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Morales v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

December 8, 2014

MARIO A. MORALES, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

S. THOMAS ANDERSON, District Judge.

This is a negligence action brought against the United States of America in accordance with the Court's federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Plaintiff Mario A. Morales claims that while he was in custody of the United States Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") at the Federal Correctional Institution in Memphis, Tennessee ("FCI Memphis"), the BOP breached a duty of care by failing to protect him from another prisoner. Thus, Morales argued, the United States is liable under 18 U.S.C. § 4042 and the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"). The Court tried this civil action without a jury on August 19, 2014. Following the trial, the parties filed proposed findings of facts and conclusions of law. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52 requires that "[i]n an action tried on the facts without a jury..., the court must find the facts specially and state its conclusions of law separately."[1]

FINDINGS OF FACT

I. The June 8, 2006 Attack

Plaintiff Mario Morales was in the custody of the BOP at FCI Memphis from spring 2004 to August 2006. In late 2004 or early 2005, Mr. Morales became cell mates with Mr. Ignacio Rodriguez. In December of 2005, Mr. Rodriguez was placed in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") for possession of a knife, and Mr. Morales, who also spent time in the SHU, requested that Mr. Rodriguez be moved to another cell. Upon Mr. Morales's release into general population, he witnessed an altercation in the prison's recreation yard with Mr. Rodriguez and another inmate.[2] After the altercation, Mr. Morales, Mr. Rodriguez, and the other inmates involved were placed in SHU pending an investigation.

While in the SHU, inmates may leave their cells and go to the recreation area, or "rec cage, " for one hour a day, five days a week. At the relevant time, Mr. Morales and Mr. Rodriguez were on "keep-away" status, meaning that the two inmates were to have no physical contact with each other and were not to be placed in the rec cage together. FCI Memphis policy required SHU officers to transport inmates in pairs. On the morning of June 8, 2006, SHU Officer Ann Simon escorted Mr. Morales from his cell to the rec cage alone. FCI Memphis policy also required a pat-down search and handheld-metal-detector search of inmates before they entered the rec cage. Officer Simon only performed a pat-down search of Mr. Morales. She did not check to determine if Mr. Morales and Mr. Rodriguez were in keep-away status. She then escorted and placed Mr. Rodriguez into the rec cage with Mr. Morales. It is unclear whether Officer Simon performed a search of Mr. Rodriquez, but she did not ensure that there was an officer observing the rec cage. She then walked away.[3]

After Officer Simon left the rec area, Mr. Rodriguez attacked Mr. Morales with a 7-inch metal weapon, similar to an ice pick. Mr. Rodriguez stabbed Mr. Morales 14 times with the ice pick-in the arms, shoulders, and abdomen. Mr. Morales attempted to evade Mr. Rodriguez and feared for his life. After SHU officers finally arrived at the rec cage, they entered the area and separated Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Morales. An investigation later determined that Mr. Rodriguez was the attacker.

II. Treatment of Physical Injuries

SHU officers then transported Mr. Morales to the SHU Medical Triage room, where he was treated by the medical staff. Mr. Morales received six or seven wounds on his left arm, which were the most severe. A Registered Nurse cleaned the scratches and puncture wounds with soap and water, administered a tetanus shot, and indicated that follow-up in the clinic would be "as needed." The medical staff described Mr. Morales's wounds as "superficial" and "scant, " and they did not run any tests to determine the depth of the punctures.

By June 12, 2006, Mr. Morales began experiencing problems opening and closing his left hand and numbness and tingling in his left arm. That day, Dr. Nahem Naimey, the senior medical officer at FCI Memphis, examined Mr. Morales and determined that the deep nerves serving muscles in Mr. Morales's left arm were intact. He later recommended that Mr. Morales receive an electromyogram ("EMG") of his left arm from a specialist in order to diagnose any possible nerve damage. Dr. Naimey's recommendation was forwarded to the BOP's utilization review committee, which approved the recommendation on July 20, 2006. In the meantime, a physician's assistant at FCI Memphis examined Mr. Morales on June 23 and July 19 to address his continued complaints of numbness. Notes from this meeting indicate that Mr. Morales had full range of motion in the left arm and good grip in his left hand. A physician's assistant again saw Mr. Morales on August 16.

After his last visit with the physician's assistant on August 16, Mr. Morales was transferred to the Federal Correction Institution in Edgefield, South Carolina ("FCI Edgefield").[4] Although the BOP's utilization review committee approved an EMG for Mr. Morales on July 20, 2006, Mr. Morales did not receive an EMG until March 29, 2007, at the Aiken Regional Medical Center in Aiken, South Carolina. There, Dr. Khaled Kamel performed an EMG. An EMG is composed of two parts: nerve conduction, which tests the motor nerves, and a needle test, which determines if muscles have been affected by damage to the nerve controlling the muscle. Dr. Kamel conducted the test and determined that there was "significant damage" to Mr. Morales's ulnar sensory component and ulnar digital component, which can lead to a loss of function. When asked in his deposition whether the amount of time between the injury and the EMG was too long, Dr. Kamel only responded that there were

too many variables to answer that for certainty.... [A]s far as how far after the injury are you supposed to do this test, it really varies depending on a case-by-case basis.... But... I would say, you know, the sooner obviously the better just to find out what direct damage resulted, yes.[5]

Mr. Morales continues to suffer from numbness and loss of feeling in his left hand, although Dr. Kamel also testified that, ...


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