF No. 32.) Jones has responded. (ECF No. 36.) The matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated below, the Court will GRANT Defendant Gujral's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. SUMMARY OF CLAIMS

         Jones claims that Defendant Gujral was deliberately indifferent to his medical condition, known as Sjogren's Syndrome, in the course of his detention at Sussex II State Prison. In his sworn complaint, Jones alleges that as a result of his Sjogren's Syndrome, he "experiences joint pain, swelling and stiffness, swollen saliva glands, skin rashes or dry skin, and prolonged fatigue." (Compl. 4.) Jones further alleges that "despite [his] history of suffering and plea for help, Defendant Dr. Gujral refuse[d] to address him with adequate treatment and/or a referral to an outside specialist, effectively subjecting [him] to the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain and denial of adequate medical care in violation of [his] constitutional rights." (Id. at 6.) The Court construes Jones's Complaint to raise the following claims:

Claim 1: Defendant acted with deliberate indifference by failing to treat Jones's Sjogren's Syndrome (id.);
Claim 2: During the two years that Jones was under Defendant's care, Defendant acted with deliberate indifference by failing to provide continuous treatment and adequate care for Jones's symptoms related to his Sjogren's Syndrome, namely:
(a) "dry eyes," (id. at 4.);
(b) "dry mouth," (id.);
(c) "joint pain, swelling and stiffness," (id.);
(d) "swollen saliva glands," (id.);
(e) "skin rashes or dry skin," (id);
(f) "prolonged fatigue," (id.);
(g) "limited mobility and is mostly confined to a wheelchair," (id.); and, (h) "constant pain and discomfort... [which] prohibit[s] him from enjoying the normal 6 to 7 hours of undisturbed sleep." (Id.)
Claim 3: Defendant acted with deliberate indifference by failing to refer Jones to a specialist to treat Jones's SjSgren's Syndrome or the symptoms related to Jones's Sjogren's Syndrome. (Id. at 5.)

         II. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Summary judgment must be rendered "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment bears the responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for the motion and identifying the parts of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, Ml U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file." Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). When the motion is properly supported, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and, by citing affidavits or '"depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), (e) (1986)). In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the Court "must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." United States v. Carolina Transformer Co., 978 F.2d 832, 835 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). However, a mere "scintilla of evidence" will not preclude summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251 (quoting Improvement Co. v. Munson, 81 U.S. (14 Wall.) 442, 448 (1872)). Nor can a nonmoving party "create a genuine dispute of fact through mere speculation." Emmett v. Johnson, 532 F.3d 291, 297 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.3d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985)). Accordingly, "[t]he nonmovant can show that a dispute is genuine only if it provides sufficient evidence so that a 'reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Wiggins v. DaVita Tidewater LLC, 451 F.Supp.2d 789, 796 (E.D. Va. 2006) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

         In support of his Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant Gujral has submitted his own declaration (Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 1 ("Gurjal Decl."), ECF No. 33-1). With his previous Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant Gujral submitted Jones's pertinent medical records. ("Med. Rec," ECF Nos. 23-2 through 23-3). Jones has submitted a sworn Complaint (ECF No. 1, at 8), copies of grievances he filed with the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC"), and letters he has written to various officials. (ECF Nos. 20-2 through 20-4). Further, in response to Defendant Gujral's first Motion for Summary Judgment, Jones submitted his own affidavit. ("Jones Aff.," ECF No. 28, at 5.) The Court will consider these submissions in determining the propriety of summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In light of the foregoing submissions, the following facts are established for the purposes of the Motion for Summary Judgment. All permissible inferences are drawn in favor of Jones.

         III. UNDISPUTED FACTS

         On February 5, 2014, Jones was transferred from Nottoway Correctional Center to Sussex II State Prison ("Sussex II"). (Gujral Aff. ¶ 7.) Defendant Gujral began working as a physician at Sussex II in March 2014. (Compl. 4; Gujral Aff. ¶ 2.) Jones is an obese, 80-year-old man "in poor health with many longstanding or chronic medical issues." (Gujral Aff. ¶ 7.) Specifically, Jones suffers from Type II diabetes, glaucoma, renal insufficiency, coronary artery disease with a history of congestive heart failure, mobility issues, and SjSgren's Syndrome. (Id.; see Compl. 4.) Sjogren's Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder. (Gujral Aff. ¶ 5.) Sjogren's Syndrome's most common symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth. (Id.) Other symptoms of Sjogren's Syndrome include, "joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, swollen salivary glands, skin rashes or dry skin, persistent dry couch, and prolonged fatigue." (Id.) Treatment of Sjogren's Syndrome is essentially treatment of its symptoms, as there is no cure for Sjogren's Syndrome. (Id.) Many patients with Sjogren's Syndrome "manage their symptoms with over-the-counter eyedrops and increasing water intake. In addition, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ('NSAIDs') and other arthritis medications are commonly prescribed for symptoms related to joint pain, swelling, and stiffness." (Id.)

         In early February 2014, Jones's medications included: aspirin, Isosorbide, Lisinopril, a multivitamin, Lasix, and Insulin. (See Id. ¶ 7.) Isosorbide "is used to treat chest pain," (id.), Lisinopril "is an ACE inhibitor used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure," (id.), and Lasix "is a diuretic used to treat fluid retention and swelling (edema) caused by congestive heart failure, liver disease, kidney disease, and other medical conditions." (Id.) Jones was prescribed Insulin to treat his diabetes. (Id.)[4]

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Eighth Amendment Standard

         To survive a motion for summary judgment on an Eighth Amendment "cruel and unusual punishment" claim, Jones "must prove two elements: (1) that objectively die deprivation of a basic human need was 'sufficiently serious,' and (2) that subjectively the prison officials acted with a 'sufficiently culpable state of mind.'" Johnson v. Quinones, 145 F.3d 164, 167 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting Wilson v. Setter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)). An inmate must demonstrate both that "the prison official acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind (subjective component) and ... the deprivation suffered or injury inflicted on the inmate was sufficiently serious (objective component)." Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 238 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Williams v. Benjamin, 77 F.3d 756, 761 (4th Cir. 1996)). "These requirements spring from the text of the amendment itself; absent intentionality, a condition imposed on an inmate cannot properly be called 'punishment,' and absent severity, such punishment cannot be called 'cruel and unusual.'" Id. (citing Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298-300). "What must be established with regard to each component 'varies according to the nature of the alleged constitutional violation.'" Williams, 77 F.3d at 761 (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992)).

         The subjective prong of a deliberate indifference claim requires the plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendant actually knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of serious harm to his person. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). "Deliberate indifference is a very high standard-a showing of mere negligence will not meet it." Grayson v. Peed, 195 F.3d 692, 695 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976)).

[A] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.

Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. Farmer teaches "that general knowledge of facts creating a substantial risk of harm is not enough. The prison official must also draw the inference between those general facts and the specific risk of harm confronting the inmate." Quinones, 145 F.3d at 168 (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837). Thus, to survive a motion for summary judgment under the deliberate indifference standard, a plaintiff "must show that the official in question subjectively recognized a substantial risk of harm . . . [and] that the official in question subjectively recognized that his actions were 'inappropriate in light of that risk.'" Parrish ex rel. Lee v. Cleveland, 372 F.3d 294, 303 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting Rich v. Bruce, 129 F.3d 336, 340 n.2 (4th Cir. 1997)).

         "To establish that a health care provider's actions constitute deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, the treatment must be so grossly incompetent, inadequate, or excessive as to shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness." Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 851 (4th Cir. 1990) (citing Rogers v. Evans, 792 F.2d 1052, 1058 (11th Cir. 1986)). Absent exceptional circumstances, an inmate's disagreement with medical personnel with respect to a course of treatment is insufficient to state a cognizable constitutional claim, much less to demonstrate deliberate indifference. See Wright v. Collins, 766 F.2d 841, 849 (4th Cir. 1985) (citing Gittlemacker v. Prasse, 428 F.2d 1, 6 (3d Cir. 1970)). Furthermore, in evaluating a prisoner's complaint regarding medical care, the Court is mindful that "society does not expect that prisoners will have unqualified access to health care" or to the medical treatment of their choosing. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9 (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 103-04). In this regard, the right to medical treatment is limited to that treatment which is medically necessary and not to "that which may be considered merely desirable." Bowring v. Godwin, 551 F.2d 44, 48 (4th Cir. 1977).

         B. Claim 1

         In Claim 1, Jones contends that Defendant Gujral acted with deliberate indifference by failing to treat Jones's Sjogren's Syndrome and its symptoms. (Compl. 6.) In his Complaint, Jones alleges that on more than one occasion, Defendant Gujral refused to examine him because Jones had filed grievances against him. (Compl. 5.) Jones admits, however, that he has received some medical treatment but contends that those treatments were "in connection with other medical ailments that are unrelated to [his] Sjogren's Syndrome, like arthritis and diabetes." (Jones Aff.l.)

         Jones suffers from Type II diabetes, glaucoma, renal insufficiency, coronary artery disease with a history of congestive heart failure, mobility issues, as well as Sjogren's Syndrome. (Gujral Aff. ¶ 7.) Sjogren's Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder and its most common symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth. (Id. ¶ 5.) Other symptoms of Sjogren's Syndrome include, "joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, swollen salivary glands, skin rashes or dry skin, persistent dry couch, and prolonged fatigue." (Id.) Treatment of Sjogren's Syndrome is essentially treatment of its symptoms, as there is no cure for Sjogren's Syndrome. (Id.)

         The record establishes that Jones received medical care for the symptoms of his Sjogren's Syndrome from Defendant Gujral and other doctors at Sussex II. Although Jones complained in his VDOC grievances that he was not being treated for the "root cause" of his Sjogren's Syndrome (ECF No. ECF No. 20-2, at 1), Sjogren's Syndrome has no cure. (Gujral Decl. ¶ 5.) A failure to cure an incurable medical condition does not violate the Eighth Amendment. See Jones v. McRee, No. 4:15-3273-RMG, 2016 WL 4967765, at *2 (D.S.C. Sept. 16, 2016).

         Nonetheless, in his sworn Complaint, Jones avers that "[d]uring several visits to [Defendant Gujral], [Jones] was unable to speak with Defendant Dr. Gujral because when the doctor saw [Jones] he said, 'Oh you have complaints against me,' and walked out of the examination room without examining [Jones]." (Compl. 5.) Jones then states "Defendant Dr. Gujral has a pattern of refusing to examine prisoners . . . who had filed informal complaints against him as [Jones] is aware of at least two other instances . . . ." (Id. at 6.) Jones fails to create a genuine dispute of fact regarding Defendant Gujral's refusal to treat him because Jones filed grievances against him. Specifically, Jones's vague statement that Defendant Gujral refused to see him at several unidentified times fails to create sufficient doubt to counter Defendant Gujral's sworn testimony and Jones's medical records that Defendant Gujral treated Jones for his various ailments-including his Sjogren's Syndrome-on numerous occasions. See Longleaf in Vinings Homeowners Ass'n, Inc. v. QBE Ins. Corp., No. 1:13-CV-03132-AT, 2015 WL 11232360, at *7 (N.D.Ga. Mar. 12, 2015) (concluding party's affidavit failed to create a genuine dispute of fact where it contained "only a vague description of events and time sequence"), affd,646 Fed.Appx. 823 (11th Cir. 2016); see also Smith v. Pope, No. ...


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