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Hill v. Corizon Health, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 30, 2017

CORIZON HEALTH, INC., et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Kwame Hill brings several claims, arising out of a medical incident in the El Dorado Correctional Facility (“EDCF”), against seven Defendants. All Defendants seek dismissal of the claims on the basis of res judicata. Because the Court finds that res judicata is applicable, and for the reasons stated in more detail below, the Court grants Defendants' motions (Docs. 21, 24, and 41).

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         In May of 2015, Plaintiff Kwame Hill filed a lawsuit in Butler County against six Defendants. These included: Correct Care Solutions, Corizon Health, Inc., Dr. C.G. Harrod, Deanna Morris, HCP Nickelson, and James Heimgartner (Warden at EDCF), in his official and individual capacity. Plaintiff is incarcerated in the EDCF. He asserted in his state court lawsuit claims for “medical malpractice and gross negligence, which violates the Kansas Constitution State of Kansas - Kansas Bill of Rights.” He referenced “§ 1 - equal rights, § 3 -right of peaceable assembly; petition, § 5 - trial by jury, and § 18 justice without delay for injuries suffered in person.”

         He asserted that he was prescribed Coumadin, a blood thinner, to address a blood clot. He was prescribed this medicine from July 2013 through March 2014 and claims that he was not properly monitored. In March 2014, he began having severe pains in his abdomen. He alleges that over the next week, despite urinating and vomiting blood, his medical need was ignored by medical professionals in the prison. He asserted that over a two-day period in the EDCF infirmary, his pain was excruciating and he did not eat because of the pain. After passing out, on or around March 16, 2014, Plaintiff was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed with “acute renal failure and gastrointestinal bleed.”

         In his state law petition, Plaintiff asserted that the medical professionals committed medical malpractice and were negligent in their duties. He also alleged that Corizon had a policy to delay and deny proper medical treatment. In addition, he contended that Warden James Heimgartner and Kansas Department of Corrections (“KDOC”) failed to adequately monitor and audit the performance of Corizon Health and its medical staff. He asserted that the warden and KDOC should have known of these problems and were deliberately indifferent to the serious health care needs of the prisoners. Plaintiff requested monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief.

         Approximately eight months after Plaintiff's initial petition, Plaintiff filed an “amended complaint” in state court. He did not allege significantly different facts. Instead, he stated that the amended complaint was about the “same basic events in the original” and that “all facts relate back to the original complaint and petition” but that he changed his legal claims to “medical malpractice and gross negligence.”[1]

         On March 11, 2016, [2] Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court. He names seven Defendants: Corizon Health, Inc., Kansas Department of Corrections (“KDOC”), Dr. C. Gordon Harrod, Deanna Morris (L.P.N.), T. Nickelson (APRN), Jarred Watson, and Mary Einerson.[3] He states that he asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, in Count I of his Complaint, he alleges deliberate indifference and cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In Count II, he asserts a violation of the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Count III, he asserts violations of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as “§ 1 equal rights, § 9 cruel or unusual punishment, and § 18 justice without delay under the Kansas Constitution or Kansas Bill of Rights.”[4]

         The underlying factual basis for his claims is that Plaintiff was prescribed Coumadin, a blood thinner, for a blood clot in his leg in August 2013. He was on this medication until March 2014. Dr. Harrod allegedly increased the dosage over this seven-month period but did not monitor the medicine. On March 7, 2014, Plaintiff began to feel ill and experienced “severe or excruciating pain.” He went to sick call, and APRN Nickelson and LPN Morris saw him. He alleges that they failed to give him adequate medical care and failed to diagnose his condition. Plaintiff was severely ill for the next two days and went back to sick call on March 10. Nickelson and Morris again saw him but failed to send him to the emergency room or hospital. On March 12, Plaintiff vomited blood in his cell and urinated blood. An officer called Corizon Health staff, and Morris told the officer to have Plaintiff urinate in a cup but staff never showed up for the cup. On March 13, Morris had Plaintiff taken to the infirmary in a wheelchair. Corizon Health staff, including Dr. Harrod, Nickelson, Morris, and RN Einerson, implemented “the policy and custom to delay and deny [sending] sick and ill convicts to the emergency room and hospital.”

         During the seven days that Plaintiff was severely ill, he could not eat because of the excruciating pain and he missed several meals. Watson, team manager in charge of security staff officers in EDCF, informed Plaintiff that if he continued his refusal to eat, Plaintiff would be placed on “hunger strike status.” Watson allegedly ignored Plaintiff's medical need.

         On March 15, Plaintiff was sent to the emergency room in El Dorado and was given a catheterization. He was then sent to St. Francis Hospital Via Christi in Wichita, Kansas. He was in the intensive care unit for three days and was diagnosed with severe anemia hemoperitoneum. Plaintiff lost several units of blood, almost bled to death, and his internal organs were damaged. After Plaintiff's stay in the ICU, he was released to a private hospital room for three more days.

         From June 2014 through April 2015, Plaintiff attended sick call because of “pain in his penis” and Corizon Health staff drug their feet in sending Plaintiff to follow-up appointments. After March 2014, Defendants Corizon Health or Einerson failed to send Plaintiff to see outside specialists.

         Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Harrod is liable for the failure to send Plaintiff to the emergency room and Dr. Harrod's conduct constitutes deliberate indifference. He alleges that Defendants Nickelson and Morris knew of the substantial risk of serious harm posed by Plaintiff's illness. Plaintiff also states that Defendant Watson knew Plaintiff was severely ill. In addition, he contends that Defendant Einerson failed to answer Plaintiff's grievance in a timely manner and she helped implement Corizon Health's custom and policy to delay and deny sending Plaintiff to specialists. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Corizon Health's medical staff violated his constitutional rights by ignoring Plaintiff's severe medical needs.

         Plaintiff seeks three million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages from both Corizon Health and KDOC. He also seeks damages of $250, 000 from every other named Defendant. In addition, he seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and costs.

         After Plaintiff filed his Complaint, the Court ordered KDOC to prepare a Martinez Report[5] because it found that proper processing of Plaintiff's claims could not be achieved without additional information. KDOC filed this report on August 8, 2016. In this report, KDOC asserts that Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed because his claims are barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. In addition, KDOC contends that this Court should decline to exercise jurisdiction based upon the doctrine of comity.

         All Defendants, through three different motions, now seek dismissal of Plaintiff's claims.

         II. Legal Standard

         There are currently three motions before the Court, and all seek dismissal of Plaintiff's action on the basis of res judicata.[6] Defendants Corizon Health, Einerson, Morris, and Nickelson filed a Motion to Dismiss, but it was previously converted to a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 21). The Court converted the motion because it stated that matters outside of the pleadings had been presented by Defendants and noted that a Martinez report had been filed in the case. The documents attached to Defendant's motion, however, were court documents from Plaintiff's previous state court lawsuit. Defendants KDOC and Watson filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 24), and Defendant Harrod filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 41).[7] Thus, there is one motion for summary judgment and two motions to dismiss.

         Generally, a court may take judicial notice of pleadings in prior cases without converting a motion to one for summary judgment.[8] Specifically, a defendant can properly raise the defense of res judicata in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, and the Court may take judicial notice of the court's own records or public records from other proceedings.[9] In addition, the filing of a Martinez report does not necessarily convert a motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment and “may sometimes be considered part of the pleadings for purposes of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b).”[10] If “the Martinez report's description of the policies or procedures remains undisputed after plaintiff has an opportunity to respond, ” the Court can appropriately consider it as part of the pleadings in deciding a Rule 12(b) motion.[11]

         Here, the Martinez report directed the Court to Plaintiff's state court lawsuit and several filings in that state court lawsuit. Plaintiff does not dispute that he filed a state court lawsuit or that these documents are from that lawsuit. Indeed, the Court can take judicial notice of these public records from the state court lawsuit.[12] Thus, the Court will not convert the two additional Motions to Dismiss (Docs. 24, 41) into one for summary judgment. The Court takes judicial notice of the ...

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