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Morris v. Cary

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

March 29, 2019

Terah C. Morris, Plaintiff,
Dr. Meredith Cary, ET AL., [1] Defendants.



         Plaintiff Terah C. Morris (“Morris”), an inmate at Red Onion State Prison, brought this pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging defendant prison officials have been deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs, in violation of her Eighth Amendment rights, by failing to provide adequate medical care for gender identity disorder (“GID”).[2] This matter is before the Court on (1) the parties' motions for summary judgment (Dkts. 101, 120, 123, 134, 149); (2) the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent (“R&R”) (Dkt. 167), to whom this matter was referred for proposed findings of fact and a recommended disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); and (3) Plaintiff Morris' objections to the R&R (Dkt. 168).

         The Magistrate Judge recommended that Morris' motions for summary judgment (Dkts. 134, 149) be denied, the Defendants' motions for summary judgment be granted (Dkts. 101, 120, 123), and judgment entered in favor of the Defendants. (Dkt. 167 at 54[3]). Plaintiff Morris has filed eight objections to the R&R. For the reasons set out below, the Court finds Morris' objections lack merit and will accept and adopt Judge Sargent's Report and Recommendation.

         I. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that a court shall 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.” A dispute is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “As to materiality . . . [o]nly 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. In considering the matter, the court construes the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. F.D.I.C. v. Cashion, 720 F.3d 169, 173 (4th Cir. 2013).

         When a court refers a matter to a magistrate judge, any objections to the magistrate judge's R&R must be reviewed de novo. Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In addressing the objections, “[t]he district court does not need to provide an elaborate or lengthy explanation, but it must provide a specific rationale that permits meaningful appellate review.” Cruz v. Marshall, 673 Fed.Appx. 296, 299 (4th Cir. 2016). The court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge” and it “may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Further, the court will afford a pro se litigant's objections and briefing a liberal construction. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         II. Analysis

         By way of summary, Morris is an inmate incarcerated at Red Onion State Prison, Virginia. Eight Defendants, including medical doctors and Qualified Mental Health Professionals, remain after the prior dismissal of several defendants. Morris brought this action in March 2017, alleging that, with respect to medical needs relating to her gender identity, “defendants knew . . . about my ‘serious medical need' and failed or otherwise [are] still failing to respond . . . [or] provide me with any treatment or examine me . . . violat[ing] my Eighth Amendment Constitutional rights for the deliberate indifferen[ce] in denying me mental health and medical care . . . .” (Dkt. 1 (Complaint) at 14).

         Defendant Everette McDuffie filed his motion for summary judgment on April 26, 2018. (Dkt. 101). Defendants William Lee and Meredith Cary filed a motion for summary judgment on May 29, 2018. (Dkt. 120). Defendants Donnie L. Trent II, Terrence M. Huff, T. Buchanan, Stephanie C. Fletcher, and Rick Saylor filed their motion for summary judgment on May 29, 2018. (Dkt. 123). Morris filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on June 25, 2018, against Defendants Cary and Lee. (Dkt. 134). Morris subsequently filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on July 25, 2018, against Defendants Fletcher, Huff, Trent, Buchanan, and Saylor. (Dkt. 149).

         A. The Eighth Amendment Standard

         The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” imposes a duty on prison officials to “provide humane conditions of confinement . . . [and] ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care . . . .” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994); see Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976). “Prisoners alleging that they have been subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement must satisfy the Supreme Court's two-pronged test set forth in Farmer v. Brennan.” Scinto v. Stansberry, 841 F.3d 219, 225 (4th Cir. 2016).

         First, “Farmer's objective prong requires plaintiffs to demonstrate that the deprivation alleged [was], objectively, sufficiently serious.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). In order to be sufficiently serious, the deprivation 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). A medical need is sufficiently serious when it has either “been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or . . . is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008).

         “Second, under Farmer's ‘subjective' prong, plaintiffs must show that prison officials acted with a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind.'” Scinto, 841 F.3d at 225. In conditions of confinement cases, “the requisite state of mind is deliberate indifference.” Id. This means the officials knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to inmate health or safety. Id. Deliberate indifference requires “more than mere negligence” but less than acts or omissions done for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge harm would result. Id.

         B. The R&R and ...

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