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Edwards v. Clark

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

May 22, 2018

CHARLES EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
MEDICAL DIRECTOR PAT CLARK, Wheeler Correctional Facility; VIRGINIA COTTLE, Dental Assistant, Wheeler Correctional Facility; and DR. JASMINE AHN, Dentist, Defendants.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BRIAN K. EFPS UNIED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pro se Plaintiff, a former inmate at Wheeler Correctional Facility (“WCF”), commenced this case alleging Defendant Clark retaliatorily transferred him for filing grievances and Defendants Cottle and Ahn refused to provide him with dentures. (Doc. no. 15.) Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. no. 66-1.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS the motion for summary judgment be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. FACTS REGARDING DENTURE CLAIM

         A. Medical Records and Grievance History

         The Georgia Department of Corrections (“GDOC”) assigned Plaintiff to WCF from May 2012 through May 2015. (Doc. no. 66-1, p. 2, ¶ 1.) In May 2012, Dr. Mark Peacock, former dentist at WCF, extracted Plaintiff's three remaining teeth and placed Plaintiff on the denture fitting list. (Edwards Decl., doc. no. 75, ¶ 6.) Three years later in May 2015, GDOC transferred Plaintiff from WCF to Washington State Prison (“WSP”). (Doc. no. 66-1, p. 2, ¶ 1.) Despite Plaintiff being on the denture fitting list for three years, there is no evidence the dental department at WCF made any effort to begin the denture process for Plaintiff. In contrast, Dr. Pinson, a dentist at WSP, evaluated Plaintiff for dentures on April 18, 2016, began the fitting process on May 19, 2016, and provided Plaintiff with dentures on August 25, 2016. (Doc. no. 75-1, pp. 22-53.)

         The medical records confirm at least four occasions when Plaintiff complained about the delay in receiving dentures in 2014 and 2015. On March 10, 2014, he lodged an information request explaining he had been waiting on dentures since 2012, to which dental official Tara Veal responded he was number twenty-six on the denture waiting list. (Doc. no. 75-1, p. 4). On July 30, 2014, Plaintiff lodged a grievance complaining (1) Defendant Cottle, dental hygienist at WCF, had done nothing in response to his oral complaint on July 28, 2014 that he had been waiting since May 2012 for dentures; (2) he was “still having problems trying to eat and digest food with out [sic] dentures”; and (3) he had “lost weight.” (Doc. 66-1, p. 21.) Warden Laughlin denied the grievance because Defendant Cottle denied the conversation took place and alleged she was not at work on the day in question. (Id. at 22.) Plaintiff appealed, explaining again he needed dentures due to his “lost [sic] of weight” and “inability to digest food properly.” (Id. at 18.) Dental progress notes also show that, on April 15, 2015, Plaintiff complained his gums were sore and Tara Veal informed him he was number eight on the waiting list. (Doc. no. 75-1, p. 5.)

         B. Plaintiff's Declaration

         Plaintiff claims that, in addition to the written complaints described in the prison records, he complained orally on many other occasions about his need for dentures and the physical problems he suffered as a result of having no teeth. On November 21, 2013, Plaintiff claims he spoke with Defendant dentist Dr. Ahn about his need for dentures while picking up denture supplies. (Edwards Decl., ¶ 13; doc. no. 75-1, p. 6.) During a March 19, 2014 visit to the dental department, Plaintiff claims he told Dr. Ahn his gums were sore and swollen, he was losing weight, and he was suffering from heartburn as a result of his inability to eat properly. (Edwards Decl. ¶ 14; doc. no. 75-1, p. 5.) Dr. Ahn allegedly responded, “I'm not going to keep going back and forth with you about it . . . .” (Edwards Decl. ¶ 14.) On July 28, 2014, Plaintiff claims he asked Dental Hygenist Cottle to speak with Dr. Ahn about his long wait and informed her about his eating and digestion problems, but to no avail. (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff was never placed on a soft diet profile, a common solution for inmates to eat meals while awaiting dentures. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         With respect to damages, Plaintiff claims the delay in receiving dentures caused him to suffer swollen and sore gums, weight loss, heartburn, and jaw disfiguration. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 23, 25.) Plaintiff submitted dental records from WSP wherein Dr. Pinson stated Plaintiff's “jaw configuration will make it v. difficult to make dentures for him.” (Doc. no. 75-1, pp. 22-24.) However, Dr. Pinson's notes do not touch on Plaintiff's allegation that, on April 18, 2016, Dr. Pinson informed Plaintiff that his “jaw had become disfigured as a result of being without dentures from May 2012 up to August 25, 2016.” (Edwards Decl., ¶ 25.)

         C. Defendants' Declarations

         Dr. Ahn explained in her affidavit that any delay in a prisoner at WCF getting dental fittings was the result of there being only two dentists on staff who were too busy attending to more pressing dental needs. (Ahn Decl., doc. no. 66-1, Ex. D, ¶ 6.) Dr. Ahn does not recall any discussion with Plaintiff about trouble eating, swollen gums, or sore jaws as a result of his lack of dentures. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.) Dr. Ahn avers her standard practice for patients with eating difficulties was to order a soft diet profile; however, she does not state whether she did so for Plaintiff. (Id.)

         Defendant Cottle, in her position as dental hygienist, primarily scheduled cleanings at the request of inmates. (Cottle Decl., doc. no. 66-1, Ex. B, ¶¶ 2, 4.) She did not have the authority to make decisions on what dental procedures an inmate needed, and she could not decide whether Plaintiff received dental extractions or dentures. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5, 8.) While she cannot recall whether Plaintiff was on the denture fitting wait list, she never delayed scheduling any of Plaintiff's dental procedures nor was she aware Plaintiff had an urgent dental need requiring immediate dentures. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 8.)

         II. FACTS REGARDING RETALIATORY TRANSFER CLAIM

         Defendant Clark is the Health Services Administrator for WCF, and is familiar with medical record keeping at WCF. (Clark Decl., doc. no. 66-1, Ex. A, ¶¶ 2-3.) In May 2015, GDOC transferred Plaintiff from WCF to WSP as part of a larger transfer of chronic care patients out of WCF caused by WCF having too many chronic care patients. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) On March 28, 2015, just two months before the chronic care transfer, an unidentified official at WCF assigned Plaintiff a diabetic medical profile. (Doc. no 75-1, p. 53.) The diabetic designation is the only medical designation shown on Plaintiff's profile. (Id.) ...


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