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Gonzalez v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

February 26, 2018

ERIBERTO GONZALEZ PLAINTIFF
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DAVID L. BUNNING, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Eriberto Gonzalez is an inmate who was recently confined at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Manchester, Kentucky. Proceeding without a lawyer, Gonzalez filed a complaint against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), challenging the sufficiency of the medical care he received at FCI-Manchester. (Doc. #1). The United States filed a motion to dismiss Gonzalez's complaint or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment (Doc. #12). Gonzalez having responded (Doc. #19), and the United States having replied (Doc. #22), this matter is ripe for review. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the United States' motion for summary judgment.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Gonzalez alleges that he experienced abdominal and colon-related problems while he was incarcerated at FCI-Manchester, and he claims that the medical staff at the prison provided him with care that fell below the applicable standard and caused him harm. (Doc. # 1) According to Gonzalez's complaint, he visited the prison's Health Services Unit on three different occasions-once in September 2014, once in October 2014, and once in November 2014. Id. at 3-8. Gonzalez indicates that, on each occasion, he complained of abdominal pain and blood in his stool. (Id.). Gonzalez states that a member of the medical staff evaluated or examined him during each visit and repeatedly directed him to use hemorrhoid cream. (Id.). Gonzalez says that he followed these instructions and purchased hemorrhoid cream from the commissary. (Id.). Nevertheless, Gonzalez claims that his symptoms continued. (Id.).

         Although Gonzalez alleges the foregoing facts in his complaint, the Government disputes his timeline and puts forth extensive evidence to support its version of events, including Gonzalez's medical records. (Doc. # 12). Those records show that the medical staff at the Health Services Unit conducted Gonzalez's initial health screening in March 2014 and then treated Gonzalez in April, May, June, September, and November of 2014. (Docs. # 12-5 at 2; #12-6 at 1-30). On those occasions, Gonzalez's health complaints were related to either a fungal infection on his foot or a rash on his hands, and the medical staff provided Gonzalez with various treatments. (Id.). Notably, Gonzalez's medical records suggest that he did not complain of abdominal pain, blood in his stool, or a similar problem at any of these appointments. (Id.). In fact, the records indicate that Gonzalez first complained of abdominal pain and blood in his stool in December 2014. (Docs. #12-5 at 2-3; #12-6 at 31-39).

         Although the parties' disagree on the exact timeline of events, they agree that Gonzalez visited the Health Services Unit on December 2, 2014. (Docs. # 1 at 8; # 1-1 at 5; # 12-6 at 31). During that visit Gonzalez complained to medical staff of “abdominal pain . . . and blood in his stool x 5 days.” (Doc. # 12-6 at 31). A Physician Assistant (PA) provided Gonzalez with care, and checked his temperature, pulse, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation level. Id. at 31-32. The PA also examined Gonzalez's abdomen and gastrointestinal system and ran a series of blood and lab tests. Id. at 33-34. The PA then ordered x-rays of Gonzalez's abdomen. Id. at 34. Although the x-rays came back negative, Gonzalez's labs were abnormal. Id. at 37. Therefore, the PA consulted with the prison's physician and decided to send Gonzalez to a local hospital emergency room. Id.

         At the hospital, Gonzalez indicated that his symptoms “started about 5 days ago” and were getting worse. (Doc. # 12-7 at 2). The emergency room staff then examined and treated Gonzalez, diagnosed him with colitis, and prescribed him multiple medications. (Doc. # 12-6 at 40). The hospital then transferred Gonzalez back to prison. Id.

         Three days later, Gonzalez returned to the Health Services Unit still complaining of abdominal pain and blood in his stool. Id. at 48. The PA and other members of the prison's medical staff provided Gonzalez with care and determined that his condition had not improved. Id. at 48-50. As a result, prison officials transferred Gonzalez back to the hospital, where medical professionals performed a colonoscopy and several blood transfusions, in addition to administering numerous antibiotic treatments. (Doc. # 12-5 at 4). Gonzalez was diagnosed with acute blood loss anemia from a lower gastrointestinal bleed caused by ulcerative colitis, and he remained at the hospital for over one month. Id.

         Gonzalez was discharged from the hospital in January 2015, and he continued to receive medical care at FCI-Manchester for a few weeks. Id. at 4-6. However, Gonzalez was then transferred to another federal prison out of state. Id. at 6. Gonzalez was hospitalized again and, eventually, in March 2015, underwent a total colectomy. Id.

         Gonzalez was not satisfied with the medical care he received from officials at FCI-Manchester and, thus, he pursued administrative remedies with the Bureau of Prisons. (Doc. # 1 at 1-2). However, Gonzalez's requests for relief were denied and, therefore, he filed this lawsuit against the United States pursuant to the FTCA. (Doc. # 1). Ultimately, Gonzalez claims that the medical staff at the prison provided him with care that fellow below the applicable standard and caused him harm, and he is seeking millions of dollars in damages. Id.

         The United States now moves to dismiss Gonzalez's complaint or, in the alternative, asks for summary judgment. (Doc. # 12-1). The Government argues that Gonzalez's medical records show that he received prompt care consistent with that of a reasonable medical practitioner, and it maintains that Gonzalez has not put forth evidence of his own that supports a contrary conclusion. Id. at 15-19. The Government also argues that Gonzalez has not made out a case against the United States because he has not put forth expert testimony to support his FTCA claim. Id. at 9-14.

         Gonzalez has filed a response to the Government's motion, as well as his own motion for summary judgment. (Docs. # 18, 19). Those submissions, however, are difficult to follow. As best as the Court can tell, Gonzalez suggests for the first time in his response that his colon problems are somehow related to his foot fungus. (Doc. # 19 at 1-2). He also spends a significant amount of time arguing about bicameralism and claiming that he is somehow being incarcerated in violation of his constitutional rights. (Doc. # 18). Gonzalez, however, does not dispute in any meaningful way the arguments and evidence put forth by the Government. Gonzalez also does not offer his own evidence in response to the Government's motion; instead, he appears to largely rely on the allegations set forth in his complaint.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Turning to the Government's dispositive motion (Doc. # 12), the Court will treat it as a motion for summary judgment because the United States has attached and relied upon documents and declarations extrinsic to the pleadings. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d); Wysocki v. Int'l Bus. Mach. Corp., 607 F.3d 1102, 1104 (6th Cir. 2010). ...


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