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Brauner v. Coody

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 17, 2015

FRANCIS BRAUNER, Plaintiff - Appellee
SHIRLEY COODY, Assistant Warden; KENNETH NORRIS, Assistant Warden; JONATHAN ROUNDTREE, Medical Doctor; JASON COLLINS, Medical Doctor; UNKNOWN MCMURDO, Doctor, Defendants - Appellants

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

For FRANCIS BRAUNER, Plaintiff - Appellee: James Ronald Clary, Jr., Christopher Scott Suba, Clary & Associates, Baton Rouge, LA.

For SHIRLEY COODY, Assistant Warden, KENNETH NORRIS, Assistant Warden, JONATHAN ROUNDTREE, Medical Doctor, JASON COLLINS, Doctor, UNKNOWN MCMURDO, Doctor, Defendants - Appellants: Phyllis Esther Glazer, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General, for the State of Louisiana, New Orleans, LA; Matthew James Davis, Assistant Attorney General, Louisiana Department of Justice, Litigation Division, Baton Rouge, LA.

Before JONES, SMITH, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.


EDITH H. JONES, Circuit Judge:

A disabled Louisiana inmate sued several of his doctors and jailers, claiming they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical condition in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The district court held perfunctorily that there was a genuine issue of material fact and denied qualified immunity, rejecting the magistrate judge's contrary recommendation. Because the record cannot support a claim of deliberate indifference, we REVERSE the order of the district court and RENDER judgment for defendants.


Plaintiff Francis Brauner is a paraplegic incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Brauner resides in the R. E. Barrow Treatment Center, which is staffed at all times by doctors, nurses, and medical orderlies. A physician medical director oversees treatment and an assistant warden oversees the facility. Brauner's immobility has led to the development of decubitus ulcers, more commonly known as pressure sores or bedsores. His sores have progressed into chronic osteomyelitis, a serious and painful infection of the bone. Medical staff noted broken skin, tunneling, exposed muscle and bone, and obvious signs of infection.

Brauner sued a variety of defendants; two sets are relevant here: Assistant Wardens Shirley Coody and Kenneth Norris, who were at different times in charge of the facility itself but with no authority over medical decisions; and Drs. Jonathan Roundtree, Jason Collins, and David Hal McMurdo, all of whom treated Brauner at some point. The defendants do not deny knowledge of the existence or severity of Brauner's medical condition. Prison staff have treated Brauner in a variety of ways since January 18, 2011, the time period relevant to this case.[1]

Plaintiff sued on May 28, 2012, alleging that prison officials have been deliberately indifferent in managing his care. After some initial proceedings, the chief judge of the Middle District of Louisiana issued an order recusing all judges in the district and assigning the case to Judge Africk of the Eastern District of Louisiana (though venue remained in the Middle District). Before the reassignment, appellants moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. In a 22-page order, the magistrate judge reviewed the evidence and concluded that circuit precedent foreclosed a deliberate indifference claim. Brauner supported his claims primarily with his own statements (some of which were sworn under penalty of perjury), and largely challenged the medical decisions of his doctors. Judge Africk rejected the magistrate judge's report and recommendation in a brief order holding that there were genuine issues of material fact. Appellants timely appealed.


A district court's denial of qualified immunity is a collateral order subject to immediate appeal. Denying qualified immunity implies both " that a certain course of conduct would . . . be objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law" and " that a genuine issue of fact exists regarding whether the defendant(s) did, in fact, engage in such conduct." Kinney v. Weaver, 367 F.3d 337, 346 (5th Cir. 2004) (en banc). This court has jurisdiction over the appeal only to the extent it " challenges the materiality of factual issues, but" not when " it challenges the district court's genuineness ruling--that genuine issues exist concerning material facts." Bazan ex rel. Bazan v. Hidalgo Cnty., 246 F.3d 481, 490 (5th Cir. 2001). When the basis of the district court's denial is unclear, the appellate court " can either scour the record and determine what facts the plaintiff may be able to prove at trial and proceed to resolve the legal issues, or remand so that the trial court can clarify the order." Thompson v. Upshur Cnty., Tex., 245 F.3d 447, 456 (5th Cir. 2001).

Neither remand nor dismissal is necessary here. " The mere existence of some factual dispute is not enough to defeat this court's jurisdiction over an interlocutory appeal: If the disputed facts are not material to this legal question, 'the denial of summary judgment is [immediately] reviewable as a question of law.'" Gonzales v. Dallas Cnty., Tex., 249 F.3d 406, 411 (5th Cir. 2001) (quoting Mendenhall v. Riser, 213 F.3d 226, 230 (5th Cir. 2000)) (alteration corrects omission in Gonzales). ...

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