United States District Court, D. Maryland
K. Bredar, United States District Judge.
Ronnie Wimbush, a Maryland prisoner incarcerated at North
Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”), seeks
money damages from Tara Cottrell, a licensed practical nurse
working at the prison, alleging she poisoned him on three
occasions by forcing him to drink non-bottled water
when taking medication. He also alleges that he is refused
medication if he insists on taking the medication by drinking
bottled water he has purchased at the commissary, and that he
has been denied treatment for the effects of poisoning, which
have caused digestive problems and left him unable to eat and
sleep. (ECF No. 1, p. 6). Wimbush seeks compensatory and punitive
damages and injunctive relief mandating Cottrell lose her
nursing license and that criminal charges be brought against
her. (Id., p. 7). Defendant Cottrell has filed a
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) which is
court finds a hearing in this matter unnecessary.
See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons
stated below, defendant Cottrell's motion for summary
judgment will be granted.
56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that
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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). 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.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in
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, 522 (4th Cir. 2003)
(alteration in original) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).
The court must “view the evidence in the light most
favorable to . . . the nonmovant, and draw all reasonable
inferences in her favor without weighing the evidence or
assessing the witnesses' credibility.” Dennis
v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 645
(4th Cir. 2002). At the same time, the court also must 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
(quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th
Cir. 1993)) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24
(1986)). This standard of review will be used to assess the
facts pertinent to this case.
age 51, suffers from chronic pain and Hepatitis C, and has
been diagnosed with a personality disorder. (ECF No. 16-3, p.
2, ¶ 4, Affidavit of Robustiano Barrera,
M.D.).According to Dr. Barrera, Wimbush's
mental history has manifested in misbehavior, including
manipulation, exaggeration, feigning illness, threatening
medical staff, and malingering for personal gain.
(Id., p. 2, ¶ 5). His self-reported
pre-incarceration history includes drug abuse, including the
use of cocaine and heroin. (See Wimbush v. Matera,
Civil Action No. SAG-11-1916 (D. Md.), ECF No. 120-3, pp.
he was known to manipulate medical personnel to obtain
certain drugs (id., ECF No. 120-5, pp. 11-12,
27-28), a “crush and float” order was issued to
ensure Wimbush's compliance with the taking of several of
his medications, including Ultram and Neurontin.(ECF No. 16-3, p.
2, ¶ 6). Medication is crushed into powder and covered
with water, then provided to the prisoner. Both Ultram and
Neurontin may be administered in this fashion without
affecting their efficacy. (Id.).
complains that Cottrell first provided him with poisoned
water to take medication on November 11, 2015 (ECF No. 1, p.
3). Cottrell, however, did not begin working at NBCI until
November 12, 2015. (ECF No. 16-4, p. 1, ¶ 4, Affidavit
of Tara Cottrell). Wimbush further alleges Cottrell provided
poisoned water on two other occasions, January 2 and 3, 2016.
(ECF No. 1, p. 4). Cottrell avers that medical administration
records show that between November 12, 2015, when Cottrell
began working at NBCI, and January 15, 2016, when Wimbush
filed his complaint, Cottrell administered crushed and
floated Ultram and Neurontin to Wimbush ten times, but not on
the dates on which Wimbush complains. (ECF No. 16-4, p. 2,
¶ 6; ECF No. 17-2, pp. 4-7). These records show that
Wimbush refused his Neurontin prescription from November 1,
2015, through November 16, 2015. (Id.).
prisoners receive medications in their cells. Cottrell and
other NBCI nurses use a cart to pass out medications by tier
and cell assignment. (ECF 16-4, p. 2, ¶¶ 7-8). The
carts contain the medications to be distributed, a pitcher
full of water, and small paper cups. (Id.). A cup of
ordinary tap water is poured from the pitcher into a cup for
each prisoner to use to consume his medication.
(Id., ¶¶ 8-9). Cottrell has attempted to
reassure Wimbush that the water is safe, but Wimbush has
threatened to kill her family. Cottrell reported the threat,
and Wimbush wrote a grievance stating Cottrell threatened his
mother. (Id., p. 3, ¶¶ 11-13). Cottrell
denies giving Wimbush toxic or contaminated water.
(Id., ¶ 14).
spoke with and/or was treated by NBCI medical personnel 18
times between mid-November, 2015, and the January 15, 2016,
filing of this lawsuit. During these contacts, he attempted
to alter the amount of water to be consumed with his
medication on one occasion (ECF No. 17-1, pp. 1-2), and
reported being poisoned by the water on January 3, 8, and 10,
2016. (ECF No. 17-1, pp. 40, 42-45). At his February 10,
2016, session with Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Lauren Beitzel, Wimbush stated his “disapproval of the
crush and float medication process for his Neurontin”
and his belief that Cottrell was using contaminated water to
prepare his medication. (ECF No. 17-1, p. 58). Beitzel noted
Wimbush was in no apparent distress. (Id.). Since
that time, Wimbush has raised no further complaints regarding
the allegedly poisoned water. (ECF No. 16-3, p. 7, ¶
complaint is best construed as a claim that Cottrell failed
to protect him from harm by forcing him to take necessary
medications using contaminated water. In essence, Wimbush is
alleging that by forcing him to choose between going without
medication or taking medication using the “crush and
float” method using tap water, Cottrell demonstrated
"deliberate indifference to serious medical needs”
resulting in “the 'unnecessary and wanton
infliction of pain, '...proscribed by the Eighth
Amendment." See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97,
104 (1976). To show deliberate indifference, Wimbush must
establish that Cottrell had actual knowledge or awareness of
an obvious risk to a serious ...