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Johnson v. Monroe

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

April 13, 2017

NURSE MONROE, Defendants.


         Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, Maurice Lavell Johnson brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against a Correct Care medical staff nurse at Chatham County Detention Center (CCDC). The Court is screening his Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Johnson is incarcerated at CCDC. Doc. 1 at 1. He alleges that on November 11, 2016, he began spitting up blood. He complained to an officer, who called for medical assistance. Id. Nurse Monroe responded, but in lieu of "giving plaintiff appropriate medical assistance" placed plaintiff on suicide watch. Id. at 5. Johnson objected that he was not suicidal or suffering from a mental health issue, but was still taken to the medical unit and placed in a suicide-hold cell without any care for his "physical injury." Id. He seeks $250, 000 in "compensation damages" and $250, 000 in "punitive damages" for this "unlawful act." Id. at 6.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Administrative Exhaustion

         As a preliminary matter, dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies is not proper at this stage. Under the PLRA exhaustion provision, a prisoner must exhaust all available administrative remedies before filing an action that challenges the conditions of his confinement. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Exhaustion is a "pre-condition to suit" that must be enforced even if the available administrative remedies are either "futile or inadequate." Harris v. Gamer, 190 F.3d 1279, 1285-86 (11th Cir. 1999); see also Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 199-200 (2007) ("There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA").

         Plaintiffs allegations are, at least on preliminary review, sufficient to satisfy the exhaustion requirement as to his Eighth Amendment claim for denial of medical care. He says that he filed a grievance but "wasn't allowed to appeal for some reason." Doc. 1 at 3-4. In the face of those allegations, dismissal for failure to exhaust would be improper. See Cole v. Secretary, Department of Corrections, 451 F.Appx. 827, 828 (11th Cir. 2011) ("The exhaustion requirement is an affirmative defense, and a prisoner is not required to plead or demonstrate exhaustion in his complaint") (citing Jones, 549 U.S. at 216).[3]

         B. Constitutional Violations

         Plaintiff fails to allege an Eighth Amendment claim for denial of medical care against Nurse Monroe. Prison officials' deliberate indifference "'to an inmate's serious medical needs'[4] violates the inmate's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment." Waldrop v. Evans, 871 F.2d 1030, 1033 (11th Cir. 1989) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 972 104 (1976)); see Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832-33 (1994) (although prison conditions may be restrictive and harsh, prison officials must provide prisoners with food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety). Here, however, plaintiff has failed to demonstrate "an objectively serious need, an objectively insufficient response to that need, subjective awareness of facts signaling the need, and an actual inference of required action from those facts." Taylor v. Adams, 221 F.3d 1254, 1258 (11th Cir. 2000).

         At best, plaintiff alleges that after reporting some sort of injury (spitting up blood due to unknown causes), the prison medical staff initiated an adequate treatment protocol (put him on suicide watch, under observation by medical staff, where his symptoms improved (lasting only two hours) and have not recurred) and refused to conduct some unspecified further treatment that he considers necessary. Plaintiffs disagreement with the type of conservative care provided to him, however, is simply not enough to demonstrate deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Hamm v. DeKalb Cnty., 774 F.2d 1567, 1576 (11th Cir. 1985) (a prisoner cannot establish a violation simply because he "may have desired different modes of treatment" than that which was provided to him); Taylor v. Adams, 221 F.3d 1254, 1258 (11th Cir. 2000) ("mere accidental inadequacy, negligence in diagnosis or treatment, [and] even medical malpractice" do not give rise to § 1983 liability); see also Wood v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1334 (9th Cir. 1990) (even gross negligence is insufficient to establish a constitutional violation).

         While a "doctor's decision to take an easier and less efficacious course of treatment" may constitute deliberate indifference, Wallace v. Sheriff, 518 F.App'x 621, 622 (11th Cir. 2013), differences of opinion between an inmate and medical staff in how to treat an injury do not, Waldrop v. Evans, 871 F.2d 1030, 1033 (11th Cir. 1989). See Gonzalez v. Sarreck, 2011 WL 5051341 at * 18 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 24, 2011) ("It is well settled that 'disagreements over medications, diagnostic techniques, forms of treatment, or the need for specialists or the timing of their intervention' are insufficient under § 1983"). At most, plaintiffs claim against Nurse Monroe -- for not providing more aggressive treatment - support a medical malpractice claim. Because that's not actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, see Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105, he fails to state a claim under either the Eighth or Fourteenth[5] Amendments.

         C. Leave to Amend

         Though a pro se prisoner normally should be given an opportunity to amend his complaint at least once, see, e.g., Johnson v. Boyd, 568 F.App'x 719, 724 (11th Cir. 2014); Duff v. Steub, 378 F.App'x 868, 872 (11th Cir. 2010), "a district court need not allow amendment if the amended complaint would still be subject to dismissal." Jenkins v. Walker, 620 F.App'x 709, 711 (11th Cir. ...

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