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Pickens v. Lewis

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

May 10, 2018

BRANDON MICHAEL PICKENS, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT C. LEWIS, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the following motions: a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendant J. Rickman, (Doc. No. 83), and a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants Beddingfield, Lancaster, Lewis, White, and Yearick, (Doc. No. 89).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Pro se Plaintiff Brandon Pickens, a former North Carolina inmate, filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the moving Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Piedmont Correctional Institution (“PCI”) and Mountain View Correctional Institution (“MVCI”). First, as to Dr. Rickman, a dentist who provided dental treatment to inmates at MVCI, Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Rickman was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious needs for dental care while Plaintiff was housed at MVCI between August and December 2012. See (Doc. No. 9 at ¶¶ 8 and 73). As to the remaining Defendants, Plaintiff generally alleges that, between August 1, 2012 and December 14, 2012 while housed as an inmate at PCI and later at MVCI, mental health staff did not reasonably and appropriately address his mental health needs.

         Plaintiff filed his original Complaint on December 9, 2015, and he filed an Amended Complaint on February 18, 2016. See (Doc. Nos. 1, 9). On October 12, 2017, Defendant Rickman filed his pending summary judgment motion. (Doc. No. 83). On October 31, 2017, Defendants Beddingfield, Lancaster, Lewis, White, and Yearick filed their pending summary judgment motion. (Doc. No. 89). On November 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 summary judgment motions and of the manner in which evidence could be submitted to the Court. (Doc. No. 91). Plaintiff has filed a response to the summary judgment motions.

         B. Factual Background

         1. Plaintiff's Deliberate Indifference Claim against Dr. Rickman Related to Plaintiff's Dental Care Needs

         Plaintiff's claim against Dr. Rickman arises out of dental treatment Plaintiff received, and dental treatment which Plaintiff contends he should have received, while he was incarcerated at MVCI between August and December 2012. Dr. Rickman is a dentist licensed by the State of North Carolina. (Doc. No. 84 at ¶ 3: Rickman Affidavit). He became employed as a full-time dentist by the Department of Public Safety on August 13, 2012, and began seeing inmate patients on August 20, 2012. (Id. at ¶ 5). Dr. Rickman was primarily assigned to work at Avery Mitchell Correctional Institution. (Id.). No. dentist was permanently assigned to MVCI, but Dr. Rickman and other providers rotated through MVCI to see patients there a few days each month. (Id.).

         Dr. Rickman was assigned to work at MVCI one day in August 2012; one day in September 2012; eight days in October 2012; five days in November 2012; and six days total in December 2012 (only three of which were before Plaintiff was transferred away from MVCI). (Id. at ¶ 6).

         Due to the large number of patients compared to the relatively few number of dentists available, the MVCI dental clinic maintained a waiting list of about ninety days for dental procedures such as routine fillings. (Id. at ¶ 7). At the time, DPS policy and record-keeping systems provided that if an inmate was transferred between facilities while he was on the dental waitlist at the old facility, he would have to be reassessed by a dentist at the new facility and then placed at the bottom of that facility's waitlist, depending on treatment needs. (Id. at ¶ 10). There was no official system in place at DPS to integrate or merge the waiting lists of different facilities for transferring inmates. (Id.).

         Plaintiff was transferred to MVCI on or about August 13, 2012, and remained there for only about four months before being transferred to Scotland Correctional Institution on December 19, 2012. (Id. at ¶ 4). Before being transferred to MVCI, Plaintiff received an initial dental assessment at PCI by a different dentist on or about July 24, 2012. (Id. at ¶ 9). That dentist noted treatment needs for fillings on teeth #13 and #15, and the extraction of tooth #17 (a wisdom tooth). (Id.). Plaintiff was placed on the wait list at PCI for these procedures, but he was transferred to MVCI before treatment could be completed. (Id.).

         Upon arrival at MVCI, Plaintiff submitted three almost identical sick call requests regarding his fillings and wisdom tooth-on August 14, 16 and 25 of 2012. (Id. at ¶ 11). On August 30, 2012, another dentist extracted tooth #17. (Id. at ¶ 12). That same day, Plaintiff submitted a sick call request requesting a check-up and dental cleaning, and was placed on the prophylaxis (cleaning) waitlist on September 6, 2012. (Id.).

         Plaintiff missed his October 10, 2012, prophylaxis appointment, but was seen by Dr. Rickman for the first time on October 12, 2012, for a cleaning. (Id. at ¶¶ 13, 14). Plaintiff requested a full mouth series of x-rays and a dental examination and received the same from Dr. Rickman on October 15, 2012. (Id. at ¶ 14). On that date, Dr. Rickman noted the need for fillings on teeth #13 and #15 and placed Plaintiff on the facility's waitlist for these procedures. (Id.). Tooth #15 was treatment planned for a traditional amalgam filling. Tooth #13 was treatment planned for an Intermediate Restorative Material (“IRM”) filling due to extensive decay and the poor prognosis of that tooth. (Id.). Although tooth #13 had a poor, if not hopeless, prognosis, on October 15, 2012, Dr. Rickman exercised his clinical judgment and decided to attempt to save the tooth with a temporary IRM filling. (Id.). If, after placing the IRM filling, the tooth “settled down, ” and appeared to be salvageable, Dr. Rickman would have proceeded at a later date with a traditional filling. (Id.). However, Dr. Rickman believed that, more likely than not, tooth #13 would eventually require extraction. (Id.).

         Over the next two months, before he was transferred from MVCI on December 19, 2012, Plaintiff submitted multiple sick call requests regarding his fillings. (Id. at ¶ 15). Each time, the dental hygienist reminded Plaintiff that he was already on the waitlist, which at all times was at least ninety days long. (Id.). While at MVCI, Plaintiff di not did declare a dental emergency (which all inmates can do at any time) regarding his fillings. (Id. at ¶ 16). Indeed, Plaintiff's dental needs regarding teeth #13 and #15 were routine and did not require immediate or urgent intervention. (Id. at ¶ 14).

         Dr. Rickman asserts in his affidavit that he provided Plaintiff with appropriate and timely dental care and treatment and was in no way indifferent to his dental needs. (Id. at ¶ 17). Dr. Rickman saw Plaintiff promptly, took a full mouth series of dental x-rays, completed a comprehensive examination, diagnosed his treatment needs, and placed Plaintiff on the facility's waitlist for his fillings. (Id.). In doing so, Dr. Rickman exercised his clinical judgment in triaging Plaintiff and his treatment needs. (Id.). Due to the number of inmates who had dental needs at MVCI, in conjunction with the few number of days that Dr. Rickman was actually assigned to MVCI to provide dental treatment, Plaintiff's fillings were unable to be scheduled for completion before Plaintiff was transferred away from MVCI on December 19, 2012. (Id.).

         Plaintiff's tooth #15 was restored with a simple filling on or about March 13, 2013, (as Dr. Rickman planned to do himself had Plaintiff remained at MVCI) and remains fully functional. (Id. at ¶ 18). Tooth #13, which Dr. Rickman felt had a poor prognosis and might require extraction, was in fact extracted on or about February 14, 2014. (Id.).

         Dr. Larry Ray, a general dentist licensed by the State of North Carolina, has reviewed and evaluated the care provided to Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 85 at ¶ 3: Ray Aff.). Dr. Ray asserts that, in his professional expert opinion, Dr. Rickman's treatment of Plaintiff was appropriate and that he was not indifferent to Plaintiff's dental needs. (Id. at ¶ 8). Dr. Ray opines that Plaintiff's teeth #13 and #15 were not in need of immediate fillings and did not constitute a serious dental need. (Id.). Dr. Ray asserts that it was therefore entirely appropriate for Plaintiff to be placed on the dental waiting list at MVCI for those fillings. (Id.). Furthermore, it is Dr. Ray's opinion that Plaintiff has suffered no harm that is attributable to any action or inaction of Dr. Rickman. (Id.). Dr. Ray notes that Tooth #15 was filled on March 13, 2013, and Plaintiff was not harmed by any delay. (Id. at ¶ 7). The prognosis for tooth #13 was already poor, if not hopeless, when Dr. Rickman first saw Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 6). According to Dr. Ray, even if Dr. Rickman had been able to perform the planned IRM filling on #13, more likely than not Plaintiff would have lost the tooth anyway, and the tooth was, in fact, extracted on February 14, 2014. (Id.). Finally, Dr. Ray opines that Dr. Rickman's inability to place fillings before Plaintiff was transferred from MVCI did not harm Plaintiff or affect his dental outcome. (Id. at ¶ 8).

         2. Plaintiff's Deliberate Indifference Claim against Defendants Lewis, Beddingfield, White, Lancaster, and Yearick Related to Plaintiff's Mental Health Care Needs

         As to the remaining Defendants, Plaintiff has brought a claim against them for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, based on his allegation that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his mental health needs. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that, on October 17, 2012, he “requested to be placed back on [his] mental health medication and be transferred to another prison facility.” (Doc. No. 9 at ¶ 31). The following day, Plaintiff submitted a request to see a mental health care provider and, on October 19, 2012, was evaluated. (Id. at ¶ 33). With respect to the moving Defendants, Plaintiff states that he wrote a letter to “the Director of Prisons” raising “problems concerning [his] mental health care and [Defendant] Yearick's failure to accommodate [his] mental health needs.” (Id. at ¶ 38). Plaintiff alleges that, a short time later, he met with Defendant White while in segregation, at which point Defendant White allegedly told him that “she was going to help [him] get back on [his] mental health medications, ” among other things. (Id. at ¶ 43).

         Plaintiff's next contact with Defendant White was by letter when she responded in writing to his request for permission to correspond with his brothers, who were also incarcerated within NCDPS facilities. (Id. at ¶¶ 48-49). In her response, Defendant White advised Plaintiff to “submit a request to [his] case manager to begin the approval process . . . .” (Id. at ¶ 49). As for Defendant Lewis, Plaintiff claims that Dr. John S. Carbone responded to a letter Plaintiff had written Defendant Lewis on November 7, 2012, complaining about his mental health care. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, copies of Dr. Carbone's response were sent to Defendant Lewis and Defendant Yearick, but Defendant Yearick never met with Plaintiff to address his concerns. (Id.). On November 28, 2012, Plaintiff received a letter from Defendant Beddingfield in response to correspondence Plaintiff had sent to Defendant Lancaster. (Id. at ¶ 50). According to Plaintiff, Defendant Beddingfield advised him that his letter had been “forwarded to [Defendant] White for review and disposition.” (Id.).

         Finally, Plaintiff claims that, on December 4, 2012, he received a written response from Defendant White to a letter Plaintiff had written to Defendant Lewis. (Id. at ¶ 54). According to Plaintiff, Defendant White's response “acknowledged that she ha[d] received numerous letters and requests forms” and “admitted that she was aware of [Plaintiff's] concerns relating to . . . proper mental health care and a transfer, ” but that no further action was taken. (Id.). Then, on December 18, 2012, Plaintiff received a written response from Defendant White to a letter he had addressed to Defendant Lewis “about numerous concerns regarding conditions [to] which [he] was subjected at MCVI. The concerns which I addressed included grievance problems, confiscated personal property, spoiled food, kitchen sanitation, and staff racial prejudice.” (Id. at ¶ 61). Plaintiff complains that Defendant White took no further action. (Id.). Plaintiff does not allege that Defendants Lewis, Beddingfield, White, or Lancaster provided any mental health, psychiatric, or psychological care to him or that they directly oversaw or supervised any such care rendered by others.

         In support of their motion, Defendants have submitted their own affidavits, as well as affidavits from various non-parties. See (Doc. No. 90-1: Aff. of Katie Smith, Defs. Ex. A; Doc. No. 90-2: Aff. of Lori Hall, Defs. Ex. B; Doc. No. 90-3: Aff. of Ken Yearick, Defs. Ex. C; Doc. No. 90-4: Aff. of Anna Jamieson, Defs. Ex. D). Defendant Yearick served as a Psychological Programs Manager for NCDPS from 2007 until 2015 and, so, provided, among other things, clinical oversight to the mental health staff at MCVI, ensured compliance with State ...


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