United States District Court, D. Maryland
TYRONE M. COATES, Plaintiff
DPSCS, OFF. ATTY. GEN., WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, INC., MICHAEL SUMMERFIELD, M.D., HOLLY PIERCE, N. FRANK BISHOP, Warden Defendants
J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Coates is an inmate at North Branch Correctional Institution
(NBCI). In this Complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, Coates alleges that he has received improper medical
care. ECF No. 1 at pp. 2-3. Pending before the Court are
Defendants' dispositive motions: Michael Summerfield M.D.
filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction (ECF No.
17); Warden Bishop and the Department of Public Safety and
Correctional Services (DPSCS), collectively “the State
Defendants, ” filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the
Alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 27); and Wexford
Health Sources, Inc. (Wexford) and Nurse Practitioner, Holly
Pierce, collectively “the Medical Defendants, ”
filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary
Judgment. ECF No. 29. Pursuant to the dictates of
Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975),
Coates was notified of Defendants' Motions and that he
was entitled to file oppositions with supporting materials,
including affidavits, declarations and other records. ECF
Nos. 18, 28, 30. Coates filed an Opposition to
Summerfield's Motion to Dismiss. ECF 22. The State and
Medical Defendants' dispositive Motions are unopposed.
Also pending is Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of
Counsel, which will be denied without prejudice. ECF No. 40.
reviewing the submissions, the Court finds that no hearing is
necessary to resolve the pending motions. See D. Md.
Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the State
and Medical Defendants' Motions (ECF Nos. 27, 29),
treated as Motion for Summary Judgment, will be GRANTED.
Summerfield's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 17) will be
GRANTED. Because Summerfield's dispositive motion
addresses solely Coates' negligence and malpractice
claims, Summerfield will be granted twenty-eight days to file
a response to Coates' Eighth Amendment claim of
inadequate medical care.
is a 36 year old man with a medical history for keratoconus
and acute keratoconus hydrops. Decl. of Asresahegn Getachew,
M.D., ECF No. 29-5 ¶ 5. Medical Rec. ECF No. 27-4 at 2,
4, 13, 113-114. Keratoconus is a progressive eye disease
which causes normally round corneas to thin and bulge into a
conical shape to distort vision. The cause of the condition
is unknown and there is no cure, although progression of the
disease can sometimes be delayed. Keratoconus is generally
treated with glasses, contact lenses, and, as a last resort
surgery. Getachew Decl.., ECF No. 29-5 ¶5. Coates is on
a waiting list for corneal transplants. ECF No. 29-5 ¶9.
filed this Complaint on October 24, 2018, alleging that on
December 18, 2015, he filed an Administrative Remedy
Procedure (ARP) request because he needed surgery on his left
eye. He states his left eye has a contact lens and his
“right eye was in constant pain.” Id. at
2. He explains that in 2010, he went to the Johns Hopkins
Hospital Wilmer Eye Clinic where he was diagnosed with severe
keratoconus and recommended for a corneal transplant.
Id. He claims Dr. Summerfield refused him the
surgery multiple times and faults Warden Bishop for failing
to intervene. Id; see also ECF No. 6 at 1. Coates
requests injunctive relief (surgery and medical treatment)
and punitive and compensatory damages against Defendants in
their official capacities for “negligence and
indifference of DPSCS staff, and Wexford Health Sources and
employees” for his pain and suffering since October
2012. ECF No. 1 at 3.
November 30, 2018, Coates supplemented the Complaint, adding
Holly Pierce as a defendant and other details in support of
his claims. ECF No. 6. He alleges that Summerfield denied him
surgery “on multiple occasions” because he has
“somewhat of a good eye because his left eye has a
contact” and he gets into too many fights in prison.
ECF No. 6 at 1. Coates faults Pierce for refusing to order
him pain medications, to see him at sick call, and to order
his surgery. Id. He alleges Pierce accused him of
seeking medication “to get high.”
faults Bishop because “he knew about my
situation.” Bishop found Coates' ARP about
Summerfield meritorious in part, but later amended the
response and dismissed it. Coates claims Bishop and
DPSCS' actions fail to comply with the
“contract” to take care of his needs under
Department of Correction (DOC) policy. Id. at 2.
Coates asserts Wexford is aware of his condition, hires
unqualified providers, and fails to hol[d] up to their
10, 2019, Coates filed a letter asking for appointment of
counsel because he “can't see” and is relying
on an inmate to read his legal mail.”. ECF 40. Coates
also states he has an eighth grade education lacks
familiarity with the law. Id. A pro se prisoner does
not have a general right to counsel in a § 1983
action.” Evans v. Kuplinski, 713 Fed.Appx.
167, 170 (4th Cir. 2017). A federal district court
judge's power to appoint counsel under 28 U.S.C.§
1915(e)(1) is discretionary, and an indigent claimant must
present “exceptional circumstances.” Miller
v. Simmons, 814 F.2d 962, 966 (4th Cir. 1987).
Exceptional circumstances exist where a “pro se
litigant has a colorable claim but lacks the capacity to
present it.” See Whisenant v. Yuam, 739 F.2d
160, 163 (4th Cir. 1984), abrogated on other grounds by
Mallard v. U.S. Dist. Ct., 490 U.S. 296, 298 (1989)
(holding that 28 U.S.C. § 1915 does not authorize
compulsory appointment of counsel).
far, Coates has pursued his claims through the administrative
process, adequately presented his claims in his Complaint and
supplement, filed an opposition and motion for a default
judgment, and written to inform the Court that he had not
received a copy of the Medical Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss or, in the Alternative Motion for Summary Judgment.
ECF No. 22, 27-5, 32, 33, 35. He acknowledges that he has
secured assistance for reading legal documents, and his lack
of familiarity with the law is insufficient alone to warrant
appointment of counsel. Because his case against Dr.
Summerfield is continuing, the Court will deny Coates'
Motion for Appointment of Counsel without prejudice subject
to reconsideration after Summerfield files his response to
Coates' Eighth Amendment claim.
Civ. P. 12(b)(1) governs motions to dismiss for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction. See Khoury v. Meserve,
628 F.Supp.2d 600, 606 (D. Md. 2003), aff'd, 85 Fed.Appx.
960 (4th Cir. 2004). Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears
the burden of proving, by a preponderance of evidence, the
existence of subject matter jurisdiction. See Demetres v.
East West Const., Inc., 776 F.3d 271, 272 (4th Cir.
2015); see also Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d
642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). A challenge to subject matter
jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) may proceed “in one of
two ways”: either a facial challenge, asserting that
the allegations pleaded in the complaint are insufficient to
establish subject matter jurisdiction, or a factual
challenge, asserting “‘that the jurisdictional
allegations of the complaint [are] not true.'”
Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir.
2009) (citation omitted) (alteration in original); see
also Buchanan v. Consol. Stores Corp., 125 F.Supp.2d
730, 736 (D. Md. 2001).
facial challenge, “the facts alleged in the complaint
are taken as true, and the motion must be denied if the
complaint alleges sufficient facts to invoke subject matter
jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192; accord
Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. Mayor & City Council
of Baltimore, 22 F.Supp.3d 519, 524 (D. Md. 2014). In a
factual challenge, on the other hand, “the district
court is entitled to decide disputed issues of fact with
respect to subject matter jurisdiction.”
Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192. In that circumstance, the
court “may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the
issue and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without
converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.”
Velasco v. Gov't of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 398
(4th Cir. 2004); see also Richmond, Fredericksburg &
Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768
(4th Cir. 1991).
purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the Plaintiff's
complaint. See Edwards v. Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231,
243 (4th Cir. 1999). The Supreme Court articulated the
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only
“a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief, ” in order to
“give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim
is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (abrogated on other
grounds). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations,
ibid.; Sanjuan v. American Board of Psychiatry
and Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994), a
plaintiff's obligation to provide the
“grounds” of his “entitle[ment] to
relief” requires more than labels and conclusions, and
a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265,
286 (1986) (on a motion to dismiss, courts “are not
bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a
factual allegation”). Factual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level, see 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and
Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-236 (3d ed. 2004) (hereinafter
Wright & Miller) (“[T]he pleading must contain
something more . . . than . . . a statement of facts that
merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of
action”), on the assumption that all the allegations in
the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact), see,
e.g., Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S.
506, 508, n.1 (2002); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S.
319, 327(1989) (“Rule 12(b)(6) does not countenance . .
. dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a
complaint's factual allegations”); Scheuer v.
Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (a well-pleaded
complaint may proceed even if it appears “that a
recovery is very remote and unlikely”).
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007) (footnotes omitted).
standard does not require a defendant establish “beyond
doubt” that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in
support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.
Id. at 561. Once a claim has been stated adequately,
it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent
with the allegations in the complaint. Id. at 562.
The court need not, however, accept unsupported legal
allegations, see Revene v. Charles Cty Comm'rs,
882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), legal conclusions couched
as factual allegations, see Papasan v. Allain, 478
U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or conclusory factual allegations
devoid of any reference to actual events, see United
Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir.
State and Medical Defendants caption their Motions in the
alternative for summary judgment and attach documents beyond
the Complaint for the Court's consideration. Coates has
not submitted a Rule 56(d) affidavit expressing a need for
discovery. Accordingly, the Court will treat Defendants'
Motions as motion for summary judgment.
Judgment is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) which provides
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.
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).
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, 522 (4th Cir. 2003)
(alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).
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).
Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and
supported, the nonmovant has the burden of showing that a
genuine dispute of material fact exists. Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87
“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.
1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code provides that a
plaintiff may file suit against any person who, acting under
color of state law, “subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person
within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
and laws” of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
However, § 1983 “‘is not itself a source of
substantive rights,' but provides ‘a method for
vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'”
Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994)
(quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3
(1979) To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws
of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged
violation was committed by a “person acting under the
color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S.
42, 48 (1988); see Crosby v. City of Gastonia, 635
F.3d 634, 639 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 565
1983 also requires a showing of personal fault based upon a
defendant's own conduct. See Vinnedge v. Gibbs,
550 F.2d 926, 928 (4th Cir. 1977). There is no respondeat
superior liability under § 1983. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) (“Because
vicarious liability is inapplicable to . . . §
1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each
Government-official defendant, through the official's own
individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”);
see also Wilcox v. Brown, 877 F.3d 161, 170 (4th
Cir. 2017); Love-Lane v. Martin, 355 F.3d 766, 782
(4th Cir. 2004); Trulock v. Freeh, 275 F.3d 391, 402
(4th Cir. 2001).
of supervisory officials in § 1983 claims “is
premised on ‘a recognition that supervisory
indifference or tacit authorization of subordinates'
misconduct may be a causative factor in the constitutional
injuries they inflict on those committed to their
care.'” Baynard v. Malone, 268 F.3d 228,
235 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing Slakan v. Porter, 737
F.2d 368, 372 (4th Cir. 1984)). To establish supervisory
liability, a plaintiff must show the “supervisor had
actual or constructive knowledge that his subordinate was
engaged in conduct that posed a pervasive and unreasonable
risk of constitutional injury” to the plaintiff; (2)
that the supervisor's response was so “inadequate
as to show deliberate indifference to or tacit
authorization” and (3) that there was an
“affirmative causal link between the supervisor's
inaction and the particular constitutional injury suffered by
the plaintiff.” Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791,
799 (4th Cir. 1994).
Court is mindful that Coates is a pro se litigant whose
pleadings must be accorded liberal
construction. Erickson v. Pardus,
551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Coates alleges Summerfield and Bishop
were “negligent” and showed “indifference,
” but does not specifically allege a violation of a
constitutional provision or federal law. A claim for
negligence is premised on state law and does not support a
constitutional claim. In his Reply to Summerfield's
Motion to Dismiss, however, Coates makes clear his intention
to raise an Eighth Amendment claim for inadequate medical
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 also Estelle v. Gamble,
429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976); King v. Rubenstein, 825
F.3d 206, 218 (4th Cir. 2016); Scinto v. Stansberry,
841 F.3d 219, 225 (4th Cir. 2016). To succeed in an Eighth
Amendment suit alleging denial of adequate medical care, a
plaintiff must show the defendant's actions or inaction
amounted to deliberate indifference to a plaintiff's
serious medical need. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106;
Jackson v. Lightsey, 775 F.3d 170, 178 (4th Cir.
indifference to a serious medical need requires proof that,
objectively, the plaintiff was suffering from a serious
medical need and that, subjectively, the defendant was aware
of the need for medical attention but failed either to
provide it or to ensure that the needed care was available.
SeeFarmerv.Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 837 (1984). The
subjective component of the examines whether the defendant
acted with reckless disregard in the face of a serious
medical condition, i.e., with “a sufficiently
culpable state of mind.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501
U.S. 294, 298 (1991). “It is not enough that the
defendant should have known of a risk; he or she
must have had actual subjective knowledge of both the
inmate's serious medical condition and the excessive risk
posed by the official's action or inaction.”
Lightsey, 775 F.3d at 178 (emphasis in
Lightsey). The Fourth Circuit explains: “True
subjective recklessness requires knowledge both of the
general risk, and also that the conduct is inappropriate in
light of that risk.” Rich v. Bruce, 129 F.3d
336, 340 n.2 (4th Cir. 1997).
or malpractice on the part of . . . doctors in missing [a]
diagnosis does not, by itself, support an inference of
deliberate indifference.” Johnson v. Quinones,145 F.3d 164, 166 (4th Cir. 1998). The treatment rendered
must be so grossly incompetent or inadequate as to shock the
conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness.
Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 851 (4th Cir. 1990)
(citation omitted) (overruled in part on other grounds by
Farmer, 511 ...