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Hernandez v. Correct Care Solutions, LLC

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 5, 2019



          Daniel D. Domenico, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, a pretrial detainee, has permanent vision loss in his right eye, which he alleges is the result of negligence and deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs by healthcare providers at the Montrose County Detention Center in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants filed motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Docs. 45, 46.) Magistrate Judge Gordon P. Gallagher recommended that the motions be granted in part and denied in part. (Doc. 77.) Before the Court are the timely, and only, objections to the recommendation, filed by Defendants Correct Care Solutions, LLC and Correctional Healthcare Companies, LLC (“Entity Defendants”). (Doc. 79.) For the following reasons, the Court ADPOTS IN PART the recommendation and SUSTAINS the objections.


         The following allegations are taken from Mr. Hernandez's Amended Complaint (Doc. 41) and are treated as true for purposes of assessing the motions to dismiss. See Wilson v. Montano, 715 F.3d 847, 850 n.1 (10th Cir. 2013).

         Plaintiff Alvaro Hernandez was a pretrial detainee housed at the Montrose County Detention Center from September 12, 2016 to March 1, 2017. Entity Defendants are limited liability companies that contract with Montrose County to provide medical services to detainees at the detention center. Defendants Kimberly Spangrude, Lisa Culver-Barrientos, Danielle Recchia, and Catherin Morin (collectively, “Individual Defendants”) are alleged to be nurses at the detention center and employed by Entity Defendants. (Doc. 41, at 4-5.)

         On September 12, 2016, Mr. Hernandez suffered a traumatic brain injury and was admitted to the hospital. When he received medical clearance, he was booked into to the detention center. On September 17, he returned to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with corneal abrasion and broken blood vessel in his right eye. He was advised to follow up with a healthcare provider if he did not improve. From September 17 to 20, Mr. Hernandez complained of pain, dizziness, vomiting, blurred vision, and a bloodshot right eye. Nurses at the detention center provided ibuprofen, an ice pack, and told him to “contact medical” if his symptoms worsened. By November 1, a nurse noted that his eye was still red, infected and torn, and his vision was still blurred.

         As arranged by detention center nurses, Mr. Hernandez saw several outside medical providers. On November 4, he visited the San Juan Eye Center. There, Dr. Jared Hadlock diagnosed him with a traumatic cataract of the right eye and referred him for surgery. From November 15 to 18, Mr. Hernandez continued to experience discomfort. He then saw Dr. Michael Waggoner of ICON Eye Care, who prescribed him multiple medications to relieve pressure. A scan indicated no retinal detachment or hemorrhage. Dr. Waggoner suggested Mr. Hernandez be seen by a retinal specialist as soon as possible. He advised that Mr. Hernandez was at risk for permanent optic nerve damage and blindness. On November 29, a nurse at the detention center noted that Mr. Hernandez continued to have a large cataract on his right eye, but she said Defendants would not be making a referral to a specialist for cataract surgery. The nurse told him he would need to follow up with a primary care provider. Mr. Hernandez alleges “[u]pon information and belief, the final decision to decline to refer [him] to a specialist was made by an Unknown Health Services Administrator employed by [Defendants].” On November 30, Dr. James Fox treated Mr. Hernandez for glaucoma and advised that he likely had permanent optic nerve damage. On January 5, 2017, Dr. Fox noted that the glaucoma was resolved, as well as a papillary blockage, but also identified the possibility of a detached retina. He referred Mr. Hernandez to a Dr. Waterhouse at the retinal center. One of Defendants' referral request forms, dated January 24, indicates “possible retinal detachment” and that Mr. Hernandez was financially liable for these services. On January 27, Dr. Waterhouse confirmed the detached retina and ordered surgery, which he performed on February 22. On March 14, Dr. Waterhouse noted extremely limited vision (hand motions only) in Mr. Hernandez's right eye. There was no improvement by April 3. Handwritten notes from nurses at the detention center reflect Mr. Hernandez's worsening symptoms during his time in custody.

         Mr. Hernandez alleges that Entity Defendants, a “national company with a shameful history of failing to provide constitutionally adequate medical care, ” have an “informal, unwritten custom and practice of deliberate indifference to inmates' serious medical needs” and “fail[] to adequately train employees in meeting the serious medical need of inmates” to “avoid the added expense of providing such care.”


         On October 2, 2018, Mr. Hernandez filed this case. On March 5, he filed the Amended Complaint, which contains two causes of actions against all Defendants: (1) deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and (2) medical negligence. Defendants moved to dismiss, with prejudice. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Court referred the motions to the magistrate judge for a recommendation.

         Magistrate Judge Gallagher, in a thorough opinion, first recommended that the Court dismiss the Individual Defendants. He evaluated Mr. Hernandez's Amended Complaint and determined that the allegations against the nurses were “extremely limited” and did not establish that any of them knew of, and disregarded, an excessive risk to Mr. Hernandez's health and safety. He concluded that Mr. Hernandez failed to state a claim against them.

         But the magistrate judge also recommended that the motions be denied with respect to the entity Defendants. (See Doc. 77, at 20-23.) He found that Mr. Hernandez had sufficiently alleged these entities' (1) vicarious liability for negligent acts and omissions and (2) failures in training, policies, and practices. On the constitutional claims, he was impressed by “alleged consistent failure to timely act across a scope of medical issues” and a “track record of providing deficient medical care at detention facilities” of which Entity Defendants should be aware.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” “[D]etailed factual allegations” are not required, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), but the Rule calls for sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. “[A] formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555. “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 665 (2009). “The degree of specificity necessary to establish plausibility and fair notice, and therefore the need to include sufficient factual allegations, depends on context.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1248 (10th Cir. 2008). ...

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