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Walker v. Easter

United States District Court, D. Kansas

November 7, 2018

JAMES K. WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFF EASTER, Sheriff of the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office, in their individual and official capacity; SARA (LNU), Director of the SCADF Clinic, in their individual and official capacity; ALICIA (LNU), Director of Operations at the SCADF Clinic, in their individual and official capacity; DR. HAROLD STOPP, Doctor at the SCADF, in their individual and official capacity; DR. TRAVIS (LNU), Doctor at the SCADF, in their individual and official capacity; DR. BILL (LNU), Doctor at the SCADF, in their individual and official capacity; DR. AUDREY GRIFFIN, Doctor at the SCADF, in their individual and official capacity, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ERIC F. MELGREN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case arises out of the Defendants' alleged failure to provide medical assistance to Plaintiff James K. Walker. Defendants Sara (lnu), Alicia (lnu), Dr. Travis (lnu), Dr. Bill (lnu), and Dr. Audrey Griffin (the “Medical Defendants”[1]) argue that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and has failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted against any of the Medical Defendants. Defendant Dr. Harold Stopp joins in the arguments asserted by the Medical Defendants and does not assert any further arguments in support of his request for dismissal. This matter comes before the Court on the Medical Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 42) and Defendant Harold Stopp, D.O.'s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 44). For the reasons explained below, the Court grants the Medical Defendants' Motion and denies Dr. Stopp's Motion.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background[2]

         A. “Facts” portion of the Third Amended Complaint

         The “Facts” portion of the attachment to Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint alleges that he was allowed to go to a skin specialist in the Spring of 2016, and that the specialist prescribed him Thera Derm lotion and Triamcinolone Ace Cream for the redness and/or rash on Plaintiff's legs. Plaintiff used these creams for approximately one year. On June 20, 2017, the Sedgwick County Adult Detention Facility (“SCADF”) Clinic changed Plaintiff's medication from Thera Derm to Dermadaily.

         Plaintiff noticed that Dermadaily felt different to the touch, and told the “med. passers, C.O.S and Clinic[3]” that his skin specialist had not prescribed Dermadaily. A “med. passer” told Plaintiff that it was all they had for him and his “order was changed by CSS Pharmacy” from Thera Derm to Dermadaily. Plaintiff used Dermadaily and had an allergic reaction to it, resulting in a rash. The rash mutated in July 2017 and spread to Plaintiff's feet, legs, stomach, and arms.

         Plaintiff grieved the change in medication in August 2017, and was told that he would receive two bottles of Thera Derm per month from the SCADF Clinic. But the prescription never came. Plaintiff refused to use Dermadaily because it caused his rash, and his legs became extremely swollen, keeping him up at night. His skin was also extremely itchy.

         In August 2017, Plaintiff's legs turned purple, red, and pink, and swelled very large. In September 2017, Dr. Stopp gave Plaintiff a 25mg dose of a steroid. After no change in Plaintiff's condition for approximately two weeks, Plaintiff received an additional and higher dosage of a steroid (50mg).[4] Plaintiff was taken off of his blood-thinner on September 11, 2017. At some point in time, Dr. Bill (lnu) agreed with Plaintiff that his body “maintains” until the 50mg steroid “is over” and then the rash comes back “with strength.” Plaintiff asserts that administering him steroids conflicted with his blood-thinner medication that he takes for his DVT.

         Plaintiff alleges that his symptoms continued and worsened. When he walked his feet would crack and bleed and he developed a large hole in his right shin from the swelling and thin blood. He was rushed to the hospital on September 16, 2017, and stayed in the hospital until September 20, 2017, when he was forced back to SCADF against the orders of a hospital doctor. Once he returned to SCADF, Plaintiff was housed at the Clinic. Plaintiff does not identify why he was rushed to the hospital, who was involved in forcing him back to SCADF against doctor's orders, or whether the individuals involved in his return knew that returning him to SCADF contravened doctor's orders.

         On October 3, 2017, Plaintiff was taken to his skin specialist-though he had been requesting to see his specialist since June 2017.[5] Plaintiff received a prescription for Clobetasol cream, but he did not receive the medication until mid-November 2017. When he did receive it, he received only a small amount in a pill cup, and a “med. passer” told Plaintiff that he would not receive the Clobetasol until it was approved, which would not occur until after the holidays.

         Plaintiff's specialist increased the Clobetasol prescription in December 2017 and Plaintiff's skin stopped flaking. On January 8, Plaintiff's specialist put him on an additional ointment, and as of February, Plaintiff's legs were still discolored, and although light, his rash was still visible.[6]

         Plaintiff generally asserts that the “SCADF Clinic doctors” failed to respond appropriately to all of his serious medical needs, that doctors failed to research Plaintiff's disability before prescribing medication and medical treatment, and that doctors failed to research Plaintiff's allergic reactions, sensitive skin, blood levels, and DTV. Aside from his brief mentions of Dr. Stopp and Dr. Bill (lnu), Plaintiff does not identify any other Plaintiff in the “Facts” section of his Third Amended Complaint.

         B. Section of Third Amended Complaint identifying each Defendant

         While Plaintiff's “Facts” section references only two Defendants by name, he also includes a separate section purporting to identify each Defendant, and this section includes general factual allegations as to each Defendant. The allegations in this section are repetitive, difficult to follow, and, at times, incoherent.[7]

         It appears that this section of the Third Amended Complaint includes allegations that Dr. Stopp, Dr. Travis, Dr. Griffin and Dr. Bill engaged in malpractice by failing to research Plaintiff's disability, allergic reaction, sensitive skin, DVT's and blood levels, and that these actions constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiff also generally asserts that Dr. Travis, Dr. Griffin, and Dr. Bill give inmates as little medical help as possible. Defendant Alicia (lnu), as the Director of Operations at SCADF, allegedly “caused medical negligence and malpractice” and acted recklessly “while being over the medication and staff” by supporting the practices of the other Defendants, by allowing cruel and unusual punishment, and by allowing Plaintiff to live with pain and suffering, “with ignorance over the medical abuse” of the other Defendants. Defendant Sara (lnu), as Director Manager at SCADF, caused medical negligence and malpractice while being the superintendent over medication and whether an inmate may go to a specialist or hospital. Further, Defendant Sara (lnu) supported the other Defendants and allowed their alleged improper actions.

         Plaintiff also appears to allege that all of the Defendants engaged in a conspiracy wherein they acted recklessly while “practicing on Plaintiff” by, at times, failing to provide medical treatment and care, and at other times by providing the wrong medical treatment, the wrong types of medication, and the wrong amounts of medication. Plaintiff also alleges the “improper enforcement of SCADF Clinic physicians medical treatment and medication.” Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages against each Defendant. The Medical Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims arguing that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.[8]Dr. Stopp filed a motion to dismiss joining in the Medical Defendants' Motion, but not asserting any additional grounds or argument in favor of dismissal. Plaintiff has not filed a response to either Motion.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a party may move for dismissal of “a claim for relief in any pleading” that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Upon such motion, the Court must decide “whether the complaint contains ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' ”[9] “[T]he mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient;” rather, the pleading “must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.”[10] The Court does not “weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, ” but assesses whether the complaint “alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.”[11] In determining whether a claim is facially plausible, the Court must draw on its judicial experience and common sense.[12] All well-pleaded facts are assumed to be true and are construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.[13] “Although plaintiff need not allege every element of his action in specific detail, he cannot rely on conclusory allegations.”[14]“A pro se litigant's pleadings are to be construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.”[15] Thus, while the Court “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf, ” it will, if it can, “reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim” even in the absence of citation to proper legal authority, confusion as to various legal theories, poor syntax or sentence construction, or unfamiliarity with pleading requirements.[16]

         III. Analysis

         A. The Medical Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         1. Exhaustion of administrative remedies under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) provides that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.”[17] When a prisoner fails to present claims through the full administrative remedy process, such claims are subject to dismissal.[18]

         Defendants' argument on this point proceeds as follows: “Plaintiff has not attached any grievances to his Third Amended Complaint showing that he had completed the grievance procedure at the Sedgwick County Adult Detention Center. Further, in the Martinez Report, there were no grievances provided by the County regarding the complaints raised against the Medical Defendants.” Therefore, they argue, Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

         In Jones, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the PLRA's pleading requirements as to exhaustion of administrative remedies. It specifically rejected the Sixth Circuit's requirement that prisoners “plead and demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints.”[19] Instead, it held “that failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA, and that inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints.”[20] Because the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that Plaintiff need not plead and demonstrate exhaustion in his Third Amended Complaint, the Court denies Defendants' motion to dismiss based on exhaustion of administrative remedies.[21]

         2. Failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)

         In Estelle v. Gamble, [22] the U.S. Supreme Court first recognized claims for deliberate indifference to an inmate's medical needs. It held that “prison officials violate the Eight Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment if their ‘deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.' ”[23] The U.S. Supreme Court has adopted a two-prong inquiry for analyzing such claims, including both an objective component and a subjective component.[24] To satisfy the objective component, “the alleged deprivation must be ‘sufficiently serious' to constitute a deprivation of constitutional dimension.”[25] “A medical need is serious if it is 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.”[26] The Court assumes for purposes of this Motion that Plaintiff has adequately alleged the objective component of his claim. Accordingly, the Court will focus its analysis on whether Plaintiff has adequately pleaded facts sufficient to satisfy the subjective component.

         “[U]nder the subjective inquiry, the prison official must have a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind.' ”[27] An “inadvertent failure to provide adequate medical care” does not give rise to a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; nor do allegations regarding mere negligence or malpractice give rise to such a claim.[28] “Rather, ‘a prisoner must allege acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.' ”[29] The U.S. Supreme Court has “made clear” that “a prison official cannot be liable ‘unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.' ”[30]

         In summary, Plaintiff alleges that his medication was changed in June 2017, and that he informed the “med. passers, C.O.S and Clinic” that his skin specialist had not prescribed the new medication. He developed a severe rash and other unpleasant and painful physical symptoms in reaction to the new medication, and although he successfully grieved the medication change in August 2017, he never received his prior prescription. In treating Plaintiff, Dr. Stopp gave Plaintiff a 25mg steroid in September 2017, which conflicted with Plaintiff's blood-thinner medication causing Plaintiff's blood to become “water thin” and resulting in a large hole in his right shin. Plaintiff was taken off the blood-thinner medication on September 11, 2017. Close to two weeks after Plaintiff had been on the 25mg steroid, Plaintiff's steroid treatment was increased to 50mg. Plaintiff was taken to the hospital on September 16, 2017, and stayed there until September 20, 2017, when he was forced against doctor's orders to return to SCADF. On September 22, 2017, Dr. Bill (lnu) agreed with Plaintiff that his body only maintained until the 50mg steroid was “over” and then the “rash comes back with strength.” Shortly thereafter, on October 3, 2017, Plaintiff was taken to a ...


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