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McCormick v. Henderson County Detention Center

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

January 29, 2019



          Joseph H. McKinley Jr., District Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on HCDC Defendants' Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment [DN 229], SHP Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [DN 233], and HCDC Defendants' Supplemental Motion for Summary Judgment [DN 241]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Damon McCormick is a prisoner at the Henderson County Detention Center (“HCDC”). He has filed this lawsuit against HCDC, Southern Health Partners, Inc. (“SHP”)-the company that provides medical services at HCDC-and employees of both entities for the alleged wrongs he experienced while incarcerated. McCormick states that he is disabled because he is wheelchair-bound, legally blind, and suffers from psychiatric disorders, seizures, acid reflux, and an allergy to polyester. According to his most recent Amended Complaint [DN 208], Defendants violated his constitutional rights in the following ways: failing to provide an adequate wheelchair or shower chair, removing his wheelchair, refusing to administer medicine, not providing him with a Torah, and preventing him from offering assistance to other inmates filing grievances. McCormick also alleges that Defendants are liable for failure to train and supervise, negligence, gross negligence, professional negligence, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and failure to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. HCDC Defendants and SHP Defendants request summary judgment on all claims against them.

         II. Standard of Review

         Before the Court may grant a motion for summary judgment, it must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of specifying the basis for its motion and identifying that portion of the record that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party thereafter must produce specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         Although the Court must review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show that there is some “metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the non-moving party to present specific facts showing that a genuine factual issue exists by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         III. Discussion

         A. Claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         In the first two counts of his Amended Complaint, McCormick suggests that Defendants are responsible for a variety of constitutional violations committed against him during his imprisonment at HCDC. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 gives a private right of action to individuals who suffer the violation of a Constitutional right that was committed “by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). “Color of state law” undoubtedly applies to the work of HCDC employees at the prison. Additionally, although SHP is a private entity, its employees act under color of state law while working at HCDC. See Hicks v. Frey, F.2d 1450, 1458 (6th Cir. 1993) (citing West, 487 U.S. at 54) (“[A] private entity which contracts with the state to perform a traditional state function such as providing medical services to prison inmates may be sued under § 1983 as one acting ‘under color of state law.'”)).

         1. Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs

         In the first two counts of his Complaint, McCormick alleges that Defendants have violated his constitutional rights by being “repeatedly unresponsive to the obvious medical needs of the Plaintiff, and repeatedly failed to secure for him necessary and recommended medical treatment resulting in a denial of medical care to Plaintiff as an inmate.” (Compl. ¶¶ 56 & 64.)

         “It is undisputed that the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment.” Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993). For example, under the Eighth Amendment, prison officials must “ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). If these needs are not met, “such failure may actually produce physical ‘torture or a lingering death.'” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976) (quoting In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436, 447 (1890)). For this reason, “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain' proscribed by the Eighth Amendment” and is actionable under § 1983. Id. at 104 (internal citations omitted).

         Two elements are necessary for a claim of deliberate indifference to medical needs:

[A] plaintiff must satisfy an objective component and a subjective component. The objective component is satisfied by showing a sufficiently serious condition that denial of needed medical care would result in the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain or pose a substantial risk of serious harm. To satisfy the subjective component, a plaintiff must allege and ultimately prove that the defendant was aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of harm would exist if needed care were not provided, that the defendant actually drew the inference, and that the defendant acted in disregard of that risk.

Amick v. Ohio Dep. of Rehab. & Corr., 521 Fed.Appx. 354, 358 (6th Cir. 2013) (internal citations omitted).

         a. Denial of Medical Equipment

         First, McCormick complains that “Defendants HCDC and SHP provided Plaintiff a wheelchair that was not suitable for safe use.” (Compl. ¶ 24.) Specifically, McCormick alleges that his weight greatly exceeded the maximum capacity of the wheelchair. Both parties have produced records of numerous grievances filed by McCormick pertaining to his allegedly inadequate wheelchair. According to McCormick, his request to allow him use of his home wheelchair was denied. As a result, McCormick claims that he was injured on multiple occasions when the arm of his wheelchair gave out. Defendants insist that they gave McCormick the largest wheelchair available at HCDC. In addition, HCDC records show that McCormick was allowed to have a wheelchair brought in from his house. When McCormick's home wheelchair was brought to HCDC, it was broken and there was smokeless tobacco and a syringe hidden within it. Furthermore, the wheelchair provided to McCormick was inspected by HCDC maintenance each time McCormick complained that it was broken. HCDC Maintenance never found anything to be wrong with the wheelchair and McCormick has provided no support for his claim that it “was not suitable for safe use.” (Compl. ¶ 24.)

         In addition, on several occasions, McCormick had his wheelchair removed from his cell. McCormick alleges that it is HCDC and SHP policy to remove medical devices such as wheelchairs “as a form of punishment” for inmates. (Id. ¶ 29.) Defendants concede that McCormick's wheelchair was removed from his cell but only after medical personnel became concerned that McCormick was using his wheelchair in a dangerous manner. Multiple reports indicate that McCormick engaged in unsafe use of his wheelchair by leaning back and “popping wheelies.” (Mem. in Support of HCDC Defs.' Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. [DN 299-31] at 5). McCormick denies that he was “popping wheelies” but admits that he did lean back in the chair as that was the only position from which he could see the television from his cell. During the time when McCormick did not have access to a wheelchair in his cell, he had to “scoot on his behind” to get around his cell. (Compl. ¶ 15.) However, he was still provided a wheelchair when he left his cell.

         Even viewing all evidence in a light most favorable to McCormick, the Court does not find that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to McCormick's need for an adequate wheelchair. McCormick offered no evidence that the wheelchair provided to him by HCDC was inadequate. The fact that the arm of the wheelchair may have given out does not make Defendants liable for McCormick's injury. Rather, the testimony indicates McCormick was given the largest chair available at the prison and was given the opportunity for his family to bring him a wheelchair from home.

         Furthermore, even if it is true that McCormick's wheelchair was removed from his cell, he still does not make a cognizable claim under § 1983. Prison officials may confiscate property from inmates “in order to maintain security and to prevent health and fire hazards.” Wagner v. Rees, No. 85-5637, 1985 WL 14025 at *1 (6th Cir. Nov. 8, 1985). Furthermore, “a prison doctor remains free to exercise his or her independent professional judgment and an inmate is not entitled to any particular course of treatment.” Dulany v. Carnahan, 132 F.3d 1234, 1240 (8th Cir. 1997). Although it may have been inconvenient for McCormick to scoot around his cell, his wheelchair was taken away because, as McCormick has admitted, he was leaning back in the chair which prison officials viewed as a hazard to his safety. Progress notes submitted by Defendants support their contention that “Plaintiff had been advised multiple times to refrain from [popping wheelies] because he could injure himself.” (Mem. in Support of HCDC Defs.' Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. ...

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