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Braxton v. Director of Health Services

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

November 19, 2018

Christopher D. Braxton, Plaintiff,
v.
Director of Health Services, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. S. ELLIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed jointly by the defendants. Christopher D. Braxton, a Virginia inmate acting pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he suffered deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs at Greensville Correctional Center ("GCC") when appropriate actions were not taken with respect to his allergy to celery. For the reasons which follow, the Motion for Summary Judgment must be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Plaintiffs Allegations

         In the initial complaint, which is the operative complaint in the lawsuit, [1] plaintiff states that he has suffered from "a multitude of seriously painful, life-threatening" food allergies since 2013, and he receives the Common Fare diet at GCC. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 7. Among the foods to which plaintiff is allergic is celery, and he contends that defendants were deliberately indifferent to that serious medical condition in two ways.

         First, on January 8, 2014, Dr. Miranda at GCC submitted a consultation request for a radioallergosorbent ("RAST") test to determine if plaintiff was allergic to celery to Corizon Company, a "privately-owned medical contractor employed by the [Virginia Department of Corrections] to provide medical services and care for all prisoners." Compl. ¶ 6. The request was approved by Corizon's medical director on February 3, 2014, and on February 11 plaintiff underwent a blood test which he believed was a RAST for celery. On February 19, however, Dr. Miranda received a report stating that the laboratory had been unable to perform the test because Corizon's "prior authorization [was] required." Compl. ¶ 15.

         On March 10, 2014, plaintiff again submitted to a blood test, and again a report was sent to Dr. Miranda stating that the test had not been performed because "authorization from Corizon is required." Compl. at 6. Plaintiff alleges "on information and belief that Dr. Miranda sought authorization from Corizon for plaintiff to undergo a RAST for celery from January 2014 until June 2016, but defendant John Doe denied the requests on the ground that Corizon's policy is not to authorize RAST's for celery for prisoners. Braxton asserts that "said denials and said policy constitute deliberate indifference or reckless disregard under federal law." Compl. ¶ 20.

         In the second component to his deliberate indifference claim, Braxton alleges that GCC medical staff provided Mr. Creque, GCC's Food Service Manager, with a copy of a diet order from Dr. Miranda regarding his celery allergy on April 2, 2014. Nonetheless, since that date Creque and his staff have continued to place celery on plaintiffs food trays. Compl. ¶29. Plaintiff filed informal complaints and grievances regarding the situation, and was told to take the celery off his tray and not to eat it. Compl. ¶¶ 30-31.

         On March 2, 2016, after the grievance process had concluded unsuccessfully, plaintiff ate a meal from a food tray "minus the celery," and suffered an allergic reaction that consisted of "swelling of his face and throat, chest pain, breathing difficulty, unbearable itching, tightness around his waistline, wheals [sic] about his face, neck, chest, armpits, and groin," as well as "great fear that he was going to die." Compl. ¶ 34. During a medical examination that same day "food allergy blood testing" was ordered, but as before defendant John Doe denied authorization for such a test based on Corizon's policy. Compl. ¶¶ 35-36. The same scenario was repeated beginning on June 11 or 12, 2016, when plaintiff again consumed a meal "minus the celery," experienced an allergic reaction, and was denied a RAST test. Compl. ¶¶37-38.

         On June 24, 2016, a medical provider at GCC discontinued the order for a RAST test for Braxton because Corizon and its representative refused to authorize it. Compl. ¶ 40.

         The original named defendants were VDOC's Director of Health Services; Gregory Holloway, VDOC's Regional Administrator; Carolyn M. Parker, an Assistant Warden at GCC; Mr. Creque, GCC's Food Operations Manager; and the Corizon Company. Compl. at 2 -3. Also listed in the style of the complaint as a defendant was John Doe, an unknown employee of Corizon Company who allegedly denied the institutional health care providers' requests for a RAST test for plaintiff. Compl. ¶ 19. In an Order dated June 28, 2017, Braxton's claim against Corizon Company was dismissed with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) for failure to state a claim. [Dkt. No. 2] In the same Order, Braxton was informed that service could not be ordered on defendant "John Doe" until Braxton provided the court with his or her identity and address. Doe has never been served, and because it is now clear that he was a Corizon employee and hence not a state actor, he could not be liable to Braxton pursuant to § 1983.[2] West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988). Accordingly, Braxton's claim against him will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) for failure to state a claim.

         Braxton makes the following specific claims against the remaining defendants:

3. Defendant Creque violated the Eighth Amendment buy placing celery on plaintiffs meal tray, and as a result plaintiff suffered allergic reactions to celery on March 2 and June 11, 2016.
4. Defendants Parker and Holloway intentionally failed to exercise their supervisory authority over defendant Creque to stop him from placing celery on plaintiff's meal tray.
5. Defendants Parker, Holloway and Director of Health Services Herrick failed to exercise their supervisory authority to ensure that he would receive a RAST for celery.

Compl. at 13 -14. Plaintiff seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages as well ...


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