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Stoops v. Larson

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 6, 2019

JOHN STOOPS, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLENE LARSON, BRITTANY DOWIS, GRACE L. KIER, and LORI HOLTER, Defendants.

          ORDER

          RAYMOND P. MOORE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 182.) Plaintiff, an inmate at the Sterling Correctional Facility (“SCF”), brings this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his Eight Amendment rights by providing delayed and inadequate medical care after he broke his hip. Defendants' motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. (ECF Nos. 189, 193.) The Court grants the motion for the reasons below.

         I. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Plaintiff proceeds pro se; therefore, the Court liberally construes his pleadings. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). But the Court does not act as his advocate. See Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991).

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Gutteridge v. Oklahoma, 878 F.3d 1233, 1238 (10th Cir. 2018). Whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact depends on whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986); Stone v. Autoliv ASP, Inc., 210 F.3d 1132, 1136 (10th Cir. 2000). “The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (quotation omitted). In analyzing a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve factual ambiguities against the moving party, thus favoring the right to a trial. Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998); Houston v. Nat'l Gen. Ins. Co., 817 F.2d 83, 85 (10th Cir. 1987).

         Qualified immunity shields individual defendants named in § 1983 actions unless their conduct was unreasonable in light of clearly established law. Estate of Booker v. Gomez, 745 F.3d 405, 411 (10th Cir. 2014). “[W]hen a defendant asserts qualified immunity, the plaintiff carries a two-part burden to show: (1) that the defendant's actions violated a federal constitutional or statutory right, and, if so, (2) that the right was clearly established at the time of the defendant's unlawful conduct.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         To establish an Eighth Amendment claim for delayed or inadequate medical care under § 1983, an inmate must establish that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Oxendine v. Kaplan, 241 F.3d 1272, 1276 (10th Cir. 2001). “Deliberate indifference involves both an objective and a subjective component. Sealock v. Colorado, 218 F.3d 1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000). To satisfy the objective component, a medical need must be either sufficiently serious that it has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention. Oxendine, 241 F.3d at 1276. For claims involving a delay in receiving medical care, the plaintiff must show that the delay resulted in substantial harm. Id. To satisfy the subjective component, the plaintiff must show that the prison official knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to his health or safety by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it. Id.; Sealock, 218 F.3d at 1209. For claims involving failure to treat a serious medical condition properly, a medical professional's mere negligence in diagnosing or treating the condition does not constitute deliberate indifference. Sealock, 218 F.3d at 1211 (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976)).

         II. BACKGROUND

         On June 9, 2015, Plaintiff had an epileptic seizure and fell, injuring his right hip. He was taken by wheelchair to the medical clinic, where he was seen by Defendant Larson. Defendant Larson cleaned the gravel out of Plaintiff's hand and elbow and then released him back to his unit. Defendant contends that Defendant Larson refused to examine his hip or order an x-ray and that she told him he would be called back for a follow-up. He further contends that in response to his complaint of intense pain in his leg Defendant Larson told him to “walk it off, ” exacerbating his injury and causing severe pain. (ECF No. 94, Am. Compl. at 7, ¶ 3.)

         Over the next four days, Plaintiff complained of severe pain to nurses in the med-line. The med-line is where inmates receive medications twice a day, and where Plaintiff received his epilepsy medication. Although SCF regulations prohibit inmates and staff from discussing medical issues in the med-line, Plaintiff contends that he complained to the nurses in the med-line because no one responded to his “emergency kites, ” which are paper requests to be seen by medical staff submitted by inmates. (Id. at 8, ¶ 4.) Plaintiff further contends he was told by the med-line nurses that he would be placed on an “on call” list to receive medical care. (Id. at ¶¶ 4, 5.) Defendants Kier and Holter both worked in the med-line during this time period, though the complaint does not contain specific allegations as to either of them with respect to their conduct in the med-line.

         On June 13, 2019, Plaintiff was seen again at the medical clinic, this time by Defendant Dowis. She gave him a wheelchair and told him he was on the list to receive an x-ray in two days. The amended complaint alleges that she did not examine his hip or take his vitals.[1]

         That evening, Plaintiff declared an emergency and returned to the medical clinic, where he was seen by Defendant Kier. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Kier had a “hostile attitude” and performed a “hurried examination” without giving him anything for his pain. (Id. at 10, ¶ 13.) He was then sent to the reginal medical center.

         The events that occurred after Plaintiff left SCF are not directly relevant, but they help provide context for Plaintiff's claims. At the regional medical center, an x-ray revealed that Plaintiff had a fractured hip. He was then transferred to the hospital. There, Plaintiff contends he fell while transitioning between a bed and a walker, further exacerbating his injury. Plaintiff received a hip replacement on June 16, 2015. A few days later, Plaintiff was transferred to another facility while he recovered from his surgery. He returned to SCF on August 11, 2015.

         On August 21, 2015, Plaintiff filed an informal grievance about the medical care he received, followed by a step 1 grievance on August 29. On November 12, 2019, he received a letter stating that his grievance was untimely because it was not filed within thirty days of the date he knew or should have known of the facts giving rise to the grievance. (ECF No. 182-5.) The letter also stated that ...


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