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Truschke v. Chaney

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

February 9, 2018

NURSE CHANEY, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, currently housed at Coffee Correctional Facility (“CCF”) in Nicholls, Georgia, filed a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, I RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's claims for deliberate indifference to medical needs as to Defendants Augustin and Chaney's failure to release Plaintiff's medical records and DISMISS Defendants Hall, Andrews, Preston, Blaine, Bages, Stewart, and Stone in their entirety. Additionally, the Court should DENY Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis as to his claims against Defendants Hall, Andrews, Preston, Blaine, Bages, Stewart, and Stone. However, Plaintiff's allegations arguably state colorable claims for relief against Defendants Augustin, Chaney, and Bell. Accordingly, the Court DIRECTS the United States Marshal to serve these Defendants with a copy of Plaintiff's Complaint, (doc. 1), and this Order.


         On February 6, 2017, Plaintiff injured his leg after a head-on collision with another inmate. (Id. at p. 6.) Immediately following the incident, Plaintiff was taken to CCF's medical unit and examined by Defendant Chaney. (Id. at p. 7.) Defendant Chaney notified the Douglas County ER, and Plaintiff was transported there for treatment. (Id.) Following an x-ray examination, an ER doctor diagnosed Plaintiff with a broken knee, provided an immobility brace, and prescribed “an MRI immediately to assess further damage . . . as well as to have a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon - both were noted as being critical and needed to be done immediately.” (Id. at pp. 7-8.) Plaintiff did not immediately receive this MRI but was taken to see Dr. Barber, an orthopedic surgeon, on February 17, 2017. (Id. at p. 12.) Dr. Barber could not provide any further treatment without MRI results and reiterated the necessity of an immediate MRI. Plaintiff did not receive an MRI until March 6, 2017. (Id. at p. 16.)

         Immediately after receiving his MRI, Plaintiff was transferred to the Williamson County Sheriff's Department in Franklin, Tennessee, to “face outstanding charges in the state of Tennessee.” (Id. at p. 16.) However, Plaintiff states that he was sent there three to four weeks earlier than scheduled. (Id.) While there, Williamson County Jail personnel attempted to retrieve Plaintiff's medical files but were unable to do so. (Id. at p. 17.) On April 19, 2017, Plaintiff was transferred back to CCF. (Id. at p. 18.)

         Sometime in April 2017, Dr. Barber advised Plaintiff that he could no longer perform surgery on Plaintiff's leg because the delay had caused Plaintiff's bones to set. (Id. at p. 19.) On April 26, 2017, Plaintiff saw Dr. Gaines, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in re-break surgeries. (Id. at pp. 19-20.) Dr. Gaines advised Plaintiff that he would have to do six weeks of physical therapy before surgery because his knee had set incorrectly from the delay and lack of treatment. (Id. at p. 20.) Plaintiff alleges that, despite this directive, Plaintiff has not had any type of physical therapy. (Id.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that during the entirety of this three-month period, CCF officials and medical staff failed to provide appropriate care for his injury. In particular, Plaintiff claims that Defendants failed to provide proper treatment, even after it had been prescribed by outside doctors, including allowing him to use a wheelchair, providing prescribed pain medication, and entering non-standing profiles. (Id. at pp. 15-16.)

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, and an injunction to “ensure that the Defendant(s) as well as the facility . . . [will not] attempt[] any type of retaliation against Plaintiff . . . .” (Id. at p. 25.)


         Plaintiff seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), the Court may authorize the filing of a civil lawsuit without the prepayment of fees if the plaintiff submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all of his assets and shows an inability to pay the filing fee and also includes a statement of the nature of the action which shows that he is entitled to redress. Even if the plaintiff proves indigence, the Court must dismiss the action if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(ii). Additionally, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity. Upon such screening, the Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or which seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         When reviewing a Complaint on an application to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is guided by the instructions for pleading contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (“A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain [among other things] . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 10 (requiring that claims be set forth in numbered paragraphs, each limited to a single set of circumstances). Further, a claim is frivolous under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) “if it is ‘without arguable merit either in law or fact.'” Napier v. Preslicka, 314 F.3d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Bilal v. Driver, 251 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Thompson v. Rundle, 393 F. App'x 675, 678 (11th Cir. 2010). Under that standard, this Court must determine whether the complaint contains “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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A plaintiff must assert “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not” suffice. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Section 1915 also “accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Bilal, 251 F.3d at 1349 (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)).

         In its analysis, the Court will abide by the long-standing principle that the pleadings of unrepresented parties are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys and, therefore, must be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006) (“Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys . . . .”) (quoting Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1160 (11th Cir. 2003)). However, Plaintiff's unrepresented status will not excuse mistakes regarding procedural rules. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (“We have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel.”).


         I. Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs

         A deliberate indifference claim requires analysis of the Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. That proscription 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). The standard for cruel and unusual punishment in the medical care context, embodied in the principles expressed in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976), is whether a prison official exhibits a deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of an inmate. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 828. 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, 429 U.S. at 105). Rather, “an inmate must allege acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Hill v. DeKalb Reg'l Youth Det. Ctr., 40 F.3d 1176, 1186 (11th Cir. 1994).

         Thus, in order to prove a deliberate indifference to medical care claim, similar to any other deliberate indifference claim, a prisoner must: 1) “satisfy the objective component by showing that [he] had a serious medical need”; 2) “satisfy the subjective component by showing that the prison official acted with deliberate indifference to [his] serious medical need”; and 3) “show that the injury was caused by the defendant's wrongful conduct.” Goebert v. Lee Cty., 510 F.3d 1312, 1326 (11th Cir. 2007). As to the first 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, 40 F.3d at 1187). Under the second, subjective component, the Eleventh Circuit 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).[2]

         “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 v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1246 (11th Cir. 2003) (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 v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). 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).

         A. Medical Defendants

         (1) Dr. Augustin

         Plaintiff alleges sufficient facts to support a claim of deliberate indifference to medical needs against Defendant Augustin, the treating doctor at CCF. Plaintiff claims that, despite the Douglas ER doctors specifically prescribing an immediate MRI, use of a wheelchair, and pain medications, Defendant Augustin failed to timely schedule an MRI, specifically directed medical staff not to provide a wheelchair, and refused to provide the prescribed pain medications because “she believed [the pain medications] to be unnecessary and costly.” (Doc. 1, p. 13; see also id. at pp. 9, 14, 15, 17, 20-21, 23-24.) Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Augustin refused to refer him to physical therapy, even after Dr. Gaines set it as a precondition for re-break surgery. (Id. at pp. 20-21, 24.) Plaintiff contends that these actions exacerbated his injury and caused him unnecessary pain. Thus, Plaintiff's allegations support his claim that Defendant Augustin acted with more than mere negligence in failing to provide adequate medical care and refusing to follow the treatment plans from outside doctors.

         However, Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Augustin for failing to provide medical records to Williamson County Jail officials are without merit. (Id. at pp. 23-24.) Plaintiff does not allege that this failure prevented appropriate medical treatment while he was housed at the jail or that jail staff would have been able to provide his required surgery with the medical files. (Id. at pp. 17-18.) Consequently, the Court should DISMISS Plaintiff's claims for deliberate indifference to medical needs as to Defendant Augustin's failure to release his medical records.

         (2) Nurse Chaney

         Plaintiff's allegations against Defendant Chaney, the head nurse at CCF, are similar to those against Defendant Augustin: refusal to provide a wheelchair, order an MRI, or order physical therapy. (Id. at pp. 15, 20-21, 23-24.) As noted above, this failure to provide proper treatment for Plaintiff's leg, much less the treatment prescribed by the doctors at the Douglas ER and by Dr. Gaines, sufficiently states a claim for deliberate indifference.

         However, Plaintiff's allegations against Defendant Chaney for her post-accident examination and failure to release his medical records to Williamson County Jail officials do not state a viable Section 1983 claim. (Id. at pp. 7-8, 23-24.) Defendant Chaney provided immediate medical care when she realized the severity of Plaintiff's injuries by contacting and transferring Plaintiff to the Douglas ER. (Id.) Additionally, similar to the analysis for Defendant Augustin, Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant Chaney's failure to release his medical records prevented appropriate treatment from Williamson County Jail officials. (Id. at pp. 17-18.) Thus, the Court should DISMISS Plaintiff's deliberate indifference claims against Defendant Chaney regarding her actions in the immediate aftermath of Plaintiff's accident and for failing to release Plaintiff's medical records.

         (3) Nurse Bell

         Plaintiff claims Defendant Bell acted deliberately indifferent by refusing to enter the appropriate prison profile for him, even though she knew of his medical needs. (Id. at pp. 9-10.) Specifically, Plaintiff claims that as a result of Defendant Bell's actions, Plaintiff was unable to notify other correctional staff of his need for, among other things, a limited standing profile and delivered meals. (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Bell delayed his MRI examination and refused to provide him with a ...

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