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Zeigler v. Rios

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

February 22, 2018

HECTOR RIOS, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, a state prisoner, has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of his rights under the United States Constitution. United States District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange has referred the matter to the undersigned for the entry of appropriate orders as to non-dispositive matters, and for the preparation and submission of proposed findings and recommendations as to dispositive matters, as referenced in 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C).

         At issue is Plaintiff's Supplemental Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 100). For the reasons provided below, and for those expressed in the previous Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 87), the Court should GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 77).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's lawsuit is based on allegations that Defendants denied and delayed him medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (ECF No. 57). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants failed to provide him proper medical care for his broken jaw which had been diagnosed by prison officials at Lawton Correctional Facility (LCF) on December 29, 2015. (ECF Nos. 57:2; 67-3; 67-4). On January 4, 2016, Mr. Zeigler was taken to the OU Medical Center where a physician told Plaintiff that the broken jaw would require surgery. (ECF Nos. 57:2-3; 67-6:9). Surgery was apparently scheduled sometime after that appointment, but medical records indicate that “for unknown reasons, the patient did not show for their [sic] appointment.” (ECF No. 67-17:1). Mr. Zeigler was returned to the LCF medical unit, where he claims he was isolated without treatment for the jaw. (ECF No. 57:2-3). The surgery was then rescheduled for February 5, 2016 and on that date, [1] Mr. Zeigler was transported to the hospital, but the procedure was not performed because Plaintiff's jaw had healed. (ECF Nos. 57:3; 67-16:3-6; 67-17).

         Previously, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and the undersigned issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending summary judgment in favor of the Defendants on the Eighth Amendment claim. (ECF Nos. 77 & 87). In doing so, the undersigned concluded: (1) that Mr. Zeigler had sufficiently demonstrated that objectively, the harm he complained of[2] was “sufficiently serious” to merit constitutional protection, but (2) Plaintiff had failed to raise a genuine issue of fact regarding whether Defendants had exhibited “deliberate indifference.” (ECF No. 87:8-20).

         According to Mr. Zeigler, Defendants committed deliberate indifference by “declining to transport Plaintiff to a medical facility to receive treatment even though treatment was readily available.” (ECF No. 57:4). Plaintiff imputed Defendants' failure to act as motivated by “financial considerations, ” stating that Defendants, as a “for-profit prison opted not to transport Zeigler simply to avoid the expense of surgery.” (ECF Nos. 57:5, 80:2). In response, Defendants presented evidence that a “miscommunication” had existed regarding the surgery date, which the undersigned found would constitute negligence, at best. (ECF No. 87:17).[3] Because the Defendants had met their burden to establish the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, by pointing to evidence that they lacked knowledge of the scheduled surgery date, the burden shifted to Mr. Zeigler to “to present some evidence, other than his initial pleadings, to show that there [was] more than just a metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” (ECF No. 87:18) (citation omitted).

         In his reply, Plaintiff referenced evidence wherein Dr. Sonkarley had noted that for “unknown reasons, ” Mr. Zeigler had failed to keep his surgery appointment. (ECF Nos. 80:2; 67-17:1). But the undersigned found that this evidence did not support Plaintiff's position that the Defendants had deliberately kept him from the surgery, because the reasons for missing the appointment were “unknown, ” and Plaintiff had not presented any evidence that the missed surgery had been motivated for financial reasons. Thus, the undersigned concluded that “Mr. Zeigler has failed to meet his burden to present evidence that would create a disputed fact regarding whether Defendants had indeed been unaware of the scheduled appointment and had acted with deliberate indifference in failing to transport him for surgery.” (ECF No. 87:19). Accordingly, the undersigned recommended that the Court grant summary judgment to Defendants. (ECF No. 87:19).

         Subsequent to the Report and Recommendation, Plaintiff retained counsel and objected to the recommendation. See ECF Nos. 88, 91, 95. In a supplemental objection, counsel for Mr. Zeigler requested the opportunity to present:

• “additional evidence and have time for limited discovery that is needed to understand the true motivation for ODOC's delay in treating a broken jaw[;]”
• “an affidavit stating what the dentist for ODOC told him, that is, that because his jaw healed improperly, he is not able to even get dentures put in[;]”
• “affidavits from others and [Plaintiff] that ODOC never fixes or rarely fixes inmates [sic] teeth[;]” and
• Evidence at a hearing “to give additional testimony to show Mr. Zeigler's explanation is not speculative[.]”

(ECF No. 95:8-9). Judge Miles-LaGrange granted the request, in part, allowing Plaintiff leave to conduct discovery for the sole issue of presenting evidence regarding “the true motivation for the Lawton Correctional Facility's delay in ...

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