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Watson v. Corrections Corporation of America

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 26, 2018

BYRON T. WATSON, Plaintiff,



         This action is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court has before it for consideration Plaintiff's second amended complaint (Dkt. 59), Defendants' motion (Dkt. 84), and Plaintiff's response to the motion (Dkt. 94).

         Plaintiff is a pro se prisoner in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections who is incarcerated at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma. He brings this action under the authority of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking relief for alleged constitutional violations during his incarceration at Davis Correctional Facility (“DCF”), a private prison located in Holdenville, Oklahoma. The defendants are Corrections Corporation of America and the following DCF officials: Warden Wilkinson; James Sanford, R.N.; Anna Newton, L.P.N.; Cynthia McGehee, R.N.; Ray Larimer, R.N., DCF Clinical Supervisor; and Correctional Officer E. Wornell. Defendants Kathy Miller and Dr. Mark Reiheld previously were dismissed from this action (Dkt. 72).

         Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges that on Friday, February 22, 2013, he experienced sudden pain in his testicles and lower stomach and throughout the joints in his body. He complained to his correctional counselor who called the facility's medical clinic while Plaintiff lay on his cell floor in the fetal position. Because he was unable to walk unassisted, Plaintiff was taken in a wheelchair to the clinic where he had contact with Defendants Nurse Sanford and DCF Clinical Supervisor Larimer.[1] Plaintiff told Sanford and Darius Butler, an inmate orderly, that he had pain which had started as “blue balls” but had gotten worse. Sanford and Butler laughed at him. (Dkt. 59 at 2, 9; Dkt. 94 at 2; Plaintiff's Deposition, Dkt. 94 at 43, p. 70).

         Sanford asked Plaintiff some questions, but did not perform a physical examination. Sanford then gave Plaintiff an injection and placed him in a medical holding cell for five or more hours to await the doctor. Plaintiff vomited twice in the cell, and Defendant Correctional Officer E. Wornell and the orderly cleaned it up. Plaintiff asserts he was left screaming in pain, in the fetal position on the floor, and no one came to check on him until the next nursing shift. (Dkt. 59 at 2-4, 9; Dkt. 94 at 2-3, 11, 19; Plaintiff's Deposition, Dkt. 94 at 31, p.43).

         After the next nursing shift started, Plaintiff asked Defendant Nurse Anna Newton why the doctor had not come to see him. Newton allegedly told Plaintiff she had forgotten about him and that the doctor already had been there and left. Newton advised that no doctor would be there over the weekend and sent Plaintiff back to his pod in pain. Plaintiff alleges he was in pain throughout the weekend and complained to the pod officer. He was told that nothing could be done, because no doctor was there on the weekend. (Dkt. 59 at 4, 10; Dkt. 94 at 3-4; Plaintiff's Deposition, Dkt. 94 at 31, p. 44-45).

         On Monday, February 25, Plaintiff again experienced pain in his testicles and lower stomach, with pain in all his joints. His correctional counselor called the medical clinic, and Plaintiff was seen by Defendant Nurse Cynthia McGehee. When he walked into the medical area, Nurses Sanford, McGehee, and Larimer were “fussing” about Plaintiff's complaints and his having been seen at the clinic on Friday. Plaintiff told McGehee he was in pain, and one of his testicles was larger than the other. McGehee said she was “not looking at him down there.” Instead of having a physical examination, a sample of Plaintiff's urine was taken, and he was sent back to his cell without treatment. McGehee also gave him ibuprofen. (Dkt. 59 at 4, 10; Dkt. 94 at 4-5, 22).

         The next day, Tuesday, February 26, Plaintiff complained to the correctional counselor on his pod. The medical staff advised the correctional counselor that no doctor was available. (Dkt. 59 at 11; Dkt. 94 at 5).

         On Wednesday, February 27, Plaintiff again complained about his pain and was seen by medical staff. He alleges Defendants Sanford and Larimer “fussed” at him again, and Plaintiff assumed they were not taking his medical problem seriously. He was placed in a medical observation cell and examined by Dr. Mark Reiheld about an hour later. Dr. Reiheld diagnosed Plaintiff with possible testicular torsion and had him transferred to Holdenville General Hospital. At the hospital, Plaintiff was given a prescription and instructed to return the next day for an ultrasound diagnosis. (Dkt. 59 at 4, 11; Dkt. 94 at 5-6).

         On Thursday, February 28, Plaintiff returned to Holdenville General Hospital for the ultrasound. The physician at the hospital diagnosed him with testicular torsion and advised that his left testicle was “dead” and would have to be removed. In addition, his right testicle was attached to the scrotum. Plaintiff also was told that if he had received treatment sooner, he would have had a better chance to save the left testicle. Plaintiff was returned to DCF and then transferred to the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City where the diagnosis was confirmed. On Friday, March 1, 2013, Plaintiff's left testicle was removed, and his right testicle was surgically repaired. Plaintiff alleges Dr. Joel Slaton at the OU Medical Center told him that an earlier procedure would have saved his left testicle. (Dkt. 59 at 4-5, 11; Dkt. 94 at 6, 14).

         Motion for Summary Judgment

         Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 84). Summary judgment is appropriate when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). 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). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. In making this determination, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255. A party opposing a motion for summary judgment may not simply allege there are disputed issues of fact; rather, the party must support its assertions by citing to the record or by showing the moving party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Thus, the inquiry for this Court is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         Eighth Amendment Medical Claims

         In Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), the Supreme Court addressed the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in the context of medical attention:

[D]eliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” proscribed by the Eighth Amendment. This is true whether the indifference is manifested by prison doctors in their response to the prisoner's needs or by prison guards in intentionally denying or delaying access to medical care or intentionally interfering with the treatment once prescribed. Regardless of how evidenced, deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or injury states a cause of action under §1983.

Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976) (citations and footnotes omitted).

         Deliberate indifference involves both an objective and a subjective component. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). A prisoner first must produce objective evidence that the deprivation at issue was in fact “sufficiently serious.” Id. (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)). “A medical need is serious if it is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Riddle v. Mondragon, 83 F.3d 1197, 1202 (10th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). The subjective component is met if a prison official “knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Farmer, 511 at 837. “[T]he official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id.

         Defendants allege Plaintiff was not subjected to deliberate indifference of a serious medical need, and there was no actionable denial or delay in providing medical treatment to him. In support of their motion for summary judgment, Defendants have submitted with their motion Plaintiff's medical records and affidavits from the facility staff who were involved in Plaintiff's medical care, as well as an excerpt of Plaintiff's deposition.

         Based on the record, the Court finds Plaintiff has shown his medical condition was sufficiently serious. See Riddle, 83 F.3d at 1202. Once the facility physician examined Plaintiff, it was determined that he needed additional testing and then surgical treatment. Therefore, the objective component of deliberate indifference has been met. The question is whether the subjective component was met.

         Defendant Corrections Corporation of America

         Defendant Corrections Corporation of America (“CCA”) has moved for summary judgment regarding Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims.[2] CCA owns and operates DCF where Plaintiff was housed pursuant to a contract between CCA and DOC.

         Plaintiff alleges that by virtue of its contract with DOC, “CCA has assumed DOC's constitutionally-mandated obligations to provide for the health and safety of those in its custody.” Plaintiff further asserts “CCA is responsible for the training, supervision, and discipline of prison staff regarding all aspects of prison . . . operations, including, but not limited to medical care.” He also alleges CCA is responsible for implementing DOC policies and procedures and the American Correctional Association (“ACA”) standards for adult correctional institutions within the facility. (Dkt. 59 at 7-8).

         CCA alleges Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that an official policy or custom of CCA “was enacted or maintained with deliberate indifference to an almost inevitable constitutional injury.” See Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dep't, 717 F.3d 760, 769-71 (10th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted). See also Smedley v. Corrections Corp. of Am., 175 Fed. App'x 943, 945-46 (10th Cir. 2005) (applying doctrine of Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978), to determine § 1983 liability of a private corrections facility under well-established law). Plaintiff must show that the policy or custom either directly violated his rights or was the “moving force” behind an employee's violation of his rights. Schneider, 717 F.3d at 770; Smedley, 175 Fed. App'x at 946. “A challenged practice may be deemed an official policy or custom for § 1983 . . . purposes if it is a formally promulgated policy, a well-settled custom or practice, a final decision by a . . . policymaker, or deliberately indifferent training or supervision.” Schneider, 717 F.3d at 770 (citation omitted).

         When asked in his deposition, “Why did you name Corrections Corporation of America as a defendant, ” Plaintiff testified:

Because they're over the facility that I was at. They're responsible for their employees. They're responsible for their nurses. They're responsible for implementing policy and procedures. They're responsible for inmates' health, medical, ...

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