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Alexander v. Kenworthy

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

February 25, 2014



LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the court on the motion for summary judgment (DE 35) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 filed by defendants Tabor Correctional Institution ("Tabor") Unit Manager Mark Barnhill ("Barnhill"), Nurse Beck ("Beck"), and Correctional Administrator George Kenworthy ("Kenworthy"). Plaintiff responded to defendants' motion. In this posture, the issues raised are ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the court grants defendants' motion.


On January 19, 2011, plaintiff, a former state inmate, [1] was assigned to cell KE42A at Tabor. Beck Aff. ¶ 6. At the time plaintiff was transferred to cell KE42A, the cell had been vacant for a period of approximately twenty-nine (29) days. Id . 7.

On April 30, 2011, plaintiff declared a medical emergency complaining of a possible spider bite or "boil" on his elbow. Id . ¶ 10 and Attach. p. 32. That same day, plaintiff was evaluated by nurse Theresa Gore ("nurse Gore") who noted that the wound was not draining. Id . ¶ 10 and Attach. p. 34. After examining plaintiff, nurse Gore provided him with antibiotics, and instructed him to apply a warm compress to the infected area and to change the dressing on the area daily. Id.

Nurse Gore again saw plaintiff on May 3, 2011. Id . ¶ 12 and Attach. p. 33. Gore noted that the infected area was hot, swollen, and reddened. Id . Gore then changed plaintiff's wound dressing and contacted the unit physician who authorized plaintiff to be transported to the local emergency department at Columbus Regional Hospital for treatment. Id . At the hospital, plaintiff's wound was cultured and a physician drained the wound. Id . ¶ 2 and Attach. pp. 15, 18. Upon plaintiff's discharge from the hospital, medical professionals instructed him to elevate his arm and to continue to take his prescribed medication. Id . and Attach. p. 19.

On May 12, 2011, Tabor medical staff was informed that plaintiff's infection tested positive as a methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus ("MRSA") infection. Id . ¶ 15 and Attach. p. 26. Subsequent to plaintiff's MRSA diagnosis, Tabor medical staff continued to treat plaintiff's infection with antibiotics and regular dressing changes. Id . ¶ 16 and Attach. pp. 27-31. Medical staff considered plaintiff's MRSA infection healed as of May 21, 2011. Id . ¶ 17, and Attach. p. 28.

On August 3, 2011, plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against defendants alleging that defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his prison conditions in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Specifically, plaintiff asserted that defendants did not properly clean cell KE42A prior to assigning the cell to plaintiff. Plaintiff contends that the cell previously was occupied by another inmate, Roy Gibson, [2] who was battling a staphylococcal ("staph") infection, which ultimately lead to the amputation of Gibson's leg. Plaintiff alleged that Kenworthy, Barnhill, and Beck were aware that inmate Gibson had a serious staph infection, but refused to clean or disinfect cell KE42A or to take any other precaution to prevent the spread of the infection. Plaintiff further alleged that defendants conspired to hide the MRSA infection outbreak. In addition to the cell-related claim, plaintiff contends that Beck acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs after plaintiff contracted his MRSA infection.[3] As relief, plaintiff requested monetary damages, including compensatory and punitive damages. Plaintiff also requested a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.

Barnhill and Beck, as well as Kenworthy, subsequently filed respective motions to dismiss arguing that plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. On February 13, 2013, the court entered an order denying defendants' motions to dismiss. As part of that order, the court conducted a frivolity review of a new First Amendment access to courts claim plaintiff raised in response to defendants' motions to dismiss. The court dismissed as frivolous plaintiff's newly asserted claim. On August 12, 2013, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that plaintiff cannot establish a constitutional violation. Alternatively, defendants assert the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. The motion was fully briefed.


A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when there exists no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby , 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of initially coming forward and demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party then must affirmatively demonstrate that there exists a genuine issue of material fact requiring trial. Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 250.

B. Analysis

Defendants assert the defense of qualified immunity. Government officials are entitled to qualified immunity from civil damages so long as "their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald , 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). In other words, a government official is entitled to qualified immunity when (1) the plaintiff has not demonstrated a violation of a constitutional right, or (2) the court concludes that the right ...

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