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Howard v. Koppel

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 10, 2015

AARON K. HOWARD, #198-045 Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN KOPPEL[1] WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, INC.[2] Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

Aaron K. Howard ("Howard"), presently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Fairton, New Jersey, filed a civil rights action, as amended, alleging his serious eye condition was ignored while he was detained at the Chesapeake Detention Facility ("CDF") in Baltimore, Maryland. ECF Nos. 1 and 4. Defendant Wexford Health Sources, Inc. ("Wexford") has filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10), construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment. A hearing is not needed to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons that follow, the Motion, which is unopposed, [3] IS GRANTED.

Standard of Review

The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of Plaintiff's complaint. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This standard does not require Wexford to establish "beyond doubt" that Howard can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Id. at 563. Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the Complaint. Id. The Court need not, however, accept unsupported legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles County Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, see United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).

Defendant Wexford has styled its Motion as a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Given the exhibit and Declaration included with the Motion, it is apparent that Wexford intends to seek summary judgment. A motion styled in this manner implicates the Court's discretion under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc. v. Montgomery County, 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D. Md. 2011). Ordinarily, a court "is not to consider matters outside the pleadings or resolve factual disputes when ruling on a motion to dismiss." Bosiger v. U.S. Airways, 510 F.3d 442, 450 (4th Cir. 2007). However, under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, in its discretion, may consider matters outside of the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(d). If the court does so, "the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, " but "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). When the movant expressly captions its motion "in the alternative" as one for summary judgment, and submits matters outside the pleadings for the court's consideration, the parties are deemed to be on notice that conversion under Rule 12(d) may occur; the court "does not have an obligation to notify parties of the obvious." Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998).[4] In any event, in accordance with Roseboro, 528 F.2d at 310, Howard was informed of his right to file a response to the Motion, and the opportunity to submit affidavits, declarations, and other documentary evidence. As noted, he filed no opposition response.

A district judge has "complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider it." 5 C WRIGHT & MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 1366, at 159 (3d ed. 2004, 2011 Supp.). This discretion "should be exercised with great caution and attention to the parties" procedural rights." Id. at 149. In general, courts are guided by whether consideration of extraneous material "is likely to facilitate the disposition of the action, " and "whether discovery prior to the utilization of the summary judgment procedure" is necessary. Id. at 165-67.

Ordinarily, summary judgment is inappropriate "where the parties have not had an opportunity for reasonable discovery." E.I. de Nemours and Co. v. Kolon Industries, Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011). However, "the party opposing summary judgment cannot complain that summary judgment was granted without discovery unless that party has made an attempt to oppose the motion on the grounds that more time was needed for discovery.'" Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214, 244 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 961 (4th Cir. 1996)). Generally, to raise adequately the issue that discovery is needed, the party opposing the motion must file an affidavit or declaration pursuant to Rule 56(d) (formerly Rule 56(f)), explaining why, "for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, " without needed discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d); see Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244-45 (discussing affidavit requirement of former Rule 56(f)). Howard has not filed an affidavit under Rule 56(d). Accordingly, it is appropriate to address Defendant Wexford's Motion as a Motion for Summary Judgment.

Summary judgment is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), which provides, in part: the 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. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The non-moving party must demonstrate that there are disputes of material fact so as to preclude the award of summary judgment as a matter of law. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith, Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The Supreme Court has clarified that this does not mean that any factual dispute will defeat the motion: by its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. at 248. There is a genuine issue as to material fact "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

The Fourth Circuit has explained that the party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, but rather must" set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 525 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). However, the Court must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to.... the nonmovant, and draw all inferences in [his] favor without weighing the evidence or assessing the witness' credibility. Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 645 (4th Cir. 2002). Because Howard is self-represented, his submissions are liberally construed. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The Court must, however, also abide by the affirmative obligation of the trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial. Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526; Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323-24). The party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment "may not rest upon mere allegations or denials of [its] pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Rivanna Trawlers Unlimited v. Thompson Trawlers, Inc., 840 F.2d 236, 240 (4th Cir. 1988).

Background

Howard offers little detail with regard to his unverified claims, other than to allege that he informed the nurse on April 22, 2014, upon arrival at CDF, that he used eye drops for glaucoma. Howard states it took more than a month before he was examined by an eye doctor, and still longer to receive the eye drops, resulting in a loss of vision. Howard, states the eye drops did not resolve his glaucoma. He claims he has lost vision in the right eye and the left eye is bothering him. He seeks injunctive relief mandating he receive laser surgery to correct his eye disorder. ECF No. 1, p. 1; ECF No. 4, p. 3, ¶¶ III and IV.

Wexford, relying on an exhibit and Declaration from Howard's treating ophthalmologist, provides a substantially different version of events. In his Declaration, Dr. Michael Summerfield, M.D., avers that on April 23, 2014, Physician Assistant Morgan Woods evaluated Howard, who indicated that he wore glasses and was experiencing blurred vision. Howard did not mention he suffered from glaucoma. Woods referred Howard to an ophthalmologist. ECF No. 10-3, ¶ 2.

On May 3, 2014, Summerfield was scheduled to examine Howard. Id., ¶ 3. Howard, however, refused to attend the appointment and executed a Release of Responsibility form. Id. ; ECF No. 10-4. On May 23, 2014, an optometrist examined Howard and referred him to an ophthalmologist. ECF No. 10-3, ¶ 4.

On May 31, 2014, ophthalmologist Dr. Amy Green-Simms examined Howard at CDF. Howard informed her that the decreased vision in the right eye started at least six months earlier, causing no pain but occasional redness. Howard indicated that a health care provider at Healthcare for the Homeless told him to see an eye specialist. Howard did not follow up on that recommendation. Dr. ...


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