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Stewart v. Corizon Medical, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division

October 26, 2017

GLENNIS STEWART, Plaintiff,
v.
CORIZON MEDICAL, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Glennis Stewart, currently incarcerated within the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC), filed this pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She alleges that defendants violated her civil rights by being deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs in failing to provide her with adequate medical and dental care. Defendants are the MDOC medical services provider, a medical director, and a director of nursing. Defendants have filed a partial motion for summary judgment, arguing that Stewart failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before filing this suit. Because the undisputed evidence shows that Stewart did fail to exhaust administrative remedies on many of the grievances she complains of in this suit, I must grant defendants' motion for dismissal as to the unexhausted claims at the time of filing.

         Background

         Plaintiff Glennis Stewart is now incarcerated within the Missouri Department of Corrections at the Chillicothe Correctional Center. Her § 1983 complaint alleges violations of her civil rights during her imprisonment at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center (WERDCC) in Vandalia, Missouri. She contends that defendant Corizon Medical, LLC, the contracted medical provider for MDOC inmates, has a policy of denying inmates medical care in order to increase its profits. She also claims that defendants Dr. Justin Jones (Medical Director at WERDCC) and Danielle Halterman (Director of Nursing and Health Services Administrator at WERDCC) have refused to provide her the necessary treatment and medications for her medical conditions.

         According to the allegations of the complaint, Stewart had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive breast surgery performed by a MDOC surgeon in 2013, following a breast cancer diagnosis. At some point she was released from the MDOC, and while not in custody, an oncologist prescribed her Lupron injections every three months as part of her ongoing cancer care treatment. She was then re-incarcerated at WERDCC in 2015.

         Stewart has filed multiple medical grievance complaints, alleging many different medical and dental issues. She contends that defendants have denied her standard cancer care, including continuation of her Lupron injections, of which she missed three of over a nine month period. She also seeks a continuation of the medication Gabapentin for her hot flashes. Stewart claims that the breast implants used by the MDOC in her reconstructive surgery are substandard and have resulted in significant pain and leakage, which has not been properly treated. As for dental care, Stewart alleges that Corizon has an unwritten “outwait” policy for cutting dental care costs: patients who need filings are put on a wait list that is so long that the only option remaining at time of treatment is extraction of teeth, which is also the least expensive option for Corizon.

         Defendants have now moved for partial summary judgment on all claims except those involving Stewart's requests for Lupron injections. Defendants argue that Stewart failed to exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit as to all her other claims.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         The standards for summary judgment are well settled. In determining whether to grant a motion for summary judgment, the court views the facts - and any inferences from those facts - in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The movant bears the burden of establishing that (1) it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and (2) there are no genuine issues of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the movant has met this burden, however, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations in its pleadings but must, by affidavit and other evidence, set forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Where a factual record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. At the summary judgment stage, I will not weigh the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but rather I need only determine if there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act and MDOC Grievance Policy

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires a prisoner to exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit: “No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Congress's goal in enacting this statute was “to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits” by affording prison officials time to resolve the complaints internally before going to federal court. Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524-25 (2002). The PLRA requires that an inmate exhaust administrative remedies before filing a suit in federal court, and mandates dismissal if exhaustion was not completed at the time of filing. Johnson v. Jones, 340 F.3d 624, 627 (8th Cir. 2003).

         Defendants have produced uncontroverted evidence of the MDOC Offender Grievance Policy, which establishes a three-step procedure for inmates to use for filing complaints. To initiate the process, an inmate must file an Informal Resolution Request (IRR) within fifteen days of the date of the incident giving rise to the IRR. If an inmate is dissatisfied with the response to her IRR, she can file a formal grievance within seven days of receiving the response. If an inmate is also dissatisfied with the response to her formal grievance, she can file a grievance appeal within seven days of receiving that response. Only after the inmate receives a response to her appeal is the administrative grievance procedure exhausted. ECF Nos. 28-1, 2.

         Discussion

         Stewart has filed more than eight separate medical grievances through the offender grievance process at WERDCC since January 1, 2013. She filed her complaint in this case on November 18, 2016, and attached as exhibits paperwork from her prison grievance file. ECF No. 1. Later, she filed more paperwork from her grievance file as “Additional Exhibits” on two separate occasions, and as exhibits to her opposition to partial summary judgment. ECF Nos. 15, 20, 29. Stewart's own filings show that only two of her medical grievances were exhausted as of the date that she filed this lawsuit. ECF No. 1 at 6 (Chart under “V. EXHAUSTION OF LEGAL REMEDIES” shows only IRR Numbers 16-225 and 15-404 as having “GRIEVANCE APPEAL RESPONSE” dates at time of filing complaint); ECF No. 29 at 2 (Chart showing only complaint numbers ...


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