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Smith v. Thornton

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

February 7, 2019

Joe Smith, Plaintiff,
Cynthia Thornton, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Joe Smith, a former state inmate proceeding pro se, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is currently before the court on defendants' motion for summary judgment (D.E. 18). After reviewing the parties' submissions, the undersigned recommends that the district court allow the motion and dismiss Smith's complaint.

         I. Background

         Smith asserts that, while he was incarcerated at Harnett Correctional Institution (“Harnett”), he notified defendants Cynthia Thornton, Jamie Cobb, and Adrienne Graham that another inmate, McDuffie[1], was mentally ill and “constantly targeting [him] with threats.” Compl. at 4, D.E. 1. These defendants allegedly ignored Smith's warnings. Duffie stabbed Smith's wrist in May 2016 seriously injuring him. Id. at 3-4.

         Smith also claims that defendant “Dr. Brown” was deliberately indifferent to the serious injuries he sustained as a result of the alleged assault. Id. It is not entirely clear who Smith intends to identify with this label. At times, Smith describes the actions of Dr. Scott Wesley Brown, an emergency room doctor. See Compl. at 4, D.E. 1. In other filings, Smith refers to North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) employee Dr. Josephine Brown. See Pl. Resp. at 3, D.E. 23. Even more confusingly, Scott Brown appears to not be a state actor and Josephine Brown did not work for DPS at the time of this incident. See, e.g., Agarwal Aff. ¶¶ 5, 7, D.E. 19-4 (noting that DPS did not employ Josephine Brown until March 2017 and that Scott Brown never worked for DPS).

         Duffie did stab Smith. But Smith at first told prison officials that he injured himself killing an insect in his locker. Graham Aff. ¶ 15, D.E. 19-5. Prison officials investigated the incident and determined that Duffie stabbed Smith with a pen during an altercation in which Duffie accused Smith of stealing property. Def. Ex. G-2 at 2, D.E. 19-7. Prison officials eventually found Duffie guilty of a disciplinary infraction for assaulting another inmate. Id.

         Smith received treatment for his injuries at Harnett Central Hospital Emergency Department. Def. Ex. D, D.E. 19-2. Dr. Scott Wesley Brown, an employee of Harnett Health System, provided this treatment. Id. Brown performed a complete physical examination of Smith. Id. at 3-5. During this examination, Smith reiterated that he suffered the injury trying to kill a spider. Id. at 4. Scott Brown noted that Smith had a one-centimeter laceration on his left wrist. Id. Scott Brown also observed that Smith had a “[b]allpoint pen spring and a portion of the ink cartridge . . . lodged in his forearm.” Id. at 5. Scott Brown tried to remove these items from Smith's forearm, but he did not succeed. Id. Brown then sutured the area. Id. Afterward, Scott Brown consulted with an orthopedist about Smith's injuries. Id. at 7. Scott Brown also ordered x-rays of Smith's left wrist. Id. at 2. The x-rays revealed no abnormalities. Id. Smith eventually stated he was feeling better and was ready to return to prison. Id. at 7. Scott Brown prescribed antibiotics and pain medication to treat Smith's injuries. Id. Scott Brown directed Smith to follow-up with the prison orthopedist, and also noted that Smith should have his sutures removed in seven days. Id. at 8-9. Smith then returned to Harnett, and Brown was no longer responsible for his care. See, e.g., Agarwal Aff. ¶ 7, D.E. 19-4; Def. Ex. G-2 at 5, D.E. 19-7 (noting Smith “was transported to an outside medical facility . . . and returned without incident”);

         During the period relevant to this action, Smith filed two grievances. Def. Ex. A & B, D.E. 17-2 & 17-3. In his first grievance, Smith stated:

On 10 May 2016, while housed and locked into block 0-3-4, I was stabbed in the left arm by inmate Lindwood McDuffie. The officers were not awake due to their negligence in the performance of their duty because they were sitting at their desk all [illegible] talkings or whatever, and not making any rounds. After informing officer Jenkins and Thomas, I declared an “Emergency” Sick call.

Def. Ex. A at 3, D.E. 17-2.

         Smith's second grievance says:

Medical has shown a deliberate indifference to my serious medical need being I've complained about my right finger injury, and it has taken over 3 1/2 week[s] for this injury to be addressed by competent medical personnel who are medically trained to address an injury.

Def. Ex. B at 3, D.E. 17-3. Likewise, a review of prison records did not reveal any time when Smith sought protective custody. Graham Aff. ¶¶ 12-14, D.E. 19-5.

         Smith filed his complaint in February 2017, and his claims survived frivolity review. (D.E. 1, 9). Defendants filed this motion for summary judgment in March 2018, and Smith responded (D.E. 22, 23, 24). In December 2018, the State of North Carolina released ...

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