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Sturkey v. Stirling

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

November 17, 2014

Willie Joe Sturkey, Plaintiff,
Bryan P. Stirling, Director, SCDC; Juanita Gatson, Regional Director of Classification, SCDC; and Wanda Buoy, Lieutenant, RCI, in their individual capacity, in their official capacity, Defendants.


RICHARD M. GERGEL, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (R & R) of the Magistrate Judge, (Dkt. No. 55), recommending this Court grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 35-1.) Plaintiff filed a timely objection. (Dkt. No. 62.) As explained herein, the Court ADOPTS the R & R in part, grants summary judgment on Plaintiff's federal claims, and dismisses Plaintiff's pendant state motion without prejudice.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff, a prisoner at Lee Correctional Institution, filed this civil action pro se on December 11, 2013. (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges a deliberate indifference claim under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and gross negligence under state tort law occurring during his incarceration at Ridgeland Correctional Institution (RCI) in Ridgeland, South Carolina.[1] ( Id. ) Plaintiff amended his Complaint on February 11, 2014, and seeks a declaratory judgment[2] and monetary damages in the amount of $300, 000 dollars. (Dkt. No. 22-2 at 6.)

Plaintiff alleges that his "serious medical conditions" of chest pain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol require, pursuant to his medical classification, that he be placed in a bottom bunk of the ground floor in any cell assignment. (Dkt. No. 22-2 at 4.) He alleges that Defendant Wanda Buoy, a Lieutenant at RCI, refused to comply with this requirement, thereby delaying his medical treatment. (Dkt. No. 22-2 at 5.) Plaintiff has provided his medical classification and cell assignment forms, which restrict Plaintiff's cell assignment to a bottom bunk on the ground floor. (Dkt. No. 51-2 at 6, 7.) The medical classification form was entered on October 22, 2010, and the cell assignment form is dated December 6, 2011, six months prior to when Plaintiff alleges he first informed Defendant Buoy of his cell assignment restrictions. (Dkt. Nos. 51-2 at 6, 7, 22-2 at 4.)

In her affidavit, Defendant Buoy attests that Plaintiff was transferred to RCI on or about March 19, 2012, and was first assigned to the Savannah Dorm. (Dkt. No. 35-4 at 2.) According to Plaintiff's medical records, on May 14, 2012, Plaintiff was transferred to the Charleston Dorm for security reasons. (Dkt. No. 35-7 at 5.) The medical records indicate that he protested this assignment because there were members of the "Bloods" gang at the Charleston Dorm, and he felt threatened by them. ( Id. ) Plaintiff was assured that he would be safe because the Charleston Dorm was on a lockdown, and was assigned to a top bunk on the second floor. ( Id. ) According to the South Carolina Department of Corrections' (SCDC) response to Plaintiff's grievance, there was no available bed space on the ground floor when Plaintiff was first transferred. (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 1.)

Plaintiff alleges that when he was assigned to the Charleston Dorm on or about May 10, 2012, he informed Defendant Buoy that he had a medical condition that required he be assigned to a bottom bunk on the bottom floor. (Dkt. No. 22-2 at 4.) He alleges that Defendant Bouy responded that she did "not provide special privileges to thieves" and ignored his continued requests to be moved. ( Id. ) Defendant Buoy denies these allegations in her affidavit, and claims that she had no knowledge of Plaintiff's medical condition and cell assignment. (Dkt. No. 35-4 at 2.) She states that she knew only that Plaintiff took medication. ( Id. ) She further explains that she has no role in making classification decisions or moving an inmate for security reasons. ( Id. at 1.)

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Buoy threatened to move him to a disciplinary unit if he continued to complain. (Dkt. 22-2 at 4.) Plaintiff further alleges that, in response to this threat, he made an appointment with "the Doctor, who immediately sent a message to" Defendant Buoy on June 7, 2012, to move him according to his medical classification. ( Id. ) The June 7, 2012 medical encounter note referenced by Plaintiff states, "Please contact security about transferring to another building. Has to remain on daily nursing for now. Cannot change classification." (Dkt. No. 51-2 at 11.) There is no mention of any restriction to a bottom bunk on the ground floor. ( Id. ) Further, there is no evidence that this request for Plaintiff to be moved to another building was actually ever transmitted to Defendant Buoy or received by her, and Defendant Buoy denies receiving any such request. (Dkt. No. 35-4 at 2.)

The medical records indicate that Plaintiff received daily nursing while incarcerated at RCI, and that his blood pressure was closely monitored by medical staff. (Dkt. Nos. 35-7 at 2-5, 51-2 at 16.) On April 25, 2012, prior to his transfer to the Charleston Dorm, Plaintiff's blood pressure was recorded as 190/130 mm Hg. (Dkt. No. 51-2 at 11.) According to the medical records, Plaintiff's blood pressure did not rise above this level at any time between May 10, 2012, and June 11, 2012, the period of Plaintiff's alleged delay in medical treatment. (Dkt. No. 35-7 at 2-5.)

At times during his assignment to the Charleston Dorm, Plaintiff refused to take his medication and told medical staff that the medication was unnecessary. (Dkt. No. 35-7 at 4-5.) According to the affidavit of one of Plaintiff's nurses, Chris Lloyd, RN, [3] on May 23, 2012, Plaintiff "had voluntarily discontinued his medications" in an attempt to "have his medical classification downgraded so that he could be transferred to a lower security institution." (Dkt. No. 38 at 2.) However, as Nurse Lloyd attested, "only the institutional physician can change an inmate's medical classification." ( Id. ) On June 1, 2012, Plaintiff told a nurse, "I want to get off all my meds. I do not feel I need (sic) and do not think there is anything wrong with my heart." (Dkt. No. 35-7 at 4.) The nurse's documented notes state that she "found the real reason he wanted to get off his meds was his med class and [he] wanted it changed." ( Id. ) There is no evidence submitted that Plaintiff's cell assignment at the Charleston Dorm motivated his requests to change his medical classification, nor is it clear that a change in his medical classification would have ensured his assignment to a bottom bunk on the ground floor.

According to the SCDC's response to Plaintiff's grievance and subsequent request to staff, once bed space became available in the Charleston Dorm, Plaintiff was assigned to a bottom bunk on the ground floor. (Dkt. Nos. 1-1 at 1, 35-4 at 2, 35-9 at 2.) On June 11, 2012, the day that Plaintiff was reassigned, Plaintiff was moving his property from the second floor to his new cell on the ground floor, when he became dizzy, and slipped and fell down the stairs. (Dkt. Nos. 22-2 at 5, 35-7 at 2, 38 at 2.) Plaintiff alleges that he injured his back when he fell. (Dkt. No. 22-2 at 5.) Plaintiff sought treatment from Nurse Lloyd immediately after his fall. (Dkt. No. 38 at 2.) According to the medical records, Plaintiff told Nurse Lloyd that "he just pulled his back a little, " and that he "was dizzy, but better now." (Dkt. Nos. 35-7 at 2, 38 at 2.) In his affidavit, Nurse Lloyd attests that Plaintiff "denied having fallen onto his back or hitting anything as a result of the fall." ( Id. ) The medical records and Nurse Lloyd's affidavit state that, on the day of Plaintiff's fall, he was not in distress, his range of motion was within normal limits, and there was no swelling or discoloration on his back. (Dkt. Nos. 38 at 2, 4, 35-7 at 2.) Plaintiff has not produced any evidence of lasting detrimental effects from his fall on June 11, 2012.

On June 12, 2012, after Plaintiff had been moved to a bottom bunk on the ground floor, Plaintiff submitted a grievance claiming that Defendant Buoy's failure to initially place him "according to [his] health summary... was the proximate cause of [his] back injury." (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 2.) The SCDC's response to Plaintiff's grievance and subsequent request to SCDC staff stated that, because Plaintiff had been moved to a bottom bunk on the ground floor of the Charleston Dorm on June 11, 2012, his grievance had been addressed and resolved. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at 1, 35-9 at 2.) Plaintiff, however, does not agree that his grievance was properly addressed and alleges that Defendant Jaunita Gaston, the Regional Director of Classification at the SCDC, "failed to correct the issue with corrective action upon Lt. Buoy." (Dkt. No. 22-2 at 5.) He further alleges that Defendant Bryan P. Stirling, the current SCDC Director, did not properly supervise, manage, and control his staff.[4] (Dkt. No. 1 at 5.) Plaintiff alleges ...

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