United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on the following
motions: a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendant Alan
Houser; (Doc. No. 99), a Motion for Summary Judgment by
Defendant John H. Piland, (Doc. No. 101); a Motion for
Summary Judgment by Defendant Judy Humphries, (Doc. No. 103);
and a Motion for Summary Judgment by Plaintiff Joshua Lee
Plaintiff Joshua Lee Blackwell is a North Carolina inmate
currently incarcerated at Tabor Correctional Institution in
Tabor City, North Carolina. Plaintiff filed this action on
April 22, 2016, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that
the moving Defendants were deliberately indifferent to
Plaintiff's serious medical needs while Plaintiff was
incarcerated as a pre-trial detainee at the Lincoln County
Detention Center (hereinafter the “Lincoln County
jail”) in Lincolnton, North Carolina. Specifically, in
the First Amended Complaint, filed on September 16, 2016,
Plaintiff alleges that he received constitutionally
inadequate medical care for his right eye during his
confinement in the Lincoln County jail, beginning in December
2015. (Doc. No. 35). Plaintiff alleges his eye needed to be
surgically removed, Defendants did not act quickly enough in
getting him scheduled for the surgery, and Plaintiff suffered
from extreme pain while waiting for the surgery. The record
shows that Plaintiff had eye surgery on September 7, 2016.
Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as
declaratory and injunctive relief.
moving Defendants, and the only remaining Defendants in this
action, are Lieutenant Alan Houser of the Lincoln County
Sheriff's Office, who serves as the Jail Administrator;
the jail's physician, John Piland, M.D.; and the
jail's head nurse, Judy Humphries. On April 19, 2017,
Defendant Houser filed his pending summary judgment motion.
(Doc. No. 99). Attached to Houser's summary judgment
materials are Houser's own Declaration, along with
evidence related to grievances filed by Plaintiff; a
Declaration by Houser's counsel Scott MacLatchie, along
with excerpts from Plaintiff's deposition of March 23,
2017; and a Declaration by David Carpenter, the Lincoln
County Sheriff at all relevant times. On April 21, 2017,
Defendant John H. Piland filed his pending summary judgment
motion. (Doc. No. 101). Attached to Piland's summary
judgment materials are Piland's own Declaration; a
Declaration by Dr. Paul Steadman; a Declaration by Defendant
Houser, Plaintiff's relevant medical records, and
excerpts taken from Plaintiff's deposition of March 23,
2017. Also on April 21, 2017, Defendant Judy Humphries filed
her own pending summary judgment motion. (Doc. No. 103).
Attached to Humphries' summary judgment materials are
Humphries' own Declaration, and Plaintiff's relevant
April 24, 2017, and April 26, 2017, this Court entered orders
in accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d
309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the requirements
for filing a response to the summary judgment motions and of
the manner in which evidence could be submitted to the Court.
(Doc. Nos. 105, 106). Plaintiff has filed numerous responses
to the summary judgment motions, which include several sworn
Declarations, as well as his own summary judgment motion.
See (Doc. Nos. 111, 114, 115, 121, 122, 124).
evidence on summary judgment shows the following:
December 6, 2015, Plaintiff was transferred from the South
Carolina Department of Corrections to the Lincoln County jail
on outstanding criminal charges in Lincoln County. The next
day, on December 7, 2015, Defendant Nurse Judy Humphries
requested Plaintiff's medical records from the South
Carolina Department of Corrections. (Doc. No. 103-1 at ¶
3: Humphries Decl.). When Plaintiff arrived at the jail, he
was suffering from a pre-existing condition in his right eye,
which was causing him pain. On December 7, 2015, pursuant to
medication orders from South Carolina, Plaintiff was provided
medication for his right eye, including Tramadol, Tetracaine,
Phenylephrine, Latanoprost, Prednisone, and Atropine.
(Id. at ¶ 3; Doc. No. 103-1 at 12-14: Def.
Humphries' Ex. A). Plaintiff continued to receive these
medications until April 4, 2016, when Plaintiff was sent to
Central Prison for safekeeping to receive treatment for his
eye. See (Id.). Additionally, Plaintiff was
given Tylenol twice a day for pain, beginning on December 8,
2015, and through April 4, 2016.
December 8, 2015, two days after entering the jail, Plaintiff
submitted a Facility Employee Request to Defendant Houser,
stating that there was a possible cancerous growth on his
right eye for which South Carolina prison staff had
recommended the eye be surgically removed. (Doc. No. 99-1 at
¶ 6: Houser Decl.; Doc. No. 99-1 at 17: Ex. 4 to Houser
Decl.). The Request did not mention Plaintiff being in pain.
Houser responded to Plaintiff within one hour, stating:
“I will forward this request to the medical staff. Our
medical staff will go through the steps needed; they will get
your records from South Carolina so that our Doctor and
medical staff can follow up on what is needed.”
immediately shared this information with Nurse Humphries via
email. On December 10, 2015, Plaintiff sent Houser another
Facility Employee Request, stating his belief that the
jail's medical staff would be unable to
“diagnose” his problem and that he should see an
ophthalmologist instead. (Doc. No. 99-1 at p. 17). This
Request also did not mention pain. Houser responded to
Plaintiff within ninety minutes, informing him that his
request had been turned over to medical. (Id.).
Houser then sent Nurse Humphries a second email relaying
Plaintiff's concerns. (Doc. No. 99-1 at ¶ 6). The
December 8 and December 10 requests were the only two times
Plaintiff ever sent Houser a kiosk communication concerning
medical care for his eye. (Id.; see also
Doc. No. 99-2 at pp. 6-8, 11 (pages 31:23-32:23 & 81:2-8
of deposition transcript) (where plaintiff acknowledged that
he recalled only the two kiosk communications to Houser, and
one verbal conversation on December 21, 2015)).
December 17, 2015, Houser placed Plaintiff on “medical
lockdown” after hearing from several detention officers
that Plaintiff was complaining about his eye. (Doc. No. 99-1
at ¶ 7). Houser explains that an inmate on medical
lockdown is housed in a single cell and is not allowed to
interact with other inmates, although he still receives daily
recreation time out of the cell if the medical condition
permits. Houser took this action because he had already
observed Plaintiff wearing sunglasses inside the jail, and he
was told that Plaintiff had complained about walking upstairs
at the courthouse because he could not see the steps due to
the sunglasses. Houser was also told that Plaintiff had been
going upstairs in the cell block with his sunglasses on and
was also performing handstands on tables in the dayroom.
After reviewing video recordings confirming this, Houser
elected to place Plaintiff on medical lockdown for his own
safety until he could confer with medical staff about the
propriety of housing him with the general population.
submitted a kiosk grievance about the lockdown, stating that
he had been blind in his right eye since age 15 and was not
locked down during his previous incarcerations. (Id.
at ¶ 8 & Ex. 5). This was the first time Houser learned
of Plaintiff's right eye blindness. Houser went back
through Plaintiff's medical screening forms and confirmed
that none of them mentioned blindness. According to Houser,
this revelation heightened Houser's concern for
Plaintiff's safety. (Id.).
Plaintiff submitted another series of grievances questioning
why he was on medical lockdown, Houser had him brought to the
intake area on December 21, 2015, to explain why the decision
was made. (Id. at ¶ 9; see also Doc.
No. 99-1 at p. 21: Ex. 6 to Houser Decl.). Houser essentially
told Plaintiff that because he was complaining that his eye
was getting worse and needed specialized medical attention,
Houser could not place him with the general inmate population
until he was cleared by medical staff. (Doc. No. 99-1 at
¶ 7). When Plaintiff became argumentative, Houser and
another detention officer placed him in an adjacent holding
cell, known as the “rubber room, ” while Houser
typed up the response to his grievance. Because of
Plaintiff's demeanor, Houser gave him one push from
behind towards the cell when it appeared he was not going to
comply. Plaintiff filed a grievance over the push, but it
untimely, as it was filed more than ten days later, on
January 18, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 9; see also Doc.
No. 99-1 at p. 23: Ex. 7 to Houser Decl.). Medical staff
approved taking Plaintiff off lockdown the following day, and
he was returned to the general population. (Doc. No. 99-1 at
states in his Declaration that, after his conversation with
Plaintiff in the intake area on December 21, 2015, Plaintiff
never again complained to Houser about his eye. (Doc. No.
99-1 at ¶ 11). Houser asserts that he is aware of only a
few occasions later on when Plaintiff declined his scheduled
law library time supposedly because his eye hurt. Houser
asserts that, even on those occasions, however, Plaintiff
still proceeded to recreate and play cards with other
inmates, showing no signs of impairment. Finally, Houser
asserts that the next time after December 2015 that Houser
became involved with any aspect of Plaintiff's eye care
was in late March 2016, medical staff instructed Houser to
arrange Plaintiff's transportation to the Graystone Eye
clinic in Hickory for an appointment on or about April 1.
(Id. at ¶ 12).
January 4, 2016, Defendant Piland, the jail doctor, examined
Plaintiff and prescribed him Neurontin/Gabapentin, which
Plaintiff then received daily through April 4, 2016. (Doc.
No. 103-1 at ¶ 4; Doc. No. 103-1 at p. 16: Ex. A to
Humpries Decl.). On January 12, 2016, Plaintiff reported to
Nurse Humphries that the Neurontin was helping and Dr. Piland
increased the dosage that same day. On February 1, 2016,
Plaintiff again saw Dr. Piland. (Doc. No. 103-1 at ¶ 4;
Doc. No. 103-1 at p. 22). Nurse Humphries subsequently
arranged for Plaintiff to see an eye doctor due to the
continuing concern for his eye. On March 31, 2016, jail staff
transported Plaintiff to see Dr. Roderick Hargrove, an eye
doctor at Graystone Eye Care. (Doc. No. 103-1 at ¶ 5;
Doc. No. 103-1 at pp. 29-31). After discussing treatment
options with Plaintiff, Plaintiff opted for eye surgery, but
no surgery was scheduled that day, nor did Graystone Eye
document an urgent need for the surgery. See
point after Plaintiff's return to the jail, medical staff
asked him to obtain a “safekeeping” order,
allowing Plaintiff to be transferred to the Safekeeping Unit
at Central Prison in Raleigh pending further medical
intervention for his eye. On or about April 5, 2016,
Plaintiff was transferred to Central Prison in Raleigh for
safekeeping to receive treatment for his eye. (Doc. No. 99-1 at
¶¶ 5, 12; Doc. No. 99-1 at p. 25: Ex. 8 to Houser
Summary Judgment Motion).
remained in Central Prison's Safekeeping Unit until his
return to the Lincoln County jail on May 17, 2016, after a
Central Prison employee erroneously told someone on
Houser's staff that Plaintiff was ready to be picked up.
(Doc. No. 99-1 at ¶ 13). After Plaintiff arrived back at
the jail, Houser learned that Plaintiff had not received the
anticipated eye surgery. Central Prison was immediately
called and acknowledged their mistake in releasing Plaintiff.
Houser obtained a new safekeeping order on May 18, 2016, and
Plaintiff was sent back to Central Prison the same day.
(Id.; Doc. No. 99-1 at p. 28: Ex. 9 to Houser
Summary Judgment Motion). Following the medical orders that
were provided for Plaintiff, Plaintiff was given one dose of
Gabapentin before he was returned to Central Prison. (Doc.
No. 103-1 at ¶ 6).
27, 2016, Central Prison's Safekeeping Unit informed
Houser that Plaintiff was ready for return to Lincoln County
pending a surgical appointment opening up with the Duke Eye
Center sometime before September 22, 2016. (Doc. No. 99-1 at
¶ 14). After Houser confirmed that his staff would be
notified as soon as the surgery was scheduled, Plaintiff was
returned to the jail on that same day. That same day,
following medical orders from the North Carolina Department
of Public Safety, Plaintiff began receiving various
medications, including Gabapentin, Atropine Sulfate,
Prednisone, and Venlafaxine. (Doc. No. 103-1 at ¶ 7;
Doc. No. 103-1 at pp. 90-93). Houser discussed the planned
surgery with Plaintiff when he arrived back at the jail that
(Doc. No. 35 at ¶ 25).
14, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a Medical Request to the
jail's medical staff stating that he was in pain and
needed to see Dr. Piland. (Doc. No. 103-1 at ¶ 8). On
around July 15, 2016, Houser became aware that Plaintiff had
filed this lawsuit, and he immediately went to see Nurse
Humphries because of Plaintiff's allegations about lack
of medical care for his eye. (Doc. No. 99-1 at ¶ 15).
Humphries assured Houser that Dr. Piland was monitoring the
situation, and that Plaintiff was still on track for eye
16, 2016, Dr. Piland and Nurse Humphries saw Plaintiff
pursuant to his medical request. (Doc. No. 103-1 at ¶
8). Dr. Piland ordered for Plaintiff to receive additional
Neurontin and Tylenol to treat eye pain. (Id.).
These drugs were provided to Plaintiff, and additionally, Dr.
Piland referred Plaintiff to be seen at Central Prison or
Graystone Eye for further treatment. (Id.). Around
this same time, on July 27, 2016, an inmate informed jail
nurse Haley Hester that Plaintiff was hoarding and giving
away his medications. ...