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Hixson v. Hutcheson

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

January 23, 2019

CAREY HIXSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BRYAN HUTCHESON, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Michael F. Urbanski, Chief United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Carey Hixson ("Hixson"), an insulin-dependent diabetic, alleges he was denied insulin while incarcerated at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail ("HRRJ"), giving rise to a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights and a state-law claim of gross negligence. Hixson's Second Amended Complaint for Monetary Damages, ECF No. 125, raises these claims against Defendant Dr. Michael Moran ("Dr. Moran"), the doctor at HRRJ during Hixson's incarceration. This matter comes before the court on Dr. Moran's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 189. For the reasons given below, the court GRANTS the motion.

         I.[1]

         Hixson was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in April 2015 during a hospitalization at Rockingham Memorial Hospital ("RMH"). ECF No. 199-5, at 49. During the same hospital stay, he was also diagnosed with methamphetamine-induced psychosis, polysubstance abuse, and alcohol abuse. Id. A consultation note by a physician on April 26, 2015 recorded that Hixson had a history of intermittent blurry vision and paresthesias of the hand and feet. Id.

         Dr. Moran was the medical doctor for inmates at HRRJ during Hixson's incarceration. ECF No. 199-3, at 5. He was employed by Rockingham County to provide medical care to the inmates. Id. at 6. Hixson entered HRRJ on August 23, 2016 and was released on January 29, 2017. ECF No. 199-2, at 31. Upon entry, Hixson was seen by a non party intake nurse. ECF No. 199-3, at 7-8. He informed her that he had type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes, but the intake nurse was unable to confirm the diagnosis, despite faxing a record request to Hixson's medical provider. Id. Dr. Moran testified that the medical team at HRRJ was unable to obtain Hixson's medical history because "when [Hixson] signed his release form, he wrote do not release mental health information," and Hixson's diagnosis of diabetes was made during his stay in the psychiatric unit of RMH. ECF No. 199-2, at 8. Policy dictated that a nurse repeat the record request if a health provider failed to respond within 24 hours. ECF No. 199-4, at 10. If the provider still did not respond within 24 hours of the second request, policy required that the nurse call the physician for orders and document that no records were ever received. Id. While the original record request to Hixson's provider was made, no evidence has been elicited showing a repeat request was made or that Dr. Moran was contacted regarding the failure to secure records. Id.

         Dr. Moran reviewed the information taken by the intake nurse and placed Hixson on a diabetic diet. ECF No. 199-2, at 8. He also ordered Hixson's blood sugar levels be tested every day. Id. For the first four months of his incarceration, Hixson's blood sugar readings were variable, with some normal and some elevated scores.[2] See ECF No. 113-12, at 18-22. Hixson's September readings ranged from a low of 94 mg/dL on September 24, 2016 to a high of 157 mg/dL on September 22, 2016. Id. Likewise, in October, his low reading was 118 mg/dL on October 3, 2016 and his high reading was 169 mg/dL on October 5, 2016. Id. November's readings creeped up, but remained variable, from a low of 137 mg/dL on November 25, 2016 to a high of 239 mg/dL on November 3, 2016. Id. December's readings, while higher, still fluctuated from 118 mg/dL on December 24, 2016 to 277 mg/dL on December 7, 2016. Id. Hixson's blood sugar values retained this variability in January 2017. Id. On three days that month, January 21, 24, and 28, Hixson's twice daily readings were more than 100 points apart. Id.

         Hixson also began occasionally refusing testing, claiming apprehension in interacting with Nurse Katherine Raynes after a confrontation with her over insulin.[3] ECF No. 199-2, at 34. Dr. Moran reviewed the blood sugar readings on a weekly basis, as indicated by his initials in Hixson's medical record. ECF No. 199-4, at 13. In response to the higher readings, Dr. Moran ordered that the blood sugar tests be performed twice daily in January 2017, but at no point did Dr. Moran prescribe Hixson any type of oral diabetes medication or insulin injections. ECF No. 199-2, at 23. While Hixson claims he repeatedly asked nursing staff for insulin, nothing in the record indicates that Hixson reported any symptoms of elevated blood sugar to either a nurse or Dr. Moran. Indeed, Hixson was seen by Dr. Moran on September 29, 2016 and did not relate any symptoms of or discuss diabetes. ECF No. 199-2, at 35. Nor did Hixson file an official grievance or complaint asking for insulin or any other form of diabetes treatment. Id.

         Hixson filed his original lawsuit on March 31, 2017 against Dr. Moran and various other defendants who have since been dismissed.[4] ECF No. 1. Hixson alleges the following causes of action against Dr. Moran: (1) Dr. Moran violated Hixson's "right to be free from deliberate indifference to his known serious medical need for diabetic medication (prescription or otherwise) to treat his known, medically diagnosed condition of diabetes," ECF No. 125, at 38; and (2) Dr. Moran committed medical malpractice, a state law claim which has been dismissed to the extent it sounds in negligence, rather than gross negligence. ECF No. 125, at 38; ECF No. 167. Hixson also seeks punitive damages and attorneys' fees, premised on the liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Dr. Moran, ECF No. 125, at 45.

         II.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), the court must "grant summary judgment 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); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Glynn v. EDO Corp.. 710 F.3d 209, 213 (4th Cir. 2013). When making this determination, the court should consider "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with... [any] affidavits" filed by the parties. Celotex. 477 U.S. at 322. Whether a fact is material depends on the relevant substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Id. (citation omitted). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and may prevail by showing "an absence of evidence to support" an essential element of the nonmoving party's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If that burden has been met, the nonmoving party must then come forward with specific material facts that prove there is a genuine dispute for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).

         In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court views the facts and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Glynn. 710 F.3d at 213 (citing Bonds v. Leavitt, 629 F.3d 369, 380 (4th Cir. 2011)). Although "the evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor, "' McAirlaids, Inc. v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., No. 13-2044, 2014 WL 2871492, at *1 (4th Cir. 2014) (internal alteration omitted) (citing Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014) (per curiam)), "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmovant's] position will be insufficient" to overcome summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only "if there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Res. Bankshares Corp. v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co., 407 F.3d 631, 635 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). "In other words, to grant summary judgment the [c]ourt must determine that no reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party on the evidence before it." Moss v. Parks Corp., 985 F.2d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 1993) (citing Perini Corp. v. Perini Const, Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 124 (4th Cir. 1990)).

         III.

         Count I alleges a violation of Hixson's Eighth Amendment Rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and must show that the deprivation of that right was committed by a person acting under color of state law. Crosby v. City of Gastonia, 635 F.3d 634, 639 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)). To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, Hixson must show that he suffered a sufficiently serious deprivation and that Dr. Moran acted with "deliberate indifference" to his health or safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (citations omitted). This is a two prong test, with the first, "objective" prong requiring a demonstration of the seriousness of the deprivation and the second, "subjective" prong requiring a showing of the defendant's "sufficiently culpable" state of mind. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834.

         A.

         As a starting point, Hixson must meet the objective prong of the Farmer test by raising a genuine question of material fact that "the deprivation alleged [was], objectively, 'sufficiently serious.'" Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (quoting Wilson v. Seiter,501 U.S. 294, 298, (1991)). Ultimately, the deprivation must be "extreme"-meaning it must pose "a serious or significant physical or emotional injury resulting from the challenged conditions," or "a substantial risk of such serious harm resulting from.. .exposure to the challenged conditions." De'Lonta v. Angelone,330 F.3d 630, 634 (4th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In medical needs cases, like the case at hand, the Farmer test requires plaintiffs demonstrate officials' deliberate indifference to a "serious" medical need that has either "been diagnosed by a physician as ...


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