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Mitchell v. Forsyth County

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

July 29, 2019

JUSTIN RANDOLPH MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
FORSYTH COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION, ORDER, AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JOI ELIZABETH PEAKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a pro se civil rights action filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Plaintiff Justin Randolph Mitchell, an inmate in the North Carolina Department of Correction. His central allegation in this case is that Defendants failed to provide him with proper physical therapy for pain in his back. Plaintiff names as Defendants 1) Forsyth County, North Carolina, 2) R.

         Whitaker and Brad Stanley of the Forsyth County Sheriff's Department, 3) Correct Care Solutions, a company contracted to provide medical care to inmates at the Forsyth County Detention Center, and 4) Dr. Alan Rhoades, who provides medical care for inmates at the Detention Center. Following the filing of a Complaint [Doc. #2] and Amended Complaint [Doc. #27] by Plaintiff, all Defendants with the exception of Defendant Rhoades, [1] filed a Motion [Doc. #43] seeking judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiff then filed Motions [Doc. #49, 51] seeking leave to file a Third Amended Complaint and to correct that proposed Amended Complaint to reflect that he was suing Defendants only in their individual capacities. The case is now before the Court regrading all of these motions.

         Facts

         The Complaint alleges that, in July of 2016, Plaintiff was taken from the Forsyth County Detention Center to OrthoCarolina for an evaluation of back pain that he was suffering. (Complaint § IV(D), ¶ 1.) The evaluation, including an MRI, revealed a bulging disc at ¶ 4-5 in Plaintiff's spine and “Specialist M.D. Timothy McGowen” recommended that Plaintiff be given eight weekly sessions of physical therapy and an extra mattress. (Id. ¶¶ 1-2.) However, Defendant Rhoades allegedly concluded that “it is likely that corporate will agree to a short PT interaction so the inmate can learn various exercises and expect him to perform techniques on site.” (Id. ¶ 3.) A week later, on August 12, 2016, Plaintiff returned OrthoCarolina for an initial physical therapy evaluation and then for a follow-up visit on October 31, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4, 6.) Plaintiff reported that he was “being forced to do physical therapy on a medical floor, ” and “Therapist Provider Carrie Kibler” allegedly again stated that Plaintiff needed eight weekly visits for physical therapy at the OrthoCarolina facility. (Id. ¶ 6.) Two persons who are not named as Defendants later met with Plaintiff to discuss moving him to the medical unit of the Detention Center so that he could be monitored and establish a routine of performing his physical therapy. (Id. ¶ 9.) On November 7, 2016, Plaintiff was moved to the medical unit. (Id. ¶ 10.) However, he was moved back out on November 9, 2016 when the cell was needed for another inmate. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         In May of 2017, Plaintiff began filing administrative grievances regarding the fact that he was never sent outside the detention center for the eight weekly physical therapy sessions. (Id. ¶ 13.) The grievance eventually reached Defendant Stanley, who allegedly denied it by siding with medical staff. (Id.) The factual portions of the Complaint do not appear to contain direct allegations against Defendants Forsyth County, Correct Care Solutions, or Whitaker. However, Section II of the Complaint alleges that Forsyth County is responsible for the medical care of inmates at the Detention Center where Plaintiff was housed and that it violated Plaintiff's rights by refusing to pay for Plaintiff's outside physical therapy sessions. It also alleges that Correct Care Solutions similarly violated Plaintiff's rights by failing to approve those outside sessions. Finally, it claims that Defendant Whitaker violated Plaintiff's rights by “giving the plaintiff legal advice/opinions on accepting grievances plaintiff filed on medical conditions.”

         As for injuries and relief, Plaintiff claims that the lack of physical therapy caused him to suffer pain unnecessarily, to lose sleep, and to face a danger of permanent back damage. (Complaint § V). He seeks damages in the amount of $10, 000, 000, as well as punitive damages, costs, and attorney fees. (Complaint § VI.) Plaintiff's Amended Complaint essentially restates the factual allegations set out above, but lowers the amount of requested damages to $3, 000, 000 and seeks punitive damages of $1, 000, 000. (Amended Complaint § VI.)

         Discussion

         Defendants move for dismissal of Plaintiff's case because they assert that Plaintiff fails to state any claim upon which relief can be granted. In a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), the Court considers the Complaint, any attachments to the Complaint, and the Answers, and applies the standard for considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Mendenhall v. Hanesbrands, Inc., 856 F.Supp.2d 717, 724 (M.D. N.C. April 12, 2012). Under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must consider whether the complaint “contain[s] 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) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is “facially plausible” when the facts pled allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. This standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. In other words, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.

         Plaintiff's Complaint, as amended, seeks to state a claim against Defendants for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need in violation of his federal constitutional rights. Because of his status as a pretrial detainee at the time of the events alleged, Plaintiff's claim of deliberate indifference to his medical needs would be evaluated under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than under the Eight Amendment standard applicable to convicted prisoners. City of Revere v. Mass. Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244 (1983); see Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979). In practice, however, the standards are the same for both pretrial detainees and convicted persons. See Brown v. Harris, 240 F.3d 383, 388-89 (4th Cir. 2001) (holding that a pretrial detainee is entitled to the protections of due process, but concluding that the court need not decide whether the prisoner was convicted or a pretrial detainee because the standard is the same). Plaintiff must establish that Defendants acted with “deliberate indifference” to his “serious medical needs.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976); Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008). More specifically,

[a] medical need qualifies as serious if it “has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or ... is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” [Iko, 525 F.2d at 241] (internal quotation marks omitted). A defendant displays deliberate indifference where he possesses knowledge of the risk of harm to an inmate and knows that “his actions were insufficient to mitigate the risk of harm to the inmate arising from his medical needs.” 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 kn[ew] of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.' ” (brackets in original) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994))).
“[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 satisfy this 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 (quoting Makdessi v. Fields, 789 F.3d 126, 133 (4th Cir. 2015)).
A plaintiff can also establish “a prima face case of deliberate indifference” where “ ‘a substantial risk of [serious harm] was longstanding, pervasive, well-documented, or expressly noted by prison officials in the past, and the circumstances suggest that the defendant-official ... had been exposed to information concerning the risk and thus must have known about it.' ” Id. (brackets and ellipsis in original) (quoting Parrish ex rel. Lee v. Cleveland, 372 F.3d 294, 303 (4th Cir. 2004)). In addition, “ ‘[f]ailure to respond to an inmate's known medical needs raises an inference [of] deliberate indifference to those needs.' ” Id. (brackets in original) (quoting Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 853 (4th Cir. 1990), overruled in part on other grounds by Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837).

Durand v. Charles, No. 1:16CV86, 2016 WL 7495811, at *4 (M.D. N.C. Dec. 30, 2016) (unpublished), report and rec. adopted, 2017 WL 389108 ...


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