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Harris v. Poole

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 12, 2019

KATY POOLE, et al., Defendants.



         This case comes before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for a recommendation on the Motion to Dismiss of Defendant [Bikramjit] Grewal (Docket Entry 21). For the reasons that follow, the Court should grant in part and should deny in part the instant Motion, in that the Court should conclude that Plaintiff's Complaint (Docket Entry 2) states a claim against Defendant Grewal under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, but that any state-law claim for medical malpractice fails as a matter of law.


         Via a “Form To Be Used by Prisoners in Filing a Complaint under [Section] 1983” (id. at 1 (all-cap font omitted)), Plaintiff (a prisoner of the State of North Carolina) commenced this action against various Scotland Correctional Institution (“SCI”) officials and Defendant Grewal, an alleged member of the “Medical Staff” at Central Prison (id. at 2). According to the Complaint:

         “In August of 2016 on the way to the yard at [SCI, Plaintiff] slipped [and] hyperextend[ed his] right leg on a sidewalk full of debris. Days later [Plaintiff] put in a sick-call requesting to see a doctor . . . . Over the next 8 months[, Plaintiff did] not rec[eive] adequate medical attention on several different occasions.” (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff “finally recieved [sic] an M.R.I. in the month of April 2017 and was taken to Central Prison on 06/23/17 to recieve [sic] the results. [Plaintiff] was then seen by [Defendant] Grewal who went over [the] M.R.I.” (Id.) Defendant Grewal told Plaintiff that “their [sic] was no damage shown and no further medical attention pertaining to [his] leg was needed.” (Id.) In August 2017:

[While] still dealing with the same pain[, Plaintiff] put in a sick-call at Whiteville Correctional [Institution (“WCI”)] where he was later seen by [a] doctor who reviewed [Plaintiff's] M.R.I. and acknowledged [to Plaintiff that his] M.R.I. showed abnormal swelling which alone show[ed] signs of an injury and [the doctor further stated that] he couldnt [sic] understand why [Plaintiff] hadnt [sic] recieved [sic] further medical attention.

(Id.) Officials at WCI “did an investigation pertaining to the situation and came to the conclusion to get [Plaintiff] an orthapedic [sic] immediately [and he] ha[s] sense [sic] then been recieving [sic] adequate medical attention.” (Id. at 3-4.) Plaintiff “seek[s] monetary damages against [Defendant] Grewal in his individual capacity for telling [Plaintiff that his] M.R.I. was negative, showed no damage, and no further medical attention pertaining to [his] leg was needed which months later [Plaintiff] found out not to be true.” (Id. at 4.)

         “[P]ursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and Rule 9(j) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, [Defendant Grewal has] move[d] that Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed . . . .” (Docket Entry 21 at 1; see also Docket Entry 22 (Brief).) Plaintiff has responded (Docket Entry 27) and Defendant Grewal has replied (Docket Entry 28).


         In reviewing the instant Motion, the Court must “accept the facts alleged in [Plaintiff's C]omplaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to [him].” Coleman v. Maryland Ct. of App., 626 F.3d 187, 189 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom., Coleman v. Court of App. of Md., 566 U.S. 30 (2012). The Court also must “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of [ P]laintiff.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). Finally, because of Plaintiff's pro se status, the Court must “liberally construe[]” his Complaint, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted), although the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has “not read Erickson to undermine [the] requirement that a pleading contain more than labels and conclusions, ” Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 304 n.5 (4th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Accordingly, to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint (even a pro se complaint) must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.

         Defendant Grewal has argued that “Plaintiff's allegations amount to claims of ‘negligence, medical malpractice, and disagreement with medical treatment, which claims do not support relief under [Section] 1983.'” (Docket Entry 22 at 9 (quoting Gregory v. Prison Health Servs., Inc., 247 Fed.Appx. 433, 435 (4th Cir. 2007)). More specifically, Defendant Grewal would have the Court rule that “[t]he only thing . . . Plaintiff has plausibly alleged . . . is that [Defendant] Grewal misinterpreted Plaintiff's MRI results. This is not sufficient to maintain a lawsuit based on deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, and Plaintiff's Complaint against [Defendant] Grewal should therefore be dismissed.” (Id. at 10.) The Court should reject that argument, because (as documented in the Introduction) the factual allegations in the Complaint go farther than Defendant Grewal has acknowledged and (when viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff with the benefit of all reasonable inferences) would permit a reasonable fact-finder to conclude that Defendant Grewal exhibited deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical need, by failing to treat his obvious leg injury that required professional care.

         In that regard, “when the State by the affirmative exercise of its power so restrains an individual's liberty that it renders him unable to care for himself, and at the same time fails to provide for his . . . medical care . . .[, ] it transgresses the substantive limits on state action set by the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process Clause.” DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 200 (1989). To make out a constitutional claim for deprivation of medical care, Plaintiff must show that Defendant Grewal “acted with ‘deliberate indifference' (subjective) to [Plaintiff's] ‘serious medical needs' (objective).” Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008). A medical need qualifies as serious if it “has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment . . . .” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Coordinately, a defendant displays deliberate indifference if he or she knows that an inmate faces a risk of harm due to a serious medical need and that the defendant's “actions were insufficient to mitigate the risk of harm to the inmate arising from [that] medical need[].” Id. (emphasis and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Scinto v. Stansberry, 841 F.3d 219, 225 (4th Cir. 2016) (“To prove deliberate indifference, plaintiffs must show that ‘the official knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.'” (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)) (internal brackets omitted)).

         “[D]eliberate indifference entails something more than mere negligence, . . . [but] is satisfied by something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835. “It requires that a [defendant] actually know of and disregard an objectively serious condition, medical need, or risk of harm.” De'lonta v.Johnson, 708 F.3d 520, 525 (4th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). A plaintiff can meet that standard by showing “that a [defendant] knew of a substantial risk from the very fact that the risk was obvious.” Scinto, 841 F.3d at 226 (internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, “failure to respond to an inmate's known medical needs raises an inference of deliberate indifference to those needs.” Id. (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted). Consistent with the foregoing statements from De'lonta and Scinto, the Fourth Circuit recently reversed a district court's dismissal of a deliberate indifference claim where the plaintiff ÔÇťalleged that his doctors acknowledged some symptoms but ignored most, disregarded abnormal test results, and failed to treat any of his ...

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