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Johnson v. Fields

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Bryson City Division

November 16, 2017

EVA FIELDS, Nurse, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants Captain Scott Allen, Lieutenant Anthony Gould, Lieutenant David Bishop, and Captain William Salyers, (Doc. No. 67), and on a Motion for Summary Judgment by Diane Ray, (Doc. No. 65).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Pro se Plaintiff Rocky Johnson, an inmate in the custody of the United States Bureau of Prisons, filed this action, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on August 25, 2014, bringing various claims arising while he a pre-trial detainee at the Buncombe County Detention Center in Asheville, North Carolina, between October 2012 and August 2013. (Doc. No. 1; see also Doc. No. 68-1 at 8: Pl.'s Dep.). Plaintiff purported to bring numerous claims against Defendants, including claims for excessive force, deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, and unconstitutional conditions of confinement, and claims under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. Plaintiff originally named as Defendants Eva Fields, Tabiatha Bruner, Ryan P. Zabloudil, FNU Cox, FNU Ray, FNU Watkins, Diane Ray, Scott Allen, Lieutenant Gould, Lieutenant David Bishop, and Captain Bill Salyers.

         On November 14, 2014, this Court dismissed Plaintiff's Complaint without prejudice based on a failure to exhaust administrative remedies and for failure to state a claim against Defendant Diane Ray for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. (Doc. No. 9). Plaintiff appealed, and on June 30, 2015, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of all of Plaintiff's claims except for the following claims: (1) a claim against Defendants Salyers and Ray for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment; (2) a claim against Defendants Allen and Bishop that he was prohibited from possessing his Bible for sixty days, in violation of RLUIPA and the First Amendment; (3) a claim against Defendants Allen and Bishop that he was deprived of his ability to write letters for the same period, in violation of his rights under the First Amendment; and (4) a claim against Defendants Gould, Allen, and Bishop, that he was denied a shower and a change of clothes for twelve days, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. (Id., Doc. No. 14).

         Following remand, this Court entered a scheduling order, setting the deadline for dispositive motions as May 15, 2017. On May 15, 2017, Defendant Ray filed a summary judgment motion. (Doc. No. 65). Defendant Ray's summary judgment materials include all pleadings and attachments, Ray's own Affidavit, the Affidavit and curriculum vitae of Dr. James Parsons, and the medical records reviewed by Defendant Ray and Dr. Parsons. On the same date, the remaining Defendants filed their own summary judgment motion. (Doc. No. 67). The remaining Defendants' summary judgment materials include excerpts from Plaintiff's deposition; affidavits of each of the moving Defendants; Plaintiff's relevant medical records; and the affidavit of non-party April Stroupe, the Clinical Site Coordinator for the Buncombe County Detention Center, attesting that Plaintiff's medical records are true and correct.

         On July 6, 2017, this Court entered an order in accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the requirements for filing a response to the motions for summary judgment and of the manner in which evidence could be submitted to the Court. (Doc. No. 75). Plaintiff has responded to the summary judgment motions, and Defendants have filed Replies. See (Doc. Nos. 87, 88, 89). This matter is therefore ripe for disposition.

         B. Factual Background

         1. The Parties' Evidence Regarding Plaintiff's Claim for Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs

         a. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges that, while a pre-trial detainee at the Buncombe County Detention Center, Defendants Ray and Salyers failed to provide “adequate medical care” and that Defendants have been “deliberately indifferent” to Plaintiff's serious medical needs. (Doc. No. 1-2 at p. 4, ¶ A). Plaintiff asserts that, while in isolated confinement, “correctional personnel without medical training” were allowed to decide if medical treatment should be awarded. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that, while in confinement, he was having “electrifying back pain from being assaulted and laying on concrete.” (Id. at p. 4, ¶ 1). Plaintiff asserts that “jail officials” should not be allowed to determine whether an inmate needs prompt treatment. (Id. at p. 4, ¶ A).

         Plaintiff asserts that on February 15 he was eventually allowed to see the nurse, who noted that he was lying on the concrete without a mattress, holding his back. (Id. at p. 4, ¶ 2). Plaintiff states that he was seen on February 21 in a sick call for back pain, and on March 7 he was given Neurontin for the back pain. (Id. at p. 4, ¶ 3). He states that from June 6 to July 6, “Transform Health” denied him medical treatment. (Id. at p. 4, ¶ 4). He states that on August 6, he “finally received gabapentin [sic] for nerve damage.” (Id. at p. 4, ¶ 5). According to Plaintiff's own allegations, he was seen on at least four different occasions: February 15, February 21, March 7, and June 6 for treatment of his back pain. (Id.). Moreover, the medical records show he was seen on June 27 for follow-up on his back pain as a result of him submitting a sick call. (Doc. No. 6-1 at p. 9). Plaintiff's grievance dated June 26, 2013, asserts that Defendant Ray told him that the medical provider told her not to put him on the provider list. (Doc. No. 1-2 at p. 12). Plaintiff asserts the same allegation in his grievance report dated July 8, 2013. (Id. at p. 24).

         b. Defendants' Summary Judgment Evidence As to Plaintiff's Medical Treatment at the Detention Center

         i. Plaintiff's Medical Treatment by the Provider Eva Fields and Others

         The detention center engages TransformHealth to provide medical treatment to its inmates. (Doc. No. 68-4 at ¶ 7: Salyers Aff.). During Plaintiff's confinement, Eva Fields, a licensed Family Nurse Practitioner employed with TransformHealthRX at all relevant times, provided medical treatment to inmates and was colloquially referred to as the detention center's “Provider.” (Id. at ¶ 11; Doc. No. 68-1 at 190:1-2: Pl. Dep.).

         On March 7, 2013, Fields documented that Plaintiff had been in a car accident in 1998 and was told that he had damage to his lumbar spine at ¶ 4. (Doc. No. 1-2 at 21). In the past, he has been taking Neurontin (gabapentin) and ibuprofen for pain. (Id.). He also reported that, before being in the “tank, ” he had been getting ibuprofen from the commissary and taking that twice a day, but he had not had any in the last three days and had been sleeping on the floor. Fields diagnosed him with chronic back pain and wrote medication orders for Plaintiff to receive 800 mg of ibuprofen and 300 mg of Neurontin, both twice a day. (Id.; see also Doc. No. 68-1 at 199:18-200:6). After the detention center discovered Plaintiff was hoarding his Neurontin, Fields discontinued his Neurontin on June 6, 2013. (Doc. No. 68-4 at ¶¶ 14-16; Doc. No. 68-1 at 208:16-209:15). On around June 19, 2013, Plaintiff filed an inmate grievance, complaining about his Neurontin being discontinued. (Doc. No. 68-4 at ¶ 14). Defendant Salyers provided Plaintiff with a response to the grievance, attaching a letter from Ms. Jami Reese, a registered nurse for TransformHealthRX, stating that the provider had discontinued Plaintiff's Neurontin. (Id. at ¶ 16). Salyers also repeated Ms. Reese's instructions that, if Plaintiff had further complaints, he should submit a “Sick Call.” (Id.).

         On June 27, 2013, Nurse Tirgoala documented seeing Plaintiff for a sick call to follow-up on back pain: “Inmate was informed that due to being caught multiple times hiding his meds (Neurontin) that there may not be anything else we can start him on at this time - will discuss with Bruce before placing him on Eva's list.” (Id. at p. 9). Due to Plaintiff's complaints regarding his back pain, Fields again examined Plaintiff on July 11, 2013. (Doc. No. 68-1 at 226:1-16, Ex. 22; Doc. No. 68-5: Stroupe Aff.). Fields declined to resume Plaintiff's Neurontin after Plaintiff admitted to hiding the medication on two occasions, as Fields believed he “could not be trusted” due to his disciplinary history. (Doc. No. 68-1, Ex. 22; Doc. No. 68-5, Ex. A). Fields elected to continue the treatment of Plaintiff's back pain with ibuprofen. (Id.). Fields again examined Plaintiff on August 6, 2013. (Doc. No. 68-1 at 228:14-25, Ex. 24; Doc. No. 68-5, Ex. A). Fields reiterated her concerns that Plaintiff posed a “safety risk, ” due to his hoarding of the Neurontin, but ultimately elected to resume the Neurontin due to Plaintiff's complaints of back pain. (Id.).

         ii. Conduct and Participation by Defendants Ray and Salyers

         The only remaining Defendants as to Plaintiff's deliberate indifference claim are Defendants Ray and Salyers. At all relevant times, Defendant Ray was a private individual employed by TransformHealthRX to provide services via a contractual agreement with the Buncombe County Detention Facility. (Doc. No. 66-2 at ¶ 3: Ray Aff.). Defendant Ray has been a licensed practical nurse since 2004. (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 14-15). At all relevant times, she was a medication nurse, and it was her responsibility to provide prescribed pain medication as ordered to inmates and dispense over-the-counter medication as allowed. Defendant Ray was not allowed to prescribe medications to inmates. (Id. at ¶¶ 4, 8). As the medication nurse, Defendant Ray did not have any responsibility for placing or prioritizing patients on the sick call list. (Id. at ¶¶ 6-7). Ray states that at no time did she ever tell Plaintiff he could not be seen by a medical provider. (Id. at ¶ 6).

         Plaintiff's medical records show that Defendant Ray had two documented encounters with Plaintiff. The first encounter occurred on February 19, 2013, where Defendant Ray documented “sick call for back pain ‘from lying on floor in booking'; inmate already on pain meds for this.” (Doc. No. 6-1 at p. 10). On July 4, 2013, Defendant Ray documented Plaintiff “has put in another sick call for back pain and to see the provider, has been caught hiding meds have put him on providers list.” (Id. at p. 8). There are no other documented encounters between Defendant Ray and Plaintiff.

         Dr. Parsons is a licensed medical doctor, and he has submitted an affidavit in support of Defendants Ray's summary judgment motion. Parsons reviewed Plaintiff's inmate medical and mental health records, including Ray's notes (Doc. No. 6-1), Plaintiff's Complaint with attachments, (Doc. No. 1), other medical records filed by Plaintiff, (Doc. No. 6-1 & 11-1), and Ray's affidavit. (Doc. No. 66-4 at ¶ 4: Parsons Aff.). After Dr. Parsons' review, he concluded that Ray met the standard of care. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-10).

         Defendant Salyers was at all relevant times employed as a Captain of the Buncombe County Sheriff's Department. He has no medical licensure and is not a medical doctor. (Doc. No. 68-4 at ¶ 8). Salyers thus does not decide whether an inmate is examined by the Provider (in this case, Fields) or the proper course of treatment; he, instead, relies on the medical expertise of the Provider and others employed by Transform Health. (Id. at ¶¶ 11, 12). Salyers was not involved in Fields' decision to discontinue the Neurontin. (Id. at ¶ 15).

         2. The Parties' Evidence Related to Plaintiff's Remaining Claims (the Shower Claim, the Bible Claim, and the Correspondence Claim)

         a. Plaintiff's Disciplinary Problems While at the Detention Center

         During his confinement at the Detention Center, Plaintiff committed numerous disciplinary violations ranging from relatively minor offenses to significant offenses such as attempted escape. (Doc. No. 68-2 at ¶ 5: Bishop Aff.). As a result of these violations, Plaintiff received “a lot” of disciplinary sanctions during his confinement. (Doc. No. 68-1 at 96:21-97:2).

         i. Plaintiff's First Escape Attempt

         On February 9, 2013, just over three months into his stay, Plaintiff attempted to escape the detention center by cutting out the bar in his cell window. (Doc. No. 68-1 at 142:10-143:1). Plaintiff was fully aware that cutting the bar of his cell window was a detention center violation. (Id. at 144:21-25). The detention center charged Plaintiff with “Escape Attempt” and “Threat to Safety/Security of Facility.” (Doc. No. 68-2 at ¶ 6; Doc. No. 68-1 at 143:15-18). After Plaintiff surrendered the tool used in his escape attempt, Lieutenant Gould reduced Plaintiff's ...

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