United States District Court, D. Maryland
TYRONE M. COATES, Plaintiff
MICHAEL SUMMERFIELD, M.D., Defendant
J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
is Dr. Michael Summerfield's Motion to Dismiss or for
Summary Judgment the Eighth Amendment claims against him. ECF
No. 43. Plaintiff Tyrone M. Coates filed an
Opposition to which Summerfield filed a Reply. ECF
Nos. 45, 46. After reviewing the parties' submissions,
the Court determines that a hearing is unnecessary.
See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth
below, Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 43), treated as a
Motion for Summary Judgment, will be GRANTED.
case, Coates raised claims against Summerfield and four other
Defendants, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional
Services (DPSCS), Warden Frank Bishop Wexford Health Sources,
Inc (Wexford), and Nurse Practitioner Holly Pierce. On July
29, 2019, the Court granted unopposed Motions for Summary
Judgment filed by Bishop, the DPSCS, Wexford, and Pierce. ECF
Nos. 27, 29, 40, 42. The Court granted Summerfield's
Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 17), dismissed Coates' state
law negligence and malpractice claims without prejudice, and
because the Motion did not address Coates' Eighth
Amendment medical care claim, ordered Summerfield to file a
response within twenty-eight days addressing the
constitutional claim. The facts and standard of review set
forth in the Court's July 29, 2019, Memorandum Opinion
which accompanied that Order are incorporated here by
is an inmate at North Branch Correctional Institution (NBCI),
who is diagnosed with keratoconus in each eye. Coates alleges
that Summerfield provided constitutionally inadequate medical
care to him by refusing his requests for corneal transplant
surgery on “multiple occasions.” Complaint, ECF
No. 1 at 2; see also ECF No. 6 at 1. Specifically,
Coates alleges that Summerfield denied him surgery because
“he said I have a somewhat of a good eye because my
left eye had a contact in it. Plus he claims that I get into
to[o] much fight[s] and if something wrong happens I
won't get to the hospital fast enough … because I
am in jail.” Id. Notably, Coates does not
state when Summerfield purportedly denied his requests nor
does he provide additional facts in support of his
cause of keratoconus is unknown and there is no cure,
although progression of the disease can sometimes be delayed.
Getachew Decl., ECF No. 29-5 ¶5. Keratoconus is
generally treated with glasses, contact lenses, and, as a
last resort surgery. Id. The record evidence
demonstrates that on January 13, 2016, Summerfield saw
Coates, who reported right eye discomfort, aching, and
tearing, without his contact lens. Summerfield observed
keratoconus in both eyes, but noted no inflammation or other
explanation for Coates' subjective pain. ECF No. 29-4 at
5, 6. Coates told Summerfield that he wanted a corneal
transplant for the pain. Id. Summerfield discussed
with Coates that surgery “is not usually a good
solution for pain and is usually reserved for when vision
needs to be restored.” Id. Summerfield
referred Coates to the University of Maryland Medical System
for a second opinion. Id. at 2-6.
March 9, 2016, Summerfield examined Coates, noting that he
was wearing his lenses and there was improved vision in his
corrected left eye. Summerfield reserved consideration for
penetrating keratoplasty (PK) in the right eye. He referred
Coates to optometry for glasses to wear with the lenses.
Id. at 7.
examined Coates again on May 11, 2016. Coates' vision
measured the same as it had at his March 9, 2016 examination.
Coates again asked for a corneal transplant. Summerfield
noted Coates' history of involvement in assaults and that
he was hit last year in his left eye. They discussed risks of
surgery including post-operative wound leak, glaucoma,
cataract formation, and corneal rejection. Summerfield
indicated that he was unconvinced the benefits outweighed the
risks of the surgery in this instance. Id. at 8.
During this time, Coates was receiving nonsurgical treatment
for his eye condition with special contact lenses and various
prescription medications. Id. at 12, 17, 19, 21.
record shows that ophthalmologist Paul Goodman, M.D.,
examined and treated Coates for his ocular complaints.
Id. at 26, 29, 32-34, 55-56, 59. On September 10,
2018, Coates was seen at the University of Maryland Medical
System (UMMS) to plan for his corneal transplants, and the
record indicates that he is awaiting transplant surgery.
Id. at 72.
order to state an Eighth Amendment claim for denial of
medical care, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the actions
of a defendant, or his failure to act, amounted to deliberate
indifference to a serious medical need. See Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); see also Anderson
v. Kingsley, 877 F.3d 539, 543 (4th. Cir. 2017).
Deliberate indifference to a serious medical need requires
proof that, objectively, the prisoner plaintiff was suffering
from a serious medical need and that, subjectively, the
prison staff were aware of the need for medical attention but
failed to either provide it or ensure it was available.
See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834-7 (1994);
see also Heyer v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 849 F.3d
202, 209-10 (4th Cir. 2017); King v. Rubenstein, 825
F.3d 206, 218 (4th Cir. 2016). Proof of an objectively
serious medical condition, however, does not end the inquiry.
in providing medical treatment may amount to deliberate
indifference. Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 739 (4th
Cir. 2009) (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05).
“Deliberate indifference is a very high standard-a
showing of mere negligence will not meet it. . . . [T]he
Constitution is designed to deal with deprivations of rights,
not errors in judgment, even though such errors may have
unfortunate consequences.” Grayson v. Peed,
195 F.3d 692, 695-96 (4th Cir. 1999); see also
Jackson, 775 F.3d at 178 (describing the applicable
standard as an “exacting” one). Deliberate
indifference may be shown where a plaintiff demonstrates the
delay in medical care caused him to suffer substantial harm.
See Webb v. Hamidullah, 281 Fed.Appx. 159, 166 (4th
Cir. 2008). Substantial harm can be shown by “lifelong
handicap, permanent loss, or considerable pain.”
Shabazz v. Prison Health Servs. Inc., No. 3:10CV190,
2011 WL 3489661, at *6 (E.D. Va. 2011) (quoting Garrett
v. Stratman, 254 F.3d 946, 950 (10th Cir. 2001)). A mere
disagreement over a medical judgment, however, does not state
an Eighth Amendment claim. Bowring v. Godwin, 551
F.2d 44, 48 (4th Cir. 1977). There is frequently more than
one way to treat a medical condition. See White v.
Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 109-10 (3d Cir. 1990)(“If
a plaintiff's disagreement with a doctor's
professional judgment does not state a violation of the
Eighth Amendment, then certainly no claim is stated when a
doctor disagrees with the professional judgment of
another doctor. There may, for example, be several acceptable
ways to treat an illness.”)
objective seriousness of Coates' ophthalmological
conditions is not in dispute. The medical records demonstrate
that Summerfield recognized Coates' serious medical
needs, prescribing medications for him, as well as referring
him to an optometrist and for a second opinion at the
University of Maryland Medical System. Coates'
disagreement with Summerfield's assessment that the
benefits of surgery were outweighed by the possible risks
shows a difference of opinion over the method of treatment,
which without more as is the case here, does not amount to
deliberate indifference Wright v. Collins, 766 F.2d
841, 849 (4th Cir. 1985) United States v. Clawson,
650 F.3d 530, 538 (4th Cir. 2011); see also Jackson,
775 F.3d at 178 (stating that although hindsight suggests
that treatment decisions may have been mistaken, where
plaintiff's claim against a provider is essentially a
disagreement between inmate and medical provider over the
inmate's proper medical care, such disagreements to fall
short of showing deliberate indifference). Importantly,
Coates does not allege that Summerfield refused to treat him;
rather, he takes issue with Summerfield for not agreeing on
two occasions to his requests for corneal transplant surgery.
Viewing the allegations and evidence in a light most
favorable to Coates, the Court finds there is no genuine
dispute of material fact to support an Eighth Amendment claim
of deliberate indifference. Accordingly, Summerfield is
entitled to summary judgment in his favor as a matter of law.
The Court will grant the Motion for Summary Judgment.
reasons stated, the Court will in the Order that follows