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Gordineer v. Corcoran

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

November 8, 2013

DANNY GORDINEER, #356-423, Plaintiff,
v.
DAYENA M. CORCORAN, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

ELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER, District Judge.

Danny Gordineer has filed suit against Dayena M. Corcoran, the Warden of the Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging he received improper health care when his wisdom tooth was removed. ECF 1. He has also filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. ECF 2.[1] For the reasons that follow, this case will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

I. Background

Gordineer, a Maryland prisoner, complains that he had a wisdom tooth extracted on August 14, 2013, but was not given any medication until August 16, 2013. ECF 1. He asserts that he went "a day and a half without any medicine." ECF 1 at 7. According to plaintiff, he was provided Ibuprofen on August 16, 2013, and again when he returned to the hospital on August 19 and 28, 2013, but it was ineffective. Id. at 2, 6. Gordineer states that, in reaction to the medicine, he "vomited some blood" on an unspecified date. Id. Gordineer claims that when he saw Dr. Foster and x-rays were taken on September 12, 2013, Dr. Foster informed him "that when they removed the tooth they must have hit a nerve or the main muscle.'" Id at 3. Gordineer acknowledges that he was given "Methocarbamol Robaxim"[2] twice daily at a later time. See id.

Gordineer claims that his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution were violated because he "went a day and a half without any medicine" Id. at 7. He also claims that defendant was "made aware of plaintiff's reaction to the prescribed medicine" and "never responded, showing indifference." Id. As relief, Gordineer requests compensatory damages of $20, 000 and punitive damages of $5, 000. Id.

II. Standard of Review

Gordineer filed his complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, which permit an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without prepaying the filing fee. To protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute requires a court to dismiss any case that "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1).

This court is mindful of its obligation to liberally construe the pleadings of self-represented pro se litigants, such as Gordineer. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In evaluating a pro se complaint, a plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. Id. at 93 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). Nonetheless, liberal construction does not mean that a court can ignore a clear failure in the complaint to allege facts that set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985) (stating a district court may not "conjure up questions never squarely presented"). As discussed below, the complaint fails to allege facts sufficient to state a cognizable federal claim.

III. Discussion

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of a federal constitutional right or a right secured by federal law. See Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137 (1979). Plaintiff claims violations of his rights under the Eighth Amendment, relating to his contention of inadequate medical care.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" by virtue of its guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976). Scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment is not limited to those punishments authorized by statute and imposed by a criminal judgment. De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003) ( citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297 (1991)). In order to state an Eighth Amendment claim for denial of adequate medical care, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the actions of a defendant or the failure to act amounted to deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008).

Deliberate indifference to a serious medical need requires proof that, objectively, the prisoner plaintiff was suffering from a serious medical need and that, subjectively, the prison staff were aware of the need for medical attention but failed either to provide it or to ensure that the needed care was available. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. A "serious medical need" refers to a medical need "that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention." Iko, 535 F.3d at 241 (citing Henderson v. Sheahan, 196 F.3d 839, 846 (7th Cir. 1999)).

Proof of an objectively serious medical condition, however, does not end the inquiry. The second component of proof requires "subjective recklessness" in the face of a serious medical condition. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 839.

In order to state a constitutional claim for denial of medical care, a plaintiff must demonstrate that a defendant's acts or omissions amounted to deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. In essence, the treatment rendered must be so grossly incompetent, inadequate, or excessive as to shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness. See Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 851 (4th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). "Deliberate indifference may be demonstrated by either actual intent or reckless disregard." Miltier, 896 F.2d at 851. Reckless disregard occurs when a defendant "knows of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the [defendant] 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." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. The Farmer Court added that it is enough for an Eighth Amendment claimant to show that "the official acted or failed to act despite his knowledge of a substantial ...


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