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Lovelace v. Clarke

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

August 7, 2019

OBIE L. LOVELACE, Plaintiff,
HAROLD CLARKE, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on two motions to dismiss filed by Defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). ECF Nos. 7, 13. Plaintiff's complaint, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleges that Defendants provided Plaintiff with constitutionally inadequate medical care during his prior term of incarceration, with Defendants' treatment decisions purportedly driven by their desire to avoid the high cost of the needed treatment. Defendants seek dismissal on various grounds, including qualified immunity. For the reasons set forth below, both of Defendants' motions to dismiss are DENIED.

         A. Facts

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have "instituted a state sanctioned policy and practice of the unconstitutional deprivation of medical care to inmates with chronic Hepatitis C." Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1. Plaintiff asserts that when he entered the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") in 2010, he had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and HIV, "two deadly conditions," and that his VDOC medical record *repeatedly and unequivocally" documents his Hepatitis C. Compl. ¶¶ 13-15. During his multi-year term of incarceration, Plaintiff "pleaded with VDOC medical staff to administer lifesaving treatment for his chronic Hepatitis C infection," but such pleas were repeatedly denied. Compl. ¶ 2-3.

         More specifically, Plaintiff alleges Dr. Charles Campbell ("Dr. Campbell"), one of the named Defendants, began treating him in 2015 or 2016 and "general lab tests" ordered in 2016 confirmed that Plaintiff was infected with Hepatitis C. Compl. ¶ 18. Plaintiff asserts that "[f]rom 2016 to present the standard of care in treatment of chronic Hepatitis C is the use of DAAs [(Direct Acting Antiviral drugs)] and to treat or approve for treatment everyone regardless of the severity of [their liver] fibrosis or cirrhosis." Comp. ¶ 20.[1] Notwithstanding such updated standard of care, Plaintiff asserts that from June of 2016 through April of 2018, "VDOC Treatment Guidelines" provided that no inmate would receive treatment for chronic Hepatitis C, regardless of how far along such illness had progressed, if such inmate had less than "9 months remaining on [his or her] sentence." Compl. ¶¶ 24, 33. Plaintiff asserts that there was no valid medical basis for such policy because the accepted drug regimen typically leads to a cure withinw90 days or less," further claiming that the nine-month policy was grounded in •financial considerations." Compl. ¶¶ 24, 57.

         While Plaintiff alleges that he had chronic Hepatitis C that went untreated by VDOC for many years, it appears that the thrust of his allegations rely on the following events: (1) Plaintiff explicitly requested that he receive the most common drug to treat and cure Hepatitis C in early February 2017; (2) shortly thereafter, Plaintiff was informed by Defendants' agent that VDOC had "strict criteria" for administering Hepatitis C treatment, and that his treatment plan would be based on his labs; (3) on or about February 23, 2017, Defendants knew, as a result of Plaintiff's January 2017 FibroScan, that Plaintiff's medical condition had worsened as he had *F-4 cirrhosis of the liver from untreated Hepatitis C"; (4) Defendants refused to treat Plaintiff's Hepatitis C between February 23, 2017 and August 2017 notwithstanding their knowledge of Plaintiff's worsening medical condition, causing Plaintiff to utilize the VDOC grievance procedure beginning on August 18, 2017; and (5) Plaintiff was again informed in late August that VDOC had "strict criteria" for treatment and that there was not enough time to complete treatment by his November 2017 release date-no medical justification for the denial of treatment was provided. Compl. ¶¶ 27-35. Plaintiff's lawsuit advances two counts, the first is a § 1983 claim against Dr. Campbell, Dr. Mark Amonette, and Dr. Steve Henrick, asserting cruel and unusual punishment by prison officials based on a failure to render effective medical treatment, and the second is a § 1983 "supervisory liability" claim against Harold Clarke and Dr. Mark Amonette. Compl. ¶ 55-59.

         B. Applicable Legal Standards

         1. 12(b)(6) Standard

         The Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review permits dismissal when a complaint fails to allege''enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint without resolving factual disputes, and a district court "must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Kensington Volunteer Fire Dep't v. Montgomery Cty., 684 F.3d 462, 467 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted)).

         Because a 12(b)(6) challenge attacks the sufficiency of a complaint, a Court "generally cannot reach the merits of an affirmative defense," except "in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint." Goodman v. PraxAir, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) . In other words, a motion to dismiss in reliance on an affirmative defense may be considered only "if all facts necessary to the affirmative defense 'clearly appear on the face of the complaint.'" Id. (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. v. Forst, 4 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1993)). A contrary rule would improperly require a plaintiff to affirmatively plead "matters that might be responsive to affirmative defenses even before the affirmative defenses are raised." Id. at 466.

         2. Eighth Amendment Standard

         To prove cruel and unusual punishment by prison officials based on a failure to render effective medical treatment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must satisfy a two-pronged test. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). The first prong, which is an objective inquiry, asks whether the deprivation is "sufficiently serious." Id.; Scinto v. Stansberry, 841 F.3d 219, 225 (4th Cir. 2016). The second prong, a subjective inquiry, requires the inmate to demonstrate that the prison officials acted with "deliberate indifference" toward his or her needs. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 839-40; Scinto, 841 F.3d at 225.

         A "serious medical need" sufficient to meet the objective first prong is a "need that 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." Scinto, 841 F.3d at 225 (quotation marks and citation omitted) . A medical need may also be sufficiently serious if a "denial of or a delay in treatment causes the inmate'' to suffer a life-long handicap or permanent loss.'" Coppage v. Mann, 906 F.Supp. 1025, 1037 (E.D. Va. 1995) (quoting Monmouth County-Correctional Institutional Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987)). Accordingly, a "delay in medical treatment must be interpreted in the context of the seriousness of the medical need, deciding whether the delay worsened the medical condition, and considering the reason for the delay." Hill v. DeKalb Reg'l Youth Pet. Ctr., 40 F.3d 1176, 1189 (11th Cir. 1994), overruled in part on other grounds by Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 n.9 (2002).

         "Deliberate indifference" sufficient to meet the subjective second prong requires a plaintiff in a medical needs case to prove "the official's 'actual subjective knowledge of both the inmate's serious medical condition and the excessive risk posed by [the official's] action or inaction.'" Scinto, 841 F.3d at 226 (alteration in original) (quoting Jackson v. Lightsey, 775 F.3d 170, 178 (4th Cir. 2014)). This can be proven through "direct evidence of a prison official's actual knowledge or circumstantial evidence tending to establish such knowledge, including evidence 'that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the very fact that the risk was obvious. '" Id. (quoting Makdessi v. Fields, 789 F.3d 126, 133 (4th Cir. 2015)). A prison official is not liable if he or she "knew the underlying facts but believed (albeit unsoundly) that the risk to which the facts gave rise was insubstantial or nonexistent." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 844. Because mere negligence in diagnosis or treatment is insufficient to state a constitutional claim, "many acts or omissions that would constitute medical malpractice will not ...

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