United States District Court, D. South Carolina.
Darren S. Simmons, Plaintiff,
William R. Byars, Jr., Dr. Thomas E. Bryne, Dr. John B. McRee, Dr. Moore, Nurse Janine Wresicics, Nurse Terry L Andrews, Nurse P Derrick, Warden John M. Pate, A/W Newton, Major Worrick, Cindy Sanders, and John H. Carmichael, Jr., Defendants.
KAYMANI D. WEST, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, an inmate with the South Carolina Department of Corrections ("SCDC"), brought this action alleging violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment filed on September 9, 2013. ECF No. 127. As Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the court entered an order on September 10, 2013, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the importance of a motion for summary judgment and of the need for him to file an adequate response. ECF No. 128. Plaintiff responded to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on September 18, 2013, and Defendants replied on September 26, 2013. ECF Nos. 131, 133. On May 23, 2014, Plaintiff moved to voluntarily dismiss certain Defendants from the case, ECF No. 163, and Defendants consented to the Motion, ECF No. 164. This case was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for all pretrial proceedings pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) and (e) (D.S.C). Because these motions are dispositive, a Report and Recommendation is entered for the court's review.
I. Factual Background
During the time period relevant to his Complaint, Plaintiff was incarcerated at Allendale Correctional Institution ("ACI"). ECF No. 1 at 2. Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint on March 11, 2013. Id. He submitted an Amended Complaint on March 21, 2013, and later filed a Second Amended Complaint on April 8, 2013. ECF Nos. 7, 22. Plaintiff's Complaint alleges constitutional and other violations against all Defendants for deliberate medical indifference in violation of the United States Constitution. ECF No. 1 at 5-7. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that he has experienced "severe pain and suffering in his skull from a brain scar shearing tissue damages to the frontal part of his head since Dec. 12, 1996." Id. Plaintiff states that it has become difficult to sleep, chew food, and that he has experienced "dizziness, chest pain and black out spells  and cardiac problems with difficult breathing." Id. at 5-10. Plaintiff asserts that he made Defendants aware of these problems on multiple occasions between August of 2012 and January of 2013, to no avail. Id.
Plaintiff also contends that Defendants Byars, Wresicics, and Moore failed to supervise and train their subordinates. Id. at 7. Plaintiff also maintains that Byars, Wresicics, and Moore failed to adequately investigate the incident and punish responsible state actors. Id. at 13. Plaintiff maintains that his maltreatment is the result of a policy or custom of the governmental entity. Id. at 10. Finally, Plaintiff claims that John H. Carmichael Jr., an SCDC Director/Supervisor of Medical Services, was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical needs since at least December of 2012. ECF No. 7 at 8. Against the Defendants in his first Complaint, Plaintiff requests $2, 000, 000 in compensatory damages against Defendants Bryne, McRee, Moore, Wresicics, Andrews, and Derrick; $10, 000, 000 in compensatory damages against Defendant Byars; $150, 000 in punitive damages against each Defendant; and a jury trial. ECF No. 1 at 16-18. Plaintiff requests $500, 000 in compensatory damages and $200, 000 in punitive damages against Defendant Carmichael, the only remaining Defendant from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. ECF No. 7 at 14. Plaintiff indicates that the issues presented have been exhausted through the prison's internal grievance process and the Administrative Law Court. ECF No. 1 at 2-4.
II. Standard of Review
A federal court must liberally construe pleadings filed by pro se litigants to allow them to fully develop potentially meritorious cases. See Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court's function is not to decide issues of fact, but to decide whether there is an issue of fact to be tried. The requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts which set forth a claim. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). Nor can the court assume the existence of a genuine issue of material fact where none exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The movant "bears the initial burden of pointing to the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Temkin v. Frederick Cnty. Comm'rs, 945 F.2d 716, 718 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). If the movant carries its burden of showing there is an absence of evidence to support a claim, then the plaintiff must demonstrate by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324-25. An issue of fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Issues of fact are "material" only if establishment of such facts might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing substantive law. Id. A complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the plaintiff's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. Moreover, a "mere scintilla of evidence" in support of an essential element will not forestall summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251.
A. Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs
Defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's medical indifference claim because Plaintiff has failed to provide expert testimony or affidavits that show his medical treatment was in any way insufficient or outside of the recognized standard of care. ECF No. 127 at 5. Further, they contend that even if Plaintiff could provide any of this evidence, he would also have to show that this type of treatment rose to the level of being an accepted and recognized right under the Constitution. Id. at 6-7. Defendants allege that Plaintiff was seen many times for his ailments from early 2011 until the present, and the medical records show that Plaintiff was treated properly by SCDC medical. Id. at 7. Defendants argue that even though the medical staff is unable to alleviate all of Plaintiff's subjective symptoms and complaints, that does not mean they were deliberately indifferent to the inmate's serious medical conditions or that the medical staff chose not to treat Plaintiff's medical conditions. Id. Moreover, Defendants maintain that Plaintiff's repeated evaluations, testing, and prescription medications provided by SCDC medical staff satisfy the constitutional standard. Id.
Plaintiff responds by mainly reiterating the allegations in his Complaint. ECF No. 131. Plaintiff admits to being seen "many times for his extreme pain from early 2011 until the present, [but asserts that] the medical staff subjectively failed to treat or alleviate his extreme pain and suffering." Id. at 11. Plaintiff further argues that Defendants knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to him. Id. at 12. Though Plaintiff does not specifically explain these alleged risks, he claims to experience "complications of breathing[, ] cardiac problems, dizziness[, ] chest pain[, ] vomiting[, and] periodic blackout spells." Id. at 5.
To prevent the entry of summary judgment on a cause of action for deliberate indifference to medical needs, a plaintiff must present evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of fact that the defendant was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical need. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832-35 (1994); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297 (1991); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976). Deliberate indifference to a serious medical need requires proof that each defendant knew of and disregarded the risk posed by the plaintiff's objectively serious medical needs. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 846. An assertion of mere negligence or malpractice is not enough to state a constitutional violation, plaintiff must allege and demonstrate "[deliberate indifference]... by either actual intent or reckless disregard." Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 851 (4th Cir. 1990), overruled in part on other grounds by Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. In other words, a plaintiff must allege facts demonstrating that defendant's actions were "[s]o grossly incompetent, inadequate or excessive as to shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness." Id. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals defines a serious medical need as "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." Iko v. Shreye, 535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008) (internal citation omitted). A medical condition is also serious if a delay in treatment causes a lifelong handicap or permanent loss. Monmouth Cnty. Corr. Inst. Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987).
The undersigned finds that Plaintiff has not offered any evidence that would support a finding that Defendants intentionally or recklessly disregarded Plaintiff's medical needs or delayed Plaintiff's access to medical care. Further, the record before the court reveals that Plaintiff was treated for various chronic complaints, including his neurocardiogenic syncope, on multiple occasions. ECF No. 127-3 at 2. Dr. Thomas Byrne avers that he was aware of Plaintiff's neurocardiogenic syncope diagnosis. Id. However, after reviewing Plaintiff's tests and medical records, Dr. Byrne opines that Plaintiff's condition is not life threatening, though it can be if an individual experiences syncope while driving or swimming. Id. The evidence shows that Plaintiff had an MRI on July 22, 2011 and skull x-rays on February 8, 2012, and both appeared "normal." Id. Additionally, Plaintiff had multiple cardio workups since his incarceration that have all come back as "normal." Id. Plaintiff had normal EKGs on November 10, 2010, and December 7, 2012. On February 15, 2012, Plaintiff had an echocardiogram, and the "test indicated that it was a normal cardiogram with normal ventricular and valvular function." Id.
Although Plaintiff may disagree with the amount of treatment he received or may object to the medical staff's attitude towards him, such allegations do not constitute a constitutional deprivation. See Brown v. Thompson, 868 F.Supp. 326 (S.D. Ga. 1994) (finding that although the provision of medical care by prison officials is not discretionary, the type and amount of medical care is discretionary). Though Plaintiff admits to seeing medical staff "many times" for his "extreme pain, " he argues that the "medical staff subjectively failed to treat or alleviate his extreme pain and suffering." ECF No. 131 at 11. Plaintiff's admission indicates that his claim is more akin to a claim of ...