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Sims v. Clarke

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

March 31, 2019

WILLIAM T. SIMS, Plaintiff,
HAROLD CLARKE, et al., Defendants.



         William T. Sims, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil action alleging that the defendants violated his rights under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).[1]Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and this matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated herein, the court grants in part and denies in part defendants' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Sims alleges that prior to arriving at Green Rock Correctional Center (Green Rock) on August 25, 2016, he suffered multiple injuries which caused him to have one leg amputated at the thigh and caused his confinement to a wheelchair. Sims claims that on or about December 1, 2016, he went on a hunger strike after he had been denied “access to reasonable cell accommodations, exercise equipment, prostheses, and unencumbered wheelchair accessible showers.”[2] Consequently, Sims was placed in Green Rock's segregation unit. Sims alleges that the cell in which he was placed was not “handicapped equipped or accessible” because it did not have appropriate hand rails or “adequate spacing.” (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15, 17-20, 39, Dkt. No. 21.)

         On or about December 5, 2016, Sims saw Warden Davis and Major Northup in the segregation unit and advised them about his issues with his cell. Later, while attempting to use the toilet in his cell, Sims' knee “gave out” and he fell backwards “directly on his buttocks and spine area, ” unable to catch himself or brace his fall “because there was no hand rail available with which [Sims could] balance himself.” An officer in the unit noticed that Sims had fallen and reported the fall to the medical unit. Thereafter, an officer and a nurse picked Sims up off the floor and placed him back in his wheelchair. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19-21, Dkt. No. 21.)

         Sims complained to medical staff about numbness in both of his arms and hands following the fall. However, Sims was never seen by Dr. Wang, who was on duty at that time. Sims also was not taken to a handicapped equipped or accessible cell. Instead, Sims was given a “regular dose” of Neurontin, a pain medication, and left in the segregation cell for approximately six hours. Later that day, Sims was moved to the infirmary, where there was a hand rail on the wall near the toilet. However, due to the positioning of the bed relative to the toilet, the toilet was not accessible by wheelchair. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 22-23, Dkt. No. 21.)

         Sims agreed to end his hunger strike on December 5, 2016, in exchange for Green Rock's administration agreeing to hold a meeting to discuss Sims' ADA and medical grievances. At the first meeting on December 10, 2016, Qualified Mental Health Professional (QMHP) Schneider and Institutional Program Manager Bateman, both “members of the executive team, representing Warden Davis, Major Northup, and [Nurse] Cobbs, ” met with Sims to address his complaints about “unreasonably small cells, ”[3] lack of shower slip mats, floor molding that hindered wheelchair access to showers, Sims' weight gain due to lack of “exercise equipment for the disabled, ” and inadequate mattress and bedding “for his disability.” A second meeting was held on January 10, 2017, between Sims and QMHP Schneider, Major Northup, Head Nurse Mays, Housing Lt. Childress, Nurse Cobbs, and Mrs. Shepard, to address Green Rock's “failure to adequately address the issues from the first meeting in a meaningful way.” (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24-27, Dkt. No. 21; Mem., Pl.'s Exh. A., Dkt. No. 21-1, 1; Offender Req., Pl.'s Exh. B, Dkt. No. 21-1, 2.)

         Following diagnostic tests on April 7, 2017, an MRI verified the existence of spinal damage, and the MRI and x-rays showed “large amounts of stool” built up in Sims' colon. Sims states that the spinal damage and stool buildup were aggravated by his immobility and lack of reasonable access to prostheses and exercise equipment. On August 10, 2017, a nerve test revealed nerve damage that Sims claims he suffered as a result of the May 6, 2017 fall, which remained untreated. Further, Sims alleges that due to his lack of access to exercise equipment, he gained approximately sixty-nine pounds from August 25, 2016, to April 2, 2018, while at Green Rock. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30-32, Dkt. No. 21.)

         On May 30, 2017, Sims filed an informal complaint about his difficulties accessing the showers. On June 6, 2017, Unit Manager Lovern responded to the informal complaint by indicating that he had referred the matter to the safety officer and was awaiting a response. (Informal Compl., Exh. J, Dkt. No. 21-1, 23; Resp. Informal Compl., Exh. I, Dkt. No. 21-1, 24.)

         Sims argues that, as an amputee and wheelchair user, he has been denied a cell of “reasonable size, ” accessibility, and with adequate safety rails to accommodate his disability. He also argues that the defendants have failed to properly install or maintain exercise equipment for disabled offenders who are wheelchair users, while “similarly situated offenders at Deerfield Correctional Center, ” a facility where Sims is not housed, have access to “state of the art exercise equipment for the disabled.” Finally, defendants have failed to make “reasonable accommodations” for Sims to be “granted a prosthetic leg, ” and he is the only amputee housed at Green Rock who does not have a prosthetic limb. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 36-40, Dkt. No. 21.)

         As defendants, Sims names Henry Ponton, Melvin Davis, Barry Marano, Christopher Lovern, Dr. Lawrence Wang, and Teresa Cobbs. Henry Ponton is the Regional Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) and is “legally responsible for the overall operation of all prisons in the western region [of Virginia], including Green Rock [].” Melvin Davis is the Warden of Green Rock and is “legally responsible for the operation of the prison and for the welfare of all inmates in that facility.” Barry Marano is the ADA Coordinator of the VDOC and is “legally responsible for the welfare of all inmates with a disability in the Department.” Christopher Lovern is a Unit Manager and the on-site ADA Facilitator for A-Unit at Green Rock and is “legally responsible for the welfare of all inmates with disabilities in that prison.” Dr. Lawrence Wang is the medical doctor at Green Rock and is “legally responsible for the medical treatment and managed care of all the inmates in that prison.” Teresa Cobbs is the “Registered Chief Nurse Assistant” at Green Rock and is “legally responsible for the coordination of medical appointments and treatment at the prison and outside facilities.” Sims sues each defendant in their individual and official capacities. As relief, Sims seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as punitive and compensatory damages. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 44-47, Dkt. No. 21.)


         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint to determine whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim; “it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 ...

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