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Griffith v. Correcthealth Kentucky, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland

August 30, 2017

MARY GRIFFITH, as Administratrix of the Estate of Tracy Eugene Griffith PLAINTIFF



         On February 12, 2014, Tracy Eugene Griffith was arrested for parole and probation violations and transported to the Carter County Detention Center (the “Detention Center”), where he was booked and placed into the general population. Griffith's time at the Detention Center was short-lived, he died only two days later-on February 14, 2014- as a result of pyopneumoperitoneum, perforation of duodenal ulcer, and peptic ulcer disease. This case is about the medical care Griffith received during those two days. The question is whether a reasonable jury could find that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Griffith's serious medical needs, negligent, or both.

         Plaintiff Mary Griffith, the mother and administratrix of Griffith's estate, filed a Complaint on January 28, 2015, seeking to hold a litany of defendants liable for Griffith's death. Many of these Defendants have been dismissed from this action. (Doc. # 30). Remaining are three defendants: Correcthealth Kentucky, LLC (“Correcthealth”), the private corporation who contracted with the Detention Center to provide medical services to inmates, and Michale D. Nichols and Susie Hatfield, the nurse and nurse practitioner who were responsible for Griffith's care (collectively “Defendants”). In her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts constitutional claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Defendants violated Griffith's constitutional rights to adequate medical care, as well as a wrongful-death claim. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 1, 41-56). The Court has federal-question jurisdiction under 29 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction under 29 U.S.C. § 1367.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendants Correcthealth Kentucky, LLC, Michael D. Nichols, and Susie Hatfield's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 48). The Motion is fully briefed (Docs. # 51 and 52), and ripe for review. Because Plaintiff cannot establish that the Defendants were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted as to Plaintiff's constitutional claim. However, rather than enter judgment as to her state-law claims, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, and thus dismisses Plaintiff's wrongful-death claim without prejudice.


         After being arrested for parole and probation violations, Tracy Griffith spent less than 48 hours at the Detention Center-from Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 12:03 p.m., when he was booked into the jail-until Friday, February 14, 2014 at approximately 8:00 a.m., when he died. (Doc. # 51 at 2, 3-4).

         Upon his arrival at the Detention Center, Griffith was processed by Deputy Jailer Denise Knipp. (Doc. # 48-4). As part of the intake process, Deputy Knipp conducted a medical screening, where she asked Griffith a series of health-related questions from the “Standard Medical Questions” form. Id. at 12:3-9. It included the following questions: “Do you need immediate medical attention?” “Have you recently been hospitalized or treated by a doctor?” “Do you have any type of medical problems that we should be aware of?” (Doc. # 48-12). To each of these questions, Griffith answered “No.” Id. However, Griffith answered in the affirmative to other questions, including: “Do you have a serious medical condition that will require treatment here?” and “Are you currently taking prescribed medications that may need to be continued?” Id. When questioned about his conditions, Griffith indicated that he had “Hep[atitis]-C, ” but was only able to explain his “serious medical conditions” as back-and-stomach related. (Doc. # 48-4 at 12:10-13:23). Deputy Knipp attempted to inquire further, but Griffith stated that he did not know the name of his stomach condition. Id. at 13:3-16.[1]

         After the intake process was completed, at approximately 12:07 p.m., Griffith was assigned to a general-population cell. (Doc. # 48-4 at 16:6-17:7; 18:2-5). Although Griffith complained of stomach pain during the booking process, when Deputy Knipp asked whether he needed medical attention, Griffith declined, and thus, Deputy Knipp did not refer Griffith for a medical review and did not place him in a medical-observation cell. Id. at 15:3-14; 17:8-18:1. Griffith made no other complaints that day, and did not appear to be in pain. (Doc. # 51-5 at 36:17-19).

         The next morning-at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, February 13, 2014- Griffith complained of severe abdominal pain. (Doc. # 51-4 at 7:3-21). Deputies responded to Griffith's complaints and escorted him to the medical observation area. (Docs. # 51-4 at 7:22-8:3; 51-5 at 34:15-18).

         At approximately 11:00 a.m., Michale Nichols, a registered nurse, examined Griffith. (Doc. # 48-13 at 1). During the examination, Nurse Nichols observed Griffith vomiting in a trash can, and she noted a “large amount of emesis, ” “green/brown in color, ” with “undigested food.” Id. Nurse Nichols checked Griffith's blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiration, which were all within normal parameters. Id. She also found Griffith to be “alert, ” “oriented, ” “coherent, ” and “ambulatory.” Id. With respect to his stomach pain, Griffith informed Nurse Nichols that his pain had “started a couple hours ago, ” but reported having “normal bowel movements” and no difficulty urinating. Id. Upon examination, Nurse Nichols found Griffith's abdomen was “soft” and “non-tender to touch.” Id. Nurse Nichols also noted that Griffith had active bowel sounds in all four quadrants. Id. At that time, Griffith informed Nurse Nichols of a history of pancreatitis. Id.; see also (Doc. # 48-6 at 20-22). He made no mention of ulcers or peptic ulcer disease. Id. After the examination, Nurse Nichols called Susie Hatfield, the nurse practitioner, for orders. (Doc. # 48-13). Nurse Practitioner Hatfield's clinical impression indicated possible pancreatitis, and she issued orders for Phenergan and a liquid diet. (Doc. # 48-6 at 58:6-8). Griffith was also placed in a medical-observation cell. (Doc. # 48-13 at 1).

         Nurse Nichols checked on Griffith an hour later-at 12:00 p.m.-and found him “resting in his cell.” Id. By 2:30 p.m., however, Griffith was again complaining of severe abdominal pain. Id. Accordingly, Nurse Nichols again contacted Nurse Practitioner Hatfield, and a “telemed” examination was arranged. Id. The medical records reflect that a “telemed” examination was conducted at 2:40 p.m. Id. at 2. Nurse Nichols again checked Griffith's blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiration, which were all within normal parameters. Id. Griffith's abdomen continued to be soft and non-tender to touch. Id. However, during the “telemed” examination, Griffith informed Nurse Nichols and Nurse Practitioner Hatfield that he had recently been seen in the Emergency Room at King's Daughters Medical Center “for the same problem.” Id. Accordingly, a medical-records request was signed and faxed to King's Daughters Medical Center. Id.

         After the “telemed” examination, Nurse Practitioner Hatfield ordered one gram of Tylenol for Griffith's pain and ordered Griffith's blood to be drawn for multiple tests, including: complete blood count, comprehensive metabolic profile, amylase, lipase, and a urinalysis. Id. at 2, 4; see also (Doc. # 48-6 at 46:1-47:23). In her deposition, Nurse Practitioner Hatfield explained that she ordered a complete blood count because Griffith “was complaining of abdominal pain” and “had a history of pancreatitis, ” thus, she “wanted to check and see if he had any elevation in his white blood cell count, ” which would indicate an infection. (Doc. # 48-6 at 46:14-24). Nurse Practitioner Hatfield also ordered a comprehensive metabolic profile, amylase and lipase tests, and a urinalysis to assess Griffith's pancreas, liver, and kidney function. Id. at 47:10-21.

         Within twenty minutes, Nurse Nichols had performed the urinalysis and noted that Griffith's urine was “amber in color, ” and that the urine was negative for leukocytes, nitrites, blood, and glucose. (Docs. # 48-13 at 2; 48-6 at 48:18-49:20). The urinalysis also showed unremarkable urobilinogen, protein, PH, and ketone levels, and indicated only that Griffith might have been dehydrated. (Doc. # 48-6 at 48:8-49:18). Nurse Nichols reviewed these results, as well as the medical records from King's Daughters Medical Center, with Nurse Practitioner Hatfield at 3:00 p.m. (Doc. # 48-13 at 2). The medical records listed Griffith's medications, specifically Tylenol and Hydrocodone. (Doc. # 48-6 at 56:12-20). Notably absent from the medical records received was any mention or indication that Griffith had a history of duodenal ulcers or peptic ulcer disease. Id. After this telephone call, Nurse Practitioner Hatfield ordered Nurse Nichols to re-check Griffith in one hour. Id.

         At 3:40 p.m., Nurse Nichols drew Griffith's blood for the complete blood count, comprehensive metabolic profile, and amylase and lipase tests. Id. She also re-checked Griffith's blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiration, which continued to be within normal parameters. Id. In the same entry, Nurse Nichols also noted that there were “[n]o further complaints from inmate Griffith [at] this time, ” so he was sent back to his cell to lay down. Id. Thereafter, Nurse Nichols contacted Quest Diagnostic for “STAT pick up.” Id. Within twenty minutes, Quest Diagnostic arrived “for lab pick up.” Id.

         At approximately 4:10 p.m., Nurse Nichols went off-duty and “advised” Deputy McDavid that if Griffith experienced “problems to contact Susie Hatfield” and gave permission for jail officials to “administer another dose of Tylenol 1gm [and] Phenergan 25mg … if Inmate Griffith requested.” Id. at 2-3. Nurse Nichols's notes indicate that at approximately 10:00 p.m., she “called Deputy McDavid from home to check on Inmate Griffith” and was advised that Griffith “has complained of pain [and] nausea” and had been administered one gram of Tylenol and twenty-five grams of Phenergan at approximately 7:30 p.m. Id. at 3. Nurse Nichols's notes reflect that Deputy McDavid informed her that Griffith “was resting quietly in his medical observation cell” at the time of her call, and that she instructed Deputy McDavid to inform midnight shift that they could Contact Hatfield if needed. Id. Plaintiff has called Nurse Nichols's 10:00 p.m. call into question, as the Detention Center's call logs do not reflect the call. (Doc. # 51 at 3).

         During the approximately eighteen hours that Griffith was in the medical-observation cell, jail officials performed forty-eight separate monitoring checks. (Doc. # 48-14). At the last check-at 6:45 a.m. on Friday, February 14, 2014-Griffith was observed “quiet” and “relaxed.” Id. But within an hour, sometime around 7:40 a.m., Deputy Joe Littleton, a sergeant on the midnight shift, checked on Griffith and observed that he “was a little bit pale” and that his stomach did not appear to rise or fall. (Doc. # 48-8 at 19:3-17). Because of these observations, Deputy Littleton had the cell door opened and checked Griffith's pulse. Id. at 19:17-20. When he did not feel a pulse and did not see or feel Griffith breathing, he instructed other jail officials to call 911 and commenced CPR efforts on Griffith. Id. at 19:21-20:6. Deputy Littleton performed CPR until EMS arrived. Id. at 20:11-13. At that time, Griffith was pronounced dead. Id. at 20:14-22. An autopsy later determined that Griffith died as a result of pyopneumoperitoneum, perforation of duodenal ulcer, and peptic ulcer disease.

         Defendants claim that these facts, even when construed in favor of the Plaintiff, do not create a genuine dispute as to any of Plaintiff's claims. (Doc. # 48-1 at 17). Specifically, Defendants claim that the Plaintiff has failed to prove that they were deliberately indifferent to Griffith's serious medical needs; failed to establish that Correcthealth had a policy, procedure, or custom resulting in inadequate medical care; and failed to prove that Defendants' care fell below the established standard of care and proximately caused Griffith's death. Id. In response, the Plaintiff argues that there is sufficient evidence from which a jury could find that the Defendants were deliberately indifferent, that Correcthealth is liable for establishing and executing policies that resulted in constitutional violations by its employees, and that Defendants' care fell below the standard of care and proximately caused Griffith's death. (Doc. # 51).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists where “there is sufficient evidence … for a jury to return a verdict for” the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The “moving party bears the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact.” Sigler v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 532 F.3d 469, 483 (6th Cir. 2008). Once a party files a properly supported motion for summary judgment, by either affirmatively negating an essential element of the non-moving party's claim or establishing an affirmative defense, “the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. However, “the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient.” Id. at 252.

         The Court must “accept Plaintiff's evidence as true and draw all reasonable inferences in [her] favor.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). The Court is not permitted to “make credibility determinations” or “weigh the evidence when determining whether an issue of fact remains for trial.” Id. (citing Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001)). “The ultimate question is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Back v. Nestle USA, Inc., 694 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52). If there is a dispute over facts that might affect the outcome of the case under governing law, the entry of summary judgment is precluded. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         As the moving parties, the Defendants must shoulder the burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to at least one essential element of Plaintiff's claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Assuming Defendants satisfy their burden, the Plaintiff “must-by deposition, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions on file-show specific facts that reveal a genuine issue for trial.” Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).

         B. Plaintiff's deliberate-indifference claim is dismissed with prejudice.

         “To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must set forth facts that, when construed favorably, establish (1) the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States (2) caused by a person acting under the color of state law.” Sigley v. City of Parma ...

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