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Thompson v. Opoku

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 14, 2019

CPL. C. OPOKU, et al., Defendants


          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

         Terry Thompson, a self-represented Maryland prisoner confined at the Maryland Correctional Training Center (“MCTC”), filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Charles Opoku, Aisha Haynes, Derrick Garnett, Jules Rene, Daniel Morgan, Kurt Moore, Dean Gadson, Andrew Jackson, Cpl. Lewis, and Stephen Standback, employees of the Prince George's County Detention Center (“PGCDC”) (collectively, the “Correctional Defendants”), and Saba Asrat and Corizon, Inc. (“Corizon”) (collectively, the “Medical Defendants”).[1] Plaintiff alleges that while he was a pretrial detainee at PGCDC he was assaulted by the Correctional Defendants and that the Medical Defendants denied him constitutionally adequate medical care for the resulting injuries. ECF 1.

         Defendants Gadson, Haynes, Jackson, Lewis, Moore, Morgan, Rene, and Stanback have answered the suit. ECF 18.[2] The Medical Defendants have moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (ECF 20), supported by a memorandum (ECF 20-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and exhibits. Plaintiff opposes the Motion. ECF 26; ECF 31; ECF 32; ECF 33. And, he has submitted exhibits. The Medical Defendants have replied. ECF 28; ECF 34.

         Plaintiff has filed a request for injunctive relief. ECF 35. It is opposed by the Medical Defendants. ECF 36.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the motions. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, the Medical Defendants' Motion shall be granted and plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief shall be denied.

         I. Factual Background

         A. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff was 23 years old at the relevant time. ECF 26-2 at 36. He alleges that on September 28, 2015, while housed at the Prince George's County Detention Center, he asked correctional officer Opoku for a pencil, but Opoku signaled him to “‘go away.'” ECF 1 at 7. Plaintiff next asked officer Best for a pencil, but Opoku prevented Best from providing the pencil and again told plaintiff to “‘go away'” and directed plaintiff to return to his cell. Id. As plaintiff walked away, Opoku followed him and the two exchanged words. Id. Opoku raised his left arm, hitting plaintiff's shoulder with his hand. Id. Plaintiff reacted by striking Opoku in the face with a closed fist, knocking him unconscious. Id.

         Officer Haynes pushed plaintiff into his cell and stated, “‘now they are about to come fuck you up.'” Id. Haynes left and then within one minute an emergency response team (“E.R.T.”) came to plaintiff's cell. Id. Plaintiff “stuck his hands out of the slot” in order to be handcuffed, but he was directed by an officer to “get on the ground.” Id. Plaintiff responded that he would come out of the cell and get on the ground. Id. An unidentified officer then lifted his mace in an attempt to spray plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff backed away from the cell door, which then opened, and plaintiff, who had been talking to his cellmate, “balled up to protect his face . . . .” Id. The officers then entered his cell and stomped, kicked, punched, and maced him. Id. at 7-8. Plaintiff states that the officers continued to “beat” him even after he was handcuffed, and also maced him. Id. at 8.

         After the altercation, plaintiff was escorted to the medical unit by staff and seen by Nurse Saba Asrat. Id. Plaintiff advised Asrat that his “face and back hurts like hell” but Asrat said he was “‘ok'” and he was placed in the medical unit holding cell. Id. Plaintiff states that he was bleeding and in “very bad shape.” ECF 26 at 8. Because it was the change of shift, plaintiff was placed in an isolation cell in the medical unit. ECF 1 at 8. Later that evening, plaintiff went to the glass at his cell and sought help from an unidentified nurse, telling her that he believed something was broken and he needed x-rays. ECF 26-3, ¶ 10. She responded that it was late and that she would need to call the doctor. Id.

         Later that day, when a correctional officer sought to have plaintiff moved to housing unit H-5, solitary confinement, he was seen by another nurse who was responsible for clearing him for the move. ECF 1 at 8. Plaintiff threatened to kill himself and the nurse instructed the officers to place him back into the medical isolation cell, where he was put on suicide watch. Id. Due to plaintiff's threats of self harm, plaintiff was seen by Dr. Hernandez. ECF 26-1, ¶ 11. He advised Hernandez that he was afraid of the E.R.T. officers who had threatened him, telling him they were not done with him. Id. Plaintiff also told Hernandez that he needed medical attention because his face and back hurt badly. Id. Hernandez indicated he would relay the information to medical staff. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that on September 29, 2015, while being escorted by Officer Jackson, he was placed “under a camera” and assaulted by Officers Jackson, Lewis and Standback. ECF 1 at 8. After the assault, further along in his escort, Jackson again placed plaintiff “under a camera” and assaulted him again. Id.

         On October 1, 2015, plaintiff was seen by a nurse and doctor. Id. at 9. He reported face, jaw, and back pain. Id. X rays were ordered. Id. Plaintiff was transported to the emergency room that evening. Plaintiff advised emergency room personnel that that he was in an altercation two days earlier, although the hospital record also says that the pain began four days earlier. ECF 26-2 at 35. The emergency room notes reflect that plaintiff offered no complaints, except pain to his lower neck. Id. at 36.

         Examination of plaintiff's head, eyes, and nose were all normal, with a note that the head was atraumatic. Id. at 37. Tenderness was observed over plaintiff's back. Id. He was prescribed Percocet for pain relief. Id.

         Plaintiff had a “primary diagnosis” of “spinous process fracture of C7 and T1 after assault” and received a prescription for Ibupofen. Id. at 36. The “Doctors Notes” stated, id.: “Not an unstable fracture, pain controlled and no neuro deficits or risk of further injury. Patient can wear collar for comfort and f/u with NSGY (Amini). Pain control as well.” Id. Similarly, the discharge notes indicated a “stable fracture, but can be painful.” Id. at 40. And, the discharge notes further reflect that plaintiff had facial swelling and pain. Id.

         A CT scan indicated that, in addition to the fractures at ¶ 7 and T1, “There is bilateral nasal bone fractures. There is an old left orbital wall fracture” Id. at 40.

         In his opposition to the Motion, plaintiff alleges, for the first time, that Corizon “acted [with] deliberate indifference to the need to train its employees to treat serious medical condition, such as those presented by the plaintiff during his commitment in the Upper Marlboro Detention Center.” ECF 26 at 2. Plaintiff also claims that Corizon “failed to adequately train and supervise Defendants Nurses and medical staff in treating patients...” Id. Additionally, he alleges that Corizon provides less medical care than they contract to provide in order to maximize their profits. Id. at 7.

         B. Medical Defendants' Response

         In support of their motion, the Medical Defendants submitted various exhibits, including the affidavits of Saba Asrat, R.N., and Meskerem Asresahegn, M.D., as well as relevant portions of plaintiff's medical records. ECF 20-2 (Asrat Declaration); ECF 20-3 (Asresahegn Declaration I); ECF 23-1 (medical records); ECF 34-1 (Asresahegn Declaration II).

         Asrat evaluated plaintiff on September 28, 2015, at 1:59 p.m., shortly after the first altercation with staff. ECF 20-2, ¶ 5; ECF 23-1 at 1-2. Although plaintiff's blood pressure and pulse[3] were recorded as slightly elevated, it was also noted that he was not in acute distress. Plaintiff's face was swollen, but Asrat denies that plaintiff complained of facial or back pain. She explains that she did not refer plaintiff to a higher-level medical provider because she did not believe that plaintiff had suffered a fracture or any other significant injury. ECF 20-2, ¶ 5.

         Asrat also noted that plaintiff could be admitted to the isolation cell in the medical unit for further observation, [4] and she advised plaintiff to contact medical staff if his symptoms worsened. ECF 20-2, ¶ 5.[5] In her Declaration, Asrat explains that if plaintiff later developed complaints those would have been addressed by nursing staff who performed rounds in the medical unit. Id. Further, she avers that plaintiff showed an understanding of self-care, which symptoms to report, and when to return for follow up care. Id. The record demonstrates that Asrat's interaction with plaintiff on September 28, 2015, was the only interaction between Asrat and plaintiff during the relevant time period. ECF 23-1 at 1-19.

         After the examination, Asrat discussed plaintiff's condition with Nurse Emily Bello. ECF 20-2, ¶ 5. In light of the swelling on plaintiff's face, they contacted the on-call doctor to obtain an order for Naproxen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (“NSAID”), which relieves swelling and pain. Asrat explains that as a Registered Nurse she was not authorized to order medication for plaintiff. Bello called the doctor, who ordered the Naproxen, which plaintiff received later that day. Id.

         Asrat avers that she was not aware of plaintiff's “complaints of neck and facial complaints.” ECF 20-2, ¶ 10. She denies that plaintiff complained to her of pain and did not appear to be in acute distress after the altercation of September 28, 2015. Id. Asrat specifically denies that she denied plaintiff medical treatment or otherwise disregarded or ignored his medical needs. Id., ¶ 11. She avers that she relied on her medical judgment while treating plaintiff and is not aware of any policy, custom, or practice of Corizon that harmed or injured plaintiff. Id.

         Less than two hours later, Bello observed plaintiff in the isolation cell. ECF 23-1 at 3.[6]Plaintiff's face remained swollen, but he sat calmly on his bed. Id.

         Around 10:00 p.m. that night, after plaintiff was advised that he was going to be moved to Housing Unit 5, plaintiff reported he was suicidal, and Nurse Admassu Zewdiensh placed him on suicide watch in the medical unit. ECF 23-1 at 4. No. complaints of pain were noted. Id. While plaintiff was on suicide watch on September 29, 2015 and September 30, 2015, he did not express any complaints of jaw, neck, or back pain to the various medical providers who treated him. Id. at 5-14.

         On October 1, 2015, plaintiff stated that he had difficulty chewing, his jaw and back hurt, and his left eye was blurry. Id. at 16. Dr. Asresahegn ordered x-rays of plaintiff's neck and of his face because of observed facial bruising. Id. at 19. The x-rays showed fractures of the C6 and C7 spinous processes (bony projections off the back of each vertebra at the bottom of the neck). Id. at 26; ECF 20-3, ¶ 10. No. fractures were observed in plaintiff's facial bones, nasal bones, jaw, or periorbital bones. ECF 23-1 at 23.

         Plaintiff was taken to the hospital, where a CT scan showed fractures of the C7 spinous process and a fracture of the T1 spinous process. Id. at 28-29.[7] A CT scan of plaintiff's lumbar spine showed no abnormalities. ECF 20-3, ¶ 10; ECF 23 at 30. The CT scan of plaintiff's head revealed an old fracture of the left lateral orbital wall that Dr. Asresahegn avers was not sustained as a result of the altercations. ECF 20-3, ¶ 10; ECF 23 at 31. No. acute facial injuries were observed. Id. Plaintiff was provided with cervical collar and Tylenol #3 and discharged to the PGCDC. Id.; ECF 23-1 at 32.

         The Medical Defendants maintain that although plaintiff's emergency room record referenced bilateral nasal fractures (ECF 33-1 at 5-6), the finding was erroneous. ECF 34-1, ¶ 4. They assert that neither the x-rays of October 1, 2005, nor the CT scan of plaintiff's head, showed a nasal fracture. ECF 34-1, ¶ 4. Additionally, the discharging physician did not indicate that any further treatment was required for an injury to plaintiff's nose. Lastly, Dr. Asresahegn explains that to the extent plaintiff's nose was ...

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