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Gassel v. Jones

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

March 27, 2018

CHRISTOPHER GASSEL, Plaintiff,
v.
PAUL JONES, MD, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Paul Jones, M.D.'s (“Defendant”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 54). Plaintiff has responded (Doc. 60), Defendant has replied (Doc. 61), and Plaintiff has filed a sur-reply (Doc. 62) and another memorandum in opposition (Doc. 69). For the following reasons, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion.

         I. Background

         On October 24, 2016, Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections (“MDOC”), filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). His complaint, as amended and as relevant, alleges that Defendant, a physician employed by Corizon Medical Services (“Corizon”), was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs by failing to treat him for a neck injury he suffered in November 2014 (Doc. 4).[1] More specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant refused to treat him on June 25, 2014; September 25, 2014; October 3, 2014; October 10, 2014; and November 13, 2014 (Id. at 5-6). Plaintiff asserts that-between July 16, 2014 and November 17, 2016-he self-declared medical emergencies several times because he was unable to raise his head without experiencing severe pain because “the dis[c]s of his spine [were] cutting into [his] spinal cord creating severe nerve damage” (Id. at 6). In addition, Plaintiff claims that a September 25, 2014, x-ray of his spine revealed that he urgently needed treatment, but Defendant refused to see him on September 30 (Id.). According to Plaintiff, on November 21, 2014, Corizon informed him that “if [he] wanted medical treatment to exhaust [his] grievance process” (Id.). Plaintiff underwent neck surgery in March 2015.[2] (Id. at 5). He claims that the delay in treatment caused him unnecessary pain, as well as severe and permanent nerve damage, physical disfigurement, and loss of muscle tone (Id. at 5-6). He seeks compensatory damages and an order requiring Corizon to provide him the medical treatments that his surgeon has recommended (Id. at 7).

         Defendant previously moved for summary judgment on the ground that Plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) before bringing this action (Doc. 24). Thereafter, Plaintiff also moved for summary judgment, asserting that he is entitled to judgment on the merits because the undisputed medical evidence establishes that Defendant was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs (Doc. 34). The Court denied both motions (Doc. 39). Defendant now moves for summary judgment on the ground that the Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that Defendant was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs (Doc. 54).

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         The Court may grant a motion for summary judgment if the movant shows 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); Peterson v. Kopp, 754 F.3d 594, 598 (8th Cir. 2014). A moving party bears the burden of informing the Court of the basis of its motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts demonstrating that there is a dispute as to a genuine issue of material fact, not the “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         In passing on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331. The Court's function is not to weigh the evidence but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)).

         III. Discussion

         “An inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976). Thus, “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, ' proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.” Id. at 104 (citing Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976)). Deliberate indifference claims have “both an objective and a subjective component: ‘The [plaintiff] must demonstrate (1) that [he] suffered [from] objectively serious medical needs and (2) that the prison officials actually knew of but deliberately disregarded those needs.'” Jolly v. Knudsen, 205 F.3d 1094, 1096 (8th Cir. 2000) (alterations in original) (quoting Dulany v. Carnahan, 132 F.3d 1234, 1239 (8th Cir. 1997)). In order to state a cognizable claim, however, the prisoner must allege deliberate acts or omissions; “a complaint that a physician has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid claim of medical mistreatment under the Eighth Amendment.” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106.

         In his Motion for Summary Judgement, Defendant does not directly dispute that Plaintiff suffered from objectively severe medical conditions affecting his neck and back (Doc. 55 at 3, 8). Instead, Defendant argues that the medical records reflect extensive and diligent treatment of those conditions by him and others. (Id. at 3-10.) In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that he first reported his spinal conditions on June 24, 2014 (Doc. 4 at 5). Defendant asserts that, during a chronic care appointment on December 14, 2014, Plaintiff exhibited asymmetry in his left pectoralis musculature for the first time, and that Defendant immediately referred Plaintiff for an MRI that ultimately resulted in surgery (Doc. 55 at 7; see also Doc. 55-2 at 19). Plaintiff concedes that he ultimately received spinal surgery, but argues that Defendant refused to treat his condition in the intervening months and that the delay caused him unnecessary severe pain and resulted in permanent nerve damage and physical disfigurement (Doc. 4 at 5).

         To succeed on a deliberate indifference claim premised on a delay in treatment, the prisoner “must present verifying medical evidence to show that the delay had detrimental effect.” Moots v. Lombardi, 453 F.3d 1020, 1023 (8th Cir. 2006) (citing Crowley v. Hedgepeth, 109 F.3d 500, 502 (8th Cir. 1997)). The Court concludes that the undisputed record evidence illustrates a history of consistent care provided by Defendant. Defendant's notes, corroborated by other providers, support his contention that Plaintiff did not exhibit a need for surgery before the December 14 appointment.

         Defendant examined Plaintiff numerous times between June 24 and December 14, 2014. On July 14, 2014, Defendant noted normal musculoskeletal conditions and extremities (Doc. 55-2 at 42-43). Plaintiff was cleared for normal activity (Id. at 43). On July 21, 2014, Defendant noted no abnormalities in Plaintiff's health (Id. at 38-39). On July 23, and August 6, 2014, Plaintiff sought care from Defendant regarding a hernia (Id. at 40, 55-56). Defendant notes no complaints by Plaintiff regarding his back or neck (Id. at 40, 55-56). On October 3, 2014, Defendant was scheduled to examine Plaintiff but was unable to due to time constraints (Id. at 73). The appointment was rescheduled (Id.). One week later, on October 10, 2014, Plaintiff was seen by Defendant, complaining of restless leg syndrome and neck pain (Id. at 79-81). However, Plaintiff told Defendant that he had suffered from restless leg syndrome for years, and Defendant noted normal range of motion and no atrophy or asymmetry in the neck, chest, back, or arms that might indicate an emergent medical need (Id.). During an examination on November 12, 2014, a nurse noted that Plaintiff's left pectoral and arm were softer than those on his right and that Plaintiff did not lift his head (Id. at 90). The nurse indicated that he would discuss Plaintiff's condition with Defendant (Id.). According to Defendant, he was unaware of any “atrophy or physical deformity” when, on November 13, 2014, he instructed Plaintiff to continue with his course of care until his scheduled appointments in December (Doc. 55-1 at ¶ 15). Finally, on December 14, 2014, Defendant noted that Plaintiff's musculature and nerve function was irregular and ordered an MRI (Id. at 18-20).

         On January 10, 2015, Defendant noted that Plaintiff's numbness and pain were progressing and that he was unable to do pushups (Doc. 55-2 at 99). Again, Defendant noted asymmetry in musculature and grip (Id.). Defendant referred Plaintiff to a neurosurgeon, placed him in a soft neck brace, and ordered that he be excused from work (Id.). Defendant notes that the asymmetry was new since he had last examined Plaintiff two months before (Id. at 100). On January 16, 2015, Defendant prescribed Nortriptyline for pain (Id. at 123). Defendant examined Plaintiff in the infirmary on January 19 and 20, 2015, noting no change to the treatment plan (Id. at 130, 133). On January 21, 2015, Defendant increased Plaintiff's pain ...


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