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Frazier v. County of Charleston

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

September 30, 2014

JAMES LAMONT FRAZIER, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF CHARLESTON; CHARLESTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE; J. AL CANNON, JR., in his official capacity as sheriff of Charleston County; CHARLESTON COUNTY DETENTION CENTER; MITCH LUCAS, in his official capacity as administrator of the Charleston County Detention Center CORIZON HEALTH, INC, f/k/a Prison Health Services, Inc.; CAROLINA CENTER FOR OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH, LLC; and JOHN DOES 1-5, Defendants.

ORDER

DAVID C. NORTON, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on Magistrate Judge Thomas E. Rogers, III's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") that this court grant defendant Corizon Health, Inc.'s ("Corizon") motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the court rejects the R&R and denies Corizon's motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff James Lamont Frazier ("Frazier") is a former inmate at the Charleston County Detention Center ("CCDC"). Compl. ¶ 13. Corizon, formerly known as Prison Health Services, Inc. ("PHS"), is an independent medical provider that contracted to provide health care services to inmates at CCDC between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. 2. Under its contract with CCDC, Corizon conducted tuberculosis screening of all inmates at CCDC. Pl.'s Resp. 5. Corizon conducted an initial screening process prior to each inmate's admission into CCDC. Id. During the initial screening process, medical staff asked each inmate a set of questions relating to the common symptoms of tuberculosis. Def.'s Mot. Ex. A. Between seven to fourteen days after admission, inmates received a tuberculin skin test. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. J. During Corizon's contract period, Corizon failed to initially screen 108 inmates prior to their admission into the general prison population. Pl.'s Resp. 7, Ex. O.

Frazier entered CCDC custody on or about December 2, 2008. Third Am. Compl. ¶ 13. That same month, Frazier tested negative for tuberculosis. Id. ¶ 14. In January 2009, Frazier sought medical treatment for chest pains and in April 2009 sought medical attention for swelling and pain in his right arm. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. In October 2009, Frazier began to exhibit symptoms of tuberculosis and sought medical attention for various eye and facial ailments. Id. ¶ 20. In December 2009, Frazier tested positive for tuberculosis during an annual tuberculin skin test. Id. ¶ 22. In February 2010, Frazier was diagnosed with tuberculosis and began receiving treatment. Id. ¶ 26. It is unclear exactly when Frazier was infected with tuberculosis. Frazier's medical expert, Christopher Parsons, M.D. ("Dr. Parsons"), submits that Frazier contracted tuberculosis by "inhaling tuberculosis in the air that was there due to coughing by another inmate who was infected." Pl.'s Resp. Ex. A, at 77. According to Dr. Parsons, tuberculosis poses a higher risk in prison systems than in the general population because of overcrowding. Id.

Another inmate, known as A.M., also tested negative for tuberculosis upon entry into CCDC, but contracted tuberculosis during his incarceration at CCDC. Pl.'s Objections 4. A.M. became contagious in July or August 2009. Id. at 3. Because it takes months after exposure to develop symptoms, Dr. Kathryn Arden ("Dr. Arden"), the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control ("DHEC") physician responsible for medical management of tuberculosis in the Lowcountry, suspects that A.M. was most likely infected by an unidentified infectious tuberculosis case prior to the end of Corizon's contract with CCDC on June 30, 2009. Id. at 3-4; Arden Dep. 36:14-37:5, 160:20-161:5. A.M. remained in the CCDC population until January 2010, when he was transferred out of CCDC. Id. During Corizon's contract period, there were at least three other inmates with potentially active tuberculosis that were not reported to the DHEC. Pl.'s Resp. 7-8; Moore Dep. 132:8-133:7. The known infected inmates who had contact with Frazier contracted tuberculosis after Corizon's contract period ended. Def.'s Mot. Ex.C, Eiser Dep. 85:16-85:21.

Frazier filed the present action on November 7, 2011 in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas. Defendants County of Charleston ("Charleston County"), Charleston County Sheriff's Office ("Sheriff's Office"), CCDC, Mitch Lucas ("Lucas"), and Charleston County John Does ("John Doe defendants") filed a notice of removal on December 16, 2011. Frazier filed a second amended complaint on April 17, 2012 and a third amended complaint on May 9, 2012, asserting constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as state law negligence and medical malpractice claims. Frazier alleges that Corizon negligently failed to prevent the spread of tuberculosis in CCDC, causing him to contract tuberculosis while incarcerated.[2] Pl.'s Resp. 1. Specifically, Frazier asserts that Corizon's numerous failures-including the failure to establish adequate prevention policies, the failure to train and monitor staff, and the failure to enforce existing policies-constitute a breach of its duty to prevent both the spread of tuberculosis at CCDC and protect Frazier from contracting tuberculosis. Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 43-47.

Corizon filed the instant motion for summary judgment on December 2, 2013.[3] Frazier responded to Corizon's motion for summary judgment on May 23, 2014. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on August 7, 2014, recommending that this court grant Corizon's motion for summary judgment. Frazier filed objections to the R&R on August 25, 2014. Corizon filed a response to Frazier's objections on September 5, 2014. This matter is now ripe for the court's review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court is charged with conducting a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's report to which specific, written objections are made, and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendations contained in that report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The magistrate judge's recommendation does not carry presumptive weight, and it is the responsibility of this court to make a final determination. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). A party's failure to object may be treated as agreement with the conclusions of the magistrate judge. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).

Summary judgment shall be granted if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. At the summary judgment stage, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. Id. at 255. "Since its impact is rather drastic, a summary judgment must be used with due regard for its purposes and should be cautiously invoked so that no person will be improperly deprived of a trial of the disputed factual issues." Watson v. S. Ry. Co., 420 F.Supp. 483, 486 (D.S.C. 1975). A district court should not grant summary judgment "unless the entire record shows a right to judgment with such clarity as to leave no room for controversy and establishes affirmatively that the adverse party cannot prevail under the circumstances." Campbell v. Hewitt, Coleman & Assocs., 21 F.3d 52, 55 (4th Cir. 1994).

III. DISCUSSION

Frazier objects to the R&R on two grounds, asserting that the magistrate judge: (1) improperly refused to permit circumstantial evidence of causation to create a genuine issue of material fact; and (2) erred in holding that Frazier failed to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Corizon's negligence caused Frazier to contract tuberculosis. Pl.'s Objections 9-14. Both objections relate to the primary question at issue in this summary judgment motion-whether there is sufficient evidence in the record that a reasonable jury could find that Corizon's alleged negligence caused Frazier to contract tuberculosis. The court will first discuss the law of negligence in South Carolina generally and then address Frazier's objections concurrently, as they both involve the sufficiency of the evidence relating to causation.

To prevail in a negligence action under South Carolina law, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, (2) the defendant breached its duty by a negligent act or omission, (3) the defendant's negligent act or omission actually and proximately caused the plaintiff's injury or damages, and (4) the plaintiff suffered injury or damages. Andrade v. Johnson, 588 S.E.2d 588, 592 (S.C. 2003). Proximate causation is a two-step analysis, requiring proof ...


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