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Mason v. Eddy

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

August 9, 2019

MATT MASON, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
ANDREW EDDY, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SOLOMON OLIVER, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiffs Matt Mason, Jeffrey D. Mann, Edward McMillen, Robert Fleischer, and Kenneth Waybright are prisoners in the custody of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (“ODRC”). They bring this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants have violated their constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment. (Compl., ECF No. 1).

         For the reasons that follow, this action is dismissed. Plaintiffs' motion to certify claims as a class action (ECF No. 7), motion to appoint class counsel (ECF No. 6), motion for service of summons (ECF No. 11), and motion for judgment on the motion for service of summons (ECF No. 12) are moot, and denied as such. Fleischer's motion for a preliminary injunction (ECF No. 13) is denied.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Mason, Mann, McMillen, and Fleischer are confined at the Grafton Correctional Institution (“GCI”). Plaintiff Waybright is confined and the Allen Correctional Institution (“ACI”). All Plaintiffs allege that various defendants were deliberately indifferent to their serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiffs describe the seventeen defendants as follows: (1) Andrew Eddy, Chairman of the ODRC medical review committee which makes determinations concerning the health care provided to ODRC prisoners (Compl. ¶ 4); (2) Mona Parks, Chief Medical Officer for the ODRC and member of the ODRC medical review committee which makes determinations concerning the health care provided to ODRC prisoners (id. ¶ 5); (3) LaShann Eppinger, Warden GCI, who allegedly inserted himself into the denial of medical care of one or more Plaintiffs (id. ¶ 6); (4) David Hannah, GCI health care administrator, responsible for overseeing the provision of healthcare to GCI prisoners and allegedly personally responsible for the delay or denial of healthcare to Plaintiffs (id. ¶ 7); (5) Todd Houghlen, chief medical officer and primary care physician at GCI (later transferred to Lorain Correctional Institution) who allegedly denied or delayed medical care to Plaintiffs (id. ¶ 8); (6) Janice Douglas, chief medical officer and primary care physician at GCI, who allegedly denied or delayed medical care to Plaintiffs (id. ¶ 9); (7) Nurse Mitchell, GCI pharmacy nurse responsible for issuing prescribed medications to Plaintiffs (id. ¶ 10); (8) Linda Hancock, GCI nurse practitioner (id. ¶ 11); (9) Katharine Beltz, GCI nurse practitioner (id. ¶ 12); (10) GCI nurse practitioner Ajuko (id. ¶ 13); (11) Chief medical officer and primary care physician who allegedly denied or delayed medical care to prisoners at ACI (id. ¶ 14); (12) Unknown nurses who provided healthcare to prisoners at ACI (id. ¶ 15); (13) Llyod Brownlee, GCI Inspector of Institutional Services responsible for investigating institutional services and compliance with federal and state statutes and codes (id. ¶ 16); (14) Tina Costello (nee Grudzien), GCI Inspector of Institutional Services responsible for investigating institutional services and compliance with federal and state statutes and codes (later transferred to Lorain Correctional Institution) (id. ¶ 17); (15) Karen Stanforth, ODRC Assistant Chief Inspector responsible for investigation of alleged violations of state and federal laws and codes (id. ¶ 18); (16) Gary C. Mohr, Director ODRC responsible for oversight of the ODRC and ensuring compliance with federal state laws and codes, including the provision of adequate medical care (id. ¶ 19); and (17) Unknown ODRC and contract health care employees who committed any act that contributed to the delay or denial of medial treatment to any Ohio prisoner (id. ¶ 20).

         Plaintiffs allege that named and unnamed defendants are deliberately indifferent to their respective serious medical needs, as well as the serious medical needs of “similarly situated”[1] Ohio prisoners, in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment (id. ¶¶ 116-121). In the Complaint, Plaintiffs refer to and attach the internal complaints, grievances, and appeals they filed in connection with the deliberate indifference claims asserted here. (See ECF No. 1-5). Plaintiffs' allegations are summarized below. The court will provide greater detail as appropriate in the analysis of each Plaintiffs' claims.

         Mason

         Plaintiff Mason asserts claims against Hancock, Hannah, Costello, and Stanforth. Mason states he was prescribed Lisinopril high blood pressure medication by Houghlen and Douglas. He alleges that around August 24, 2017, Hancock discontinued the Lisinopril, noting in his file that someone should let him know of the medication change. Mason claims he was not told of the medication change and did not learn of it until September 2017, when his refill for Lisinopril was declined. Plaintiff filed an internal complaint on October 2, 2017, which he escalated to a grievance, then an appeal. Hannah, Costello, and Stanforth, respectively, investigated and responded Mason's claims regarding the discontinuation of Lisinopril. Mason claims their responses that he was told of the medication change (which was made because Lisinopril could not be taken with Motrin), and that he received the substitute medication (Norvasc) on August 29, 2017, are false. That said, Mason acknowledges that he received what he characterizes as an “unknown drug” on October 24, 2017, but states that he did not take the medication until he met with Beltz in December 2017. Mason alleges that during this period, he was deprived of high blood pressure medication in violation of the Eighth Amendment, which resulted in a myocardial infarction. (Compl. ¶¶ 34-40; ECF No. 1-5 at 1-2).

         Mann

         Plaintiff Mann asserts claims against Mitchell, Hannah, Brownlee, and Stanforth. Mann alleges that Beltz prescribed six medications for him, but when he went to pick up those medications on May 24, 2018, Mitchell did not provide all six medications and issued two medications that were discontinued. Mann states that when he tried to talk with Mitchell about the dispensing errors, she was rude and dismissive. Mann filed an informal complaint, grievance and appeal. In the complaint, Mann states that Mitchell's error was a “simple oversight” and that he will “get the correct meds soon” but Mitchell's behavior and attitude was unacceptable and she should be instructed “to use more caution” in dispensing medication. (ECF No. 1-5 at 4). Mann claims that when Douglas rewrote his prescriptions to clear up any confusion, Mitchell still provided only five of the six, claiming that the doctor had not ordered his arthritis pain medication, which Mann states was false and Mitchell's failure to fill the prescription was retaliatory. (Id. at 9 (“Ms. Mitchell [cannot] be allowed to pick and choose which prescriptions she fills or does not fill. I am not the only person [whose] medication has been delayed/[withheld].”)). According to Mann, Hannah, Brownlee, and Stanforth did not fully investigate or adequately respond to his complaint, grievance, or appeal, and their statement that the doctor did not order pain medication until July 17, 2018, which is why Mann did not receive the medication until July 19, 2018, is false. Mann claims that Mitchell, Brownlee, Hannah, and Stanforth's conduct with respect to his prescription medications constitutes deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. (See Compl. ¶¶ 49-60; ECF No. 1-5 at 4-9).

         McMillan

         Plaintiff McMillan asserts his claims against Houghlen, Douglas, Hannah, Eddy, Parks, and Mohr. McMillan alleges that he has a chronic knee problem, which he describes as severe and debilitating. He claims that he has “repeatedly” sought appropriate medical care from Houghlen, Douglas and Hannah. Douglas performed an X-ray of his knee, diagnosed him with mild arthritis and prescribed Mobic and a knee brace. Douglas concluded that based upon the X-ray, an orthopedic consult was not warranted. McMillan requested an MRI, but Douglas responded that “protocols” do not provide for the requested testing. McMillan asserts that Eddy, Parks, and Mohr, are “presumably” responsible for such protocols. McMillan insists that he has not been properly tested and diagnosed because of protocols in place to control costs, and that failure to perform an MRI to properly diagnosis his knee based upon cost constitutes deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. (Compl. ¶¶ 61-66; ECF No. 1-5 at 10-11).

         Fleischer

         Plaintiff Fleischer asserts claim against Douglas, Hannah, Adams, Ajuko, Brownlee, Eppinger, and Stanforth. Fleischer claims that he suffers from multiple serious medical conditions, and his deliberate indifference claims relate to: (1) dental care, (2) hypoallergenic soap, (3) infection care, and (4) HIV medication. With respect to the first, Fleischer states that all of his teeth have been removed and he cannot properly chew his food, and that he has been on a waiting list for dentures more than a year, constituting deliberate indifference to his serious medical need.

         As to the soap, Fleischer contends that he had a lifetime prescription for hypoallergenic soap which allegedly “expired” and Hannah “grudgingly” provided him with six bars, but no more was provided thereafter due to cost. Fleischer alleges that he is allergic to all of the soaps in the commissary, which cause him to experience skin outbreaks and infections, and Hannah's refusal to provide the hypoallergenic soap due to cost constitutes deliberate indifference to his health.

         Fleischer's claim regarding infection care has three components. The first relates to a spider that became infected in April 2018. Fleischer was seen by Douglas who “handed him a few antibiotics.” When the infection progressed, Fleischer was taken to the hospital for intravenous antibiotic therapy. Fleischer claims that Douglas was deliberately indifferent with respect to her initial examination and treatment of his spider bite. Then, Fleischer contracted an ear infection in September 2018 and was seen by Ajuko. Ajuko prescribed eardrops for the infection and Fleischer told Ajuko that he was allergic to the medication, but Ajuko told him to use the medication anyway. Plaintiff alleges that the medication caused swelling and pain in his ears and, when he saw Douglas a week later, she told him that the condition was not serious and gave him “a few antibiotics.” Also in September 2018, Fleischer developed a secondary infection in his chin, which Fleischer states Douglas “ignored.” A few days later on a Sunday, Fleischer “went to medical” but was “refused” examination and treatment. On Monday, he was sent to an outside hospital for treatment with IV antibiotics and surgery to remove infection from his chin bone.

         With respect to the fourth deliberate indifference issue, Fleischer received a prescription for HIV medication by Doctor Stevens, an OSU doctor who is not a defendant in this case, due to Fleischer's allergic reaction to previously prescribed anti-viral drugs. Plaintiff claims that Beltz, Hannah, and Douglas refused to provide the prescribed drug on the basis of cost, leaving him without anti-viral medication.[2] That said, Fleischer acknowledges that Douglas prescribed anti-viral medication, but he refused to take the prescribed medication because of side effects. (ECF No. 1-5 at 14-15; ECF No. 13).

         Fleischer alleges that when he complained internally regarding “this continuing and ongoing pattern” of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs by delaying and denying “proper” diagnosis and treatment of medical issues, Eppinger “interposed himself” to respond that he was being “seen by medical as needed.” Fleischer claims that Stanforth and Brownlee failed to investigate his complaint. (Compl. ¶¶ 67-88; ECF No. 1-5 at 12-17).

         Waybright

         Plaintiff Waybright asserts his claims against named and unnamed defendants, unknown nurses at ACI, ACI's chief medical officer and physician, and ODRC health care employees and contractors. Waybright alleges that he had abdominal pain early in 2016 and had to wait several weeks before being seen by the ACI Chronic Care Nurse Practitioner who discovered he had a “dangerously low” heart rate, whereupon Waybright was immediately transferred to St. Rita's hospital. At St. Rita's a urinary tract blockage was discovered and a urologist inserted a catheter and Plaintiff was transferred to OSU hospital where a pacemaker was installed. Plaintiff experienced problems with his catheter over the next year, and was transferred to St. Rita's multiple times to have his catheter replaced. Then in mid 2017, Dr. Smith at OSU ordered the catheter removed. Ultimately, Waybright needed the catheter reinstalled but ACI medical personnel were unable to do so, so he was transferred to St. Rita's to surgically install the catheter.

         Plaintiff claims that the surgery was botched, causing permanent damage and requiring additional surgeries. Waybright claims that he was not initially properly diagnosed and treated, which has resulted in pain, suffering, and lifelong complications. (Compl. ¶¶ 89-102; ECF No. 1-5 at 18-30).

         Relief sought by Plaintiffs

         For relief, Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the practices and policies of named an unnamed defendants regarding the provision of medical care to Ohio prisoners are constitutionally inadequate and demonstrate deliberate indifference to Ohio prisoners' medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiffs further seek injunction relief requiring the provision of constitutionally adequate medical care, and a recommendation by this Court to the United States Attorney for initiation of a criminal investigation regarding the failure to provide constitutionally adequate medical care. Lastly, Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages in the amount of Twelve Million Dollars. (See Compl. at 22-23).

         III. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Because Plaintiffs are pro se, the Court must liberally construe the Complaint. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (per curiam); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). That said, pro se litigants are not exempted or excused from the Federal Rules governing pleading or from dismissal for failure to state a claim. Moore v. Holbrook, 2 F.3d 697, 705 (6th Cir. 1993). Federal district courts are expressly required under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) to screen all in forma pauperis actions and to dismiss any such action that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. The standard for dismissal articulated in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) with respect to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) also governs dismissal under § 1915(e)(2)(B). Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). Therefore, in order to survive scrutiny under § 1915(e)(2)(B), a pro se complaint must set forth sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a plausible claim for relief. Anson v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 529 Fed.Appx. 558, 559 (6th Cir. 2013) (“Section 1915(e)(2)(B) authorizes dismissal if the action fails to state a plausible claim for relief or is frivolous.”).

         When determining whether Plaintiffs have stated a plausible claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, accept all factual allegations as true, and determine whether the Complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Even though a complaint need not contain “detailed” factual allegations, its “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true.” Id. at 555. The court is not “bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal citations omitted). Accordingly, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Bihn v. Fifth Third Mortg. Co., 980 F.Supp.2d 892, 897 (S.D. Ohio 2013) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         B. Section 1983 Claim for Deliberate Indifference to a Serious Medical Need

         In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiffs must allege that a person acting under color of state law deprived him of his rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). In this action, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to their serious medical needs in violation of their rights under the Eighth Amendment.

         The Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment proscribes punishment that is incompatible with “‘the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society'” and, under that standard, obligates the government to provide medical care for incarcerated prisoners. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976) (quoting Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958)). The government runs afoul of the Eighth Amendment with respect to inmate medical care when it is deliberately indifferent to a prisoner's serious medical needs. Id. at 105-06.

         In order to prevail on a deliberate indifference claim, Plaintiffs must establish two prongs consisting of an objective component and a subjective component, both of which must be satisfied. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). The objective component requires the existence of a “sufficiently serious” medical need. Id. That is, “the inmate must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of harm.” Id. (citation omitted).

         The subjective component requires an inmate to show that prison officials have a sufficiently culpable state of mind in denying him medical care. Id. In order to satisfy this culpable state of mind, the prison official “must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id. at 837. “To satisfy the subjective component, the defendant must possess a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind,' rising above negligence or even gross negligence and being ‘tantamount to intent to punish.'” Broyles v. Corr. Med. Servs., Inc., 478 Fed.Appx. 971, 975 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Horn v. Madison Cty. Fiscal Court,22 F.3d 653, 660 (6th Cir. 1994)); Cobbs v. Pramstaller,475 Fed.Appx. 575, 580 (6th Cir. 2012) (To establish subjective culpability, Plaintiff must plausibly allege that Defendants' conduct constituted a “deliberateness tantamount to an intent to punish.”) (quoting Hicks v. Frey, 992 F.2d 1450, 1455 (6th Cir. 1993) (further citation omitted)). ...


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