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Kelly v. Southern Health Partners

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 30, 2017


          Honorable Aleta A. Trauger, District Judge.


          BARBARA D. HOLMES United States Magistrate Judge.

         By Order entered June 16, 2016 (Docket Entry No. 5), this prisoner civil rights action was referred to the Magistrate Judge for pretrial proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         Pending before the Court are the motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 20) filed by Defendant Southern Health Partners, Inc., and the motion for summary judgment (Docket Entry No. 37) filed by Defendants David Darnell, Rondia Felts, and Jerome Holt. For the reasons set out below, the undersigned Magistrate Judge respectfully recommends that the motions be GRANTED and this action be DISMISSED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Vincent Kelly (“Plaintiff”) filed this lawsuit pro se on April 25, 2016, in the Chancery Court for Davidson County, Tennessee. On June 15, 2016, Southern Health Partners, Inc. (“SHP”), one of the defendants, removed the lawsuit to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, asserting that Plaintiff raises a federal question.

         Plaintiff filed his lawsuit while an inmate in the Dickson County Jail in Charlotte, Tennessee, where he appears to still be confined. He alleges that his medical needs have not been properly treated at the Jail in violation of both his federal constitutional rights and state law. See Complaint (Docket Entry No. 1-1). Specifically, he alleges that, during the time period of September 29, 2015, to October 1, 2015 he received inadequate treatment from the medical staff for a painful bump and swelling on his chin and that he was not transported to a hospital or given pain medication after he became dizzy, fell, and hit his head. See Complaint at 3, and Amended Complaint (Docket Entry No. 16). He also attaches to his Complaint grievance forms from the Jail that pertain to alleged inadequate treatment for two hernias he complained about in October 2014. See Complaint at 5.

         Upon the Court's review of the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c), the Court dismissed claims against Dickson County Sheriff Jeff Bledsoe and Dickson County Mayor Bob Rial but permitted the action to proceed against SHP and Jail employees Sgt. David Darnell (“Darnell”), Cpt. Rondia Felts (“Felts”), [1] Chief Jerome Holt (“Holt”). See Order entered September 12, 2016 (Docket Entry No. 32). Defendants Darnell, Felts, and Holt filed a joint answer, see Docket Entry No. 17, and the Court entered a scheduling order providing deadlines for pretrial activity in the action. See Docket Entry No. 23. In response to a directive from the Court, Plaintiff filed additional factual allegations expounding upon the allegations set out in his pleadings. See Response to Order (Docket Entry No. 35).


         Defendant SHP moves to dismiss the claims against it under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. SHP, which has contracted to provide medical services to inmates at the Jail, argues that Plaintiff's pleadings fail to support a claim under Section 1983 because there are no factual allegations showing that a policy or custom of SHP was the cause of any of the alleged inadequate health care about which Plaintiff complains. See Memorandum in Support (Docket Entry No. 21). SHP further argues that, to the extent that Plaintiff's pleadings can be construed to allege a state law claim for medical malpractice, he has not shown his compliance with the mandatory procedural requirements of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act. Id.

         In response, Plaintiff asserts that the Jail officials have a duty to provide him with adequate medical care, and he argues the merits of his claims that he was denied adequate medical care, contending that he has met both the standards for a constitutional claim and a negligence claim. See Response (Docket Entry No. 31). He further contends that Defendant SHP “failed to oversee the people who caused the wrong, such as by hiring unqualified people Nurse Kim and Nurse Carla or failing to adequately train the staff.” Id. at 7.

         Defendant SHP replies that nothing contained in Plaintiff's response shows that he has a claim that withstands the motion to dismiss. See Docket Entry No. 36. SHP further argues that Plaintiff's response actually shows that his claim against SHP is based upon a theory of respondeat superior liability for the conduct of SHP's employees, which is a theory that does not support a constitutional claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id.

         Defendants Darnell, Felts, and Holt (hereafter referred to collectively as “Defendants”) seek summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. They contend that the undisputed facts show that the medical issues presented by Plaintiff to the staff at the Jail amounted to relatively minor medical issues, for which Plaintiff was nonetheless provided with appropriate care, and that there is no evidence supporting a claim that any Defendant acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs. See Memorandum in Support (Docket Entry No. 38) at 5-11 and 12-15. Defendants further raise the defense of qualified immunity to any damage liability. Id. at 15-18. To the extent that Defendants have been sued in their official capacities, they argue that Plaintiff has not set forth any evidence supporting such a claim, which is essentially a municipal liability claim against the Dickson County municipal government. Id. at 11-12. Defendants support their motion with a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Docket Entry No. 39) and with the affidavits of Defendant Darnell (Docket Entry No. 40-1), Defendant Felts (Docket Entry No. 40-2), Nurse Kim Judy (Docket Entry No. 40-3), and Deputy Jacob Dotson (Docket Entry No. 40-4).

         Although Plaintiff's response to the motion for summary judgment was not timely filed, the Court shall nonetheless consider it.[2] In his response, Plaintiff disputes Defendants' contention that his medical needs were not serious, asserting that his face was extremely swollen, that he was in pain, and that his dizziness caused him to fall and still persists. See Docket Entry No. 45. He argues that he should have been taken to the hospital for an examination after his fall to ensure that he did not suffer other injuries. Id. He also asserts that Defendants' supporting affidavits are made in bad faith because of this lawsuit and because Defendants refuse to admit their wrongdoing. Id. at 4. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Felts had ...

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