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Brown v. Skelly

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 21, 2018

OTAGWYN BROWN, #367376 Plaintiff,


          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

         Otagwyn Brown, the self-represented plaintiff, is a State inmate currently confined at the North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland. On November 22, 2016, he filed a civil rights suit against NBCI Correctional Officers Sharon Skelly, Joshua Tart, and Justin Adams. ECF 1. He alleges, inter alia, a violation of the Eighth Amendment, on the ground that the defendants “interfere[d] with the medical care” that had been ordered for him. Id. at 4.[2] Brown seeks injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 3, 9.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF 13. The motion is supported by a Memorandum (ECF 13-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and exhibits, including declarations and medical records. ECF 13-2 to ECF 13-7. Brown opposes the Motion (ECF 19), and has filed a memorandum (ECF 19-1) (collectively, “Opposition”) and exhibits. ECF 19-2 to ECF 19-5. Defendants have replied (ECF 21, “Reply”) and submitted another declaration. ECF 21-1.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, defendants' Motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, shall be denied.

         I. Factual Background

         Brown complains that he suffers from scoliosis of the lumbar spine and degenerative changes to the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine. Due to his conditions, on February 18, 2014, a prison physician issued a medical assignment order directing that plaintiff be provided with a bottom bunk. ECF 1 at 3, 4. He states that the conditions cause him to experience symptoms such as spasms and acute pain. Brown alleges that this medical order was disregarded, and in May and June of 2014, he was required, on multiple occasions, to move to other cells, where he was assigned to a top bunk. He contends that he informed Correctional Officers Sharon Skelly, Joshua Tart, and Justin Adams of the physician's order, but they did not contact medical personnel to verify his medical status and viewed his comments as “bulls-t.” Brown asserts that on June 11, 2014, he fell as he was attempting to move from the top bunk and required emergency care at an area hospital. Id. at 5-8.

         Defendants indicate that “bottom bunks are highly sought after by inmates, ” because inmates “consider bottom bunk assignments as optimal for reasons of comfort and relative freedom of movement.” ECF 13-2 (Decl. of William Beeman, NBCI's Assistant Director of Nursing), ¶¶ 2, 5. They affirm that they became aware of a practice of NBCI inmates forging Medical Housing Assignment Forms to obtain bottom bunk assignments. ECF 13-2 (Beeman Decl.); ECF 13-3 (Skelly Decl.); ECF 13-4 (Tart Decl.); ECF 13-5 (Adams Decl.). Further, they maintain that NBCI inmates so frequently forged orders for medical assignments to bottom bunks that, in November of 2011, the Medical Department began to affix an embossed seal on their orders to distinguish authentic orders from inmate forgeries. ECF 13-2, ¶ 5. William Beeman, the Assistant Director of Nursing at NBCI, avers that Brown's medical assignment order of March 14, 2014, does not have the embossed seal. ECF 13-2, ¶ 8; see also ECF 13-2 at 4 (Housing Assignment).

         Defendants acknowledge that they escort inmates to their assigned cells, but they claim that they lack authority to assign inmates to particular cells or bunks. Moreover, they deny that they intentionally interfered with, denied, delayed contradicted, or hindered the implementation of any valid medical order for Brown to be assigned to a bottom bunk. ECF 13-3; ECF 13-4; ECF 13-5.

         According to defendants, on November 21, 2013, while Brown was housed at NBCI, he was moved from a bottom bunk to a top bunk. ECF 13-6 (Decl. of CO II Kevin Gurtler), at 6. Fourteen days later, on December 5, 2013, Brown submitted a sick-call request, reporting that on December 4, 2013, he fell when he “jumped” down from the top bunk and then slipped in water on the floor and hit his “Butt Bone on the toilet.” ECF 13-7 (medical records), at 2. On December 8, 2013, Brown was seen by Registered Nurse (“RN”) Carla Buck, who prescribed Motrin. Id. at 14. He declined to be seen on December 11, 2013. Id. at 16. On December 24, 2013, Brown was seen by RN Kristi Cortez for complaints related to seasonal allergies, as well as back and right leg discomfort attributable to his fall on December 4, 2013. Id. at 17-2, 19. Brown was provided with a muscle rub. Id. at 19.

         Plaintiff was seen by Colin Ottey, M.D., for an urgent care visit on February 14, 2014, claiming he fell from the top bunk on that date. Id. at 20. He complained of pain in his mid-lower back and reported no sensation in his lower extremities. He was admitted to the infirmary and radial examinations of the lumbar spine, sacrum, and coccyx were ordered. Id. at 20-27. Brown filed a sick-call slip on March 6, 2014, again complaining of lower back and tail bone pain, with severe spasms in his left leg since he fell from his bunk on February 14, 2014. Id. at 7. Another sick-call slip was submitted on March 15, 2014. Id. at 8.[3]

         On June 11, 2014, Brown was apparently found on the floor of his cell “with an observed fall.” Id. at 30. He was seen by a nurse, placed in a cervical collar on a back board, and transported to a hospital, where he was examined and CT and MRI tests (spinal cord) were conducted. The CT report was negative for fracture and the MRI report was negative for fracture of the spine. No contusion or hematoma was observed Brown was able to stand and take several steps; no leg weakness was detected. ECF 13-7 at 30-38. He was transported back to the prison infirmary, where he was seen by RN Schultz on June 12, 2014. Brown denied numbness or tingling of his extremities and related that he was climbing down off the top bunk when he slipped and fell and hit his back on a chair. Id. at 39-41. He was released from the infirmary to general population that same date. Id. at 42.

         Brown was seen by Ava Joubert, M.D. on June 16, 2014, requesting the continuation of his Baclofen and his assignment to a bottom bunk. The musculoskeletal examination was normal. Baclofen and Ibuprofen were to be continued until June 26, 2014, and Brown was given a written regimen sheet for back exercise. Id. at 45-46. When Brown was seen by Nurse Practitioner Janette Clark on July 22, 2014, for his complaint of back pain and request for a medical assignment, Clark found the back pain condition to be stable, as Brown indicated that he could walk up and down the stairs, exercise, kneel, put on socks and shoes, walk an unlimited distance, and perform daily activities of daily living. Clark found no indication for bottom bunk status. Id. at 47-49.

         In Brown's Opposition, supported by his own Affidavit and exhibits, Brown claims that he was assigned bottom bunk housing status by Dr. Ottey initially on February 14, 2014, due to his scoliosis and degenerative back disease. ECF 19-1 at 2, 3. He contends he was issued an authentic medical housing assignment and this was acknowledged in the defendants' own exhibits. Id. at 1. The bunk assignment was renewed by Dr. Ottey on March 14, 2014. Id. at 2. Brown has provided two copies of the medical order of March 14, 2014, in an apparent effort to show that the physician's order was properly embossed. ECF 19-4.

         Brown maintains that he informed and showed the correctional officers the physician's order and his medical status and that at no time did the defendants take action to determine if the medical assignment order (which was embossed) was falsified or forged. Moreover, he asserts that he was never accused of fraudulently forging a medical assignment nor adjudicated of doing so. ECF 19-1 at 2, 3.

         Further, Brown contends that none of the defendants followed prescribed protocol relevant to verifying a prisoner's medical status as to housing assignments, and the correctional officers substituted their own “unqualified opinion as to [his] need for the special housing assignment.” Id. Brown maintains that Ottey's medical order, which was validated by his administrative remedy procedure grievance and the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), was subject to “callous disregard” by defendants, resulting in his fall from his top bunk and his transportation to a hospital emergency room. ECF 19-1 at 3; see ECF 19-3;[4] ECF 19-5.

         Further, Brown takes issue with the defendants' asseverations that his medical order was authentic because it was not embossed, stating that “if a photocopy of the document is made the ridges of an embossed seal would not show as much.” ECF 19-1 at ...

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