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Williamson v. Graham

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 26, 2018

Curtis Williamson
Richard Graham, Jr., et al.


         Dear Parties:

         Pending before the Court are: (1) Defendants Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (“Wexford”), Robustianno Barrera, MD, Kim Martin, RN, Janet Gilmore, PA, Peggy Mahler, PA, Mahboob Ashraf, MD, and Ava Joubert, MD's (collectively, the “Medical Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 42); and (2) Defendant Richard Graham, Jr.'s (together with the Medical Defendants, “Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 55). The Motions are ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant the Motions.

         Plaintiff Curtis Williamson is an inmate housed at Western Correctional Institution (“WCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland. (Compl. at 1, ECF No. 1).[1] He is wheel-chair dependent and suffers from chronic pain related to a back condition. (Id. at 3; Joubert Aff. ¶ 3, ECF No. 42-5). On July 7, 2017, Williamson filed a four-Count Complaint against Defendants, alleging: (1) the discontinuation of his Oxycodone medication caused him to suffer pain and experience withdrawal symptoms (Count I); (2) Mahler authorized or allowed a pharmacist to discontinue his Ultram medication, again causing him withdrawal symptoms (Count II); (3) Wexford's medical department and staff “are denying” him a post-surgery appointment (Count III); and (4) medical providers' response to his urinary incontinence forced him to live in “inhumane, unsanitary, degrading and humiliating conditions” (Count IV). (ECF Nos. 1, 30). Williamson seeks compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief. (Compl. at 3).

         On January 24, 2018, the Medical Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 42). On February 8, 2018, Williamson filed an Opposition, (ECF No. 50), to which the Medical Defendants filed a Reply on February 22, 2018, (ECF No. 54). On March 8, 2018, Graham filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 55). Williamson filed an Opposition to Graham's Motion on March 22, 2018. (ECF No. 57). To date, the Court has no record that Graham filed a Reply.

         Defendants style their Motions as motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56. A motion styled in this manner implicates the Court's discretion under Rule 12(d). See Kensington Volunteer Fire Dep't, Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D.Md. 2011), aff'd, 684 F.3d 462 (4th Cir. 2012). This Rule provides that when “matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has articulated two requirements for proper conversion of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to a Rule 56 motion: notice and a reasonable opportunity for discovery. See Greater Balt. Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor of Balt., 721 F.3d 264, 281 (4th Cir. 2013). 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. See Moret v. Harvey, 381 F.Supp.2d 458, 464 (D.Md. 2005). 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).

         Ordinarily, summary judgment is inappropriate when “the parties have not had an opportunity for reasonable discovery.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011). Yet, “the party opposing summary judgment ‘cannot complain that summary judgment was granted without discovery unless that party had 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)). To raise sufficiently the issue that more discovery is needed, the non-movant must typically file an affidavit or declaration under Rule 56(d), explaining the “specified reasons” why “it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). A Rule 56(d) affidavit is inadequate if it simply demands “discovery for the sake of discovery.” Hamilton v. Mayor of Balt., 807 F.Supp.2d 331, 342 (D.Md. 2011) (citation omitted). A Rule 56(d) request for discovery is properly denied when “the additional evidence sought for discovery would not have by itself created a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment.” Ingle ex rel. Estate of Ingle v. Yelton, 439 F.3d 191, 195 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting Strag v. Bd. of Trs., Craven Cmty. Coll., 55 F.3d 943, 953 (4th Cir. 1995)).

         Here, the parties were on notice that the Court might resolve Defendants' Motions under Rule 56 because both Graham and the Medical Defendants styled their Motions in the alternative for summary judgment and presented extra-pleading material for the Court's consideration. See Moret, 381 F.Supp.2d at 464. Accordingly, the Court treats Defendants' Motions as motions for summary judgment.

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in a light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing all justifiable inferences in that party's favor. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)). Summary judgment is proper when the movant demonstrates, through “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” 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), (c)(1)(A). Significantly, a party must be able to present the materials it cites in “a form that would be admissible in evidence, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2), and supporting affidavits and declarations “must be made on personal knowledge” and “set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

         Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to identify evidence showing there is a genuine dispute of material fact. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). The nonmovant cannot create a genuine dispute of material fact “through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another.” Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985) (citation omitted).

         A “material fact” is one that might affect the outcome of a party's case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing Hooven-Lewis v. Caldera, 249 F.3d 259, 265 (4th Cir. 2001)). Whether a fact is considered to be “material” is determined by the substantive law, and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; accord Hooven-Lewis, 249 F.3d at 265. A “genuine” dispute concerning a “material” fact arises when the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the nonmovant has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case where she has the burden of proof, “there can be ‘no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

         Williamson brings 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2018) claims predicated on allegations of improper medical care. “Deliberate indifference by prison personnel to an inmate's serious illness or injury is actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as constituting cruel and unusual punishment contravening the [E]ighth [A]mendment.” Jones v. Granger, 935 F.Supp. 670, 673 (D.Md. 1996) (quoting Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 851 (4th Cir. 1990)). An inmate asserting the constitutional violation must show that the defendant “acted with ‘deliberate indifference' (subjective) to the inmate's ‘serious medical needs' (objective).” Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)). Deliberate indifference requires a showing that a prison official “subjectively ‘knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.'” Jackson v. Lightsey, 775 F.3d 170, 178 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)). “Mere negligence or malpractice does not rise to a constitutional level.” Justice v. Green, No. JFM-11-266, 2012 WL 366875, at *8 (D.Md. Feb. 12, 2012). Nor do disagreements between an inmate and his or her medical provider “about the proper course of treatment” establish an Eighth Amendment violation. Id.

         Here, as to Count I of the Complaint, the record does not show that Defendants discontinuing Williamson's Oxycodone medication amounts to deliberate indifference. Oxycodone is a pain killer derived from opiates, which Williamson had used since October 2015. (Med. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Summ. J. [“Defs.' Mot.”] Ex. 1 at 2, ECF No. 42-4). According to Defendants' medical evidence, within four days of Williamson submitting a sick call slip, [2] Barrera evaluated Williamson, substituted his Oxycodone order with an Ultram (or Tramadol) prescription, and renewed his prescription for Gabapentin (or Neurontin), an anti-seizure medication used to treat neuropathic pain. (Id. at 2, 6-8; Joubert Aff. ¶ 4). Barrera also prescribed Cymbalta, medication used in adults to treat chronic pain and muscle or joint pain. (Joubert Aff. ¶ 4). Williamson, however, declined it. (Id.). Against this evidence, it is clear that medical providers attempted to treat Williamson's condition by providing him with alternate pain killers. To the extent Williamson is dissatisfied with the type of pain killer prescribed, such a disagreement does not provide a sufficient basis for finding a violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Justice, 2012 WL 366875, at *8.

         The Court similarly rejects Williamson's contention that he should have been admitted to the infirmary upon arriving at WCI “to be gradually weaned off of the Oxicodone [sic].” (Compl. at 4). Williamson has failed to submit any medical evidence supporting this contention. See McKeown v. Pacheko, No. 1:10-1606-RMG, 2011 WL 5104621, at *2 (D.S.C. Oct. 27, 2011) (“Although Plaintiff contends that he should have been ‘weaned off' Neurontin rather than switched to only Cymbalta, there is no medical or psychiatric support for this contention.”). Again, ...

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