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Williamson v. Chatham County Detention Center

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

April 10, 2019



          Christopher L. Ray United States Magistrate Judge Southern District of Georgia

         Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, plaintiff Ryan G. Williamson brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the Chatham County Detention Center and two medical providers. Doc. 1. The Court now screens the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which requires the immediate dismissal of any pro se complaint that fails to state at least one actionable claim.[1]

         Williamson alleges that he “verbally announced” to medical staff that he needed serious medical attention, but his complaint was ignored. Doc. 1 at 3 (explaining that “this took place 7-19-2017 - 7 24 2017” and that at some point he filed a complaint in the grievance kiosk). After some delay, and (perhaps) as a result of that delay in treatment, he was taken to the “ER” and received “emergency open heart surgery” to “put heart valve replacements” in his chest. Id. What his symptoms were, however, remains a mystery to the Court.

         Williams does explain, however, that he was seen by medical staff - they just missed the serious nature of his condition. Doc. 1 at 5. After “call[ing] a code due to excruciating pains in [his] stomach, ” Nurse Jackie and Dr. Smith examined Williams, determined he “should have taken [his] heart burn meds, ” and sent him back to his cell. Id. He remained in pain for days and was eventually given Tylenol because he was running a fever. Id. He now seeks to sue the jail “for neglect, ” for his medical expenses, and for his pain and suffering, in a total demand for $10 million. Id. at 6.

         It is well established that “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain' . . . proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (cites and footnotes omitted). A prisoner states a valid claim, under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, “whether the indifference is manifested by prison doctors in their response to the prisoner's needs . . . or by prison guards in intentionally denying or delaying access to medical care . . . or intentionally interfering with treatment once prescribed.” Id. at 104-05.

         “To show that a prison official acted with deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, a plaintiff must satisfy both an objective and a subjective inquiry.” Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003). First, the plaintiff must prove an objectively serious medical need. Id. “A serious medical need is considered ‘one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.'” Id. (citing Hill v. Dekalb Reg'l Youth Det. Ctr., 40 F.3d 1176, 1187 (11th Cir.1994)). In either case, “the medical need must be one that, if left unattended, pos[es] a substantial risk of serious harm.” Id. (cite and internal quote omitted).

         Second, the plaintiff must prove that the prison official acted with deliberate indifference to that need. Id. To establish this second element, the prisoner must prove three facts: (1) subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; and (3) by conduct that is more than mere negligence. McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1255 (11th Cir. 1999).

         Plaintiff's medical need eventually became serious-he alleges that he eventually received heart surgery-but there is nothing in the record to tell the Court what the medical need was at the time plaintiff requested treatment. Even assuming that his pre-open heart surgery complaints presented a serious medical need, Williams' allegations make it clear that he was treated - albeit (in his view) in a grossly deficient manner. He was seen by medical staff and they misdiagnosed him as being noncompliant with his heartburn medication. (Mis)diagnoses and delayed treatment, of course, do not often rise above mere malpractice. See, e.g., Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1505 (11th Cir. 1991) (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106) (“Mere incidents of [medical] negligence or malpractice do not rise to the level of constitutional violations.”); 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). Given the bare-bones nature of plaintiff's pleading, however, it may be that the actual presentation of his illness was sufficiently serious that the delay in treatment rises beyond mere negligence.

         Plaintiff's complaint also does not plead any facts establishing the second element, namely that there was a subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm. Plaintiff's complaint merely states that he needed medical attention and was treated by medical staff. The phrase heart valve “replacement, ” perhaps, indicates that plaintiff had a preexisting condition that ought to have tipped off medical staff about the seriousness of his condition, such that their lack of treatment was so inadequate as to amount to no treatment at all. Mandel v. Doe, 888 F.2d 783, 789 (11th Cir.1989) (“When the need for treatment is obvious, medical care which is so cursory as to amount to no treatment at all may amount to deliberate indifference.”). But the threadbare allegations in plaintiff's complaint make it impossible to determine if this is so. Altogether, plaintiff's complaint is insufficient at this stage. Nevertheless, the Court will grant plaintiff the opportunity to replead. See, e.g., Johnson v. Boyd, 568 Fed.Appx. 719, 724 (11th Cir. 2014) (pro se plaintiff may receive a chance to amend); Duff v. Steub, 378 Fed.Appx. 868, 872 (11th Cir. 2010) (amendment properly granted when more carefully crafted complaint may state a claim).

         Accordingly, plaintiff is DIRECTED to file an Amended Complaint within 30 days from the date of this order or face a recommendation of dismissal.[2] Williamson is advised that his Amended Complaint will supersede the original Complaint and therefore must be complete in itself.[3] Once he files an Amended Complaint, the original pleading will no longer serve any function in this case.

         Meanwhile, it is time for Williamson to pay his filing fee. His PLRA paperwork reflects $164.65 in average monthly deposits and a $13.89 average monthly balance over the six-month period prior to the date of his Prison Account Statement. Doc. 9. He therefore owes a $32.93 initial partial filing fee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b) (1) (requiring an initial fee assessment “when funds exist, ” under a specific 20 percent formula). Plaintiff's custodian (or designee) shall remit the $32.93 and shall set aside 20 percent of all future deposits to his account, then forward those funds to the Clerk each time the set aside amount reaches $10.00, until the balance of the Court's $350.00 filing fee has been paid in full.[4]

         SO ORDERED


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