Shropshire v. Toney et al

Filing 96

ORDER adopting 92 Report and Recommendation. Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 83 ) is, therefore, DENIED as to Shropshire's excessive force claim against Defendant Johnson, and GRANTED as to Shropshire's claim against both Defendants for deliberate indifference to serious medical need.; denying 91 Motion for Oral Argument. Signed by Senior Judge Charles R. Butler, Jr. on 11/10/2014. copies to parties. (sdb)

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  IN  THE  UNITED  STATES  DISTRICT  COURT  FOR  THE   SOUTHERN  DISTRICT  OF  ALABAMA   SOUTHERN  DIVISION     DONNIE SHROPSHIRE, Plaintiff v. DEBORAH TONEY and CHANDRA JOHNSON,   ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) CIVIL ACTION NO. 10-00470-CB-N Defendants, ORDER       This  matter  is  before  the  Court  on  the  Magistrate  Judge’s  Report  and   Recommendation  (R  &  R)  (Doc.  92),  Plaintiff’s  objections  thereto  (Doc.  93)  and   Defendants’  reply  (Doc.  95).    After  due  consideration  of  all  issues,  the  Court  agrees   with  the  Magistrate  Judge’s  conclusion  that  the  Defendants  are  entitled  to  qualified   immunity  on  Plaintiff’s  claim  that  Defendants  were  deliberately  indifferent  to   Plaintiff’s  serious  medical  needs.   Background1     Plaintiff  Donnie  Shropshire,  an  inmate  at  the  Atmore  Work  Release  Center,     an  Alabama  Department  of  Corrections  (ADOC)  facility,  was  injured  after  another   inmate  accidentally  splashed  mop  water  on  his  right  foot.    At  the  time,  Shropshire   did  not  know  of  any  particular  problem,  other  than  his  foot  was  drenched.    He  asked                                                                                                                   1  The  following  is  a  synopsis  of  the  facts  and  procedural  background  of  this     case,  which  are  set  out  more  fully  in  the  Report  and  Recommendation.   2  As  detailed  in  the  Report  and  Recommendation  (Doc.  32  at  2-­‐4),  this  litigation  has   a  lengthy  history.    The  claims  set  forth  above  are  the  sole  remaining  claims.   3  There  is  a  second  “obvious  clarity”  category,  a  very  narrow  exception,  in     which  “’the  words  of  the  pertinent  federal  statute  or  federal  constitutional  provision   in  some  cases  will  be  specific  enough  to  establish  clearly  the  law  applicable  to   Sergeant  Chandra  Johnson,  whom  he  was  assisting  at  the  time,  for  permission  to   change  his  shoe.    Johnson  denied  the  request  because  she  needed  Shropshire’s  help.         Shropshire  took  off  his  sock  and  put  his  wet  shoe  back  on.    Later  that  day,  he  told   Johnson  his  foot  was  burning  and  felt  irritated.    That  afternoon  Shropshire  took  a   shower  and  saw  that  his  right  foot  was  starting  to  turn  red.    The  foot  was  also  itchy   and  burning  and  later  began  to  swell.       The  next  morning  Shropshire  met  Warden  Deborah  Toney  as  she  arrived  for   work.    He  told  her  about  his  foot  getting  wet,  and  showed  her  his  injured  foot.    At   this  point,  his  foot  was  sweating  and  swollen  and  was  “getting  ready”  to  develop  a   blister.    Shropshire  told  Toney  he  was  in  pain.    Toney  said  there  was  nothing  at  the   facility  that  would  cause  that  and  went  about  her  business.    Shropshire  may  or  may   not  have  explicitly  requested  medical  attention  from  Toney.    Shortly  thereafter,   Shropshire  filled  out  a  medical  request  form.   Inmates  request  medical  care  by  filling  out  a  medical  care  request  slip  and   placing  them  in  a  box.    Nurses  visit  Atmore  Work  Release  daily  and  review  the   medical  request  slips.    ADOC  staff  has  no  role  in  receiving  or  assessing  these   requests.       One  day  later  (two  days  after  the  incident),  Shropshire  was  called  to  the   kitchen  to  do  some  cleaning.    When  he  arrived,  Shropshire  told  the  steward,  Kathy   Stonewall,  that  he  could  not  do  cleaning  duties  because  of  his  foot.    Shropshire  told   her  what  had  happened.    According  to  Stonewall,  the  foot  looked  “awful”,  “nasty”,   had  blisters  that  had  popped,  and  was  “swollen”  and  “puss[ie]”.    Shropshire  was   having  difficulty  walking  and  was  wearing  shower  slides.    Johnson  was  standing     2   nearby  and  appeared  to  be  listening.    Stonewall    told  Shropshire  to  go  lie  down.     Johnson  grabbed  a  squeegee  and  hit  Johnson’s  swollen  foot.    Shropshire  said  nothing   to  Johnson  at  any  time  during  this  encounter.       The  next  day  (three  days  after  the  incident)  Johnson  submitted  another   medical  request  form  stating  that  his  foot  was  numb,  swollen,  and  in  pain.    That   afternoon,  blood  and  puss  were  running  through  his  sock.    Another  inmate  took  him   to  the  shift  office  in  a  wheelchair.    Johnson,  who  was  in  the  office,  directed  another   officer  to  take  Shropshire  to  another  facility  for  medical  attention.   According  to  the  doctor  who  treated  Shropshire,  his  injury  was  consistent   with  a  chemical  burn.    In  addition,  Shropshire  had  developed  a  staph  infection  in  his   foot.    Both  injuries  were  serious,  could  cause  further  damage  if  not  treated  and,  in   the  case  of  the  staph  infection,  could  result  in  death  or  loss  of  the  foot.         Shropshire  asserts  claims  against  Johnson  and  Toney  under  42  U.S.C.  §  1983   for  violation  of  her  constitutional  rights.2    Specifically,  Shropshire  claims  that   Defendants’  refusal  to  provide  medical  treatment  for  his  foot  amounted  to   deliberate  indifference  to  a  serious  medical  need.  In  addition,  Shropshire  assets  that   Johnson  used  unconstitutionally  excessive  force  by  hitting  his  injured  foot.     Defendants  filed  a  motion  for  summary  judgment  on  all  claims.     The  R  &  R  and  Plaintiff’s  Objections   The  Magistrate  Judge  has  recommended  that  summary  judgment  be:  (1)   granted  in  favor  of  both  Defendants  on  the  deliberate  indifference  claim  but  (2)   denied  as  to  the  excessive  force  claim  against  Defendant  Johnson.    Shropshire’s                                                                                                                   2  As  detailed  in  the  Report  and  Recommendation  (Doc.  32  at  2-­‐4),  this  litigation  has   a  lengthy  history.    The  claims  set  forth  above  are  the  sole  remaining  claims.     3   objection  is  directed  at  the  former.    At  issue  is  the  Magistrate  Judge’s  conclusion  that   the  Defendants  are  entitled  to  qualified  immunity  on  the  deliberate  indifference   claim.   Discussion     The  Report  and  Recommendation  sets  out  the  applicable  law,  which  will  be   restated  here  only  to  the  extent  necessary  to  address  Shropshire’s  objections.      First,   the  Supreme  Court  has  held  that  “deliberate  indifference  to  serious  medical  needs  of   prisoners  constitutes  the  ‘unnecessary  and  wanton  infliction’  proscribed  by  the   Eighth  Amendment.”    Estelle  v.  Gamble,  429  U.S.  97,  104  (1996)  (quoting  Gregg  v.   Georgia,  428  U.S.  153,  173  (1976)).      Deliberate  indifference  involves  both  an   objective  component  (i.e.,  a  serious  medical  need)  and  a  subjective  component  (i.e.,   deliberate  indifference  to  that  need).    Bozeman  v.  Orum,  422  F.3d  1265,  1272  (11th   Cir.  2005).    To  satisfy  the  subjective  element  a  plaintiff  must  prove:  “(1)  subjective   knowledge  of  a  risk  of  serious  harm;  (2)  disregard  of  that  risk;  (3)  by  conduct  that  is   more  than  [gross]  negligence.”    Id.  (quoting  Brown  v.  Johnson,  387  F.3d  1344,  1351   (11th  Cir.  2004).    However,  a  prison  official  may  be  immune  from  liability  for  money   damages  based  on  the  doctrine  of  qualified  immunity  even  though  his  conduct   amounted  to  a  constitutional  violation  under  the  foregoing  standards.   The  Eleventh  Circuit  has  explained  qualified  immunity  as  follows:     Qualified  immunity  is  a  guarantee  of  fair  warning.  Under  the   doctrine  of  qualified  immunity,  a  government  official  sued  for   damages  for  injuries  arising  out  of  the  performance  of  discretionary   functions  must  be  “shown  to  have  violated  ‘clearly  established   statutory  or  constitutional  rights  of  which  a  reasonable  person  would   have  known.’  ”  As  the  Supreme  Court  has  explained,  “qualified   immunity  seeks  to  ensure  that  defendants  ‘reasonably  can  anticipate     4   when  their  conduct  may  give  rise  to  liability,’  by  attaching  liability   only  if  ‘[t]he  contours  of  the  right  [violated  are]  sufficiently  clear  that   a  reasonable  official  would  understand  that  what  he  is  doing  violates   that  right.’  ”  “This  is  not  to  say  that  an  official  action  is  protected  by   qualified  immunity  unless  the  very  action  in  question  has  been  held   unlawful;  but  it  is  to  say  that  in  the  light  of  preexisting  law  the   unlawfulness  must  be  apparent.”       McElligott  v.  Foley,  182  F.3d  1248,  1260  (11th  Cir.  1999)  (internal  citations  omitted).     The  Magistrate  Judge  found  the  Defendants  were  entitled  to  qualified  immunity  on   the  deliberate  indifference  claim  because  the  law  was  not  clearly  established.     Shropshire  takes  issue  with  this  conclusion.     For  our  purposes,  a  right  may  be  clearly  established  in  a  manner  sufficient  to   provide  fair  warning  in  one  of  two  ways.    First,  Shropshire  “may  establish  that  the   right  was  clearly  established  by  pointing  to  a  ‘materially  similar  case’”  decided  by   the  Supreme  Court,  the  Eleventh  Circuit,  or  the  Alabama  supreme  court.    Terrell  v.   Smith,  668  F.3d  1244,  1256  (11th  Cir.  2012).        A  materially  similar  case  is  one  that   “is  [not]  fairly  distinguishable”  from  the  circumstances  in  this  case.    Id.  The   Magistrate  Judge  noted  that  Shropshire  had  failed  to  point  to  any  materially  similar   case  that  would  have  put  Defendants  on  notice  that  their  conduct  amounted  to   deliberate  indifference.      Shropshire  insists  that  his  summary  judgment  response   relied  on  similar  prior  precedent,  but  he  has  failed  to  articulate—either  in  his   summary  judgment  response  or  in  his  objection-­‐-­‐any  material  factual  similarity   between  the  cases  cited  and  the  case  at  hand.     Alternatively,  Shropshire  may  be  able  to  demonstrate  that  the  law  was   clearly  established  by  pointing  to  “broad  statements  of  principle  in  case  law  are  not   tied  to  particularized  facts  .  .  .  [that]  clearly  establish  law  applicable  in  the  future  to     5   different  sets  of  detailed  facts.’”    Id.    (quoting  Vinyard  v.  Wilson,  311  F.3d  1340,  1351   (11th  Cir.  2002)).    This  method  is  referred  to  as  “obvious  clarity”  because  “the   principle  must  be  established  with  ‘obvious  clarity’  by  the  case  law  so  that  ‘every   objectively  reasonable  government  official  facing  the  circumstances  would  know  that   the  official’s  conduct  [  ]  violate[d]  federal  law  when  the  official  acted.”    Id.  (emphasis   added)  (quoting  Anderson  v.  Creighton,  483  U.S.  635,  640  (1987)).3      This  is  a  difficult   hurdle  in  a  deliberate  indifference  case,  most  of  which  “are  far  from  obvious   violations  of  the  constitution.”    Bozeman  422  F.3d  at  1275.      “Obvious  clarity  cases   are  ‘rare,’  and  present  a  ‘narrow  exception’  to  the  general  rule  of  qualified  immunity.”     Gilmore  v.  Hodges,  738  F.3d  266,  279  (11th  Cir.  2013)  (internal  citations  omitted).     Furthermore,  they  are  rarer  still  in  deliberate  indifference  cases  which  ‘are  highly   fact-­‐specific.  .  .    Most  cases  in  which  deliberate  indifference  is  asserted  are  far  from   obvious  violations  of  the  Constitution.”    Id.  at  280.         The  broad  statement  of  principle  here  is  this:    A  government  official  acts  with   deliberate  indifference  by  intentionally  delaying  medical  care  to  an  inmate  knowing   that  the  inmate  has  a  serious  medical  condition.    The  question  is  whether  every   reasonable  official  in  Johnson’s  position  or  in  Toney’s  position  would  have  known   that  failure  to  act  immediately  would  amount  to  deliberate  indifference.    Before   examining  that  question,  it  is  helpful  to  consider  the  types  of  actions  that  have                                                                                                                   3  There  is  a  second  “obvious  clarity”  category,  a  very  narrow  exception,  in     which  “’the  words  of  the  pertinent  federal  statute  or  federal  constitutional  provision   in  some  cases  will  be  specific  enough  to  establish  clearly  the  law  applicable  to   particular  conduct  and  circumstances  and  to  overcome  qualified  immunity,  even  in   the  total  absence  of  case  law.’”      Id.  at  1257  (quoting  Vinyard,  311  F.3d  at  1350   (emphasis  omitted)).    Shropshire  does  not  contend  that  this  type  of  “obvious  clarity”   applies.     6   amounted  to  “obvious  violations”  under  the  deliberate  indifference  standard.    In   Bozeman,  422  F.3d  at  1275-­‐76,  the  Eleventh  Circuit  held  qualified  immunity  did  not   protect  jail  guards  who  did  not  administer  treatment  or  summon  help  for  14   minutes  for  inmate  they  knew  was  unconscious  and  not  breathing.    In  Danley  v.  Allen,   540  F.3d  1298  (11th  Cir.  2008),  jail  guards  sprayed  an  inmate  with  pepper  spray   then  refused  to  allow  appropriate  decontamination  procedures  resulting  in  pain,   conjunctivitis  and  respiratory  problems  to  the  inmate.    In  both  McElligott  v.  Foley,   supra,  a  case  involving  six  months  of  cursory  medical  treatment  for  an  inmate’s   seriously  deteriorating  condition,  and  Lancaster  v.  Monroe  County,  116  F3d  1419   (11th  Cir.  1997),  a  case  involving  the  death  of  an  inmate  due  to  acute  alcohol   withdrawal,  the  appellate  court  found  the  law  to  be  clearly  established  by  pre-­‐ existing  case  law  involving  similar  circumstances.                 In  this  case,  Defendant  Toney  was  confronted  by  an  inmate  with  a  red,   swollen  foot  that  had  not  yet  developed  blisters  and  was  informed  that  the   condition  had  occurred  after  his  foot  had  been  drenched  by  mop  water  the  previous   day.    Would  every  reasonable  prison  official  have  known  that  failure  to  obtain   immediate  medical  care  for  Shropshire  result  in  a  constitutional  violation?    The   answer  is  no.    The  seriousness  of  the  injury  was  not  apparent  at  that  point.    The   request  for  medical  attention,  if  made,  was  outside  the  established  channels  for   seeking  medical  treatment.    Unlike  the  situation  in  Danley,  Toney  did  not  know  that   a  chemical  was  the  source  of  the  injury.    Unlike  the  jail  guards  in  Bozeman,  Toney   was  not  presented  with  an  injury  that  appeared  to  be  life-­‐threatening  or  even   serious.    Finally,  unlike  Lancaster  and  McElligott,  there  was  no  similar  case  law  to     7   provide  guidance.    In  sum,  this  is  not  an  obvious  case,  and  Toney  is  entitled  to   qualified  immunity.     The  issue  is  more  complex  with  respect  to  Defendant  Johnson.    She  knew   how  and  when  the  injury  occurred  and  was,  apparently,  aware  of  its  progression.     According  to  Shropshire,  Johnson  was  listening  when  he  told  Stonewall  he  could  not   work  because  of  his  foot,  and  Johnson  saw  his  red,  swollen,  pussie,  nasty-­‐looking   foot.    But  Shropshire  did  not  ask  for  help  and  never  even  spoke  directly  to  Johnson.     Would  every  reasonable  officer  in  Johnson’s  place  have  known,  despite  the  lack  of   request,  that  failure  to  provide  immediate  medical  attention  for  Shropshire  would   result  in  a  constitutional  violation?    While  the  answer  here  is  less  emphatic  than  it   was  with  Toney,  it  is  still  no.    Unlike  the  inmate  in  Bozeman,  Shropshire  could  have   asked  for  help  but  did  not.    Unlike  the  inmate  in  Danley,  Shropshire  did  not  ask  for   help  from  this  Defendant.    Moreover,  Shropshire  had  another  avenue  for  obtaining   medical  attention—the  sick  call  system.    A  reasonable  official  in  Johnson’s   position—to  whom  no  request  for  medical  assistance  was  made—could  reasonably   assume  that  Johnson  would  obtain  medical  attention  through  the  sick  call  system.     Finally,  while  the  Court  agrees  with  the  Magistrate  Judge’s  conclusion,  one   statement  in  the  Report  and  Recommendation  bears  further  clarification.    The   concluding  paragraph  of  the  qualified  immunity  discussion  states,  in  part:    “In  sum   the  undersigned  finds  persuasive  the  Defendants’  argument  that,  under  the  specific   facts  of  this  case,  they  were  reasonably  entitled  to  rely  on  a  belief  that  Shropshire   was  pursuing  and  would  obtain  medical  aid  through  normal  prison  channels.”    (R  &   R  at  26,  Doc.  92.)    Shropshire  objects  to  this  conclusion  because,  as  he  points  out,     8   there  is  no  evidence  that  either  Defendant  had  such  a  belief.    (Pl.’s  Objection  9,  Doc.   93.)    The  question,  though,  is  whether  every  reasonable  official  with  all  of  the   knowledge  Defendants  had  (including  the  existence  of  the  sick  call  system)  would   have  felt  compelled  to  obtain  immediate  medical  treatment  for  Shropshire.     Defendants’  reliance  is  irrelevant.    A  reasonable  official  in  either  Defendant’s   position  could  have  taken  that  system  into  account  in  deciding  whether  to  act.     Stated  differently,  in  light  of  the  sick  call  system  and  the  apparent  minor  injury  (in   Toney’s  case)  or  the  lack  of  any  specific  request  for  medical  assistance  (in  Johnson’s   case),  the  law  was  not  so  obviously  clear  that  every  reasonable  prison  official  in   their  respective  circumstances  would  have  known  that  their  conduct  amounted  to   deliberate  indifference.   Conclusion       For  the  foregoing  reasons,  the  Court  overrules  the  Plaintiff’s  objections  and   ADOPTS  the  Magistrate  Judge’s  Report  and  Recommendation  (Doc.  92).    Defendants’   motion  for  summary  judgment  (Doc.  83)  is,  therefore,  DENIED  as  to  Shropshire’s   excessive  force  claim  against  Defendant  Johnson,  and  GRANTED  as  to  Shropshire’s   claim  against  both  Defendants  for  deliberate  indifference  to  serious  medical  need.     The  Defendant’s  motion  for  oral  argument  (Doc.  91)  is  DENIED.     DONE  and  ORDERED  this  the  10th  day  of  November,  2014.                                   s/Charles  R.  Butler,  Jr.       Senior  United  States  District  Judge   9    

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