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Ellis v. Young

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

July 11, 2019




         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Augusta State Medical Prison (“ASMP”) in Grovetown, Georgia, is proceeding pro se in this case filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges Defendants have been deliberately indifferent to his mental health needs by not designating him a Mental Health level three inmate. (See doc. no. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be DENIED, (doc. no. 55), his motion for judgment on the pleadings be DENIED AS MOOT, (doc. no. 64), Defendants' motion for summary judgment be GRANTED, (doc. no. 57), a final judgment be ENTERED in favor of Defendants, and this civil action be CLOSED.

         I. FACTS

         A. Allegations Contained in Plaintiff's Declarations

         Plaintiff submitted several declarations in support of his claim Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs by decreasing his Mental Health (“MH”) level from three to two despite his depression and suicidal ideations. Plaintiff poses a threat to himself because he is at a serious risk of committing suicide. (Doc. no. 27, p. 1.) In 2015, Ms. Hamilton decreased Plaintiff's MH level from three to two despite the risk of Plaintiff committing suicide based on past attempts. (Id.; doc. no. 35, pp. 2-3.) Ms. Hamilton told Plaintiff to sign the agreement to decrease his MH level because he only suffers from depression and his level was going to be dropped anyway. (Doc. no. 35, pp. 2-3.) Ms. Young refuses to increase Plaintiff's MH level back to three despite knowing of the risk Plaintiff poses to himself. (Doc. no. 27, p. 1-2; doc. no. 35, p. 3.) Plaintiff's symptoms satisfy the requirements for MH level three. (Doc. no. 39, p. 1.) In 2015, Plaintiff wrote letters in a journal to mental health counselors indicating he wants officers to kill him, but the prison refuses to give him copies because he is indigent. (Doc. no. 35, p. 2.)

         Plaintiff overdoses every few weeks because he battles with depression and cannot cope with his life sentence. (Doc. no. 34, p. 2.) On August 30, 2016, Plaintiff attempted suicide by taking six Seroquel. (Doc. no. 50, p. 3.) On September 22, 2016, Plaintiff told medical staff he attempted to kill himself by taking twenty Seroquel because he cannot cope with his life sentence. (Id. at 1-2, 4.) The physician's assistant informed Plaintiff they would hold him for observation. (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff informed the physician's assistant he was not trying to kill himself and refused medical treatment because they would not place him in the crisis stabilization unit (“CSU”). (Id. at 1-2, 4.) In 2016, Plaintiff cut his “main vein artery.” (Doc. no. 51, p. 2.) Plaintiff received three staples for the wound and was released to his dorm instead of CSU. (Id.)

         On August 4, 2017, Plaintiff wrote Ms. Young and informed her he would commit suicide or have someone kill him. (Doc. no. 7, p. 1.) On August 13, 2017, Plaintiff tried to kill himself and was denied appropriate housing by being left in general population, where he is a danger to himself. (Doc. no. 14, p. 1.) Ms. Young is responsible for ensuring inmates are appropriately housed but has failed to assign him to appropriate housing. (Id. at 2.) On December 8, 2017, Plaintiff attempted suicide by hanging and was admitted to CSU. (Doc. nos. 39, p. 1; 51, p. 2.) In February 2018, Plaintiff threatened to attempt to overdose on medication and was admitted to CSU. (Id.) On May 8, 2018, Plaintiff claimed he wanted to die, threatened to kill himself, and was admitted to CSU. (Id.)

         On April 26, 2018, Officer Martin wrote an entry in the logbook indicating Plaintiff wanted to commit suicide and contacted mental health personnel. (Doc. no. 35, p. 1.) The mental health department stated Plaintiff's mental health counselor would meet with Plaintiff, but the counselor did not come to Plaintiff's dorm and Plaintiff did not receive any assistance. (Id. at 1-2.)

         Plaintiff is housed in dorm 12B2 and cannot participate in mental heath services, which take place from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays, because of his housing assignment. (Doc. no. 38, pp. 1-2.) Plaintiff qualifies as a MH level three inmate, but Counselors Hamilton, Fisher, Richard, and Tate are “frauding [his] process” by telling Ms. Young Plaintiff is doing well. (Doc. no. 39, p. 1.) Furthermore, Ms. Young refuses to increase Plaintiff's MH level because he is suing her. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff's current counselor informed Plaintiff he refuses mental health treatment by not working a detail, but Plaintiff cleans the dorm and showers. (Id.)

         Additionally, Plaintiff filed declarations by Joseph Parker and Dwight Massey, in which they indicate they saw Plaintiff hang himself on December 9, 2019 at ASMP and have heard Plaintiff saw he is going to kill himself or get someone to kill him. (Doc. no. 46, pp. 3-4.)

         B. Defendants' Declarations

         At all times relevant to the lawsuit, Ms. Young has been the Mental Health Unit Director at ASMP, which is an administrative and supervisory role. (Young Decl., doc. no. 57-4, ¶ 3.) Ms. Young is responsible for supervising clinical mental health providers at ASMP. (Id. ¶ 6.) Ms. Young is aware of the status of inmates designated for mental health services and their placement at ASMP but is not licensed to make a diagnosis, determine treatment, or make a designation of MH level. (Id.)

         On July 27, 2016, Plaintiff's MH level was changed from three to two based on a determination by his mental health treatment team, including his assigned mental health counselors and psychiatrist. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff's mental health counselor, Jowanda Fishmon, saw Plaintiff on May 9 and June 8, 2017, and Plaintiff's assigned psychologist, Dr. Brian Slutzky, saw Plaintiff on May 19, 2017. (Id.) Both noted Plaintiff's endorsement of suicidal ideation and denial of any plan or intent and reaffirmed Plaintiff's status as a MH level two inmate.

         Ms. Young is not responsible for Plaintiff's mental health classification or treatment, did not provide clinical services to Plaintiff, and does not independently diagnose or assign an inmate's mental health classification level. (Id. ¶¶ 11-12.) While Ms. Young is generally aware of an inmate's placement in CSU as the mental health unit director, she does not make the decision to place an inmate in that unit for treatment. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff continues on the mental health case load and is under a current treatment plan with counselor Jennifer Tate, psychologist Patrick Williams, and psychiatrist Nancy Harpold. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         Ms. Hamilton is a licensed mental health counselor with a Master's Degree in Social Work and, in August 2018, became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. (Hamilton Decl., doc. no. 57-5, ¶ 3.) At all times relevant to the lawsuit, Ms. Hamilton was assigned to provide mental health counseling at ASMP and was responsible for the mental health counseling of inmates on her treatment case load. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 6.)

         Ms. Hamilton provided Plaintiff with mental health care and treatment during his incarceration at ASMP and participated in his semi-annual review on July 18, 2016, under the supervision of psychologist Dr. Patrick Williams. (Id. ¶ 7.) Because Plaintiff was able to use positive coping skills to remain stable and denied the need for placement in the Supporting Living Unit (“SLU”), a change in Plaintiff's level of care from MH level three to level two was recommended. (Id.) Since July 27, 2016, Plaintiff has not been on Ms. Hamilton's caseload and she has not assessed him as a mental health counselor. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff's classification has remained MH level two since 2016, indicating improvement in his mental health status. (Id.)

         Plaintiff's clinical presentation met the criteria for a MJ level two designation, and her assessments made under the supervision of a licensed psychologist support this diagnosis. (Id. ¶ 10.) Ms. Hamilton was not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's mental health needs and has not denied him necessary care and treatment. (Id.)

         C. Plaintiff's Relevant Grievance History

         Plaintiff filed twenty grievances since being admitted to ASMP on December 17, 2014, six of which relate to mental health issues. (Doc. no. 1; SMF, Colon Decl., doc. no. 57-3, ¶ 22.) Of these grievances, only four predate Plaintiff's July 17, 2017 complaint.

         On December 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed grievance number 210353, in which he complained he is supposed to see his mental health counselor twice per month but has only seen her once. (Doc. no. 57-3, p. 23.) Plaintiff stated the mental health counselor only came on Fridays and has not seen Plaintiff on those occasions. (Id.) Finally, Plaintiff states he needed indigent supplies, and the counselor told him to write the chaplain with his request. (Id.) Plaintiff dropped this grievance prior to resolution. (Id.)

         On December 21, 2015, Plaintiff filed grievance number 210373 requesting copies of his mental health records for the purpose of a lawsuit. (Colon Decl., ¶ 23; doc. no. 57-3, pp. 22-23.) The grievance was denied because Plaintiff must submit a written request for copies of his records, and Plaintiff did not appeal the denial. (Id.) On November 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed grievance number 232390, in which he complained he wanted to kill himself, stated he would continue trying until he succeeded, and requested his inmate status change from MH level two to level three. (Colon Decl., ¶ 24; doc. no. 57-3, p. 19.) The grievance was denied and Plaintiff appealed. (Id.) The appeal was forwarded to health services clinical staff and denied in part. (Id.)

         On July 5, 2017, Plaintiff filed grievance number 246513, in which he alleged the following: (1) on June 27, 2017, Plaintiff informed his mental health team he wanted to kill himself and would attempt to do so as long as he has a life sentence; (2) Plaintiff also informed Ms. Young in a letter he would kill himself, but his complaint was ignored; and (3) Plaintiff stated he tried to kill himself two weeks before by overdosing. (Colon Decl., ¶ 8; doc. no. 57-3, p. 15.) Ms. Young stated in a staff comment to the grievance Plaintiff indicated during the June 29, 2017 staff meeting he had no plan or intent regarding his suicidal ideations, so suicidal precautions were not warranted. (Doc. no. 57-3, p. 15.) The grievance was denied, noting Plaintiff is appropriately housed and receiving proper mental health care. (Id.) Plaintiff did not appeal the denial. (Colon Decl., ¶ 8.)

         D. Plaintiff's Mental Health Records

         1. Comprehensive Treatment Plans

         The December 24, 2014 comprehensive treatment plan states Plaintiff had been a MH level three inmate since July 16, 2014. (Doc. no. 67-3, pp. 152-54.) The plan indicated standard security precautions and universal health care were sufficient for Plaintiff and he would be considered for discharge when he could function on a day to day basis without psychotropic medication for at least sixty days and symptoms did not impede daily demands of self care. (Id. at 152.) Plaintiff was to receive individual counseling twice monthly and monitored every sixty days for medication management. (Id. at 153.) The June 26, 2015 comprehensive treatment plan review indicated Plaintiff should remain a MH level three inmate due to his need for mental health medication and history or abuse, worry, hopelessness, and depression. (Id. at 150-51.)

         The December 21, 2015 comprehensive treatment plan and June 21, 2016 review indicated Plaintiff should remain at MH level three because he continued to experience symptoms related to his depressive disorder and required medication management. (Id. at 141-46.) However, on July 19, 2016, the treatment plan was revised to recommend Plaintiff's status be changed to MH level two. (Id. at 143, 151.) The justification for the change was Plaintiff remained stable and denied the need for placement in the SLU due to the use of positive coping skills. (Id. at 151.)

         The December 29, 2016 comprehensive treatment plan recommended Plaintiff remain at MH level two due to symptoms of depression accompanied by suicidal ideations and paranoia. (Id. at 138.) The plan stated Plaintiff experienced depression and suicidal ideations six days a week, would not be on suicide precaution status during the reporting period, and would see the mental health counselor once per month to cope with symptoms of depression and suicidal ideations. (Id. at 139.)

         The June 29, 2017 comprehensive treatment plan review recommended Plaintiff's MH level increase to three due to experiencing symptoms of depression, requiring psychotropic medications, and suicidal ideations. (Id. at 137.) The review stated Plaintiff denied having a plan to kill himself but “constantly” requested his MH level be increased to three. (Id.) Nevertheless, Plaintiff did not meet the criteria for suicide prevention and his last CSU admission was August 30, 2016. (Id.)

         Plaintiff's next comprehensive treatment plan is dated May 2, 2018, and indicated Plaintiff's MH level was not raised to three after the June 29th review. (Id. at 130-31, 136.) The May 2nd plan stated Plaintiff's MH level should remain two because he continued to report symptoms of his disorders. (Id. at 130.) Plaintiff was scheduled to meet with his mental health counselor once per month to help him cope with suicidal ideations. (Id. at 131.)

         2.Suicide Precaution Treatment Plans

         On January 12, 2015, Plaintiff was classified as a level one Suicide Precaution (“SP”) inmate after cutting his arm. (Id. at 149.) As a result, Plaintiff began to receive individual counseling from his mental health counselor twice per week. (Id.) Plaintiff was discharged from SP status on September 17, 2015, because he had no current suicidal ...

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