United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
L. PATRICK AULD, Magistrate Judge.
This matter comes before the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a recommended ruling on Defendant Mills' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket Entry 32) and Defendants R. Burris, L. Burris, Poplin, and Hudson's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket Entry 35). For the reasons that follow, the Court should grant the instant Motions.
I. Factual Background
This case began when Plaintiff filed a Complaint alleging deprivations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state-law negligence in connection with injuries sustained during Plaintiff's incarceration at the Stanly County Detention Center. (Docket Entry 1 at 8-11.) The Court subsequently dismissed all claims against Defendant Southern Health Partners and the negligence claims against Defendant Sarah Mills. (Docket Entry 23.) As a result, the surviving claims in Plaintiff's Complaint concern four Defendants who served as law enforcement or corrections officers - Sherriff Rick Burris, Captain Lane Burris, Deputy Darrin Poplin, and Lieutenant Tommy Hudson - as well as Nurse Mills, employed by former Defendant Southern Health Partners to provide medical care to inmates at the Detention Center. (Docket Entry 1 at 2-3.) The Complaint alleges that all Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical conditions (namely Reflexive Sympathetic Dystrophy, or "RSD"), by failing to provide him at all relevant times with appropriate pain medication or to afford him access to a handicapped shower, all in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. (Id. at 8-9.) It further alleges, under North Carolina law, that the negligence of the officer Defendants in failing to provide access to a handicapped shower or assist him in showering caused Plaintiff to suffer severe and disabling injuries when he fell in the shower. (Id. at 9-11; see also Docket Entry 23.)
To support her instant Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant Mills filed her own affidavit (Docket Entry 34), as well as Plaintiff's complete medical file from his incarcerations (Docket Entry 34-1). Similarly, the officer Defendants filed excerpts from the deposition transcripts of various individuals involved in the incidents, including those of all five surviving Defendants. (Docket Entries 36-4, 36-5, 36-6, 36-7, 36-8, 36-9, 36-10.) In response, Plaintiff submitted his own affidavit (Docket Entry 37), related supporting documents (Docket Entries 37-1, 37-2, 37-3, 37-4), and deposition excerpts from various detention officials (Docket Entries 39-1, 39-2, 39-3).
The uncontested record evidence indicates that Plaintiff reported to the Stanley County Detention Center on November 10, 2011, in connection with a civil contempt order. (Docket Entry 34 at 2; Docket Entry 37 at 2.) Prior to his incarceration, Plaintiff had been suffering from RSD in his right hand and arm, a chronic condition which causes significant pain, particularly during flare-ups. (Docket Entry 36 at 3; Docket Entry 37 at 2.) Plaintiff additionally suffered from hypertension, a thyroid condition, and occasional lower-back pain from a previous surgery. (Docket Entry 34 at 2-3; Docket Entry 37 at 2.) For these conditions, Plaintiff's primary care physician had prescribed him Diazepam (Valium), Oxycodone (for pain), Lisinopril (for hypertension), and Liothyronine (for thyroid condition). (Docket Entry 34 at 2, 4; Docket Entry 37 at 2.) Upon Plaintiff's admission, he reported those conditions and medications to the intake officer. (Docket Entry 34 at 2, Docket Entry 37 at 2.) That evening, Detention Center personnel apparently transferred Plaintiff from a cell located in the general population area to one located in a separate area, referred to as the Bubble. (Docket Entry 37 at 4.)
The following day, Defendant Mills examined Plaintiff, and he again reported his conditions and prescribed medications. (Docket Entry 34 at 2; Docket Entry 37 at 2-3.) Defendant Mills, a licensed practical nurse, did not have the authority to prescribe medications; however, she administered medications to prisoners pursuant to orders by Manuel Maldonado, a physician's assistant, or Dr. Laurie Bumgarner. (Docket Entry 34 at 2-3; Docket Entry 38 at 11-12.) Defendant Mills asked Plaintiff to sign two forms: a Consent for Treatment Form and an Authorization for Release of Medical Information to a Correctional Facility Form. (Docket Entry 34 at 3; Docket Entry 37 at 3.) Plaintiff signed the first form but declined to sign the second form, citing the illegibility of a portion of that form. (Docket Entry 34 at 3; Docket Entry 37 at 3.)
Defendant Mills informed Defendant that the Detention Center maintains a policy against narcotic medications and that, as a result, she could not administer Diazepam or Oxycodone to him, although she would continue his other medications. (Docket Entry 34 at 4; Docket Entry 37 at 3.) That same day (November 11, 2011), Mr. Maldonado placed Plaintiff on a narcotics withdrawal protocol, under which he prescribed Plaintiff Hydroxyzine (Vistaril), Oxazepam (Serax), and Tramadol (Ultram). (Docket Entry 34 at 4; Docket Entry 34-1 at 9-10, 15; Docket Entry 37 at 3.) As part of that withdrawal protocol, the nursing staff examined Plaintiff daily from November 11 to 19, 2011. (Docket Entry 34 at 4; Docket Entry 34-1 at 9-10; Docket Entry 37 at 4.) Defendant Mills conducted daily examinations of Plaintiff from November 11 to 14, 2011; however, other nurses saw Plaintiff on the following days. (Docket Entry 34 at 4-5; Docket Entry 34-1 9-10; see also Docket Entry 37 at 4.) On November 17, 2011, Mr. Maldonado apparently reduced Plaintiff's dosages of Hydroxyzine, Oxazepam, and Tramadol. (Docket Entry 34 at 6; Docket Entry 34-1 at 15.)
On November 19, 2011, Plaintiff suffered a fall as he exited the shower in the Bubble area. (Docket Entry 34 at 7; Docket Entry 36-7 at 5-6; Docket Entry 37 at 5-6.) Plaintiff was transported first to nearby Stanley Regional Medical Center, then to Carolina Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he underwent back surgery. (Docket Entry 34 at 7; Docket Entry 36 at 3; Docket Entry 37 at 6-7.)
Plaintiff did not return to the Detention Center until February 13, 2012. (Docket Entry 37 at 7; Docket Entry 34 at 7.) That same day, both an intake officer and Defendant Mills performed medical screenings during which Plaintiff reported taking Diazepam, Oxycodone/Acetaminophen (Endocet), Lisinopril, Liothyronine, (Cytomel), Tamsulosin (Flomax, for bladder issues), and Gabapentin (for nerve pain). (Docket Entry 34 at 7-8; Docket Entry 34-1 at 25-30; Docket Entry 37 at 7-8.) Defendant Mills again presented Plaintiff with a Consent for Treatment Form and an Authorization for Release of Medical Information to a Correctional Facility Form. (Docket Entry 34 at 8; Docket Entry 37 at 8.) After contacting his attorney, Plaintiff agreed to sign the first form but elected not to sign the second, again citing the illegibility of a portion of that form. (Docket Entry 34 at 8; Docket Entry 37 at 8.)
Defendant Mills reports that she consulted with Mr. Maldonado, who prescribed only Liothyronine, Lisinopril, and Tamsulosin for Plaintiff and, further, declined to place Plaintiff on a withdrawal protocol. (Docket Entry 34 at 8-9.) Plaintiff confirms that he received no pain medication from Detention Center officials on either February 13 or February 14, 2012. (Docket Entry 37 at 8.) Plaintiff reported falling in his cell on February 14, 2012, and he was transported to Stanley Regional Medical Center. (Docket Entry 34 at 9; Docket Entry 37 at 8.)
Plaintiff returned to the Detention Center that same day, at which point Defendant Mills again requested that Plaintiff sign the records release form and Plaintiff again refused. (Docket Entry 34 at 9; Docket Entry 37 at 9.) On February 15, 2012, after Plaintiff reported back pain, Defendant Mills consulted with Mr. Maldonado who ordered Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for Plaintiff. (Docket Entry 34 at 9-10; Docket Entry 37 at 10.) The following day, Plaintiff reported suffering a third fall, in his cell, after which Defendant Mills examined Plaintiff and placed him safely in bed with an extra mattress. (Docket Entry 34 at 10; Docket Entry 34-1 at 36, 61.) On February 17, 2012, Defendant Mills again raised the issue of Defendant's pain with Mr. Maldonado, who ordered an approximately two-week course of Acetaminophen, as well as Gabapentin. (Docket Entry 34 at 11; Docket Entry 37 at 10-11.)
Plaintiff repeatedly alleges that Defendant Mills and other Detention Center personnel informed him that he would not receive pain medication unless he signed the records release form. (See Docket Entry 37 at 8-10; Docket Entry 38 at 5-7.) That said, the Parties agree - and the medical records support - that from February 17 through at least March 2, 2012, Plaintiff received Acetaminophen for pain, as ordered by Mr. Maldonado. (Docket Entry 34 at 11-13; Docket Entry 34-1 at 55-57; Docket Entry 37 at 10.) The record similarly reflects that Plaintiff received Gabapentin for nerve pain from February 17 through the remainder of his incarceration. (Docket Entry 34 at 11-13; Docket Entry 34-1 at 55-57; Docket Entry 37 at 10.) Moreover, Defendant Mills and other nurses continued to respond to various sick call slips submitted by Plaintiff until his release on March 23, 2012. (Docket Entry 34 at 11-14; Docket Entry 37 at 10-12.)
II. Summary Judgment Standard
"The [C]ourt shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Such a genuine dispute exists if the evidence presented could lead a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). In making this determination, the Court must view the evidence and any reasonable inferences therefrom in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
The party moving for summary judgment may discharge its burden by identifying an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). The non-moving party then must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. " Matsushita Elec. Indus., 475 U.S. at 586-87 (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). In this regard, the non-moving party must convince the Court that evidence exists upon which a finder of fact could properly return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. "Mere unsupported speculation is not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion if the undisputed evidence indicates that the other party should win as a matter of law." Francis v. Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Inc., 452 F.3d 299, 308 (4th Cir. 2006).
In support of her instant Motion, Defendant Mills contends: (1) that Plantiff has failed to set forth evidence establishing that Defendant Mills acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs to support a § 1983 claim, (2) that Plaintiff has failed to present evidence of causation between the alleged wrongful conduct of Defendant Mills and an actual injury suffered by Plaintiff to support a § 1983 claim, and (3) that qualified immunity shields Defendant Mills from liability under § 1983. (Docket Entry 33 at 10-15.) Similarly, the officer Defendants' instant Motion argues: (1) that Plaintiff has not forecast sufficient evidence of deliberate indifference to support a § 1983 claim, (2) that Plaintiff has failed to show evidence of a policy or custom to support municipal liability, ...