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Parker v. Gusman

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 4, 2019




         Plaintiff, Desmond C. Parker, a state prisoner, filed this pro se federal civil rights action asserting various claims against a number of defendants. Through the course of the litigation all but one of the claims have been dismissed. See Parker v. Gusman, Civ. Action No. 16-1609, 2016 WL 7167938 (E.D. La. Nov. 8, 2016), adopted, 2016 WL 7156076 (E.D. La. Dec. 8, 2016);[1] Parker v. Gusman, Civ. Action No. 16-1609, 2018 WL 279628 (E.D. La. Jan. 2, 2018), appeal dismissed, No. 18-30076, 2018 WL 3414050 (5th Cir. June 21, 2018).[2] The only claim that remains is plaintiff's claim that Shontrell Cooper was deliberately indifferent to his need for medical care.

         With respect to that claim, Cooper has now filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[3] Plaintiff has opposed that motion.[4] The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).[5]

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court may grant the motion when no genuine issue of material fact exists and the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). There is no “genuine issue” when the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmovant. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         “Procedurally, the party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the record which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Taita Chemical Co., Ltd. v. Westlake Styrene Corp., 246 F.3d 377, 385 (5th Cir. 2001) (quotation marks and brackets omitted). The party opposing summary judgment must then “go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Provident Life and Accident Ins. Co. v. Goel, 274 F.3d 984, 991 (5th Cir. 2001). The Court has no duty to search the record for evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment; rather, “[t]he party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise manner in which the evidence supports his or her claim.” Ragas v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998). Conclusory statements, speculation, and unsubstantiated assertions are not competent summary judgment evidence and will not suffice to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Id.; Douglass v. United Services Auto. Ass'n, 79 F.3d 1415, 1429 (5th Cir. 1996).

         In her motion, Cooper argues that she is entitled to summary judgment on the claim against her on two grounds: (1) plaintiff's allegations, even if true, do not rise to a level of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need; and (2) plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies by properly completing the jail's grievance procedure. Because the first ground has merit, the Court need not reach the second ground.

         As noted, plaintiff claims that Cooper violated his constitutional right to medical care. Obviously, all inmates, regardless of whether they are pretrial detainees or convicted prisoners, have a right to medical care in jail. However, that right is a limited one, and an inmate's constitutional right to medical care is violated only if his “serious medical needs” are met with “deliberate indifference” on the part of penal authorities. See Thompson v. Upshur County, 245 F.3d 447, 457 (5th Cir. 2001); Harris v. Hegmann, 198 F.3d 153, 159 (5th Cir. 1999).

         The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained that “[a] serious medical need is one for which treatment has been recommended or for which the need is so apparent that even laymen would recognize that care is required.” Gobert v. Caldwell, 463 F.3d 339, 345 n.12 (5th Cir. 2006). The Fifth Circuit has held that “non-life-threatening injuries are a serious medical need where the injuries induced severe pain.” Thomas v. Carter, 593 Fed.Appx. 338, 342 (5th Cir. 2014). Here, plaintiff alleges that he had a painful ankle fracture which went without appropriate treatment and, as a result, he will suffer from arthritis for the rest of his life. Earlier in this litigation, the Court determined that plaintiff's fractured ankle was a serious medical need. Parker v. Gusman, Civ. Action No. 16-1609, 2016 WL 7167938, at *4 (E.D. La. Nov. 8, 2016), adopted, 2016 WL 7156076 (E.D. La. Dec. 8, 2016).[6]

         Nevertheless, in order to prevail on his claim against Cooper, plaintiff must additionally show that she was deliberately indifferent to that serious medical need. The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained:

Deliberate indifference is an extremely high standard to meet. It is indisputable that an incorrect diagnosis by prison medical personnel does not suffice to state a claim for deliberate indifference. Rather, the plaintiff must show that the officials refused to treat him, ignored his complaints, intentionally treated him incorrectly, or engaged in any similar conduct that would clearly evince a wanton disregard for any serious medical needs. Furthermore, the decision whether to provide additional treatment is a classic example of a matter for medical judgment. And, the failure to alleviate a significant risk that the official should have perceived, but did not is insufficient to show deliberate indifference.

Domino v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 239 F.3d 752, 756 (5th Cir. 2001) (citations, quotation marks, and brackets omitted). “Deliberate indifference encompasses only unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain repugnant to the conscience of mankind.” McCormick v. Stalder, 105 F.3d 1059, 1061 (5th Cir. 1997); see also Stewart v. Murphy, 174 F.3d 530, 534 (5th Cir.1999).

         In her motion, Cooper explains that she was simply a jail assistant whose role was limited to evaluating and responding to inmate grievances within the narrow guidelines provided by her superiors. Specifically, in the affidavit in support of her motion, she states:

1. I am of legal age and competent to make this Declaration.
2. At the time of the claims involved in this matter, I was a Medical Assistant working as the Grievance Clerk for the Orleans Justice Center. I was an employee of Correct Care Solutions beginning in 2014; and in my position, I participated in the management of grievances associated with medical care delivered in the Jail.
3. As a Grievance Clerk, I had on occasion to respond to certain inmate grievances submitted by Desmond Parker. For purposes of this Declaration, I have reviewed the grievances submitted by this inmate. Copies of all grievances to which I have access in the OJC computer system are attached to this Affidavit. (Attachment 1)
4. The internal grievance system at the Orleans Justice Center (“OJC”) allows inmates to submit grievances through kiosks located on each floor. Based on my review of the records, Mr. Parker submitted a number of grievances involving several issues. I was not involved in all of the grievance responses for Mr. Parker.
5. In preparing the response to any grievance, my role is limited. Upon receipt of the grievance, I generally review the inmate's medical record, the status of treatment, and the medication profile.
6. While grievances take many different forms, the grievances at issue in this case involve follow up medical appointments, new requests for treatment, or missed medications. Each issue is handled based on the inmate's current condition and specific grievance.
7. For example, in those cases where Mr. Parker filed a grievance related to a follow up appointment, I checked the medical record and appointment record for an existing appointment. Once I confirmed a follow up for the issue he raised, my response to the grievance was limited ...

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