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Roller v. Dankwa

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

August 7, 2017

JOHN ROLLER, Plaintiff,
v.
VIBEKE DANKWA and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH M. HOOD SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         John Roller is an inmate at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Lexington, Kentucky, where he has been incarcerated since March 2011. Proceeding without a lawyer, Roller has filed a complaint challenging the sufficiency of the medical care he received at the prison. [R. 1]. Roller asserts a civil rights claim against prison physician Dr. Vibeke Dankwa pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), as well as a claim against the United States of America pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-80. The defendants have now filed a motion to dismiss Roller's complaint or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment [R. 15], Roller has filed his response [R. 19], and the defendants have filed their reply [R. 21]. This matter is therefore ripe for a decision. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the defendants' motion.

         I.

         Since 2003, Roller has had health problems with his left eye. In March 2014, Roller underwent a “repeat penetrating keratoplasty with cataract extraction, ” which is basically a cornea transplant. [R. 1 at 3]. While the procedure was initially successful, Roller eventually rejected the donor tissue he had received. [Id.].

         Beginning in November 2015, Roller required and received extensive medical care from the doctors, nurses, and pharmacists at FMC-Lexington, as well as multiple medical professionals at the University of Kentucky Medical Center (UKMC). [R. 15-8]. In the defendants' motion, they provide a detailed summary of the healthcare that Roller received for his eye. [R. 15-1 at 3-11]. While the Court will not recite all of Roller's medical history, his medical records show that, from November 2015 through March 2016, medical professionals examined and/or treated Roller's eye on at least 10 different occasions. [R. 15-1 at 3-9; R. 15-8 at 2-133]. Ultimately, however, Roller's left eye had to be removed. [R. 15-8 at 112-14].

         Dr. Dankwa was extensively involved in caring for Roller. Indeed, Dr. Dankwa regularly reviewed Roller's medical records, including the notes made by other physicians and medical professionals; examined Roller on multiple occasions; ordered him new medications; renewed his previous medications; reconciled those medications; requested multiple ophthalmology consultations; and scheduled Roller for multiple appointments at FMC-Lexington and the UKMC. [R. 15-6 and 15-8]. Even when Roller did not show up to one of his appointments, Dr. Dankwa still ordered him new medications, renewed his previous medications, and scheduled him for another appointment. [R. 15-8 at 29-31].

         Nevertheless, Roller claims that he received “woefully inadequate and ineffective” medical care. [R. 1 at 6]. Specifically, Roller alleges that Dr. Dankwa did not follow the treatment plan established by UKMC ophthalmologist Dr. Gregory Katz and was also responsible for a delay in his medical care during a “critical time” between January 25, 2016 and February 11, 2016. [R. 1 at 3-7, 9].

         On January 25, 2016, Dr. Dankwa requested that Roller have an ophthalmology consultation for a worsening central corneal ulcer. [R. 15-8 at 62]. Dr. Dankwa described the matter as “urgent” and, that same day, prison officials transported Roller to the UKMC. [Id. at 62-63].

         At the hospital, ophthalmologist Dr. Douglas Katz treated Roller. [Id. at 63-66]. Dr. Katz indicated that while Roller had been using prescription eye drops while awake, he “refused to take drops at night.” [Id. at 63]. Dr. Katz then described the “central corneal ulcer of [the] left eye” as “stable, ” but said that the “rejection of [the] cornea transplant” was “worsening.” [Id. at 65]. Dr. Katz also noted that Roller had an “extremely poor vision prognosis.” [Id.]. Finally, at the end of Dr. Katz's notes, he wrote: “RTC [return to clinic] 1 week.” [Id.].

         Prison officials brought Roller back to FMC-Lexington, and Dr. Dankwa evaluated Roller and worked with a nurse to reconcile his latest medications. [Id. at 68-71]. Dr. Dankwa also noted that while Roller said he “was told to do eye drops every 2 hours, no paperwork [was] available for review” as she was “await[ing] [the] consult report from UKMC.” [Id. at 72]. Date stamps indicate the FMC-Lexington did not receive Dr. Katz's report until two days later. [Id. at 63-66].

         Although Dr. Katz said in his notes, “RTC [return to clinic] 1 week, ” and one week later would have been February 1, 2016, the next substantive event in Roller's medical history did not come until February 8, 2016. On that date, Dr. Dankwa noted that Roller needed to see an ophthalmologist due to his failing corneal transplant. [Id. at 74]. While Dr. Dankwa requested that the consultation occur the next day [Id. at 74], it ended up taking place three days later. [Id. at 77].

         On February 11, 2016, Dr. Katz examined Roller. [Id. at 77]. Dr. Katz noted that, in January 2016, Roller had “a serious and large infection of the left transplant” and, therefore, prison officials sent him to the UKMC “for culturing” and to be “started on fortified Vancomycin and Tobramycin.” [Id.]. Dr. Katz then said that Roller “had one follow up appointment a couple of days later, but has not kept his follow up appointments since then and has not been seen since January 25, 2016.” [Id.]. Dr. Katz added that Roller was “currently taking Vancomycin and Tobramycin every two hours, ” but noted that “[t]he prognosis for [Roller's] eye is extremely grim.” [Id.]. While Dr. Katz switched Roller's medication, he concluded that Roller “may end up requiring enucleation or possibly a repeat transplant to try and eliminate this infection.” [Id.].

         Later that day, Dr. Dankwa reviewed Dr. Katz's notes, ordered Roller his new medication, and arranged for Roller to be seen by an ophthalmologist once again the very next day. [Id. at 80-81]. While Roller returned to the UKMC on February 12, 2016, and also received treatment over the course of the next few weeks, he eventually had to have his left eye removed in March 2016. [Id. at 81-127].

         Shortly thereafter, Roller pursued his administrative remedies and filed an administrative tort claim with the Bureau of Prisons. [R. 15-4 and 15-5]. Roller claimed, among other things, that he “received sub-standard medical treatment by staff here at the Federal Medical Center in the treatment of my left eye resulting in the loss of my left ...


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