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Cox v. Owens

United States District Court, D. Colorado

May 9, 2019

STEVE OWENS, Warden of Colorado State Penitentiary, PHYSICIANS HEALTH PARTNERS, INSUR., and RICHARD HODGE, M.D., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Christopher Cox (“Cox”) is an inmate in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections (“CDOC”). Acting as his own attorney, he has sued Steve Owens (“Owens”), Warden of the Colorado State Penitentiary (“CSP”); Dr. Richard Hodge (“Dr. Hodge”), a physician who sees patients at CSP; and “Physicians Health Partners, Insur.” (“PHP”), an entity that acts somewhat like a health insurance administrator for CDOC. Cox complains that he has received constitutionally inadequate treatment for a hernia, in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

         Owens and Dr. Hodge moved to dismiss Cox's claims against them. (ECF No. 30.)[1] The Court referred the motion to U.S. Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix for a recommended disposition. (ECF No. 31.) Now before the Court is Judge Mix's February 14, 2019 recommendation that the motion be granted (“Recommendation”). (ECF No. 50.) The Recommendation is incorporated herein by reference. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Cox has objected to the Recommendation. (ECF No. 56.) For the reasons explained below, the Court will overrule these objections and adopt the Recommendation in full.


         When a magistrate judge issues a recommendation on a dispositive matter, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(3) requires that the district judge “determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's [recommendation] that has been properly objected to.” An objection to a recommendation is properly made if it is both timely and specific. United States v. One Parcel of Real Property Known as 2121 East 30th St., 73 F.3d 1057, 1059 (10th Cir. 1996). An objection is sufficiently specific if it “enables the district judge to focus attention on those issues-factual and legal-that are at the heart of the parties' dispute.” Id. In conducting its review, “[t]he district court judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommendation; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Id.

         In the absence of a timely and specific objection, “the district court may review a magistrate . . . [judge's] report under any standard it deems appropriate.” Summers v. Utah, 927 F.2d 1165, 1167 (10th Cir. 1991) (citing Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b) advisory committee's note (“When no timely objection is filed, the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.”).


         At the time this lawsuit began, Cox was an inmate at CSP in Cañon City, Colorado. (ECF No. 50 at 2.) He developed a hernia there. (Id. at 3.) Dr. Hodge recommended surgery but Defendant PHP declined Dr. Hodge's authorization request due to a policy that deemed hernia surgery to be elective unless the hernia is strangulated or incarcerated. (Id.) Apparently Cox's hernia is not strangulated or incarcerated (he does not allege that it is either) because Dr. Hodge then began treating Cox with a hernia belt and stool softeners. (Id.) Cox alleges that this approach has been ineffective to relieve the discomfort. (Id.)

         Cox sued Owens (CSP's warden) in his individual and official capacities; Dr. Hodge in his individual and official capacities; and PHP. Owens, in his individual capacity, was previously dismissed (ECF No. 19), so he remains a defendant only in his official capacity-or in other words, only for purposes of potential injunctive relief.

         Not long after this lawsuit started, Cox was transferred to the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility (“AVCF”) in Ordway, Colorado. (ECF No. 50 at 2.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. General Eighth Amendment Principles

         Cox brings this lawsuit under the Eighth Amendment, which protects against the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishment.” U.S. Const. amend. VIII. The Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment encompasses deliberate indifference by prison officials to objectively serious medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105 (1976). Objectively serious medical needs are those that have “been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or [are] so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Al- Turki v. Robinson, 762 F.3d 1188, 1192-93 (10th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). A prison official is deliberately indifferent to such a need when the official “knows of and disregards [the medical need]; 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.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994).

         B. ...

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