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Morgan v. Stansberry

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

December 11, 2019




         Defendants Nurse Kay Stansberry, [1] Nurse Bennie Richardson, Sheriff Joe Guy, and McMinn County, Tennessee (together, “Defendants”) have filed a motion for summary judgment in this pro se prisoner's civil rights action for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Doc. 40]. Upon consideration of the parties' pleadings, the summary judgment evidence, and the applicable law, the Court finds that summary judgment should be GRANTED in favor of Defendants, and this action should be DISMISSED.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges that while he was an inmate confined in the McMinn County Jail (“Jail”), Defendants improperly distributed his seizure medicine, refused to take him to the hospital or have him seen by a physician, failed to ensure medical staff were available on the weekend, placed him on the top floor of the jail, failed to fix his broken dentures or provide him with denture cream, placed him on lockdown for a week, permitted him to get into an altercation with another inmate, and verbally bullied him [Doc. 30].

         B. Factual History

         Plaintiff was confined in the Jail from April 3, 2018, until October 23, 2018 [Doc. 40-1 p. 12-13; Doc. 40-2 p. 1]. However, Plaintiff has a history with the Jail that, while itself not legally relevant to this action, sheds light on facts that are relevant in this case. On November 22, 2016, Plaintiff was arrested by the Etowah Police Department in McMinn County, Tennessee, on various charges, including burglary, theft, trespass, and vandalism [Doc. 40-2 p. 29-31; Doc. 40-3]. During the booking process, a medical questionnaire was completed in which it was noted that Plaintiff had a history of epilepsy and was on the medications Keppra and Lamictal for seizures [Doc. 40-2 p. 32; see also Doc. 40-4 p. 13]. Plaintiff has been taking these medications since approximately 2007 and has had seizures since he was a child [Doc. 40-1 p. 2-3, 8-9]. Plaintiff's seizures occurred before and during his incarceration [Id. at 8-9].

         A physical examination of Plaintiff was also completed during the booking process, in which the questionnaire findings were confirmed [Doc. 40-4 p. 11]. It was determined that Plaintiff uses a nerve stimulator wand magnet, has had previous head injuries from moving vehicle accidents, and has dentures [Id.]. The following day, on November 23, 2016, the Jail posted a notice to officers that Plaintiff had a “black square disc with him” that officers should “not take away from him” because it was a nerve stimulator wand/magnet used for seizures [Doc. 40-4 p. 9; Doc. 40-5]. It appears that Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Jail from November 22, 2016 until January 2017 [See Doc. 40-2 p. 29; Doc. 40-6 p. 22].

         Plaintiff was subsequently arrested on February 28, 2017, for indecent exposure at North Etowah Baptist Church [Doc. 40-2 p. 40-41, 46; Doc. 40-9]. Later that same year, on August 1, 2017, Plaintiff was arrested for violation of probation due to a failed drug test [Doc. 40-2 p. 17- 18; Doc. 40-10]. Plaintiff was found to be in violation of his probation on October 9, 2017, and on that date, he was reinstated to a mental health court on time served [Doc. 40-2 p. 15]. Thereafter, Plaintiff was arrested for a subsequent probation violation on April 3, 2018 [Id. p. 1- 2]. After a few months in Jail and while still incarcerated, Plaintiff was again found in violation of his probation on October 12, 2018 [Doc. 40-2 p. 9; Doc. 40-11].

         Plaintiff's stay at the Jail from April 3, 2018, until late October 26, 2018, was littered with general and medical grievances[3] [See Doc. 40-1 p. 4; Doc. 40-6; Doc. 40-8]. The legally significant grievances made during this time period can be summarized as: roughly six requests for denture cream; grievances on July 30, 2018, August 20, 2018, and September 24, 2018, stating that he was only getting his medications twice a day on the weekends instead of three times a day; several inquires and requests related to going to the hospital and/or seeing the doctor; and a few grievances regarding Correction Officer Boo Hampton (“CO Hampton”), in which Plaintiff alleged that CO Hampton verbally bullied him [Doc. 40-6; Doc. 40-8].


         Summary judgment is proper only when the pleadings and evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, illustrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A fact is deemed “material” if resolving that fact in favor of one party “might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To establish an entitlement to summary judgment, the moving party must demonstrate that the nonmoving party cannot establish an essential element of his case for which he bears the ultimate burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Moore v. Philip Morris Cos., Inc., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir. 1993).

         Once the motion is properly supported with competent evidence, the nonmovant must show that summary judgment is not appropriate by setting forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. If the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” then there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If no proof is presented, however, the Court does not presume that the nonmovant “could or would prove the necessary facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n., 497 U.S. 871, 889 (1990)).

         The very purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings and assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, Advisory Committee Note to the 1963 Amendments. Indeed, “[t]he amendment is not intended to derogate from the solemnity of the pleadings[;] [r]ather, it recognizes that despite the best efforts of counsel to make his pleadings accurate, they may be overwhelmingly contradicted by the proof available to his adversary.” Id. The non-moving party (the plaintiff in this case), must come forward with proof to support each element of his claim. The plaintiff cannot meet this burden with “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), “conclusory allegations, ” Lujan, 497 U.S. at 888, or by a mere “scintilla” of evidence, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. It would undermine the purposes of summary judgment if a party could defeat such a motion simply by “replac[ing] conclusory allegations of the complaint or answer with conclusory allegations of an affidavit.” Lujan, 497 U.S. at 888. Therefore, in considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must determine whether the non-moving party's allegations are plausible. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. (emphasis added). “[D]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief. . . [is] context-specific[, ] . . . requir[ing] the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (discussing plausibility of claim as a requirement to survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, once the court has “determined the relevant set of facts and drawn all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party to the extent supportable by the record, . . . [the ultimate decision becomes]. . . a pure question of law.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381 n.8 (2007) (emphasis in original). “When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on the motion for summary judgment.” Id. at 380.

         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).


         A. Alleged Improper Distribution of Medicine

         Plaintiff testified that he sometimes did not receive his medications on the weekends [Doc. 40-1 p. 5]. However, Plaintiff did not remember any specific days in which he did not get his medications [Id. at 50-6]. Additionally, Plaintiff testified to the fact that sometimes he would not get up to receive his medications [Doc. 40-1 p. 5; Doc. 40-13 p. 19; Doc. 14-14 p. 10-11, 14]. Furthermore, Plaintiff admitted in his deposition that the records show he received most of his medications [Doc. 40-1 p. 7]. Corrections Officer (“CO”) Buckna specifically remembered giving Plaintiff his medications and having him sign a form acknowledging same [Doc. 40-15 p. 2-3; see also Doc. 40-12 p. 2, 8-9]. CO Buckna also confirmed that almost all entries on the Medical Administrative Records (“MARs”) are signed, and, if signed, indicate that Plaintiff received his medications [Doc. 40-15 p. 6; Doc. 40-16; Doc. 40-17; Doc. 40-14 p. 3; Doc. 40-12 p. 9].

         Nurse Stansberry testified that the MARs note the medications were packaged and placed on the “med cart” for Plaintiff, and that this occurred almost one hundred percent of the time [Doc. 40-13 p. 13-14; see also Doc. 40-14 p. 5, 15]. She further testified that any blanks or discrepancies on Plaintiff's MARs may have been because officers did not have time for Plaintiff to sign for his medications, that Plaintiff may have refused his medications, or that Plaintiff may not have gotten up to receive his medications [Doc. 40-13 p. 3, 18-19; see also Doc. 40-1 p. 5; Doc. 40-14 p. 14].

         Nurses Stansberry and Richardson noted that Plaintiff signed for and therefore acknowledged that he received almost all of his doses of medicine as to the July 30, 2018, grievance [Doc. 40-13 p. 16; Doc. 40-14 p. 13; see also Docs. 40-16 p. 20-21 and 40-17 p. 11]. Furthermore, as to the September 24, 2018, grievance, Stansberry noted that Plaintiff received all of his nighttime doses of medicine in September 2018 [Doc. 40-13 p. 15; see also Doc. 40-17 p. 13]. Moreover, both nurses testified that Plaintiff missing occasional doses of his medications would not be enough to trigger a seizure in and of itself, and would not pose a substantial risk of harm to Plaintiff [Doc. 40-13 p. 17, 20; Doc. 40-14 p. 6]. Nurse Stansberry also explained that people on seizure medications, such as Plaintiff, can have break-through seizures, and that medication is merely used to prevent seizures as much as possible [Doc. 40-13 p. 17]. ...

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