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Smith v. Rollins

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

January 31, 2019

JOHN KEITH SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
WANDA ROLLINS, et. al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION (GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT)

          Henry E. Hudson Senior United States District Judge

         John Keith Smith, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauper is, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. As pertinent here, Smith alleges that, while incarcerated at Sussex II State Prison ("SIISP”) Dr. Inder Gujral provided him with inadequate medical care for Smith's chronic degenerative joint disease, "which started in his knees, and has now spread to his hips and lumbar."[1] (Compl. 14.) Specifically, Smith contends that Dr. Gujral provided inadequate medical care because:

         Claim 1 Dr. Gujral incorrectly determined that Smith only had a mild case of arthritis, which he treated with Motrin and Tylenol, and, he waited more than a year and a half to refer Smith to an outside specialist, (id. at 16-17); Claim 2 Dr. Gujral denied Smith a "caretaker" inmate to push Smith's wheelchair, (id.); and, Claim 3 Dr. Gujral failed to order Smith a pair of knee braces (id. at 17).

         The matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Dr. Gujral. Smith has responded. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 42) will be granted.

         I. 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 to inform the court of the basis for the motion, and to identify the parts of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 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) and 56(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 (citing Improvement Co. v. Munson, 81 U.S. (14 Wall.) 442, 448 (1872)). "[T]here is a preliminary question for the judge, not whether there is literally no evidence, but whether there is any upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict for the party .. . upon whom the onus of proof is imposed." Id. (quoting Munson, 81 U.S. at 448). Additionally, "Rule 56 does not impose upon the district court a duty to sift through the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment." Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Skotak v. Tenneco Resins, Inc., 953 F.2d 909, 915 n.7 (5th Cir. 1992)); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3) ("The court need consider only the cited materials ....").

         In support of his Motion for Summary Judgment, Dr. Gujral submitted his own declaration ("Gujral Decl.," ECF No. 43-2) and copies of Smith's medical records ("MR," ECF No. 43-1).[2] Smith has opposed the Motion for Summary Judgment by submitting his own affidavit ("Smith Aff.," ECF No. 52-1).[3]

         Of course, the facts offered by affidavit or sworn declaration must also be in the form of admissible evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4). In this regard, the statements in the affidavit or sworn declaration "must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated." Id. Therefore, "summary judgment affidavits cannot be conclusory or based upon hearsay." Evans, 80 F.3d at 962 (internal citations omitted).

         Smith has submitted a number of conclusory statements that run afoul of these prohibitions. For example, Smith swears that "SUSP fails to provide adequate medical care and that Defendant Dr. Gujral is deliberately indifferent to this failure." (Smith Aff. ¶ 13.) Conclusory assertions of this ilk are irrelevant to the summary judgment analysis. Evans, 80 F.3d at 962 (citations omitted).

         Similarly, Smith complains that "Dr. Gujral continued to prescribe Plaintiff with anti-inflammatory medications, Motrin, Tylenol, and etc., but Defendant Dr. Gujral directly knew that Plaintiff is unable to take anti-inflammatory medications, due to a[n] acid reflux condition and this is indicated on the front cover of the medical charts along with other allergies." (Smith Aff. ¶ 8.) This statement suffers from a number of deficiencies. First, Smith fails to state sufficient facts to indicate that he has personal knowledge as to what is stated on the front cover of his "medical charts." (Id.) Second, Smith's medical records from his multiple trips to the VCU Medical Center list his allergies and these records do not indicate that he cannot take anti-inflammatory medication. (See, e.g., MR 20, 41.) Third, Tylenol is not anti-inflammatory medication.[4] Fourth, Smith fails to state any instance wherein he alerted Dr. Gujral that he was allergic to any drugs prescribed by Dr. Gujral.

         Finally, the Court notes that Smith's Affidavit contains a host of complaints against the Virginia Department of Corrections and other entities and persons who are not parties to this action. (See, e.g.. Smith Aff. ¶¶ 12-27.) These allegations are largely irrelevant to the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Dr. Gujral. the sole remaining defendant before the Court.

         In light of the foregoing submissions and principles, the following facts are established for the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. PERTINENT FACTS

         A. Smith's Interactions with Dr. Gujral

          From March of 2013 until August 23, 2016, Dr. Gujral served as the Medical Director at SUSP. (Gujral Decl. ¶ 1 .)[5] According to Dr. Gujral, he first encountered Smith on September 23, 2014, in response to Smith's complaints of leg pain. (Id. ¶ 5.) Dr. Gujral evaluated Smith and made a request for a vascular clinic evaluation. (Id.)

         Smith, however, swears that his first encounter with Dr. Gujral was on July 8, 2014. (Smith Aff. ¶ 4.) According to Smith, he told Dr. Gujral that he was suffering from "'severe, chronic degenerative joint disease condition in both knees." (Id. ¶ 5.)

         Smith presented Dr. Gujral "with a copy of a MRI scan report, from Dr. Graham, which clearly indicated that the right knee has a tear of the meniscus, and the left knee [has] a complex tear of the posterior horn of the medial meniscus." (Id. ¶ 6.)

         When Dr. Gujral next saw Smith on January 21, 2015, Smith "complained of leg, knee, and hip pain, and trouble walking." (Gujral Decl. ¶ 6.) After evaluating Smith, Dr. Gujral referred Smith for physical therapy, recommended that he do exercises and ordered Tylenol for him. (Id.)

         Smith contends that Dr. Gujral prescribed anti-inflammatory medications, like Motrin for Smith, even though according to Smith, Smith's medical chart reflected that Smith could not take such medication because of his acid-reflux. (Smith Aff. ¶ 8.)[6]

         Dr. Gujral ordered x-rays and later discussed them with Smith. (Id.) During this discussion, Smith contends that Dr. Gujral told Smith "that he only has a mild case of arthritis." (Id.) Smith fails to provide any date for when the x-rays were ordered and when the discussion allegedly occurred. Nevertheless, the record indicates that x-rays were ordered during Smith's meeting with Dr. Gujral on March 10, 2015. (Gujral Decl. ¶ 7; MR 3.) On that date, Smith was in a wheelchair complaining of back pain. (Gujral Decl. ¶ 7.) Dr. Gujral ordered an x-ray of Smith's back, hip, and knee and again referred Smith to physical therapy. (Id.)

         On July 22, 2015, Smith saw medical personnel and complained that he hit his head and knee after a fall on the way to a physical therapy appointment. (MR 4.)

         Dr. Gujral next saw Smith on August 18, 2015. (Gujral Aff. ¶ 9.) Smith complained of back pain and spasms. (Id.) Dr. Gujral evaluated Smith and recommended that Smith "stay on his pain medicine and continue exercises." (Id.) Dr. ...


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