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Nellon v. Hampton

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

January 11, 2018

ARKEEM H. NELLON, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. REGINA HAMPTON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JOI ELIZABETH PEAKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This prisoner civil rights action comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. #70] by Defendant Regina Hampton (“Defendant”). Plaintiff Arkeem Nellon (“Plaintiff”) is proceeding pro se. For the reasons set out below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted, and this action should be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. FACTS, CLAIMS, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 8, 2015, Arkeem H. Nellon, a prisoner of the State of North Carolina, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendant, an officer at Scotland Correctional Institution, acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs when Defendant confiscated Plaintiff's medically prescribed metal hinge knee brace and “refused” to replace it for several months.

         Plaintiff's medical records, submitted by both parties, show that Plaintiff injured his right knee playing basketball with other inmates in 2013, and received ongoing medical treatment for the injury during 2013 and 2014. On March 9, 2015, Plaintiff was seen by an outside medical provider, Pinehurst Surgical Clinic (“Pinehurst”), for complaints of chronic right knee pain and instability. (Compl. [Doc. #1-1 at 9]); (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-6 at 33].) Pinehurst's treatment records reflect “moderate degenerative changes of the patellofemoral compartment” and also note that an MRI from 2014 revealed a partial tear of Plaintiff's ACL. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-6 at 33].) Plaintiff was not recommended for surgery at that time. Pinehurst instead prescribed to Plaintiff an over-the-counter knee brace with a hinged knee sleeve that was subsequently approved by North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“NCDPS”) Nurse Practitioner Victoria Ramsey. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-6 at 46]); (Compl. [Doc. #1 at 3].)

         Plaintiff had the knee brace for approximately 2 weeks. On March 27, 2015, he was wearing the hinged knee brace and seated in a wheelchair following a physical therapy appointment. As part of a security check, Defendant waved a security wand over Plaintiff's right knee. The wand alerted, and Plaintiff states that he informed Defendant that the alert was caused by the “knee brace hinge sleeve that Pinehurst orthopedic prescribed Plaintiff for his torn A.C.L.” (Compl. [Doc. #1 at 3].) According to Defendant's Affidavit, the knee brace appeared to have been “altered” because there was a cut in the brace and she could see the metal hinges which could be easily removed, making it contraband. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-5 at 3, ¶18].) Defendant confiscated the knee brace and told Plaintiff that she would follow up with medical personnel and her supervisors regarding the state of his knee brace. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-5 at 3, ¶19].) According to Defendant's Affidavit, she contacted medical personnel, but they could not confirm whether the knee brace was approved by prison physicians. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-5 at 4, ¶21].) Defendant states that she next followed up with her supervisors, who took possession of the knee brace for security reasons. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-5 at 4, ¶25-27].) According to Defendant's supervisor, William Bullard, altered medical devices are considered contraband and must be removed from an inmate's possession for safety and security reasons. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-3 at 3, ¶18].) Bullard cites to NCDPS procedures, which provide that “[c]ustodial officers are required to remove contraband from an inmate's possession for safety and security reasons [, and] [a]ny weapon, tool, or other item that can be used to effect an escape or aid in an assault will be considered contraband.” (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-3 at 37].) Bullard further notes that prison medical services had stopped issuing metal medical devices and used hard plastic instead because some inmates had used metal devices as weapons. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-3 at 3].) Defendant also notes that Plaintiff had a history including over 50 disciplinary infractions, was in restricted housing at the time of this incident, and Defendant was aware of Plaintiff's most recent disciplinary infraction a few weeks earlier for threatening staff members. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-3 at 2, 13].) Defendant informed Plaintiff that prison management retained the knee brace for “security reasons because it had been altered from its original state.” (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-5 at 4, ¶28].) Defendant asserts that she thereafter had no involvement with Plaintiff's knee brace, the disposition of which was to be determined by the “Correctional Administrator and medical.” (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-5 at 4, ¶30].)

         Plaintiff concedes that there was a small cut in the knee brace sleeve, but maintains that the metal was well attached and not easily removed. (Compl. [Doc. #1 at 3].) Plaintiff further contends that Defendant “refused” to replace the hinge sleeve knee brace with a new one or with an alternative option and thus prolonged the period of time Plaintiff was without his brace, causing “extra physical pain.” (Pl.'s Br. [Doc. #1 at 1, 3].) However, the medical records submitted by both parties reflect that prison officials attempted to address the status of Plaintiff's knee brace with him in April 2015. Plaintiff's medical records reflect that Plaintiff had a follow-up appointment at Pinehurst on April 20, 2015. That appointment record reflects that Plaintiff was “unable to utilize the hinged knee sleeve because of the metal contents of the brace, ” and Plaintiff was instead recommended strengthening exercises, a “knee sleeve, ” and follow-up. (Def. Br. [Doc. #71-6 at 35].) Plaintiff was directed to “Follow-up at Sick Call as Needed.” ((Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-6 at 50].) Plaintiff was referred for physical therapy the next day, but Plaintiff refused an appointment offered by Nurse Ramsey on April 22, 2015 and again on April 30, 2015. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-6 at 52-53].) Plaintiff's medical records reflect that Plaintiff did not request a sick call appointment until May 25, 2016, and he was seen by medical personnel the next day, on May 26, 2015, and was issued a neoprene knee brace. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-6 at 56, 110, 112]; Pl.' Resp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Doc. #74 at 1].) In addition, the medical records reflect that Plaintiff was issued a cane, and Plaintiff also had twelve physical therapy appointments in June 2015. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-6 at 44, 114]; Pl's Mot. [Doc. #59].) Plaintiff does not dispute this sequence of events, but complains that the neoprene brace did not “have any metal or plastic hinge.” (Pl.' Resp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Doc. #74 at 1].)

         Plaintiff contends that he suffered further injury on August 1, 2015 when he twisted his knee, which he says resulted in swelling and increased pain. (Supp. to Compl. [Doc. #13 at 3]). Medical records reflect that Plaintiff was “playing around” with other inmates in a cell and injured his knee. (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-6 at 57].) Plaintiff does not dispute that he had a neoprene knee brace at the time of the August 1, 2015 injury. Despite the issuance of the neoprene brace and cane, however, Plaintiff attributes the injury to Defendant's confiscation of his mental hinge knee brace. (Pl.'s Response [Doc. #74 at 20].) Plaintiff blames the injury on not having “[any] kind of knee support, ” and states that he “lost balance (and) his medical condiction (sic) worsen(ed), ” and that “[h]is meniscus (was) torn.” (Pl.'s Supp. [Doc. #39 at 1].) Plaintiff's medical records from August 10, 2015 indicate that Plaintiff likely had “ACL, PLC and med meniscus tears based on exam.” (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-6 at 63].) On August 31, 2015, the order for a neoprene knee brace was discontinued and Plaintiff was instead ordered a “knee brace neo hinged.” (Def.'s Br. [Doc. #71-6 at 65].) Plaintiff underwent surgery to repair his right knee on January 25, 2016. (Pl.'s Decl. [Doc. #39 at 1]; Pl.'s Br. [Doc. #71-5 at 15].)

         Defendant previously filed a Motion to Dismiss and for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(c), and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Court denied Defendant's Motion and permitted the parties a period of discovery. Plaintiff prematurely filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on January 17, 2017 [Doc. #59], and Defendant subsequently filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on March 29, 2017 [Doc. #70]. In her Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant contends that she was not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical needs, and that she took appropriate action pursuant to prison policy and procedure in the interests of the safety and security of staff and other inmates. Alternatively, Defendant contends she is entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiff thereafter timely filed what this Court construes as Responses [#73, #74], and Defendant thereafter timely filed a Reply [Doc. #76]. Because Plaintiff's premature Motion for Summary Judgment attaches documents including medical records, the Court will consider Plaintiff's Motion as part of his response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, so that all of Plaintiff's submissions are considered.[1]

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine dispute of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence presented could lead a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A court considering a motion for summary judgment must view all facts and draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence before it in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. The proponent of summary judgment “bears the initial burden of pointing to the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Temkin v. Frederick County Comm'rs, 945 F.2d 716, 718 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). If the movant carries this burden, then the burden “shifts to the non-moving party to come forward with facts sufficient to create a triable issue of fact.” Id. at 718-19 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48). A mere scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party's case is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See, e.g., Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (noting that a non-moving party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials.)

         B. Deliberate Indifference

         In her Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant contends that Plaintiff has failed to present evidence that her conduct constituted deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Under the Eighth Amendment, prison officials must provide humane conditions of confinement, which includes a duty to provide inmates with adequate medical care. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (citing Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-527 (1984)). Thus, a prison ...


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