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Hartley v. Southern Health Partners

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

November 13, 2019

DALLAS J. HARTLEY, JR., Plaintiff,


         Defendants Southern Health Partners (“SHP”) and Carter County, Tennessee, have filed separate motions for summary judgment in this pro se prisoner's civil rights action for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Docs. 40 & 43]. Upon consideration of the parties' pleadings, the presented evidence, and the applicable law, the Court finds that summary judgment should be GRANTED in favor of Defendants, and this action should be DISMISSED.


         On September 26, 2017, Plaintiff Dallas J. Hartley, Jr., filed the instant action alleging that Defendants Carter County, Tennessee, and its contract medical provider, SHP, violated his constitutional rights by refusing to surgically repair his hernia while he was housed at the Carter County Detention Center (“CCDC”) [Doc. 1]. After screening Plaintiff's complaint in accordance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court permitted his allegations to proceed against Defendants SHP and Carter County, Tennessee [Doc. 4].

         SHP filed its answer to Plaintiff's complaint on February 2, 2018 [Doc. 13]. Defendant Carter County filed its answer on April 20, 2018 [Doc. 17]. On August 1, 2019, SHP filed a motion for summary judgment [Doc. 40]. The following day, Carter County filed a motion for summary judgment, which it later supplemented to include an exhibit inadvertently omitted from the original motion [Docs. 43 & 46]. Plaintiff filed an initial response to SHP's statement of facts in support of its motion for summary judgment [Doc. 55], and he thereafter sought and obtained an extension of time within which to file a further response to the summary judgment motions [Docs. 56 & 64]. However, Plaintiff failed to submit a response by the November 1, 2019, deadline imposed by the Court [Doc. 64]. Therefore, this matter is ripe for review.


         Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. McLean v. 988011 Ontario Ltd, 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). Summary judgment is proper if the evidence, taken in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Hartman v. Great Seneca Fin. Corp., 569 F.3d 606, 611 (6th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The moving party has the burden of conclusively showing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Smith v. Hudson, 600 F.2d 60, 63 (6th Cir. 1979). In order to successfully oppose a motion for summary judgment, a party “‘must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial'” and “‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading.'” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 47 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968)).

         A district court cannot grant summary judgment in favor of a movant simply because the adverse party has not responded, however. Stough v. Mayville Cmty. Sch., 138 F.3d 612, 614 (6th Cir. 1998). Rather, the court is required to, at a minimum, examine the motion to ensure that the movant has met its initial burden. Id. In doing so, the court “must not overlook the possibility of evidentiary misstatements presented by the moving party.” Guarino v. Brookfield Twp. Trs., 980 F.2d 399, 407 (6th Cir. 1992). The court must “intelligently and carefully review the legitimacy of [] an unresponded-to motion, even as it refrains from actively pursuing advocacy or inventing the riposte for a silent party.” Id. In the absence of a response, however, the Court will not “sua sponte comb the record from the partisan perspective of an advocate for the non-moving party.” Id. at 410. If the court determines that the unrebutted evidence set forth by the moving party supports a conclusion that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the court will determine that the moving party has carried its burden, and “judgment shall be rendered forthwith.” Id. (alteration omitted).


         Plaintiff was arrested on June 15, 2016 on drug charges and a violation of probation and was transported to CCDC [Doc. 1 p. 8; Doc. 46-1 p. 8; Doc. 43-2]. Plaintiff, a State inmate, had previously been detained at CCDC on different occasions and was aware he could submit medical requests directly to the medical department through the facility's kiosk system [Doc. 40-1 p. 2, 10; Doc. 43-1 ¶ 10, Doc. 46-1 p. 4]. At CCDC, medical decisions are made by employees of SHP, who provide medical services to inmates at CCDC through a contract with Carter County [Doc. 43-1 ¶ 12].

         Around the end of June, Plaintiff discovered a knot on his lower stomach about the size of a quarter [Doc. 1 p. 8.]. On August 5, 2016, Hartley submitted his first formal medical request relating to his stomach issues and was evaluated by a nurse four days later on August 9, 2016 [Doc. 40-2 ¶¶ 5-8; Doc. 43-3]. The nurse noted Plaintiff had a raised area on his upper left abdomen approximately two inches in diameter and referred Plaintiff to a nurse practitioner for evaluation [Doc. 40-2 ¶ 8].

         On August 14, 2016, Plaintiff was evaluated by the nurse practitioner, who noted Plaintiff had experienced separation of the abdominal muscles but not any protrusion of the organs through the abdominal wall [Id. at ¶ 9]. An ultrasound was ordered [Id. at ¶ 11]. The nurse practitioner testified that she was authorized to transfer Plaintiff to the hospital for surgery if she believed it to be necessary, but she determined that Plaintiff's hernia was not an emergency medical condition requiring immediate surgery [Id. at ¶¶ 9-10, 12]. On August 16, 2016, the nurse practitioner gave orders to schedule an appointment with Dr. Burns at ETSU Surgery for evaluation of Plaintiff's hernia, and she ordered that Plaintiff receive Tylenol for pain relief [Id. at ¶ 12; Doc. 43-4]. During this time - in August 2016 - Plaintiff attempted to enroll in a work program at CCDC to earn good-time credits [Doc. 40-1 p. 4].

         On September 8, 2016, Plaintiff submitted medical requests complaining of constipation and was started on medication to address that issue [Doc. 40-2 ¶ 13]. On September 9, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a medical request complaining that the laxatives prescribed to him were not working and complaining of additional pain up into his chest [Id. at ¶ 14]. The same day, an abdominal x-ray was performed that showed no free air or evidence of bowel obstruction [Id.]. The radiologist's impression was constipation, so the current treatment was continued [Id.].

         An appointment was scheduled for Dr. Burns to evaluate Plaintiff, but that appointment was postponed twice by the doctor's office and then ultimately rescheduled for October 27, 2016 [Doc. 40-2 ¶¶ 15-16]. Carter County failed to transport Plaintiff to that appointment due to miscommunication with the transport order [Id. at ¶ 16]. On November 5, 2016, Plaintiff was transferred to the Unicoi County Sheriff's Department [Doc. 40-1 p. 4]. On December 7, 2016, Plaintiff was transferred back to CCDC and was on ...

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