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Williamson v. Larpenter

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 15, 2019


         SECTION “B” (2)



         Plaintiff, Garland W. Williamson, Jr., is a prisoner formerly incarcerated in the Terrebonne Parish Criminal Justice Complex (“Terrebonne”) in Houma, Louisiana. He filed this complaint pro se and in forma pauperis pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") and the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"). 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. The named defendants are Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter; Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove; Terrebonne Medical Director Richard Neal; Terrebonne Warden Bergeron; and Dr. William Lo, a psychiatrist at Terrebonne. Williamson alleges that he was provided inadequate medical care and subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement, which aggravated his mental condition. He seeks monetary damages, injunctive relief “mandated by law and the American Disability Act (sic)” and, alternatively, transfer to a hospital facility. Record Doc. No. 1, Complaint at ¶ V.

         On March 18, 2019, I conducted a telephone conference in this matter. Participating via telephone were plaintiff, pro se; and William Dodd and Brian Marceaux, counsel for defendants. Plaintiff was sworn and testified for all purposes permitted by Spears v. McCotter, 766 F.2d 179 (5th Cir. 1985), and its progeny.

         THE RECORD

         Williamson's original complaint, which is sworn under penalty of perjury, Record Doc. No. 1 at p. 9, was submitted on a form for use in pursuing claims under Section 1983, but Williamson specifically invoked the ADA three times in his pleading. Id. at pp. 5, 7, 8. He alleged that he has been “diagnosed suicidal and depressed . . . involving substance abuse." Id. at p. 6. He stated that he was “placed on life support [at Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center ('Chabert Hospital') in Houma, Louisiana] on or about 11/28/18 due to suicide attempt by overdose . . . .” Id. He wrote that shortly after his release from the hospital, “on 12/3/18 [he] drove [a] vehicle into a tree full of alcohol and drugs and failed in [another] suicide attempt.” Id. at p. 7. He alleged that the incident resulted in his arrest and placement in Terrebonne jail on charges of driving while intoxicated, hit and run and theft. Id.

         Williamson stated in his original complaint that he advised prison officials, including defendants Neal and Dr. Lo, “via kiosk machine” of his mental conditions and asserted “my objection to the denial of my anti-psychotic medications of Serequel (sic) and Remron (sic), . . . replaced with Celexa.” Id. He wrote that the Celexa he was provided at Terrebonne did not address his depression, suicidal tendencies or mood and behavior alterations. Id. He alleged that prison officials' “inhumane and torturous treatments of inmates [like himself] of diagnosed mental illness” violated the ADA, particularly in that he was not provided with “properly prescribed medications and housing and treatments and living conditions and therapies.” Id. He complained specifically that, when placed on suicide watch in the jail, he “was stripped of all his clothing, placed in a green smock, along with 6 other inmates on a 10 by 10 cell made of cold concrete, dirty with old food trays, plastic sandwich bags, directly on floor, no shower, no hygiene, still denied prescribed medications, . . . until you notify Dr. . . . Lo on his one day weekly visit, [that] you will not harm yourself or anyone else. . . .” Id. at p. 8.

         In his statement of facts filed as a supplement to his complaint in response to the court's order, Record Doc. Nos. 5, 7, Williamson clarified that he was then in jail serving three consecutive six-month prison sentences imposed separately on December 22, 2018, and January 22, 2019, arising from the incident in which he drove a vehicle into a tree while intoxicated. Record Doc. No. 7 at p. 1. He complained specifically that “therapy and groups and programs [are] not being provided” at Terrebonne, including no access to “a mental health facility” for inmates like himself with long histories of “obvious substance abuse issues.” Id. at pp. 4, 8.

         During his Spears testimony, Williamson repeated that he currently is incarcerated in Terrebonne based upon a December 21, 2018 conviction for driving while intoxicated and his related failure to comply with a program he was ordered to attend. He testified that he was arrested on December 3, 2018, shortly after his release from Chabert Hospital in Houma, where he was being treated for injuries after a suicide attempt. Williamson confirmed that he makes two kinds of claims in this case: (1) the conditions of his confinement are not appropriate for his mental health condition and; (2) the treatment he has received for his mental health condition has been inadequate or improper.

         Williamson testified that he was first brought to Terrebonne on December 3, 2018, when he was arrested on the charges for which he was subsequently sentenced. He testified that before he was arrested, he had just been released at the end of November 2018 from Chabert Hospital after a suicide attempt. He said his arrest occurred “just days” after he tried again to commit suicide by driving a vehicle into a tree.

         He confirmed that he had received and reviewed the medical records produced by the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff in response to my order, Record Doc. Nos. 6, 10, and he confirmed that they are accurate.

         As to his complaints about his housing in Terrebonne jail, he complained that he is being housed with other prisoners in “general population” with no access to a separate mental health clinic operated by Terrebonne Parish. He said the jail has no psychiatrist on staff, just one who visits the prisoners with mental health issues once a week on Wednesdays for 30 minutes. He identified this psychiatrist as defendant Dr. Lo. Williamson said he has been seen by Dr. Lo at the jail, but not upon request. He testified that he was first seen by Dr. Lo in the jail “when I was placed on suicide watch . . . .” He said that when he has bouts with depression, feels suicidal or has “mood issues, ” jail personnel “just dress you up in a green smock and throw you in a holding cell with four or five other people until you see Dr. Lo on Wednesdays [or] until you tell [him]. . . that you're not feeling suicidal anymore and you're not going to hurt anybody and you're okay.”

         He said jail personnel returned him to general population after he was released from suicide watch without getting “any type of help for diagnosed treatments.” He testified that he has seen Dr. Lo twice while in Terrebonne, once on December 17, 2018, when he was placed on suicide watch and again “not too long ago, ” sometime in February 2019, when he talked to Dr. Lo about his medications. He complained that in the jail he is getting only Celexa, while the medications he had previously been prescribed at the hospital before his arrest were Remeron and Seroquel, which jail personnel say he is not allowed to have. He confirmed that he has been receiving Celexa in the jail since January 2019, after he was prescribed the medication in December 2018 while on suicide watch. He confirmed that he was removed from suicide watch on Dr. Lo's orders on December 19, 2018.

         When asked to specify the conditions about which he complains, Williamson testified that when placed on suicide watch, his possessions were taken away, he was dressed in a green smock and placed in a holding cell with four other inmates in what should be a one-man cell. He stated that he was kept there for “two or three days, ” until he saw Dr. Lo, and he would have been kept there if he had not told Dr. Lo that he was okay and no longer feeling that he would hurt himself or others. He testified that the conditions in the holding cell were “dirty, with food trays all around, ” overcrowded and cold. He said the cell was about ten-by-ten feet with a toilet and sink and one slab where a mattress was supposed to be located, but there was no mattress. He testified that he saw no medical personnel during those two or three days until he told Dr. Lo he was no longer suicidal and was returned to general population.

         He said he receives Celexa for his mental health conditions daily while in the jail, but that he is also supposed to be receiving some additional medications, including Remeron and Seroquel, that were prescribed by the physicians at the psychiatric ward in Chabert Hospital, from which he was released in November 2018 before his arrest. He testified that he spoke to Dr. Lo at the jail about these additional medications and being transported to Chabert Hospital's mental health clinic, but was told that the additional medications are not allowed in the jail and that trips to the mental health clinic were "not allowed anymore . . . I know that years ago, we used to go there” during his previous stays in the jail. He said he understands that Celexa is provided for depression and as a mood stabilizer but that he was not taking Celexa before he was incarcerated and that it is a different medication than what he was taking for his depression and mood issues before his arrest. He said he asked to see Dr. Lo again “about a week ago” and was told he was on the list to see him, but he had not seen him again at the time of the hearing.

         Williamson confirmed the notation in his medical records that he was prescribed Gabapentin on January 10, 2019, and that he began receiving it in the jail shortly thereafter. He stated that he was still receiving it in the jail and that it is being given to him for a previous wrist injury. He said he is also receiving ibuprofen at the jail “three times a day.” He said that except for the nurses who deliver his medications daily, the last time he had seen any medical personnel at the jail was Dr. Lo in February 2019.

         Williamson stated that during his current stay in Terrebonne, he has been placed in the holding cell during suicide watch only once for the three-day period he previously described. He described his general complaint as being that he cannot receive the help and treatment that he needs for his condition, including a visit to Chabert Hospital's mental health clinic to participate in a program for substance abuse self-medication for his mental health issues. He complained that the doctors at Chabert Hospital tell him he needs certain kinds of treatment, but that Dr. Lo has not provided it in the jail. He also complained that he has not been placed in the medical section at the jail. He said he is not being afforded participation in therapeutic groups or other care that he needs.

         After the Spears hearing, I expressly provided plaintiff with an opportunity to supplement and more specifically state his best ADA case. Record Doc. No. 14. On June 26, 2019, plaintiff sent a letter to the court, advising that he was released from Terrebonne on May 1, 2019.[1] Record Doc. No. 18 at p. 1. He further stated that since his release from prison he had been housed in behavioral treatment centers in Lafayette, Lake Charles and Marrero, Louisiana. Id. Plaintiff enclosed medical records with his letter, which indicate that he was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder by a physician at Oceans Behavioral Hospital of Greater New Orleans ("Oceans") in Marrero and that he was discharged from Oceans and transferred to Briscoe Treatment Center ("Briscoe") in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Id. at pp. 5, 8. Plaintiff stated that he currently resides at Briscoe, where he attends group sessions and counseling "all day." Id. at p. 1.



         A prisoner's pro se complaint must be screened by the court as soon as practicable after docketing, regardless whether it has also been filed in forma pauperis. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a); Martin v. Scott, 156 F.3d 578, 579-80 (5th Cir. 1998). Such complaints by prisoners must be dismissed upon review if they are frivolous or fail to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).

         “A federal court may dismiss a claim in forma pauperis ‘if satisfied that the action is frivolous or malicious.'” Moore v. McDonald, 30 F.3d 616, 620 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting former 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d), now incorporated in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), as amended). A complaint is frivolous “if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact.” Davis v. Scott, 157 F.3d 1003, 1005 (5th Cir. 1998); Reeves v. Collins, 27 F.3d 174, 176 (5th Cir. 1994). The law “‘accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.'” Macias v. Raul A. (Unknown), Badge No. 153, 23 F.3d 94, 97 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)).

         The purpose of a Spears hearing is to dig beneath the conclusional allegations of a pro se complaint, to ascertain exactly what the prisoner alleges occurred and the legal basis of the claims. Spears, 766 F.2d at 180. “[T]he Spears procedure affords the plaintiff an opportunity to verbalize his complaints, in a manner of communication more comfortable to many prisoners.” Davis, 157 F.3d at 1005. The information elicited at such an evidentiary hearing is in the nature of an amended complaint or a more definite statement under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e). Wilson v. Barrientos, 926 F.2d 480, 481 (5th Cir. 1991); Adams v. Hansen, 906 F.2d 192, 194 (5th Cir. 1990). “Upon development of the actual nature of the complaint, it may also appear that no justiciable basis for a federal claim exists.” Spears, 766 F.2d at 182.

         The court may make only limited credibility determinations in a Spears hearing, Norton v. Dimazana, 122 F.3d 286, 292 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing Cay v. Estelle, 789 F.2d 318, 326-27 (5th Cir. 1986), overruled on other grounds by Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992)), and may consider and rely upon documents as additional evidence, as long as they are properly identified, authentic and reliable. “The Court should allow proper cross-examination and should require that the parties properly identify and authenticate documents. A defendant may not use medical records to refute a plaintiff's testimony at a Spears hearing.” Id. (citing Wilson, 926 F.2d at 482-83; Williams v. Luna, 909 F.2d 121, 124 (5th Cir. 1990)). However, “‘[m]edical records of sick calls, examinations, diagnoses, and medications may rebut an inmate's allegations of deliberate indifference.'” Gobert v. Caldwell, 463 F.3d 339, 347 n.24 (5th Cir. 2006) (quoting Banuelos v. McFarland, 41 F.3d 232, 235 (5th Cir. 1995)) (internal citations omitted).

         The ADA applies to prisons and inmates. Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrections v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206 (1998); Hale v. King, 642 F.3d 492 (5th Cir. 2011). As in Hale, although a Spears hearing has been conducted, the hearing focused on Williamson's Section 1983 claims, and a plaintiff in a pro se case like this one must be provided with the opportunity to amend to plead his best ADA case. Hale, 642 F.3d at 503.

         After a Spears hearing and providing an opportunity to amend, a complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim or as legally frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis in law, Jackson v. Vannoy, 49 F.3d 175, 176-77 (5th Cir. 1995); Moore v. Mabus, 976 F.2d 268, 269 (5th Cir. 1992), or “as factually frivolous only if the facts alleged are ‘clearly baseless,' . . . [or] when the facts alleged rise to the level of the irrational or wholly incredible.” Id. at 270.

         “‘A complaint lacks an arguable basis in law if it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, such as if the complaint alleges the violation of a legal interest which clearly does not exist.'” Davis, 157 F.3d at 1005 (quoting McCormick v. Stalder, 105 F.3d 1059, 1061 (5th Cir. 1997)). “When a complaint raises an arguable question of law which the district court ultimately finds is correctly resolved against the plaintiff, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate; however, dismissal under the section 1915(d) standard is not.” Moore, 976 F.2d at 269. A prisoner's in forma pauperis complaint which fails to state a claim may be dismissed sua sponte at any time under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1).

         In this case, plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1), either as legally frivolous because it lacks an arguable basis in law or under Rule 12(b)(6) in light of his testimony and supplemental written submissions explaining the factual basis of his claims. Plaintiff's complaint, as amended by his testimony at the Spears hearing, fails to state either a ...

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