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Mathis v. Hague

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 9, 2020



          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

         The self-represented plaintiff, Raymond W. Mathis, an inmate currently incarcerated at the Roxbury Correctional Institution (“RCI”) in Hagerstown, Maryland, filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Lt. Richard D. Hague; Mary Ellen Bryan, R.N.; Maksed Choudry, M.D.; and Corizon Health, Inc. (“Corizon”).[1] ECF 1. Mathis claims that defendants were negligent in misplacing his medical records and denying his medical needs, causing his injured hand to heal improperly. Id. at 4.

         Lt. Hague has moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b) and 56. ECF 9. The motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 9-1) (collectively, “Lt. Hague's Motion”) and several exhibits. Similarly, Nurse Bryan, Dr. Choudry, and Corizon (collectively, the “Medical Defendants”) filed a dispositive motion. ECF 19. The Medical Defendants' motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 19-1) (collectively, the “Medical Defendants' Motion”) and several exhibits. The exhibits include extensive medical records for plaintiff, maintained by the Maryland Division of Correction (“DOC”). ECF 19-4 at 1-119.

         Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court informed Mathis that the failure to file a response in opposition to the defendants' motions could result in dismissal of his Complaint or a judgment against him. ECF 10; ECF 20. Mathis did not respond to either motion.

         The matter is now ripe for disposition. Because Mathis is self-represented, his submissions are liberally construed. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(f) (“All pleadings shall be so construed as to do substantial justice”); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (stating that claims of self-represented litigants are held “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers”); Bala v. Cmm'w of Va. Dep't of Conservation & Recreation, 532 Fed.Appx. 332, 334 (4th Cir. 2013) (same). But, the court must also abide by the “‘affirmative obligation of the trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial.'” Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993), and citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986)), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 1042 (2004).

         Upon review of the record, exhibits, and applicable law, the court deems a hearing unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). Lt. Hague shall be dismissed from the suit. The Medical Defendants' Motion shall be construed as a motion for summary judgment and shall be granted.

         I. Factual Background

         Mathis fell in the shower on April 20, 2019, and injured his left hand. ECF 19-4 at 55, 84.[2]Thereafter, Nurse Carl Gibson saw Mathis for complaints of a left finger deformity. Id. Upon examination of Mathis's left hand, Nurse Gibson spoke to Dr. Choudry, who ordered that Mathis be transferred to a hospital for further evaluation. Id. Mathis was evaluated and treated at the Meritus Medical Center. See ECF 19-4 at 21-34.

         At the hospital, Mathis received an x-ray, which showed acute fractures of the distal fourth and fifth metacarpal shafts, and mild lateral displacement of the proximal fifth left metacarpal. Id. at 24. A medical provider performed a manipulation to reduce the fifth metacarpal, and immobilized Mathis's hand with a splint. Id. at 26. Mathis tolerated the procedure well, and post-reduction x-rays confirmed alignment of the fracture. Id. Mathis was discharged and advised to follow up with an orthopedist in one week. Id.

         According to plaintiff, a few days later, on April 25, 2019, Lt. Hague “grabbed” him while he was at the RCI library and took him to the medical unit in order to have his splint removed and searched for possible hidden contraband. ECF 1 at 4-5. Nurse Bryan removed the splint and, according to Mathis, this caused his left hand to “immediately shift[], ” and it resulted in “extreme pain.” Id. Mathis asserts that Nurse Bryan improperly repositioned the splint, two inches out of place, causing the molding to be pushed into his hand, and the placement was not corrected until the following day. Id. at 4, 6.

         Further, Mathis claims that he was not given ice or Tylenol for three days and he could not sleep due to the pain and discomfort. Id. He states that he was not seen by a doctor for about five weeks after the incident and was not transported for a follow up with an orthopedic specialist. Id. at 4, 9. Mathis alleges that as a result, his hand “is now practically healed out of place and has to be rebroke [sic] in order to be repaired properly.” Id.

         Nurse Bryan does not dispute that on April 25, 2019, Mathis was escorted to the medical unit by officers who requested that she assess whether there was any contraband placed under the dressing on his left hand. ECF 19-5 (Declaration of Nurse Bryan) at 2; see ECF 19-4 at 60. She removed the two elastic bandages around Mathis's left hand while leaving the sleeve, padded dressing, and splint intact, and found no contraband. ECF 19-4 at 60. Nurse Bryan noted that Mathis showed good circulation and did not complain while she reapplied the two ACE bandages. Id. At the time of that visit, Mathis had an active prescription for Tylenol, which was in effect until May 10, 2019. Id.

         Later that day, Mathis returned to the medical unit, stating that his cast was not in the proper place and needed to be redressed. Id. at 62. Mathis indicated that he would be “suing everyone” because his cast was not supposed to be removed until his orthopedic follow up. Id. Due to Mathis's threat of bringing suit, Nurse Marion Diaz advised him that she would not redress the cast and instead referred him for an appointment with a provider the next morning. Id.

         On April 26, 2019, Nurse Marie Nguimbus saw Mathis after being informed that he had complained of shortness of breath. Id. at 64-65. During the visit, Mathis denied having shortness of breath but complained that a nurse had unwrapped his ACE bandage without an orthopedic order and his arm was hurting. Id. He indicated that he would be suing the State and the medical department. Id. Upon examination, Mathis's fingertip sensation was noted to be intact, his cast was in place, and his fingers were warm, with normal capillary refill. Id.

         Later that day, upon the request of the nursing staff, Dr. Choudry saw Mathis for complaints of chest pain and a displaced cast. Id. at 66. Dr. Choudry noted that Mathis's cast was unwrapped and “slightly displaced anteriorly.” Id. He repositioned the cast and wrapped it with an ACE bandage. Id. Dr. Choudry explained that he could not locate Mathis's hospital discharge documents, so he asked the medical administration to resend them. ECF 19-3 (Declaration of Dr. Choudry) at 4.

         On May 7, 2019, upon receiving the documents, Dr. Choudry submitted a consultation request for an orthopedic follow up to evaluate Mathis's hand fracture. ECF 19-4 at 68-70. Dr. Choudry explains that although Mathis was originally advised to follow up with an orthopedist within one week, in the prison setting, it may take four to eight weeks to arrange an appointment and, if necessary, transportation, for non-emergent care. ECF 19-3 at 3. According to Dr. Choudry, Mathis's follow up orthopedic evaluation was scheduled in the normal course of business. Id.

         Mathis reported to the medical unit on May 9, 2019, for a follow up to his left hand injury. ECF 19-4 at 72. At that time, Crystal Jamison, P.A. ordered a new x-ray and noted that Mathis had a pending consultation with an orthopedic specialist. Id. She also noted dorsal angulation of the fourth and fifth metacarpals and minimal edema. Id. During the visit, Mathis reported that he took his splint off at times because his arm itched, but he had no complaints or concerns. Id.

         On May 25, 2019, Mathis refused appointments to address three requests for health care and an informal request for care. Id. at 74. Nurse Bryan noted that Mathis reported to the daily medication line without a cast or splint on his hand. Id. When she asked why, Mathis did not answer. Id.

         On May 26, 2019, Nurse Bryan noted in Mathis's medical record that a housing unit officer called to ask if Mathis was supposed to remove his splint or cast. Id. at 75. According to the officer, Mathis had removed his splint and was using his hand in the recreation hall. Id. Nurse Bryan reviewed Mathis's chart and indicated that he was not supposed to remove his splint. Id.

         Nurse Bryan saw Mathis on May 30, 2019. He was seeking an update regarding a surgical consult. Id. at 76-77. At the time of that visit, Mathis had a splint on his hand, and Nurse Bryan encouraged him to use his splint as directed. Id. Nurse Bryan then referred him to a medical provider. Id.

         Mathis was unable to attend his orthopedic visit on June 7, 2019, because his housing unit was on lockdown. Id. at 78. On June 18, 2019, Dr. Choudry requested another evaluation by an orthopedist. Id. at 86-87.

         Mathis saw orthopedic surgeon Lawrence Manning, M.D. on July 8, 2019, in follow up for his fractured fingers. Id. at 84. Dr. Manning noted that the range of motion (“ROM”) in Mathis's fifth metacarpal was slightly deficient but that his neurovascular systems were intact. Id. Dr. Manning assessed Mathis with a healed closed fracture of the left fifth metacarpal and ordered a new x-ray of his left hand, ROM exercises, and a follow up in six to eight weeks. Id.

         On July 24, 2019, Nurse Bryan saw Mathis for his hand, lower back, and right index finger complaints, and noted that he would be seen by PA Jamison later that day. Id. at 97. During the visit with PA Jamison, an x-ray was ordered, per Dr. Manning's recommendation. Id. at 100-02.

         Nurse Bryan saw Mathis on August 1, 2019, for complaints of a lump on his left jaw, a growth on his left cheek, and a growth on his right index finger. Id. at 104. However, Mathis voiced no complaints regarding his left hand. Id. That same day, PA Jamison noted that Mathis's x-ray was scheduled for the end of August, and that she would wait for the results to determine the status of his fracture before referring him back to an orthopedist. Id. at 106-07.

         Mathis refused an x-ray of his left hand on August 12, 2019, stating that his hand had healed. Id. at 99. On September 5, 2019, Mathis again refused an x-ray of his hand, stating: “It's healed. It's pointless.” Id. at 110-11. On September 9, 2019, PA Jamison saw Mathis, who expressed no concerns or complaints, and stated that he did not wish to have any additional treatment or follow up. Id. at 112-13. PA Jamison noted that Mathis's left hand exhibited full ROM and no deformity. Id.

         Dr. Choudry saw Mathis on October 10, 2019, to assess his chronic health issues. Id. at 117-18. At that time, Mathis made no complaints regarding his left hand. Id. at 119. Dr. Choudry avers that the medical staff continues to monitor Mathis's medical complaints, including those related to his left finger fractures. ECF 19-3 at 8.

         There are no records showing that Mathis filed a request for Administrative Remedy Procedure (“ARP”) regarding the incident or his medical care. Nor did he file a complaint or grievance with the Inmate Grievance Office (“IGO”). ECF 9-2 (Declaration of Sarah Fisher); ECF 9-3 (Declaration of Samiyah Hassan).

         II. Standard of Review

         Defendants' motions are styled as motions to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. A motion styled in this manner implicates the court's discretion under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D. Md. 2011).

         Ordinarily, a court “is not to consider matters outside the pleadings or resolve factual disputes when ruling on a motion to dismiss.” Bosiger v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 510 F.3d 442, 450 (4th Cir. 2007). However, under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, in its discretion, may consider matters outside of the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(d). If the court does so, “the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, ” and “[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); see Adams Housing, LLC v. The City of Salisbury, Maryland, 672 Fed App'x 220, 222 (4th Cir. 2016) (per curiam). But, 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; 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).

         A district judge has “complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider it.” 5C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1366, at 159 (3d ed. 2004, 2011 Supp.). This discretion “should be exercised with great caution and attention to the parties' procedural rights.” Id. at 149. In general, courts are guided by whether consideration of extraneous material “is likely to facilitate the disposition of the action, ” and “whether discovery prior to the utilization of the summary judgment procedure” is necessary. Id. at 165-67.

         Summary judgment is generally inappropriate “where 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, 448-49 (4th Cir. 2011); see Putney v. Likin, 656 Fed. App'x 632, 638 (4th Cir. 2016) (per curiam); McCray v. Maryland Dep't of Transportation, 741 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2015). However, “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)); see also Dave & Buster's, Inc. v. White Flint Mall, LLLP, 616 Fed. App'x 552, 561 (4th Cir. 2015).

         To raise adequately the issue that discovery is needed, the nonmovant typically must file an affidavit or declaration pursuant to Rule 56(d) (formerly Rule 56(f)), explaining why, “for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, ” without needed discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d); see Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244-45 (discussing affidavit requirement of former Rule 56(f)). “[T]o justify a denial of summary judgment on the grounds that additional discovery is necessary, the facts identified in a Rule 56 affidavit must be ‘essential to [the] opposition.'” Scott v. Nuvell Fin. Servs., LLC, 789 F.Supp.2d 637, 641 (D. Md. 2011) (alteration in original) (citation omitted). A nonmoving party's Rule 56(d) request for additional discovery is properly denied “where the additional evidence sought for discovery would not have by itself created a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment.” Strag v. Bd. of Trs., Craven Cmty. Coll., 55 F.3d 943, 954 (4th Cir. 1995); see McClure v. Ports, 914 F.3d 866, 874-75 (4th Cir. 2019); Gordon v. CIGNA Corp., 890 F.3d 463, 479 (4th Cir. 2018); Amirmokri v. Abraham, 437 F.Supp.2d 414, 420 (D. Md. 2006), aff'd, 266 Fed.Appx. 274 (4th Cir. 2008), cert. denied, 555 U.S. 885 (2008).

         If a nonmoving party believes that further discovery is necessary before consideration of summary judgment, the party fails to file a Rule 56(d) affidavit at his peril, because “‘the failure to file an affidavit . . . is itself sufficient grounds to reject a claim that the opportunity for discovery was inadequate.'” Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244 (citations omitted). But, the nonmoving party's failure to file a Rule 56(d) affidavit cannot obligate a court to issue a summary judgment ruling that is obviously premature. And, a court “should hesitate before denying a Rule 56(d) motion when the nonmovant seeks necessary information possessed only by the movant.” Pisano v. Strach, 743 F.3d 927, 931 (4th Cir. 2014).

         Although the Fourth Circuit has placed “‘great weight'” on the Rule 56(d) affidavit, and has said that a mere “‘reference to Rule 56(f) [now Rule 56(d)] and the need for additional discovery in a memorandum of law in opposition to a motion for summary judgment is not an adequate substitute for [an] affidavit, '” the appellate court has “not always insisted” on a Rule 56(d) affidavit. Id. (internal citations omitted). According to the Fourth Circuit, failure to file an affidavit may be excused “if the nonmoving party has adequately informed the district court that the motion is premature and that more discovery is necessary” and the “nonmoving party's objections before the district court ‘served as the functional equivalent of an affidavit.'” Id. at 244-45 (internal citations omitted); see also Putney, 656 Fed. App'x at 638; Nader v. Blair, 549 F.3d 953, 961 (4th Cir. 2008). “This is especially true where, as here, the non-moving party is proceeding pro se.” Putney, 656 Fed. App'x at 638.

         Mathis has not filed an affidavit under Rule 56(d). As to the Medical Defendants, I am satisfied that it is appropriate to address their Motion as one for summary judgment, as this will facilitate resolution of the case. As to Lt. Hague, I shall construe his motion as one to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).

         A defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). In re Birmingham, 846 F.3d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 2017); Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom., McBurney v. Young, 569 U.S. 221 (2013); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the ...

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