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Ellison v. Raemisch

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 12, 2016

Erik Ellison, No. 131005, Plaintiff,
RICK RAEMISCH, Executive Director of the Colorado Dept. of Corrections; BUTLER, Medical Doctor; and RUDDORSKAS, Medical Doctor, Defendants.

(The above civil action number must appear on all future papers sent to the court in this action. Failure to include this number may result in a delay in the consideration of your claims.)


GORDON P. GALLAGHER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Nathan Daniel Knuth is a prisoner in the custody of the Jefferson County Detention Facility in Golden, Colorado. Plaintiff, acting pro se, initiated this action by filing a Prisoner Complaint alleging that his constitutional rights were violated. Plaintiff has been granted leave to proceed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1915.

The Court must construe the Complaint liberally because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). However, the Court should not act as a pro se litigant's advocate. See Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff will be ordered to file an Amended Complaint.

In his complaint, Plaintiff complains about medical malpractice and asserts that doctors changed the dosage of his medication in order to stabilize his immune system. The increased dosage of Trazadone resulted in dizziness, which led to a fall down some stairs at the prison.

First, the Complaint is deficient because Mr. Ellison does not allege enough facts to show an arguable violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. The Eighth Amendment is violated when a prison medical provider acts with deliberate indifference to an inmate's serious medical needs. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (quotations omitted); see also Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-06 (1976) (prison officials may not be deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs of inmates in their custody). Deliberate indifference means that "a prison official may be held liable... only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 847. A disagreement about medical care or medical negligence does not violate the Eighth Amendment. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 107. Mr. Ellison's allegations tend to show that Defendants were attempting to facilitate medical care for him - not that they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

To state an Eighth Amendment violation in the context of medical treatment, an inmate must demonstrate two elements: (1) he was suffering from a "serious medical need, " and (2) prison officials were deliberately indifferent to the serious medical need. Gamble v. Estelle, 439 U.S. 97 (1978). The first showing requires the court objectively to determine whether the medical need was "sufficiently serious." "[I]t is the harm claimed by the prisoner that must be sufficiently serious to satisfy the objective component, and not solely the symptoms presented at the time the prison employee has contact with the prisoner.'" Martinez, 563 F.3d at 1088 (quoting Mata v. Saiz, 427 F.3d 745, 753 (10th Cir. 2005)). "A medical need is sufficiently serious if it is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention." Sealock v. Colorado, 218 F.3d 1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation omitted).

The second prong requires the court subjectively to determine whether the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Noting that this subjective standard lies "somewhere between the poles of negligence at the one end and purpose or knowledge at the other, " id. at 836, the Supreme Court clarified the appropriate standard as follows.

We hold instead that a prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. This approach comports best with the text of the Amendment as our cases have interpreted it. The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual "conditions"; it outlaws cruel and unusual "punishments." An act or omission unaccompanied by knowledge of a significant risk of harm might well be something society wishes to discourage, and if harm does result society might well wish to assure compensation. The common law reflects such concerns when it imposes tort liability on a purely objective basis. But an official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment.

Id. at 837-38.

Even assuming Plaintiff had a serious medical need, Plaintiff's allegations fall far short of establishing deliberate indifference- i.e., that any Defendant acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. To establish the subjective component, a plaintiff must show that jail officials "knew he faced a substantial risk of harm and disregarded that risk, by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. at 837. Specifically, a jail official "must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Id. "The question is: were the symptoms such that a prison employee knew the risk to the prisoner and chose (recklessly) to disregard it?'" Martinez, 563 F.3d at 1089 (quoting Mata, 427 F.3d at 753.

Deliberate indifference to a serious medical need of a prisoner is distinguishable from a negligent diagnosis or treatment of a medical condition; only the former conduct violates the Eighth Amendment. Medical malpractice may give rise to a tort claim in state court but does not necessarily rise to the level of a federal constitutional violation. The Supreme Court explained the difference between negligence and constitutional claims in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). In that case, the prisoner, Gamble, was injured when a bale of cotton fell on him while he was unloading a truck. He went to the unit hospital where a medical assistant checked him for a hernia and sent him back to his cell. He returned to the hospital where he was given pain pills by an inmate nurse and then was examined by a doctor. The following day, his injury was diagnosed as a lower back strain; he was prescribed a pain reliever and a muscle relaxant. Over the course of several weeks, Gamble was seen by several doctors who prescribed various pain relievers and provided him with medical work excuses. Ultimately, despite his protests that his back hurt as much as it had the first day, medical staff certified Gamble to be capable of light work. During the next two months, Gamble received a urinalysis, blood test, blood pressure measurement, and pain and blood pressure medication. Subsequently, a medical assistant examined Gamble and ordered him hospitalized for treatment of irregular cardiac rhythm.

The Supreme Court held that Gamble's allegations failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted against the defendant, both in his capacity as a treating physician and as the medical director of the Corrections Department.

Gamble was seen by medical personnel on 17 occasions spanning a 3-month period.... They treated his back injury, high blood pressure, and heart problems. Gamble has disclaimed any objection to the treatment provided for his high blood pressure and his heart problem; his complaint is "based solely on the lack of diagnosis and inadequate treatment of his back injury." The doctors diagnosed his injury as a lower back strain and treated it with bed rest, muscle relaxants and pain relievers. Respondent contends that more should have been done by way of diagnosis and treatment, and suggests a number of options that were not pursued. The Court of Appeals agreed, stating: "Certainly an x-ray of (Gamble's) lower back might have been in order and other tests conducted that would have led to appropriate diagnosis and treatment for the daily pain and suffering he was experiencing." But the question whether an X-ray or additional diagnostic techniques or forms of treatment is indicated is a classic example of a ...

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