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Rivers v. Emmons

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

February 7, 2018




         Plaintiff, an inmate at Johnson State Prison in Wrightsville, Georgia, is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis (“IFP”) in this civil rights case. Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. no. 29.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS the motion for summary judgment be GRANTED, a final judgment be ENTERED in favor of Defendants, and this civil action be CLOSED.


         Because Plaintiff is proceeding IFP, the Court screened Plaintiff's complaint in compliance with the IFP statute, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A. The Court allowed Plaintiff to proceed with a claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, based on Plaintiff's allegations prison officials denied him a prosthetic leg and treatment for vascular problems. (See doc. nos. 1, 10.) Plaintiff asserts this claim against Defendants Shawn Emmons, former warden at Johnson State Prison (“JSP”), Mitzi Hall, Director of Nursing at JSP, and Sharon Sutton, Registered Nurse assigned by the Medical College of Georgia to assist with inmate healthcare. (Doc. nos. 1; 1-1, p. 3.) Plaintiff seeks a court order requiring Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) to provide him with a prosthetic leg, therapy with the prosthesis, and a medical exam by a vascular surgeon. (Doc. no. 1-1, p. 5). Plaintiff also seeks compensatory, nominal, and punitive damages for pain and mental anguish. (Id.)

         Because Defendants submitted a Statement of Material Facts pursuant to Loc. R. 56.1, to which Plaintiff never responded, the Court deems admitted all facts in that Statement which find support in the record and Plaintiff has not properly opposed. Scoggins v. Arrow Trucking Co., 92 F.Supp.2d 1372, 1373 n.1 (S.D. Ga. 2000); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see also Williams v. Slack, 438 Fed.Appx. 848, 849-50 (11th Cir. 2011) (finding no error in deeming defendants' statements of material fact admitted where pro se prisoner failed to respond with specific citations to evidence and otherwise failed to state valid objection to statement). However, Defendants, as movants, continue to “shoulder the initial burden of production in demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.” Reese v. Herbert, 527 F.3d 1253, 1268 (11th Cir. 2008); see also Mann v. Taser Int'l, Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1303 (11th Cir. 2009). Thus, the Court will review Defendants' representation of the record, including Plaintiff's sworn deposition testimony, and factually supported opposition to the Statement of Material Facts, “to determine if there is, indeed, no genuine issue of material fact.” Mann, 588 F.3d at 1303.

         II. FACTS

         Plaintiff's right leg was amputated in 2008, prior to his incarceration, after a tree fell on his knee. (Pl. Dep., doc. no. 29-3, p. 26-27.) On July 18, 2013, Plaintiff came into GDC's custody at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison after being sentenced to twelve years of incarceration for attempted rape. (Id. at 17; Emmons Decl., doc. no. 29-4, ¶ 7.) Although Plaintiff had a prosthetic leg prior to his incarceration, he was not wearing it when taken into custody on July 18, 2013, because it did not fit well and “kept coming off.” (Id. at 28-30.) On March 20, 2014, Plaintiff was transferred to JSP, where he remains incarcerated. (Emmons Decl. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff has had a wheelchair throughout his incarceration at JSP but no prosthetic leg. (Pl. Dep., p. 33.) Plaintiff suffered back pain and fatigue from being in a wheelchair. (Id. at 47.) Plaintiff testified he has not fallen at JSP. (Id. at 47-48.)

         GDC procedures require Utilization Management Services (“UM”) to review and approve prisoner medical consultation requests, including prosthesis consultations. (Hall Decl., doc. no. 29-5, ¶¶ 14-15; Sutton Decl., doc. no. 29-5, ¶ 23.) Only UM staff may approve or deny requests for consultations or procedures. (Hall Decl. ¶ 19; Sutton Decl. ¶ 24.) Defendants did not have authority to overrule decisions made by UM. (Emmons Decl. ¶ 15; Hall Decl. ¶ 30; Sutton Decl. ¶ 26.)

         On May 29, 2014, a medical consultation request was submitted to evaluate Plaintiff for a prosthesis. (Hall Decl. ¶ 23; doc. no. 29-7, p. 3.) Dr. Wayne Wells at UM denied the request on January 6, 2015, commenting Plaintiff entered the system without a prosthesis. (Hall Decl. ¶¶ 22, 25; doc. no. 29-7, pp. 3-4.) A new consultation was requested for Plaintiff on March 5, 2015. (Hall Decl. ¶ 26; doc. no. 29-7, p. 5.) Dr. Wells again denied the request, noting there had been no acute changes in Plaintiff's condition and Plaintiff should continue with his current mode of transportation by wheelchair. (Id.) On May 31, 2016, a third consultation request was submitted on behalf of Plaintiff for approval of a prosthesis. (Hall Decl. ¶ 27; doc. no. 29-7, pp. 6-7.) UM approved the request, and Plaintiff received a prosthesis on September 20, 2016. (Id.; doc. no. 29-7, pp. 7-8.) Plaintiff presently undergoes physical therapy for his right leg and exercises for his left leg. (Pl. Dep., pp. 45, 48.)

         Mr. Shawn Emmons was warden at JSP from October 15, 2016, until July 1, 2017. (Emmons Decl. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff met with Mr. Emmons once to discuss obtaining a prosthesis. (Pl. Dep., p. 36; Emmons Decl. ¶ 9.) Mr. Emmons spoke to medical personnel following the meeting and learned Dr. Wells of UM had already denied Plaintiff's request for a prosthesis. (Emmons Decl. ¶ 9.) Mr. Emmons informed Plaintiff of the denial. (Id.) Plaintiff testified he also asked Mr. Emmons about obtaining his old prosthesis from home, but Mr. Emmons told him he could not “get that leg from home because it might have contraband in it and he was afraid if they take it . . . loose, they might not put it back together like it was.” (Pl. Dep., p. 36) Plaintiff did not mention to Mr. Emmons his alleged falls in the shower or from bed or his requests for vascular treatment. (Emmons Decl. ¶ 10.) As warden, Mr. Emmons had no authority to direct medical care, request consultations from UM, approve or deny consultation or procedure requests, or overrule UM decisions. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 15-16.) Mr. Emmons did not direct Plaintiff's medical care or treatment. (Emmons Decl. ¶ 17.)

         Ms. Mitzi Hall is the Director of Nursing at JSP. (Hall Decl. ¶ 3.) Ms. Hall does not treat inmates directly. (Id. ¶ 31.) On November 3, 2014, Ms. Hall noted on Plaintiff's medical problem list he is in a wheelchair due to an above the knee amputation of his right leg. (Id. ¶ 32.) On August 28, 2014, Ms. Hall noted in Plaintiff's record he should be treated prophylactically due to a trend of scabies in his dorm. (Id. ¶ 33.) On March 23, 2016, Ms. Hall noted in Plaintiff's record the need for a new consult concerning Plaintiff's request for a stump shrinker. (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff never reported to Ms. Hall falling in the shower or his bed or needing vascular treatment. (Id. ¶¶ 35-36.)

         Plaintiff only met with Ms. Hall once. (Pl. Dep., pp. 37-38.) At that meeting, Plaintiff asked Ms. Hall about obtaining his old prosthesis. (Id.) Ms. Hall directed Plaintiff to speak with the CERT team about the issue. (Id.) Plaintiff states he asked Ms. Hall for a prosthesis and she told him he did not “deserve a leg” because he did not have one when he arrived at JSP. (Id. at 34.) Ms. Hall states she never told Plaintiff he did not deserve a prosthesis. (Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff testified Ms. Hall never treated him and never refused to give him medical treatment. (Pl. Dep., p. 53.)

         Ms. Sharon Sutton is a registered nurse employed by Georgia Correctional Health Care and was assigned to assist with healthcare to inmates in GDC facilities. (Sutton Decl. ¶ 3.) She has met with Plaintiff on several occasions during his incarceration at JSP. (Id. ¶¶ 10-18.) On September 23, 2014, Plaintiff complained of pain and requested a TENS unit and socks for his stump. (Id. ¶ 10.) Ms. Sutton noted Plaintiff's consult for a prosthesis was pending and referred Plaintiff to an upper level provider for assessment and evaluation for his pain. (Id.) Plaintiff later received a TENS unit for his “phantom pain.” (Pl. Dep., p. 51.) On January 27, 2015, Plaintiff complained he fell out of his wheelchair, injuring his left wrist and right stump. (Sutton Decl. ¶ 11.) Ms. Sutton provided Motrin and a warm compress and referred Plaintiff to an upper level provider. (Id.) On April 13, 2015, Plaintiff complained of right stump swelling and requested a walker and prosthesis. (Id. ¶ 13.) Ms. Sutton referred Plaintiff to an upper level provider for assessment and evaluation. (Id.) On May 26, 2015, Plaintiff again requested a stump shrinker and a prosthesis. (Id. ¶ 14.) Ms. Sutton informed Plaintiff the prosthesis was not approved and referred him to an upper level provider for assessment and evaluation. (Id.)

         On September 28, 2015, Plaintiff informed Ms. Sutton he had fallen two or three times a week due to dizziness.[1] (Id. ¶ 17.) Ms. Sutton noted Plaintiff was in physical therapy five times a week and ambulating with a walker. (Id.) She referred Plaintiff to an upper level provider regarding his dizziness. (Id.) On March 30, 2016, Plaintiff complained of left foot numbness and a “knot” under his big toe. (Id. ¶ 18.) Ms. Sutton noted Plaintiff uses a wheelchair and wears a soft shoe on his left foot. (Id.) She referred Plaintiff to an upper level provider. (Id.) Plaintiff states Ms. Sutton treated him when he went in for sick call but does not recall any particular conversations. (Pl. Dep., pp. 41-42.) Plaintiff states Ms. Sutton never refused to give him medical treatment. (Id. at 53.)

         Plaintiff never reported needing treatment for vascular issues to Defendants Emmons and Hall. (Emmons Decl. ¶ 10; Hall Decl. ¶ 36.) Additionally, Plaintiff does not have circulation issues and has not been told he needs to see a circulation specialist. (Pl. Dep., pp. 52-53.) Furthermore, a medical problem list kept at the front of each GDC inmate's medical chart documents long-term medical conditions or short-term conditions resulting in permanent changes to an inmate's health care. (Hall Decl. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff's medical problem list indicates a history of seizures, an above-knee amputation of his right leg, hypertension, diabetes, and non-compliance in taking Neurontin. (Id. ¶ 10.) The list does not indicate a diagnosis of vascular or circulation problems. (Id. ¶ 12; Sutton Decl. ¶ 21.)

         II. ...

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