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Aurel v. Wexford Health Souces, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 18, 2016

MICH AUREL, #317239 Plaintiff,
WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, INC., et al . Defendants.


          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

         On April 28, 2016, plaintiff Mich. Aurel, [1] a self-represented inmate incarcerated at the North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”), filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking money damages and continued medical treatment from Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (“Wexford”), the private health care contractor serving inmates in the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”). ECF 1.[2] In a subsequent Order, I noted that Aurel was barred from litigating prisoner complaints in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). Nonetheless, I granted his request to proceed without the prepayment of filing fees. Aurel's case was allowed to proceed for the limited purpose of examining his medical claim regarding alleged “catastrophic” injuries he sustained from a fall in March 2016 from his upper bunk. ECF 3.[3] Wexford was ordered to file “a show cause response with regard to Aurel's medical claims concerning his back and head[.]” Id.

         Wexford filed the court-ordered response along with a motion for summary judgment, (ECF 4), a legal memorandum (ECF 4-2) (collectively, the “Motion”), and a number of exhibits. Pursuant to the dictates of Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), on August 16, 2016, the Clerk of Court informed Aurel of his right to respond to the Motion. ECF 8. Aurel filed an opposition to the Motion. ECF 9. Wexford then replied. ECF 10. Thereafter, Aurel filed another opposition (ECF 11) and his own Affidavit. ECF 12. In response, Wexford filed a motion to strike the surreply and the Affidavit. ECF 13.

         The matter is ready for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, I shall grant Wexford's motion to strike, in part, and I shall grant Wexford's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         Aurel alleges that in March of 2016, he suffered a “catastrophic” fall from a top bunk, was hospitalized, but was denied a back brace. He complains that he has lower back and head pain and has been denied medication and treatment. Moreover, Aurel complains that his sick-call requests have been destroyed. ECF 1 at 3.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). It 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.” 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 original).

         “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 Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 1042 (2004). The court should “view the evidence in the light most favorable to . . . the nonmovant, and draw all inferences in her favor without weighing the evidence or assessing the witness' credibility.” Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002); see FDIC v. Cashion, 720 F.3d 169, 173 (4th Cir. 2013).

         The district court's “function” is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Moreover, the trial court may not make credibility determinations on summary judgment. Jacobs v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 569 (4th Cir. 2015); Mercantile Peninsula Bank v. French, 499 F.3d 345, 352 (4th Cir. 2007); Black &. Decker Corp. v. United States, 436 F.3d 431, 442 (4th Cir. 2006); Dennis, 290 F.3d at 644-45. Therefore, in the face of conflicting evidence, such as competing affidavits, summary judgment is generally not appropriate, because it is the function of the fact-finder to resolve factual disputes, including matters of witness credibility.

         Nevertheless, to defeat summary judgment, conflicting evidence, if any, must give rise to a genuine dispute of material fact. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. If “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” then a dispute of material fact precludes summary judgment. Id. at 248; see Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013). On the other hand, summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence “is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 252. And, “the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Id.

         Because Aurel is self-represented, his submissions are liberally construed. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). But, the court must 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 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993), and citing Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986)).

         III. Discussion


         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); see King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.2d 206, 218 (2016). “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 medical care, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the actions of the defendants or their failure to act amounted to deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); see also Jackson v. Lightsey, 775 F.3d 170, 178 (4th Cir. 2014); 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 was aware ...

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