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Knowles v. Lewis

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

March 20, 2014

PERRY VINCENT KNOWLES, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT C. LEWIS, PAULA Y. SMITH, and JOSEPH LIGHTSEY Defendants.

ORDER

LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the court on the motions for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 of defendant Dr. Joseph Lightsey ("Lightsey") (DE 74) and defendants Director of Prisons Robert C. Lewis ("Lewis") and Director of Health Services Paula Y. Smith ("Smith") (DE 71). The issues raised were fully briefed and are ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the court grants defendants' motions for summary judgment.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

On June 20, 2011, plaintiff, a state inmate, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the above-named defendants, as well as previously-dismissed defendant Assistant Superintendent for Programs Harold Webster ("Webster"), [1] acted with deliberate indifference to plaintiff's serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that defendant Lightsey acted with deliberate indifference to his exposure to too much sunlight and complaints of joint pain, fatigue, itching, and rashes while plaintiff was housed at Johnston Correctional Institution ("Johnston"). Plaintiff also alleges in pertinent part that defendants Lewis and Smith acted with deliberate indifference to his prison conditions in violation of the Eighth Amendment, on grounds that plaintiff wrote several letters to Lewis and Smith complaining that he was exposed to too much sunlight, but that neither defendant took action to remedy his complaint.

As relief, plaintiff requests both monetary damages and injunctive relief. Specifically, plaintiff requests monetary damages in the amount of one thousand five hundred dollars ($1, 500) per day that he is housed at Johnston. Plaintiff also requests an injunction ordering his immediate transfer to a facility that would give him protection from over-exposure to sunlight.

On November 14, 2011, plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint to clarify defendant Webster's name, which the court granted. Plaintiff filed a second motion to amend his complaint on January 19, 2012, which repeated the substantive allegations of the original complaint.

Defendants then filed respective motions to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. On August 22, 2012, the court entered an order granting plaintiff's motion to amend. As part of that order, the court conducted an initial review of plaintiff's amended complaint and directed plaintiff to particularize his allegations. The court also denied defendant Lightsey's motion to dismiss as to plaintiff's request for monetary damages, but granted defendant Lightsey's motion to dismiss as to the request for injunctive relief. Finally, as for the motion to dismiss filed by defendants Lewis, Smith, and Webster, the court granted the motion as to plaintiff's claims against defendant Webster, granted the motion as to the supervisor liability claims against defendants Lewis and Smith arising out of the alleged deliberate indifference to plaintiff's medical care, and allowed the remainder of the claims to proceed. Plaintiff filed his particularized pleading on September 5, 2012, in which he supplements his allegations as stated above and raises a claim pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq.

The remaining defendants in this case, defendants Lightsey, Lewis, and Smith, thereafter filed their respective motions for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff failed to establish a constitutional violation. These defendants alternatively assert the affirmative defense of qualified immunity.

In support of his motion for summary judgment, defendant Lightsey submitted an affidavit and detailed medical records pertaining to the medical treatment that is the subject of the complaint. In support of their motion for summary judgment, defendants Lewis and Smith submitted an affidavit of two nurses involved in plaintiff's medical treatment. In opposition to summary judgment, plaintiff submitted sworn declarations of both himself and his brother Marvin Julian Knowles. Plaintiff also submitted medical brochures, discovery responses, correspondences, and documents from the prison's administrative remedy procedure. As part of his response to Lightsey's motion for summary judgment, plaintiff also asserts a new claim for retaliation against Lightsey.

STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS

The undisputed facts pertinent to the court's ruling may be summarized as follows. Plaintiff was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus[2] ("lupus" or "SLE") prior to his transfer to Johnston on June 17, 2010. (Lightsey Affidavit ¶ 7.) On June 17, 2010, plaintiff was examined by a nurse, upon his arrival at Johnston, for an admission health screening. (Id. Exs. 3, 7.) During the examination, the nurse noted that plaintiff was being treated for SLE, rheumatoid arthritis, and an unspecified connective tissue disorder. (Id.) Plaintiff informed the nurse that he used sunglasses as a medical device/equipment. (Id.) The nurse assessed that plaintiff was medically fit to be housed with the general population. (Id. Ex. 3.)

On June 19, 2010, Officer Daughtry contacted the nursing staff to confirm that plaintiff was allowed to wear sunglasses in the dorm during inmate count. (Id. ¶ 8 and Ex. 4.) The nurse noted that there was a notation in plaintiff's health screening that plaintiff was allowed sunglasses for one year due to his lupus diagnosis. (Id.) The nurse then consulted the Central Prison Emergency Department ("CPED") attending physician, Lightsey, to determine plaintiff's need for sunglasses while in the dorm. (Id.) Lightsey informed the nurse that plaintiff did not require sunglasses while in the dorm. (Id.)

On June 21, 2010, a nurse examined plaintiff in response to a sick call request plaintiff submitted on June 19, 2010. (Id. ¶ 9 and Ex. 5.) Upon examination, the nurse noted that plaintiff was wearing wrap-around Oakley sunglasses. (Id.) The nurse also noted that the Ophthalmology clinic previously recommended sunglasses for plaintiff, but did not specify the need for wrap-around sunglasses. (Id.) The nurse referred plaintiff for evaluation for the use of wrap-around sunglasses (for use while outdoors). (Id.) Physicians Assistant Laurie Astern ("PA Astern") subsequently determined that plaintiff was permitted regular sunglasses and not wrap-around sunglasses for the time period of June 23, 2010, through August 18, 2010. (Id. ¶ 10 and Ex. 6.)

Plaintiff again was examined by a nurse, on June 25, 2010, in response to a sick-call request, plaintiff submitted on June 23, 2010, complaining that he was being exposed to too much sunlight at Johnston when he walked from one building to the next, when he was waiting in line to receive medications, meals, and at the mail room. (Id. ¶ 11 and Ex. 7.) The nurse noted that plaintiff complained that he experienced skin blotches, joint pain, and fatigue when he was in the sun. (Id.) The nurse referred plaintiff's chart to the physician or physician's assistant for review to determine whether there was any medical indication that plaintiff was being over-exposed to the sun. (Id.) The nurse also instructed plaintiff that if he wished to be transferred to another facility, he needed to consult his programmer. (Id.)

On June 30, 2010, PA Astern reviewed plaintiff's chart in response to plaintiff's June 25, 2010, sick call request. (Id. ¶ 12 and Exs. 6, 8, 9.) PA Astern wrote Utilization Review Requests ("UR requests") for white cotton gloves and an optometry consult due to plaintiff's reported change in visual acuity. (Id.) It was subsequently determined that the gloves were being ordered for warmth, and the UR request was changed from white cotton gloves to Isotoner gloves. (Id.)

A few days later, Lightsey reviewed plaintiff's chart and discussed with the nurse and medical staff plaintiff's request to use opaque glasses at all times.[3] (Id. ¶ 13 and Exs. 6, 10.) Lightsey stated that sunglasses may be appropriate in the event of activation of conjunctivitis (swelling or infection of the membrane lining of the eyelids) due to ultraviolet radiation of bright sunlight only. (Id.) However, Lightsey noted that plaintiff had not reported any symptoms indicating conjunctivitis. (Id.) Lightsey then wrote an order clarifying that the use of sunglasses indoors was not approved. (Id.)

On July 2, 2010, plaintiff was examined by a nurse in response to a sick call request plaintiff submitted on July 1, 2010, in which plaintiff sought renewal of his Benadryl prescription. (Id. ¶ 14 and Ex. 11.) Upon examination, the nurse noted that plaintiff complained of generalized itching over his entire body that was worse in the area of his trunk, throat, and nasal passages. (Id.) Several days later, plaintiff was examined in response to a sick call request complaining of eye pain when he removed his sunglasses while indoors. (Id. ¶ 15 and Ex. 12.) Further, the nurse noted that plaintiff was scheduled to see Dr. Jessica Chow ("Dr. Chow") at the Duke Eye Center. (Id.)

On July 14, 2010, plaintiff attended an appointment with Dr. Chow at the Duke Eye Center. (Id. ¶ 16 and Ex. 13.) After examining plaintiff, Dr. Chow's recommendations were as follows: (1) SLE-no ocular inflamation on examination; (2) Plaquenil use-no bull's eye maculopathy, Humphrey Visual Field appears within normal limits; and (3) extreme photophobia-no clear etiology on Dilated Fundoscopic Examination (no objective cause for his subjective photophobia was determined). (Id.) Follow-up appointments were scheduled, and there was no notation that plaintiff wear sunglasses. (Id.)

On July 21, 2010, a nurse examined plaintiff in response to plaintiff's July 18, 2010, sick-call request complaining of both back pain and that he was being exposed to too much sun. (Id. ¶ 17 and Exs. 5, 14.) The nurse scheduled a follow-up appointment for plaintiff in the medical clinic. Id . Plaintiff was seen on July 23, 2010, in connection with his back pain. (Id. ¶ 19 and Ex. 15.) Additionally, Lightsey submitted an order for plaintiff to receive Toradol for pain and Flexeril (muscle relaxant). (Id.) On August 5, 2010, plaintiff was seen in Central Prison's Optometry Clinic for complaints of changes in his visual acuity. (Id. ¶ 22 and Exs. 8, 18.) Plaintiff declined any new glasses at this appointment. (Id.)

In the interim, on July 23, 2010, plaintiff filed a grievance with the North Carolina Medical Board against Lightsey. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 16 (DE 86-2); Opp'n, Ex. P (DE 86-10)). Then, on August 11, 2010, plaintiff submitted a grievance complaining that he was being "blacklisted from seeing the physician."[4] (Opp'n, Ex. O.) At the step one response stage, prison officials noted the following:

An investigation into the grievance that was submitted by [plaintiff] has revealed the following information as related by Ms. ...

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