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Powell v. Medical Department Cuyahoga County Correctional Center

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio

May 11, 2018

CARLIN UPTON POWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
MEDICAL DEPARTMENT CUYAHOGA COUNTY CORRECTIONAL CENTER, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER [RESOLVING DOCS. 17, 18, 20, 33, 34]

          JAMES S. GWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Carlin Powell is a pre-trial detainee in the Cuyahoga County Correctional Center.[1]He has filed this lawsuit against a variety of defendants alleging they were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment and alleging they violated the Interstate Agreement on Detainers.[2] The Defendants move to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings.[3]Plaintiff Powell moves to dismiss his claim against the Medical Director of the State of Ohio.[4]

         For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS the motions to dismiss the claims against the state medical director and the Cuyahoga County Defendants'[5] motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the Doctor Defendants'[6] motion for judgment on the pleadings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Powell arrived at the Cuyahoga County Correctional Center around May 23, 2016.[7]According to his complaint, he is disabled as a result of “previous spinal surgery fusions” in his “lower back and spine” and has a history of “pulmonary embolisms (blood clots) in [his] lungs, arms[, ] and legs.”[8] Because of his medical conditions, he was transported by plane rather than car from North Carolina to Cleveland.[9]

         When he arrived at Cuyahoga Correctional, he informed authorities there of his disability.[10]He alleges that he was told by a doctor that the facility only had Motrin available for “pain or nerve treatment.”[11] Because Powell is allergic to Motrin and Cuyahoga Correctional does not provide the nerve medication he was apparently prescribed when he was in North Carolina, the Cuyahoga Correctional doctor told Powell that he “was currently going to just be out of luck.”[12]

         Powell alleges that he was assigned to sleep on a thin mattress on his cell's concrete floor.[13]As a result of his sleeping arrangements and denial of medication, he alleges that he suffered “excruciating pain.”[14]

         Powell filed a grievance over his sleeping arrangements and over the denial of medication.[15]A doctor came by his cell and recommended that he be given a medical mattress until a bottom bunk became available.[16] Nonetheless, Plaintiff Powell alleges that-even though bottom bunks became available-he was forced to remain on the floor without a medical mattress until October 2016.[17] At that point, he was moved to a bottom bunk but still did not receive any nerve medication.[18]

         Around January 2, 2017, Plaintiff Powell was moved to another cell, where he was assigned the top bunk.[19] This forced Powell to, once again, sleep on a mattress on the floor.[20]

         Despite numerous trips to the prison infirmary, Powell remained on the floor and was not given nerve medication.[21] At one point, Defendant Doctor Ujla confirmed that his sleeping arrangements could cause pain and worsen his condition.[22] Yet Powell was not moved. Instead, he was promised an X-Ray that he never received.[23] He did receive assignment to physical therapy.[24]

         Plaintiff Powell filed this lawsuit against the Medical Department of the Cuyahoga County Correctional Center, MetroHealth Systems, several doctors, Marcus Harris, the Cuyahoga County Medical Director, the Director of Cuyahoga Correctional, and the state medical director.[25] The Court dismissed his claims against the Medical Department and MetroHealth.[26]

         The Doctor Defendants and the Cuyahoga County Defendants move for judgment on the pleadings.[27] Both Plaintiff Powell and the state medical director move to dismiss the claims against the medical director because Powell is not yet a state prisoner.[28]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim or motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, accepting its allegations as true, and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of finding the complaint sufficient.[29] In order to survive a motion to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings, the complaint must allege sufficient facts “to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.”[30] While “detailed factual allegations” are unnecessary, a counter-plaintiff must provide more than a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.”[31]

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Eighth Amendment Claims

         “The Eighth Amendment forbids prison officials from ‘unnecessarily and wantonly inflicting pain' on an inmate by acting with ‘deliberate indifference' toward the inmate's serious medical needs.”[32] To state an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must allege that he suffers from a sufficiently serious medical condition and that jail personnel knew of and disregarded that need despite an excessive risk to the inmate's health or safety.[33]

         1. Remaining County Defendants

         The Court begins with the remaining claims against the Cuyahoga County Defendants. Both these defendants have been sued in their official capacities, which means that Plaintiff Powell has essentially brought a Monell claim against the County.[34] But to state a valid Monell claim, Powell must allege not only that his constitutional rights were violated but also that that violation was the result of a policy or custom of the County.[35] Powell has made no such claim here.

         Moreover, although Powell asserts an individual capacity claim against the Director of Cuyahoga Correctional, Powell does not allege that the Director participated personally in the violation of his constitutional rights. His only connection to the difficulties Powell encountered appears to be that he is the supervisor of the jail where Powell is incarcerated.[36]

         There is no § 1983 respondeat superior liability.[37] Rather, the plaintiff must show that the supervisor engaged in some “active unconstitutional behavior.”[38] “[T]he plaintiff must show that the defendant ‘at least implicitly authorized, approved, or knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct of the offending [officials].'”[39] Because Powell has failed to make such an allegation here, his individual capacity claim against the Director fails.

         The Court will therefore GRANT the Cuyahoga County Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Powell's Eighth Amendment Claim.

         2. Doctor Defendants

         The Court finds that Powell has stated a plausible Eighth Amendment claim against the Doctor Defendants in their individual capacities.

         Read in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Powell, the complaint alleges that Powell suffered from severe pain as a result of prior back surgeries and inadequate housing conditions.[40] It further alleges that, despite the fact that he had earlier been prescribed nerve and pain medications, he was not provided any medication by the Doctor Defendants.[41] Instead, they merely offered him Motrin and, upon being told that he was allergic to Motrin, gave him nothing.[42] Finally, the complaint alleges that the Doctor Defendants were aware of Plaintiff Powell's medical condition because his medical records were on file and he was flown to Cleveland rather than transported by road because of his medical situation.[43]

         At this point of the litigation, these allegations are sufficient to support a claim that Powell suffered from a serious medical condition and that the Doctor Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to that condition.[44]

         The Doctor Defendants protest that Powell has not specifically alleged which doctors on which occasions denied him treatment and that they are entitled to qualified immunity.[45] But the claim alleges that all of the doctors denied him nerve and pain medication. That is enough, especially since the Court construes pro se complaints liberally.[46] And the failure to provide a defendant with necessary medication can be a constitutional violation. So the Doctor Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity at this early stage of the case.[47]

         The Court will therefore DENY the Doctor Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the Eighth Amendment claims related to the denial of medication.

         That said, the complaint does not allege that the Doctor Defendants had any ability to change Plaintiff Powell's housing arrangements at the jail other than by making recommendations to prison authorities. It appears from the complaint that the Doctor Defendants recommended that Powell be provided a medical mattress and assigned to a bottom bunk when one became available.[48] As a result, the Court will GRANT the Doctor Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Powell's housing assignments at the jail.

         The Court will also GRANT the motion as to the official capacity claims against the Doctor Defendants. Like the official capacity claims against the Cuyahoga County Defendants, these are Monell claims.[49] They fail for the same reasons as the claims against the County.

         B. Interstate Agreement on Detainers

         Plaintiff Powell also asserts a claim under Article V(h) of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers.[50] That provision requires a state that has received a prisoner from another state to, among other things, “pay all costs of transporting, caring for, keeping, and returning the prisoner” until the prisoner is returned to his original place of incarceration.[51] Powell appears to allege that the Defendants have violated the Interstate ...


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