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Miller v. Jones

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

July 22, 2019

SHANNON LOUISE MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
JUSTIN JONES, et. al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Shannon Miller alleges that while she was an inmate in the Missouri Department of Corrections the prison medical providers were deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs. She alleges that she was in severe pain because of back and knee problems and was unable to walk; she claims that the defendant prison doctors, who are employed by defendant Corizon LLC, delayed and denied necessary treatment. She brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case against Corizon and against doctors Justin Jones, Hari Kapur, Tom Bredeman and Milton Hammerly.

         I have considered the voluminous evidence presented by the parties and will deny the doctors' summary judgment motion as to the two counts of deliberate indifference, as numerous factual disputes remain on those claims. I will, however, grant summary judgment to Corizon as no evidence has been presented showing that any policy or custom of Corizon caused plaintiff's problems. I will also grant summary judgment to all defendants on Miller's claims of denial of life's necessities, retaliation, and conspiracy. The case remains set for jury trial on September 3, 2019 in Hannibal.

         Background

         When Shannon Miller entered the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center (WERDCC) in January of 2014, she had a complicated medical history. That included a right knee injury in 1999, a partial left knee replacement in 2013, past fractures of her collarbone, leg and arm, additional surgeries because of complications of Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sciatic nerve pain, and high blood pressure. During her time at WERDCC from January 2014 to August 2017, plaintiff complained of bilateral knee pain, left leg pain, sciatic pain, and lower back pain.

         The defendants saw plaintiff numerous times and she often complained of the same symptoms, describing her pain as severe. Medical records indicate that plaintiff was wheelchair bound and had difficulty walking, even with a walker. During this two and half year period, she self-declared three medical emergencies and was seen in the infirmary numerous times.

         Plaintiff's complaints of knee pain began shortly after she arrived at WERDCC and defendant Dr. Kapur saw her on several occasions. In July 2014, an x-ray of both knees revealed that her left knee had arthritis and that small fragments of bone or cartilage were moving freely in the joint fluid. Throughout the course of her confinement, plaintiff had three x-rays of her left knee and a CT scan, each revealing a similar problem. After the first x-ray was taken, Dr. Kapur requested that plaintiff see an orthopedist to evaluate her left knee; this request was denied by defendant Dr. Bredeman. Dr. Kapur continued seeing her for complaints of knee pain for several months after that. Over a year after her first medical visit for knee pain, defendant Dr. Jones requested an orthopedic referral to evaluate that same knee, which also was denied. It was not until May 2016 that a referral was approved and plaintiff was seen by an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Krautman. Dr. Krautman concluded that plaintiff required a total left knee replacement and he performed the procedure in October 2016. The parties have a factual dispute about why plaintiff never received physical therapy after that surgery and about whose job it was to order physical therapy.

         Plaintiff claims that her back pain began in May 2015, after she slipped and fell when leaving her cell.[1] In October 2015, Dr. Jones ordered an MRI of her lower spine and requested a referral to an orthopedic surgeon. The MRI revealed a grade-1 anterior spondylolisthesis in the L6-S1 area, a left side disc protrusion, likely nerve compression, and narrowing of the space between discs. Dr. Bredeman agreed to the referral for the back pain (this was the same time he first denied the referral for knee pain). Dr. Jeff Lehman, an orthopedic surgeon, saw Miller in December 2015 and scheduled her for lower back surgery in January. Defendant Dr. Hammerly reviewed Dr. Lehman's consultation and decided that because of Miller's medical history she was not a good candidate for surgery. He stated that he needed evidence that plaintiff's lupus and rheumatoid arthritis were adequately managed, although the evidence is undisputed that she had never complained of symptoms or received treatment for either condition while at WERDCC. Her back surgery was never rescheduled although additional CT scans revealed the same diagnosis. Instead of the surgery, Dr. Hammerly ordered a nerve conduction study.

         Plaintiff has presented evidence through an expert witness that the decision to cancel her back surgery, the delay of knee surgery, and the failure to provide physical therapy were unreasonable decisions that resulted in permanent limitations. Defendants deny that any of their actions were unreasonable and argue that plaintiff cannot show any injury from the delay or lack of treatment.

         Discussion

         Summary judgment must be granted when the pleadings and proffer of evidence demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). I must view the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff (the nonmoving party) and accord her the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 379 (2007). Where sufficient evidence exists to support a factual dispute, a jury must resolve the differing versions of truth at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). A fact is considered “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id.

         To establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on deliberate indifference to serious medical needs a plaintiff must demonstrate an objectively serious medical need and that each defendant had actual knowledge of that need but deliberately disregarded it. Barton v. Taber, 908 F.3d 1119, 1124 (8th Cir. 2018). A medical need is objectively serious if it has been diagnosed by a physician or “if it is so obvious that even a layperson would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Id. (quoting Jackson v. Buckman, 756 F.3d 1060, 1065 (8th Cir. 2014)). “To demonstrate that a defendant actually knew of, but deliberately disregarded, a serious medical need, the plaintiff must establish a mental state akin to criminal recklessness: disregarding a known risk to the inmate's health.” Vaughn v. Gray, 557 F.3d 904, 908 (8th Cir. 2009). Whether a serious medical need exists and whether an official was deliberately indifferent to it are questions of fact. Schaub v. VonWald, 638 F.3d 905, 915 (8th Cir. 2011).

         When a delay in medical treatment forms the basis of the deliberate indifference claim, the objective seriousness of the deprivation is measured by the “effect of delay in treatment.” Jackson v. Riebold, 815 F.3d 1114, 1119 (8th Cir. 2016). This requires verifying medical evidence showing that the delay had a detrimental effect. Id. Further, a plaintiff can show deliberate indifference by either showing inadequate medical care or a doctor's “decision to take an easier and less efficacious course of treatment.” Langford v. Norris, 614 F.3d 445, 460 (8th Cir. 2010).

         Deliberate Indifference Claims against Doctors ...


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