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Collins v. Baucom

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 11, 2019

JAQUONE LAKEEM COLLINS, #353-719, Plaintiff
v.
DR. SHARON L. BAUCOM, WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, INC., MAHBOOB ASHRAF, MD, ROBUSTIANO BARRERA, MD, [1] PEGGY MAHLER, NP, JENNIFER D. VANPELT, RN, WARDEN RICHARD J. GRAHAM, JR., DAYENA M. CORCORAN, STACIE MAST, RN, DR. ADAORDA ODUNZA, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul W. Grimm, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jaquone Lakeem Collins, representing himself in this suit, is an inmate at North Branch Correctional Institution ("NBCI"). He has filed a Complaint seeking money damages[2] and asserting civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by prison health care provider Wexford Health Sources, Inc. ("Wexford") and Wexford employees Mahboob Ashraf, M.D.; Robustiano Barrera, M.D.; nurse practitioner Peggy Mahler; and registered nurses Stacie Mast and Jennifer D. VanPelt (the "Medical Defendants").[3] Essentially, he claims the Medical Defendants violated the Eighth Amendment by disregarding his complaints of a painful inguinal hernia[4] for two years before he was provided corrective surgery. The Complaint also names various state employees: Dr. Sharon L. Baucom, chief medical director for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services ("DPSCS"); Richard J. Graham, Jr., warden of Western Correctional Institution ("WCI"); former DPSCS Commissioner Dayena M. Corcoran; and Dr. Adaora Odunza, DPSCS's director of nursing (collectively, the "State Defendants"). Collins asserts that Baucom failed to implement training concerning treatment of hernias; that Graham failed to personally address Collins's grievances concerning the problem and instead delegated investigation of the matter to an assistant warden who denied the administrative remedy procedure ("ARP") grievance; that Corcoran dismissed Collins's appeal of the ARP; and that Odunza did not implement new "ghost policies" concerning the timely treatment of hernias. See Compl. 5-6. Collins states his complaints of pain received little or no response, specifically noting that during his July 1, 2017 visit with a registered nurse he was told to submit another sick call slip to address his hernia pain with another provider. See Id. at 3. Collins also claims that he was seen by Defendant Barrera on July 10, 2017, and that Barrera ignored his complaint of pain, stating "he had somewhere to be." Id.

         In response to the Complaint, both the Medical Defendants and the State Defendants have filed motions to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment, ECF Nos. 22, 29, accompanied by affidavits and exhibits. Collins was advised of his right to respond and oppose the dispositive motions (ECF Nos. 23, 30) and has done so, ECF Nos. 27, 35, prompting a reply filed by the Medical Defendants (ECF no. 28).[5]

         The motions may be decided without a hearing. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons stated below, the Medical Defendants' motion, construed as a motion to dismiss, is granted in part and denied in part. The State Defendants' motion, likewise construed as a motion to dismiss, is granted. As for Collins, his motion to compel discovery (ECF No. 39) is denied as moot, while his motion to appoint counsel (ECF No. 36) will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 6, 2016, Collins placed a sick call request after noticing a bulge below his waist line near the pubic area. Compl. 2. The bulge was eventually diagnosed as a hernia. See Id. Collins underwent surgery for the condition on March 8, 2018. See Id. at 4. The dispute in this case centers on Collins's dissatisfaction with pain relief provided after his hernia diagnosis and the length of time between the date of diagnosis and surgical intervention, which Collins contends violated Wexford's clinical guidelines and other treatment protocols.[6] Collins also alleges that Defendant Ashraf misdiagnosed his condition as an abdominal hernia during a January 31, 2017 visit, as evidenced by the record notation and the ordering of an abdominal binder (waist band). See Compl. 3. In his opposition response, Collins contends that the conservative treatment rendered in accord with Wexford's "watch and wait" policy places prisoners at risk of "grave injury or death" and subjects them to "significant" pain while awaiting the outcome. PL's Nov. 2018 Opp'n 2, ECF No. 27-1; see Wexford Outpatient Clinical Guidelines, ECF 1-19 ("The Repair of Abdominal Wall/Inguinal Hernias"). Collins contends that he should have received surgery immediately after he first complained of pain on September 30, 2016, and further states that when surgery was recommended on October 3, 2017, he exercised his "right for a second opinion" when declining to have the surgery performed at Bon Secours Hospital. PL's Nov. 2018 Opp'n 3-4.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In their motions, Defendants seek dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. To defeat a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Although courts should construe pleadings of self-represented litigants liberally, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005).

         Where Defendants have submitted numerous exhibits with their motion, the Court may consider such evidence only if it converts the motion to one seeking summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Before converting a motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment, courts must give the nonmoving party "a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Id.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is granted if the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In assessing the motion, the district court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, "with all justifiable inferences" drawn in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The court may rely only on facts supported in the record, not simply assertions in the pleadings. Bouchat v. Bait. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law," Anderson, Ml U.S. at 248, and a dispute of material fact is "genuine" only if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists for the trier of fact to return a verdict for that party, id.

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Medical Defendants

         The Medical Defendants move for dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. They move, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56.

         Rule 12(d) gives a district court discretion to treat a motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment under certain circumstances. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Finley Lines Joint Protective Bd. Unit 200 v. Norfolk S. Corp., 109 F.3d 993, 996 (4th Cir. 1997). If, as it happens, the court opts to construe the motion as one for summary judgment, the rule requires the court to give all parties "a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Starnes v. Veeder-Root, No. 15-1002, 2017 WL 913633, at *2 (M.D. N.C. Mar. 7, 2017).

         Here, the Medical Defendants' motion expressly sought summary judgment in the alternative and was accompanied by a number of exhibits. Collins, accordingly, was on notice that the motion could be treated as a motion for summary judgment. See Tsai v. Md. Aviation, 306 Fed.Appx. 1, 4 (4th Cir. 2008). In my view, though, it remains questionable whether he has had a "reasonable opportunity" to present material in opposition to the motion.

         "[T]he term 'reasonable opportunity' requires that all parties be given 'some indication by the court that it is treating the 12(b)(6) motion as a motion for summary judgment,' with the consequent right in the opposing party to file counter affidavits or pursue reasonable discovery." Gay v. Wall, 761 F.2d 175, 177 (4th Cir. 1985) (quoting Johnson v. RAC Corp., 491 F.2d 510, 513 (4th Cir. 1974)). Collins is an inmate and is unrepresented in this case. He has filed a motion for discovery (ECF No. 39), to which he has attached a letter that states, in a single sentence, "I do not know what I'm doing." ECF No. 39-1. In his opposition to Medical Defendants' motion, he implores the Court to grant him "a fair opportunity" to take his case to trial, noting that he "is a lay person of the law" and is relying "solely on limited resources." PL's Nov. 2018 Opp'n 4. The document is unaccompanied by exhibits, save for a trio of documents he had previously enclosed along with his Complaint. See ECF Nos. 27-2 to -4. While I will not go so far as to state that I could not treat the Medical Defendants' motion as a motion for summary judgment, I am inclined under the circumstances to exercise my discretion to construe the motion solely as a motion to dismiss. To the extent, then, that the motion seeks summary judgment under Rule 56, the motion will be denied without prejudice, [7] with the understanding that the Medical Defendants may renew their motion following the conclusion of discovery.

         I will next consider the Medical Defendants' arguments for dismissing the Complaint under Rule 12(b). These are: (a) the claims against Wexford fail because the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to ยง 1983 claims, (b) the Medical Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity as state actors, and (c) the Complaint ...


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