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King v. Henry

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia

January 30, 2018

ROGER KING, Plaintiff,



         Presently before the Court are Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Docs. 62, 64.) Defendants filed a Response to Plaintiff's Motion, (doc. 66), and Plaintiff filed Responses to Defendants' Motion, (docs. 67, 68). For the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND the Court GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, DENY Plaintiff's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment, and DISMISS Plaintiff's Complaint.[1] I also RECOMMEND the Court DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal and DENY Plaintiff in forma pauperis status on appeal.


         Plaintiff contends that he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C by a doctor at Valdosta State Prison in 2007.[2] (Doc. 21, p. 3.) Plaintiff's Complaint centers on allegations that he was denied adequate treatment for Hepatitis C while incarcerated at Smith State Prison. (Doc. 1.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he did not receive any treatment for his Hepatitis C for several years and that, due to not receiving treatment, he could have sustained liver damage or developed cancer. (Id. at p. 3.) Plaintiff further alleged that Defendants Henry, Allen, and Gardner were notified of his condition but failed to provide treatment. (Id. at pp. 3-4.) For example, Plaintiff stated that he submitted a medical request to be treated for Hepatitis C on July 6, 2011, that the medical department did not respond to that request, and that he submitted a follow-up request to Defendant Allen, the medical administrator. (Id.) He also stated that he submitted a second request for Hepatitis C treatment on July 22, 2014, and that Dr. Alston[3] did not actually address his request for Hepatitis C treatment, despite giving a response to that request two days later. (Id.) Plaintiff further references grievances that he began to file in September 2014 regarding medical personnel's “non-response” to his requests for Hepatitis C treatment. (Id.)

         In response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 27), Plaintiff offered further allegations in support of his deliberate indifference claims. (Doc. 32.) Plaintiff stated that he began requesting treatment for Hepatitis C on July 6, 2011. (Id. at p. 3.) However, as of April 14, 2016, he still had not received any treatment. (Id.) He stated that he had a biopsy on April 11, 2014. (Id. at p. 4.) Following that biopsy, Plaintiff had an interview with Dr. Alston at Smith State Prison, who informed Plaintiff that his treatment would begin in approximately two (2) weeks. (Id.) However, Plaintiff did not receive treatment within that time. (Id.) Plaintiff contends he has repeatedly requested treatment, including on July 22, 2014, September 29, 2015, and December 24, 2015. (Id.)

         Plaintiff stated that Defendants did not provide any explanation for why he has not received treatment for Hepatitis C. (Id.) Plaintiff stated that Defendants “all knew of Plaintiff's serious medical needs[, ]” and that they each individually failed or refused to provide him appropriate treatment. (Id. at pp. 7-8, 10.) In fact, Plaintiff asserted that his viral load increased by 5, 000, 000 from the time he initially was treated in 2012 until he finally received more treatment in 2016. (Doc. 38, p. 3.)

         In the instant Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants assert Plaintiff cannot sustain his Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claims against them and that they are entitled to qualified immunity. (Doc. 62.) In contrast, Plaintiff responds Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs and are not entitled to qualified immunity protection. (Docs. 64, 67, 68.)


         Summary judgment “shall” be granted if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A dispute about a material fact is genuine and summary judgment is inappropriate if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. However, there must exist a conflict in substantial evidence to pose a jury question.” Hall v. Sunjoy Indus. Grp., Inc., 764 F.Supp.2d 1297, 1301 (M.D. Fla. 2011) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986), and Verbraeken v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 881 F.2d 1041, 1045 (11th Cir. 1989)).

         The moving party bears the burden of establishing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Williamson Oil Co. v. Philip Morris USA, 346 F.3d 1287, 1298 (11th Cir. 2003). Specifically, the moving party must identify the portions of the record which establish that there are no “genuine dispute[s] as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” See Moton v. Cowart, 631 F.3d 1337, 1341 (11th Cir. 2011). When the nonmoving party would have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may discharge his burden by showing that the record lacks evidence to support the nonmoving party's case or that the nonmoving party would be unable to prove his case at trial. See id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). In determining whether a summary judgment motion should be granted, a court must view the record and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the record in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Peek-A-Boo Lounge of Bradenton, Inc. v. Manatee Cty., 630 F.3d 1346, 1353 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Rodriguez v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 508 F.3d 611, 616 (11th Cir. 2007)).


         I. Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs

         Plaintiff's claims against Defendants require analysis and discussion under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment imposes a constitutional duty upon prison officials to “ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing shelter, and medical care.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). However, “not every claim by a prisoner that he has not received adequate medical treatment states a violation of the Eighth Amendment.” Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1505 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105 (1976)). Rather, “an inmate must allege acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. In order to prevail on a deliberate indifference claim, a prisoner must: (1) satisfy the objective component by showing a serious medical need; (2) satisfy the subjective component by showing a defendant's deliberate indifference to that need; and (3) show that the injury was caused by the defendant's indifference. Goebert v. Lee Cty., 510 F.3d 1312, 1326 (11th Cir. 2007).

         As to the first, objective component, a medical need is serious if it “‘has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or [is] one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.'” Id. (quoting Hill v. DeKalb Reg'l Youth Det. Ctr., 40 F.3d 1176, 1187). In either situation, the medical need must be “one that, if left unattended, ‘poses a substantial risk of serious harm.'” Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1246 (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834).

         Under the second, subjective component, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has consistently required that “a defendant know of and disregard an excessive risk to an inmate's health and safety.” Haney v. City of Cumming, 69 F.3d 1098, 1102 (11th Cir. 1995). Thus, the subjective component requires an inmate to prove: “(1) subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; (3) by conduct that is more than mere negligence.” Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1223 (11th Cir. 2016).[4]

         “Conduct that is more than mere negligence includes: (1) grossly inadequate care; (2) a decision to take an easier but less efficacious course of treatment; and (3) medical care that is so cursory as to amount to no treatment at all.” Bingham v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1171, 1176 (11th Cir. 2011). Additionally, a defendant who “delays necessary treatment for non-medical reasons” or “knowingly interfere[s] with a physician's prescribed course of treatment” may exhibit deliberate indifference. Id. (citations omitted). In instances where a deliberate indifference claim turns on a delay in treatment rather than the type of medical care received, the Court considers “the reason for the delay and the nature of the medical need.” Farrow, 320 F.3d at 1246 (citing McElligott, 182 F.3d at 1255). When a claim turns on the quality of treatment provided, however, “‘a simple difference in medical opinion between the prison's medical staff and the inmate as to the latter's diagnosis or course of treatment' does not support a claim of deliberate indifference.” Melton, 841 F.3d at 1224 (quoting Harris, 941 F.2d at 1505). In other words, “medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner.” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104. Furthermore, deliberate indifference is not established when an inmate receives medical care, but “may have desired different modes of treatment.” Hamm v. DeKalb Cty., 774 F.2d 1567, 1575 (11th Cir. 1985).

         As case law establishes Hepatitis C is a serious medical need, Shaw v. Ajibade, No. CV311-027, 2013 WL 326208, at *7 (S.D. Ga. Jan. 8, 2013), the Court's analysis of the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment will focus on whether a rational juror, viewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, could conclude that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical need.

         A. Defendant Gardner

         Plaintiff generally states the medical staff at Smith State Prison failed to treat his Hepatitis C from July 6, 2011, through 2016. (Doc. 64-1, p. 1.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Gardner informed him he had fibrotic changes and significant scarring to his liver, which are associated with liver cancer. (Id. at p. 3.) Plaintiff asserts Defendant Gardner's lack of familiarity with the progressive nature of Hepatitis C led to him developing fibrosis, or scarring, of the liver. (Doc. 67-1, p. 4.) Plaintiff avers Defendant Gardner said he was getting proper treatment for his Hepatitis C, although he avers he was receiving no treatment whatsoever, at least as recently as April 2016. (Doc. 32, p. 3; Doc. 62-9, p. 8.)

         Defendant Gardner notes she is a licensed family medicine practitioner who was the Medical Director at Smith State Prison from June 1, 2014, until November 1, 2016. As part of her duties, Defendant Gardner maintains she provided hands-on medical care to inmates housed at Smith State Prison and scheduled consultations with medical specialists for the inmates there. (Doc. 62-1, p. 4.) Defendant Gardner states that, while she is familiar with the Hepatitis C virus and its symptoms and treatment, she does not have the expertise to determine whether a particular inmate should receive treatment for Hepatitis C. Rather, Defendant Gardner explains that determination is made by a gastroenterologist, in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Corrections' (“GDC”) guidelines.[5] (Id.) Additionally, Defendant Gardner avers she did not determine what medications the inmate is prescribed for treatment of the Hepatitis C virus, as the GDC determines what specific medications are used to treat the disease.[6] According to Defendant Gardner, in order for an inmate to receive Harvoni as treatment for Hepatitis C, a Hepatitis C pre-therapy checklist setting forth lab work and other tests that had to be performed before an inmate could be considered for treatment has to be completed; treatment must be recommended by a gastroenterologist and approved by GDC's Medical Director. (Id. at p. 5.) If an inmate needed more specialized care than what the prison offered, Defendant Gardner alleges she was required to put in a consult request through the Utilization Management Department of the GDC. Defendant Gardner contends the Utilization Management Department schedules the time, place, and manner of the medical service, if that Department approves the requested service. (Id. at p. 6.)

         Defendants assert Plaintiff underwent treatment for Hepatitis C in 2012, and that course of treatment failed. (Id.) Defendants also assert Plaintiff received medical care from the time his first treatment failed until Plaintiff received the Harvoni treatment in 2016. (Id. at pp.6-7.)[7]Defendant Gardner asserts she did not ignore Plaintiff's status as Hepatitis C positive. Rather, Defendant Gardner states she worked diligently as the Medical Director at Smith State Prison “to ensure [Plaintiff] received appropriate care for his Hepatitis C[, ] as determined by [a gastroenterologist] and” GDC's guidelines.[8] (Id. at p. 11.)

         The undisputed facts, including primarily Plaintiff's medical records, establish the following regarding Plaintiff's course of treatment for Hepatitis C. Plaintiff received treatment in 2012 for his Hepatitis C when the GDC used the medications Ribavirin and Pegasys, which had a 54-63% cure rate. (Doc. 62-4, pp. 3, 5.) Plaintiff's course of treatment was not successful at that time. (See Doc. 62-5, p. 1.) Plaintiff had a liver biopsy on April 10, 2014, which revealed mild chronic hepatitis, consistent with Hepatitis C, and globules. (Id. at pp. 2-4.) Dr. Alston had a follow-up with Plaintiff a week later and discussed the Hepatitis C treatment protocol. (Id. at p. 5.) Defendant Gardner became the Medical Director at Smith State Prison on June 1, 2014. (Doc. 62-4, p. 2; Doc. 67-1, pp. 2-3.) She reviewed the results of Plaintiff's biopsy on July 24, 2014, and wrote a consult request for another biopsy. (Doc. 62-5, pp. 6, 8.) However, Dr. Gardner cancelled the second biopsy request and re-wrote that request on September 18, 2014, for Plaintiff to visit Dr. Ayaz Chaudhary, a gastroenterologist. (Id. at pp. 9-10.) On October 23, 2014, Dr. Chaudhary noted Plaintiff had Stage 1, Grade 1 ...

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