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Bell v. South Correctional Entity

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

November 20, 2014

WARREN E. BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTH CORRECTIONAL ENTITY, et al., Defendants

Warren E Bell, Plaintiff, Pro se, Federal Way, WA.

For South Correctional Entity (SCORE Jail), Defendant: Brenda Louise Bannon, KEATING BUCKLIN & MCCORMACK, SEATTLE, WA.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Mary Alice Theiler, Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY CONCLUSION

This is a civil rights action proceeding under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff Warren Bell seeks money damages for the alleged violation of his constitutional rights during the course of his confinement at the South Correctional Entity (" SCORE Jail") in late 2012 and early 2013.[1] Plaintiff identifies as defendants in this action the SCORE Jail and SCORE Medical Care Providers (John and Jane Does 1-10). Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of all claims asserted by plaintiff in his complaint. Plaintiff has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The Court, having now carefully reviewed the parties' summary judgment motions, and the balance of the record, concludes that defendants' motion for summary judgment should be granted, plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment should be denied, and plaintiff's complaint and this action should be dismissed with prejudice.

FACTS

Plaintiff entered the SCORE Jail on November 29, 2012 pursuant to an order of commitment issued by the City of SeaTac Municipal Court.[2] (Dkt. 18, Ex. C at 1.) Plaintiff was ordered to serve 184 days in jail on a charge of driving under the influence. (Id.) The court subsequently set bail for plaintiff after he filed an appeal of his conviction. ( See id., Ex. C at 2.) Plaintiff was released from custody on January 18, 2013 after posting the $5, 000 bail required by the court. (Dkt. 18 at 2.)

During the course of his confinement at the SCORE Jail between November 29, 2012 and January 18, 2013, plaintiff was housed in the medical unit because of a number of chronic medical issues which needed to be monitored and treated. (Id. and Dkt. 19 at 2.) Hard plastic-shelled beds which hold vinyl-covered mattresses are used in the medical unit at the SCORE Jail. (Id.) The beds are designed for a jail environment and, according to Penny Bartley, the Director of the SCORE Jail, the beds are used to alleviate significant injury should an inmate housed in the medical unit fall getting into or out of bed. (Id.)

When plaintiff arrived at the SCORE Jail in November 2012, he brought with him his personal CPAP machine for treatment of his sleep apnea. (Dkt. 19 at 1-2.) Plaintiff also brought with him personal medication which was bagged and labeled so that it could be administered to plaintiff during staff medical rounds. (Dkt. 19 at 2.) Plaintiff indicated at the time of his booking that he was taking Vicodin and marijuana to manage his migraine headaches. (Id.) Plaintiff was advised that he would be evaluated, and that medicines would be provided based on clinical need and not preference. (Id.) Plaintiff was thereafter prescribed a different medication for his migraine headaches that did not contain a narcotic. (Id.) The Court presumes that this new medication was the Butalbital which plaintiff references in his complaint and which he states was prescribed to him by Dr. David Parker on December 12, 2012. ( See Dkt. 2 at 15.) Plaintiff was also provided a prescription dosage of Ibuprofen for pain. (Dkt. 19 at 2.)

Plaintiff claims that on December 16, 2012 he got up in the night to use the restroom and fell on his right hand and his face. (Dkt. 2 at 14.) He further claims that just before he fell he felt extreme dizziness and muscle weakness. (Id. at 15.) Plaintiff states that he spoke to a nurse later that same morning as she was handing out medications and told her he about his fall and about the dizziness and weakness. (Id.) According to plaintiff, the nurse reviewed his medical records and noted the new prescription for Butalbital, and plaintiff told her he didn't want to take the new medication anymore. (Id.)

Plaintiff maintains that on December 17, 2012 he noticed that his right hand was swollen and that his pinkie finger was painful and swollen as well. (Id.) However, it was not until a number of days later that plaintiff apparently sought treatment for those injuries. According to Eric Nelson, a medical provider at SCORE, he met with plaintiff on December 27, 2012 to discuss a number of medical complaints, among them that plaintiff had fallen on his way to the restroom " two weeks ago" and that his right pinkie finger was sore and swollen. (Dkt. 19 at 3.) Mr. Nelson examined plaintiff's finger and found that plaintiff had full range of motion and sensation in his right pinkie. (Id.) Mr. Nelson also noted that he saw no indication that the finger was swollen or discolored. (Id.) Plaintiff requested that he be provided Vicodin for pain, but Mr. Nelson denied the request. (Id.) Plaintiff was, at that time, still receiving a prescription dosage of Ibuprofen several times a day. (Id.)

Defendants note that plaintiff had over 200 contacts with SCORE medical staff during the course of his confinement at the facility between November 29, 2012 and January 18, 2013, including medication pass contacts, nursing staff contacts, and medical provider contacts. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff maintains that on several occasions, his contacts with the medical staff resulted in him receiving the wrong prescription medication and, on one occasion, resulted in him receiving medication that was prescribed for another inmate, David Cantrell. ( See Dkt. 2 at 16-17.) Plaintiff attributes his fall on December 16, 2012 to medical personnel giving him Mr. Cantrell's medication. ( See id . at 19.)

Mr. Cantrell's booking records indicate that the only time he and plaintiff were incarcerated at SCORE at the same time was from January 4, 2013 through January 9, 2013, well after plaintiff's fall. (Dkt. 19 at 4.) According to defendants, both inmates were housed in the medical unit from January 5, 2013 through January 8, 2013, but were never housed in the same cell. (Id.)

On January 20, 2013, following his release from the SCORE Jail, plaintiff went to the Auburn Medical Center because of pain he continued to experience in his right hand as a result of his fall at the facility in December 2012. (Dkt. 2 at 18.) According to plaintiff, he was examined there and diagnosed with a sprained finger. (Id.)

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff alleges in this action that defendants denied him his rights under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution when they forced him to sleep on the floor during his confinement at the SCORE Jail between late November 2012 and mid-January 2013, and when they denied him adequate medical care for the injury to his right hand suffered in a fall which resulted from being given another inmate's medication. ( See Dkt. 2 at 19.)

Defendants argue in their motion for summary judgment that plaintiff's claims should be dismissed because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.[3] They also argue that plaintiff's allegations do not rise to the level of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Plaintiff argues in his response to defendants' motion and cross-motion for summary judgment that he exhausted all available administrative remedies because while incarcerated " he filed a few Medical Kites, and Numerous Inmate Grievance Forms." (Dkt. 21 at 4.) He also asserts, in a conclusory fashion, that defendants demonstrated deliberate indifference to his medical needs. (Id. at 7-8.)

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there exists " no genuine dispute as to any material fact" such that " the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Material facts are facts which might affect the outcome of the pending action under governing law. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Genuine disputes are those for which the evidence is such that " a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

In response to a properly supported summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials in the pleadings, but must set forth specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial and produce evidence sufficient to establish the existence of the elements essential to his case. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). A mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient to create a factual dispute. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

Exhaustion

Section 1997e(a) of Title 42 of the United States Code provides that " [n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." Section 1997e(a) requires complete exhaustion through any available process. See Porter v. Nussle 534 U.S. 516, 524, 122 S.Ct. 983, 152 L.Ed.2d 12 (2002); Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 735, 121 S.Ct. 1819, 149 L.Ed.2d 958 (2001). Section 1997e(a) also requires proper exhaustion. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 165 L.Ed.2d 368 (2006). " Proper" exhaustion means full compliance by a prisoner with all procedural requirements of an institution's grievance process. See id . at 93-95.

The SCORE Jail has a grievance procedure through which inmates may seek review of most aspects of their confinement. ( See Dkt. 18, Ex. L at 5.) Grievances must be presented in writing, using a grievance form supplied by the facility, and they must be submitted within 24 hours of the incident or action being grieved. ( See Dkt. 18, Ex. L at 5.) Corrections staff provide written responses to grievances. (Id.) If an inmate is dissatisfied with the manner in which the grievance was resolved by corrections staff, the inmate may file an appeal with the administrative staff. (Id.) Such appeals must be submitted on an appeal form supplied by the facility within 72 hours of the original grievance response. (Id.) Inmates are specifically advised in the SCORE Inmate Manual that they must exhaust all of their administrative appeal rights before pursuing other avenues of relief. ( See id .)

There is no evidence in the record that plaintiff filed any grievances related to the sleeping arrangements in the medical unit at SCORE or to being administered the wrong medication or another inmate's medication. ( See Dkt. 17, Ex. C and Dkt. 18, Exs. E-J.) Thus, plaintiff clearly failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to such claims. As to plaintiff's claim that he was denied adequate medical care for the injury to his right pinkie finger, the record is less clear.

Plaintiff submitted a grievance on January 2, 2013 in which he complained, generally, about not receiving medications or requested medical care. (Dkt. 18, Ex. J at 1.) On January 3, 2013, the SCORE Director of Nursing responded to the grievance and, among other things, she noted in her response that plaintiff had been seen by a provider for a " right hand pinky" issue on December 27, 2012. (Id., Ex. K at 2.) The same day, plaintiff submitted another grievance, one which he appeared to identify as an appeal grievance, in which he complained that his pinky finger continued to be a problem and that it was not working at its maximum function. ( See id., Ex. J at 2.) The SCORE Health Services Administrator, Mr. Nelson, reviewed the grievance, and the previous response by the Director of Nursing, and advised plaintiff that a review of his medical chart indicated he had been provided appropriate care for his many health concerns. (Dkt. 19, Ex. B.)

The documentation in the record suggests that plaintiff raised his concern about the treatment he received for his pinkie finger at all available levels of review. This Court therefore concludes that plaintiff arguably exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to that claim. Accordingly, the Court will therefore address the merits of that claim.

Inadequate Medical Care

In order to prevail on a claim that defendants violated his right to adequate medical care, plaintiff must satisfy a two-part test containing both an objective and a subjective component. The objective component requires proof that the alleged wrongdoing was objectively " sufficiently serious" to establish a constitutional violation. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991)). A medical need is deemed serious if the failure to treat the condition could result in further significant injury or the " unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976)).

The subjective component requires proof that the prison official acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. The state of mind requirement under the subjective component of the applicable standard has been defined as " deliberate indifference" to an inmate's health or safety. Id. In order to establish deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must show a purposeful act or failure to act on the part of prison officials. McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060.

The evidence in the record demonstrates that plaintiff did not seek medical treatment for the injury to his pinkie finger until at least ten days after he claims to have suffered the injury. ( See Dkt. 19 at 3.) When plaintiff did make a specific complaint about the injury to Mr. Nelson on December 27, 2012, Mr. Nelson examined the finger. (Dkt. 19 at 3.) During this examination, Mr. Nelson saw no indication of swelling or discoloration, and he determined that plaintiff had full range of motion and sensation in the finger. (Id.) Plaintiff requested Vicodin for the pain and Mr. Nelson denied the request. (Id.) Mr. Nelson notes, however, that plaintiff was already receiving a prescription dosage of Ibuprofen which would have reasonably been expected to reduce any pain and inflammation that might have been present in plaintiff's finger. (Id.)

The only support plaintiff offers for his claim that he was denied adequate medical care for his finger is the assertion, made in his complaint, that after he was released from SCORE he sought treatment at the Auburn Medical Center where he was diagnosed with a sprained finger. (Dkt. 2 at 18.) Even accepting that assertion as true, the assertion does not establish any violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights. First, plaintiff fails to demonstrate that the reported injury to his pinkie finger was sufficiently serious enough to implicate federal constitutional concerns. Second, plaintiff fails to demonstrate any deliberate indifference to his reported medical need. Plaintiff was examined at SCORE in response to his complaint about the alleged injury to his finger and no objective evidence of the injury was found. (Dkt. 19 at 3.) In addition, plaintiff was already receiving adequate pain medication at the time he reported the finger injury to reasonably address any pain or inflammation which may have been associated with the injury. (Id.)

In sum, plaintiff offers no evidence to establish either the objective or the subjective component of the Eighth Amendment standard and, thus, defendants are entitled to summary judgment with respect to any claim that they failed to provide plaintiff adequate medical care for his injured right pinkie finger.

CONCLUSION

Based on the foregoing, this Court recommends that defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted, that plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment be denied, and that plaintiff's complaint and this action be dismissed without prejudice.

DEADLINE FOR OBJECTIONS

Objections to this Report and Recommendation, if any, should be filed with the Clerk and served upon all parties to this suit within twenty-one (21) days of the date on which this Report and Recommendation is signed. Failure to file objections within the specified time may affect your right to appeal. Objections should be noted for consideration on the District Judge's motions calendar for the third Friday after they are filed. Responses to objections may be filed within fourteen (14) days after service of objections. If no timely objections are filed, the matter will be ready for consideration by the District Judge on December 12, 2014.


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