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Birdwell v. Glanz

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

March 12, 2019




         Before the Court are Defendants Stanley Glanz's and Vic Regalado's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 118), Defendant Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 120), Defendant John Abraham's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 121) and Defendant Nurse Cunningham's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 122).[1] For reasons discussed below, these Motions for Summary Judgment are GRANTED.

         I. Statement of Undisputed Material Facts

         This case concerns the adequacy of the medical care that Plaintiff received in the Tulsa County Jail (“Jail”) during three weeks in June of 2014. During this time, medical services and medication in the Jail were provided in part by Defendant Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc. (“Armor”). Defendants John Abraham (“Dr. Abraham”) and Nurse Cunningham were employees of Armor. (Doc. 74, ¶ 5-7.) On June 7, 2014, while Plaintiff Scott Birdwell (“Plaintiff”) was incarcerated in the Jail, he was assaulted by another inmate with an unknown object and sustained a serious laceration above his left eye. (Doc. 118, pg. 2; Doc. 118-3, pg. 11; Doc. 143-1 pg. 2). Upon his entry into the infirmary, Plaintiff asked to be sent to the hospital. (Doc. 143-2, pg. 7.) John Abraham (“Dr. Abraham”), the medical director of the Jail, told Plaintiff that he didn't think Plaintiff needed to go to the emergency room. (Doc. 143-2, pg. 8; Doc. 143-4, pg. 2-7.) Plaintiff disagreed with this assessment. (Doc. 143-2, pg. 11.)

         Dr. Abraham immediately administered local anesthetic and sutured up the laceration in the Jail infirmary. He did not have Plaintiff sign a written informed consent form, and Plaintiff felt as if he did not have a choice. (Doc. 143-2, pg. 10.) Dr. Abraham took 90 minutes to put in 23 stitches (also called “sutures”). (Doc. 143-2, pg. 5.) Due to the length of the procedure, Dr. Abraham had to pause to administer additional anesthesia.[2] (Doc. 118-3, pg. 12-13.) According to Dr. Abraham's note describing the suturing, he used lidocaine with epinephrine to anesthetize the area he was suturing. Epinephrine was not the appropriate anesthetic to use, as it presents the risk of tissue death. (Doc. 120-6, pg. 131-132; Doc. 145-3, pg. 83.) After suturing up Plaintiff's wound, Dr. Abraham prescribed Plaintiff acetaminophen with codeine, as well as naproxen. (Doc. 143-3, pg. 83; Doc. 120, ¶ 48, 49; Doc. 145, ¶ 48, 49.) However, Dr. Abraham's notes on the procedure do not indicate that he tested Plaintiff's visual acuity. (Doc. 145-3, pg. 83.)

         The parties agree that the eyebrow is a very difficult area to suture over and suturing is a painful procedure. (Doc. 120, ¶ 30; Doc. 145, ¶ 30.) Plaintiff, however, testified he believed that Dr. Abraham was not experienced enough to perform the suturing. (Doc. 143-2, pg. 10.) Plaintiff has also testified that Nurse Gail Osburn told him that Dr. Abraham told her that he should have sent Plaintiff to the hospital. (Doc. 147-2, pg. 11-12.)[3]

         After the suturing procedure, Plaintiff told Dr. Abraham that he “had a funny feeling” and that he thought there was a more serious underlying condition. Dr. Abraham, however, responded to Plaintiff that these symptoms are to be expected, that the symptoms were directly related to the laceration, and that he believed that Plaintiff's symptoms would go away in a couple of days. (Doc. 120, ¶ 40, 41; Doc. 145, ¶ 40, 41.) Additionally, after the suturing procedure, Dr. Abraham said, in the presence of both Plaintiff and Nurse Latrice Cunningham (“Nurse Cunningham”), that Plaintiff should have his sutures removed “after five days.” (Doc. 120-5, pg. 22; Doc. 145-4, pg. 34-35.) Though it is not clear from the record on whom the responsibility to initiate Plaintiff's appointment to have the sutures removed was imposed, for the purposes of these motions for summary judgment, the Court will assume that it was the Jail medical staff's responsibility to arrange the appointment for removing the stitches. However, the parties agree that Plaintiff did not report any ear drainage to Dr. Abraham during the June 7, 2014 encounter. Additionally, Plaintiff's Medical Administration Record indicates, and Plaintiff does not appear to contest, that except for rare occasions when Plaintiff was not present, he was given near-daily pain medication from at least the time of his assault to the time of his June 26, 2014 release to Creek County Jail. (Doc. 120-2; Doc. 145-3, pg. 59-61.)

         Plaintiff made a kiosk call on June 10, 2014, three days after he was assaulted. In it, he said that his “EYE [W]AS HURTING VERY BAD AND [HIS VISION WAS] VERY BLURRY. JUST GOT 23 STITCHES BUT THEY DIDN'T EVEN LOOK AT MY EYE BALL.” (Doc. 120-3, pg. 5.) The next day, June 11, 2014, Michael Eubank, LPN, (“Nurse Eubank”) the sick call nurse, assessed Plaintiff's eye. Nurse Eubank noted eye redness and drainage that began “4 days ago.” Plaintiff described his pain level as “moderate” and attributed the pain to the assault he suffered on June 7, 2014. Nurse Eubank also noted that Plaintiff had “blood in the eye from altercation.” During that visit, Nurse Eubank also gave Plaintiff some Ibuprofen for a toothache, and instructed Plaintiff to return to sick call if his symptoms worsen or persist more than seven days. (Doc. 120-2, pg. 36-38.)[4] There is no evidence in the records of Nurse Eubank testing Plaintiff's visual acuity. (Doc. 145-3, pg. 36.)

         After his examination by Nurse Eubank, Plaintiff made daily requests to have his sutures removed. He made his first request on June 12, 2014, five days after the sutures were placed. He placed these daily requests until his sutures were removed on June 17, 2014. (Doc. 143-4, pg. 36; Doc. 145, pg. 15.) The parties agree that while Plaintiff was making these requests, on June 14, 2014, John Laymon, APRN, placed a phone order indicating that Plaintiff's stitches needed to be removed. However, there is no evidence either that Plaintiff's stitches were actually removed on that date, or that Plaintiff failed to attend an appointment on that date. Plaintiff's expert, Dr. Wilson, has testified that Plaintiff experienced increased pain due to this delay in removing his sutures. (Doc. 145-5, pg. 3; 145-6, pg. 2.)

         There is considerable ambiguity in the record regarding the timing of the removal of Plaintiff's sutures. Though Plaintiff's position throughout his briefing is not entirely uniform, Plaintiff testified that his sutures were removed on June 17, 2014, by Nurse Cunningham. (Doc. 122-5, pg. 70). Plaintiff further testified that by the time his sutures were removed, skin had grown over the sutures. (Doc. 147-2, pg. 20.) He also testified that Nurse Cunningham said that she had never removed sutures before, and that when she removed his stitches, she did not use anesthetic, and removed them not by cutting, but by pulling and tugging. (Doc. 147-2, pg. 19-21.) Plaintiff testified that the removal was more painful than the initial assault, and caused the wound to reopen, though Nurse Cunningham resealed it with a butterfly Band-Aid. (Doc. 147-2, pg. 20-21.)[5]Plaintiff also testified that Nurse Cunningham's inept removal of his sutures made the aftermath of the removal more painful. (Doc. 147-2, pg. 21.) Plaintiff's expert also contends that it caused increased scarring. (Doc. 145-5, pg. 4-5.) Though Defendants have presented considerable evidence that contradicts Plaintiff's testimony, due to the ambiguity in the record, and for the purposes of the motions for summary judgment, the Court will adopt Plaintiff's version of events. However, as Plaintiff notes, one of the records inconsistent with Plaintiff's recollection contains a note of “CONTINUED EYE PAIN AFTER ALTERCATION” dated June 20, 2014. (Doc. 145-3, pg. 63.)

         On June 23, 2014, Plaintiff placed a kiosk call complaining of “BLURRED VISION, MIGRAINS, SHOOTING PAINS AND DRAINAGE IN MY EAR FROM GETTING HIT IN TH[E] HEAD T[W]O WEEK[S] AGO SATURDAY.” He also reported that the stitches were “grown in” at the time they were removed, and that removing the stitches reopened his wound. (Doc. 120-3, pg. 6.) The next day, on June 24, 2014, Dr. Abraham saw Plaintiff in the infirmary. In his note, Dr. Abraham noted that he had seen Plaintiff both the previous week and on that day. Plaintiff had complained of persistent eye pain in his left eye, and no improvement with naproxen, as well as paresthesia (numbness of his face), and migraine-type symptoms, including blurred vision and a new complaint of light sensitivity. Dr. Abraham noted that Plaintiff appeared uncomfortable, but that the suture site was healing well, though it was tender to palpitation. (Doc. 143-3, pg. 83.)

         At the end of Plaintiff's appointment, Dr. Abraham ordered an x-ray, a referral to optometry for visual changes, and medication to treat both pain and Plaintiff's potential conditions. He also noted that he would consider an ophthalmology or ENT referral based on optometry and x-ray evaluations. (Doc. 120-2, pg. 83.) Plaintiff's “facial/head xrays special attention to left orbit to r/o facial and orbital fractures” was completed on June 25, 2014. (Doc. 120-2, pg. 64.) The parties agree that Plaintiff's x-ray was normal and he sustained no fractures as a result of the assault. (Doc. 120, ¶ 105.) However, Plaintiff was transferred out of the Tulsa County Jail on June 26, 2014, the day after his x-ray, and so was unable to attend his optometry appointment. (Doc. 120, ¶ 110.)

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper only if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. See Zamora v. Elite Logistics, Inc., 449 F.3d 1106, 1112 (10th Cir. 2006). In its summary judgment analysis, the Court resolves all factual disputes and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. However, the party seeking to overcome a motion for summary judgment “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

         A movant that “will not bear the burden of persuasion at trial need not negate the nonmovant's claim, ” but may “simply . . . point[] out to the court a lack of evidence for the nonmovant on an essential element of the nonmovant's claim.” Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998) (internal citations omitted). If the movant makes this prima facie showing, “the burden shifts to the nonmovant to go beyond the pleadings and ‘set forth specific facts' that would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.” Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). To meet this burden, the nonmovant must set forth facts “by reference to affidavits, deposition transcripts, or specific exhibits incorporated therein.” Id. (citing Thomas v. Wichita Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 968 F.2d 1022, 1024 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1013 (1992)). “In response to a motion for summary judgment, a party cannot rest on ignorance of facts, on speculation, or on suspicion, and may not escape summary judgment in the mere hope that something will turn up at trial. The mere possibility that a factual dispute may exist, without more, is not sufficient to overcome convincing presentation by the moving party.” Conaway v. Smith, 853 F.2d 789, 794 (10th Cir. 1988) (internal citations omitted).

         III. Section 1983 Claim for Cruel and Unusual Punishment

         A. Eighth Amendment Standard

         The government is obligated to provide medical care to prisoners and pretrial detainees, and failure to do so may violate the Eighth Amendment. See Olsen v. Layton Hills Mall, 312 F.3d 1304, 1315 (10th Cir. 2002); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-04 (1976.) On an Eighth Amendment claim, a Plaintiff must show deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm. See Tennant v. Miller, 589 Fed.Appx. 884, 885 (10th Cir. 2014) (unpublished) citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828 (1994). The claim contains both objective and subjective elements. To satisfy the objective component, Plaintiff must first produce objective evidence that the deprivation at issue was in fact “sufficiently serious.” See Mata v. Saiz, 427 F.3d 745, 751 (10th Cir. 2005). A medical need is sufficiently 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.” See Sealock v. Colorado, 218 F.3d 1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000). The purpose of the objective component analysis is to “limit claims to significant, as opposed to trivial, suffering.” See Mata, 427 F.3d at 753. The Court looks to whether the “alleged harm” is sufficiently serious, rather than whether the symptoms displayed are sufficiently serious. See id.

         However, while prisoners are entitled to medical care throughout their incarceration, they are not entitled to insist on a particular course of treatment. See Callahan v. Poppell, 471 F.3d 1155, 1159 (10th Cir. 2006); Green v. Branson, 108 F.3d 1296, 1304 (10th Cir. 1997). Moreover, undisputed facts that establish only that a medical professional has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition will not survive summary judgment under the Eighth Amendment. Neither medical malpractice nor a disagreement about medical judgment constitutes deliberate indifference. See Green, 108 F.3d at 1303. Accordingly, where medical records indicate that the Plaintiff has received a consistent course of treatment for the medical ailments complained of, these facts will not demonstrate deliberate indifference. See Debrow v. Kaiser, 42 Fed.Appx. 269 (10th Cir. 2002) citing Smart v. Villar, 547 F.2d 112, 114 (10th Cir. 1976). However, a delay in providing treatment may violate the Eighth Amendment. See Mata, 427 F.3d at 751.

         To satisfy the subjective component of the deliberate indifference test, Plaintiff must present evidence of the prison official's culpable state of mind. See Mata, 427 F.3d at 751. The state of mind required for deliberate indifference is akin to that of criminal recklessness- conscious disregard for a substantial risk of serious harm. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 836. In a prison context, this means that the official must both be aware of the facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and must also draw the inference. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. However, a prison medical professional who serves “solely . . . as a gatekeeper for other medical personnel capable of treating the condition” may be held liable under the deliberate indifference standard if she “delays or refuses to fulfill that gatekeeper role.”

         B. Objective Component Analysis

         Because analysis of the objective component will be the same for all Defendants against whom an Eighth Amendment claim is made, the Court considers it without reference to any specific Defendant. Plaintiff appears to argue that the following ...

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