Griffith v. Wallace et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: IT IS ORDERED (1) Dft's Correcthealth Kentucky, LLC, Michale D. Nichols, and Susie Hatfield's Motion for Summary Judgment DE 48 is granted; (2) Plf Mary Griffith's federal Section 1983 deliberate-in difference claim is dismissed with prejudice; (3) Plf Mary Griffith's state law wrongful-death claim is dismissed without prejudice; and (4) This action is dismissed and stricken from the Court's active docket. Signed by Judge David L. Bunning on 8/30/17.(KSS)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CIVIL ACTION NO. 15-5-DLB-EBA
MARY GRIFFITH, as Administratrix of
the Estate of Tracy Eugene Griffith
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CORRECTHEALTH KENTUCKY, LLC, et al.
On February 12, 2014, Tracy Eugene Griffith was arrested for parole and probation
violations and transported to the Carter County Detention Center (the “Detention Center”),
where he was booked and placed into the general population. Griffith’s time at the
Detention Center was short-lived, he died only two days later—on February 14, 2014—
as a result of pyopneumoperitoneum, perforation of duodenal ulcer, and peptic ulcer
disease. This case is about the medical care Griffith received during those two days. The
question is whether a reasonable jury could find that Defendants were deliberately
indifferent to Griffith’s serious medical needs, negligent, or both.
Plaintiff Mary Griffith, the mother and administratrix of Griffith’s estate, filed a
Complaint on January 28, 2015, seeking to hold a litany of defendants liable for Griffith’s
death. Many of these Defendants have been dismissed from this action. (Doc. # 30).
Remaining are three defendants: Correcthealth Kentucky, LLC (“Correcthealth”), the
private corporation who contracted with the Detention Center to provide medical services
to inmates, and Michale D. Nichols and Susie Hatfield, the nurse and nurse practitioner
who were responsible for Griffith’s care (collectively “Defendants”). In her Complaint,
Plaintiff asserts constitutional claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the
Defendants violated Griffith’s constitutional rights to adequate medical care, as well as a
(Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 1, 41-56).
The Court has federal-question
jurisdiction under 29 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction under 29 U.S.C. § 1367.
This matter is before the Court upon Defendants Correcthealth Kentucky, LLC,
Michael D. Nichols, and Susie Hatfield’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 48). The
Motion is fully briefed (Docs. # 51 and 52), and ripe for review. Because Plaintiff cannot
establish that the Defendants were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need,
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is granted as to Plaintiff’s constitutional claim.
However, rather than enter judgment as to her state-law claims, the Court declines to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction, and thus dismisses Plaintiff’s wrongful-death claim
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
After being arrested for parole and probation violations, Tracy Griffith spent less
than 48 hours at the Detention Center—from Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 12:03
p.m., when he was booked into the jail—until Friday, February 14, 2014 at approximately
8:00 a.m., when he died. (Doc. # 51 at 2, 3-4).
Upon his arrival at the Detention Center, Griffith was processed by Deputy Jailer
Denise Knipp. (Doc. # 48-4). As part of the intake process, Deputy Knipp conducted a
medical screening, where she asked Griffith a series of health-related questions from the
“Standard Medical Questions” form. Id. at 12:3-9. It included the following questions: “Do
you need immediate medical attention?” “Have you recently been hospitalized or treated
by a doctor?” “Do you have any type of medical problems that we should be aware of?”
(Doc. # 48-12). To each of these questions, Griffith answered “No.” Id. However, Griffith
answered in the affirmative to other questions, including: “Do you have a serious medical
condition that will require treatment here?” and “Are you currently taking prescribed
medications that may need to be continued?” Id. When questioned about his conditions,
Griffith indicated that he had “Hep[atitis]-C,” but was only able to explain his “serious
medical conditions” as back-and-stomach related. (Doc. # 48-4 at 12:10-13:23). Deputy
Knipp attempted to inquire further, but Griffith stated that he did not know the name of his
stomach condition. Id. at 13:3-16.1
After the intake process was completed, at approximately 12:07 p.m., Griffith was
assigned to a general-population cell. (Doc. # 48-4 at 16:6-17:7; 18:2-5). Although Griffith
complained of stomach pain during the booking process, when Deputy Knipp asked
whether he needed medical attention, Griffith declined, and thus, Deputy Knipp did not
refer Griffith for a medical review and did not place him in a medical-observation cell. Id.
at 15:3-14; 17:8-18:1. Griffith made no other complaints that day, and did not appear to
be in pain. (Doc. # 51-5 at 36:17-19).
The next morning—at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, February 13, 2014—
Griffith complained of severe abdominal pain.
(Doc. # 51-4 at 7:3-21).
responded to Griffith’s complaints and escorted him to the medical observation area.
(Docs. # 51-4 at 7:22-8:3; 51-5 at 34:15-18).
Griffith also provided notable answers to two other questions. In response to the question
“Do you have a learning disability that would impact your ability to follow instructions?” Griffith
answered “Yes.” (Doc. # 48-12). Perhaps relatedly, Griffith responded “No” to the question “Do
you understand the questions I have asked you?” Despite Griffith’s answers to these questions,
there is nothing in the record to support the allegation that Griffith suffered from mental deficits.
Nor do these facts impact the conclusion in this case. See supra note 8.
At approximately 11:00 a.m., Michale Nichols, a registered nurse, examined
Griffith. (Doc. # 48-13 at 1). During the examination, Nurse Nichols observed Griffith
vomiting in a trash can, and she noted a “large amount of emesis,” “green/brown in color,”
with “undigested food.” Id. Nurse Nichols checked Griffith’s blood pressure, pulse,
temperature, and respiration, which were all within normal parameters. Id. She also
found Griffith to be “alert,” “oriented,” “coherent,” and “ambulatory.” Id. With respect to
his stomach pain, Griffith informed Nurse Nichols that his pain had “started a couple hours
ago,” but reported having “normal bowel movements” and no difficulty urinating. Id. Upon
examination, Nurse Nichols found Griffith’s abdomen was “soft” and “non-tender to
touch.” Id. Nurse Nichols also noted that Griffith had active bowel sounds in all four
quadrants. Id. At that time, Griffith informed Nurse Nichols of a history of pancreatitis.
Id.; see also (Doc. # 48-6 at 20-22). He made no mention of ulcers or peptic ulcer disease.
Id. After the examination, Nurse Nichols called Susie Hatfield, the nurse practitioner, for
(Doc. # 48-13).
Nurse Practitioner Hatfield’s clinical impression indicated
possible pancreatitis, and she issued orders for Phenergan and a liquid diet. (Doc. # 486 at 58:6-8). Griffith was also placed in a medical-observation cell. (Doc. # 48-13 at 1).
Nurse Nichols checked on Griffith an hour later—at 12:00 p.m.—and found him
“resting in his cell.” Id. By 2:30 p.m., however, Griffith was again complaining of severe
abdominal pain. Id. Accordingly, Nurse Nichols again contacted Nurse Practitioner
Hatfield, and a “telemed” examination was arranged. Id. The medical records reflect that
a “telemed” examination was conducted at 2:40 p.m. Id. at 2. Nurse Nichols again
checked Griffith’s blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiration, which were all
within normal parameters. Id. Griffith’s abdomen continued to be soft and non-tender to
touch. Id. However, during the “telemed” examination, Griffith informed Nurse Nichols
and Nurse Practitioner Hatfield that he had recently been seen in the Emergency Room
at King’s Daughters Medical Center “for the same problem.” Id. Accordingly, a medicalrecords request was signed and faxed to King’s Daughters Medical Center. Id.
After the “telemed” examination, Nurse Practitioner Hatfield ordered one gram of
Tylenol for Griffith’s pain and ordered Griffith’s blood to be drawn for multiple tests,
including: complete blood count, comprehensive metabolic profile, amylase, lipase, and
a urinalysis. Id. at 2, 4; see also (Doc. # 48-6 at 46:1-47:23). In her deposition, Nurse
Practitioner Hatfield explained that she ordered a complete blood count because Griffith
“was complaining of abdominal pain” and “had a history of pancreatitis,” thus, she “wanted
to check and see if he had any elevation in his white blood cell count,” which would
indicate an infection. (Doc. # 48-6 at 46:14-24). Nurse Practitioner Hatfield also ordered
a comprehensive metabolic profile, amylase and lipase tests, and a urinalysis to assess
Griffith’s pancreas, liver, and kidney function. Id. at 47:10-21.
Within twenty minutes, Nurse Nichols had performed the urinalysis and noted that
Griffith’s urine was “amber in color,” and that the urine was negative for leukocytes,
nitrites, blood, and glucose. (Docs. # 48-13 at 2; 48-6 at 48:18-49:20). The urinalysis
also showed unremarkable urobilinogen, protein, PH, and ketone levels, and indicated
only that Griffith might have been dehydrated. (Doc. # 48-6 at 48:8-49:18). Nurse Nichols
reviewed these results, as well as the medical records from King’s Daughters Medical
Center, with Nurse Practitioner Hatfield at 3:00 p.m. (Doc. # 48-13 at 2). The medical
records listed Griffith’s medications, specifically Tylenol and Hydrocodone. (Doc. # 48-6
at 56:12-20). Notably absent from the medical records received was any mention or
indication that Griffith had a history of duodenal ulcers or peptic ulcer disease. Id. After
this telephone call, Nurse Practitioner Hatfield ordered Nurse Nichols to re-check Griffith
in one hour. Id.
At 3:40 p.m., Nurse Nichols drew Griffith’s blood for the complete blood count,
comprehensive metabolic profile, and amylase and lipase tests. Id. She also re-checked
Griffith’s blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiration, which continued to be within
normal parameters. Id. In the same entry, Nurse Nichols also noted that there were “[n]o
further complaints from inmate Griffith [at] this time,” so he was sent back to his cell to lay
down. Id. Thereafter, Nurse Nichols contacted Quest Diagnostic for “STAT pick up.” Id.
Within twenty minutes, Quest Diagnostic arrived “for lab pick up.” Id.
At approximately 4:10 p.m., Nurse Nichols went off-duty and “advised” Deputy
McDavid that if Griffith experienced “problems to contact Susie Hatfield” and gave
permission for jail officials to “administer another dose of Tylenol 1gm [and] Phenergan
25mg … if Inmate Griffith requested.” Id. at 2-3. Nurse Nichols’s notes indicate that at
approximately 10:00 p.m., she “called Deputy McDavid from home to check on Inmate
Griffith” and was advised that Griffith “has complained of pain [and] nausea” and had been
administered one gram of Tylenol and twenty-five grams of Phenergan at approximately
7:30 p.m. Id. at 3. Nurse Nichols’s notes reflect that Deputy McDavid informed her that
Griffith “was resting quietly in his medical observation cell” at the time of her call, and that
she instructed Deputy McDavid to inform midnight shift that they could Contact Hatfield if
needed. Id. Plaintiff has called Nurse Nichols’s 10:00 p.m. call into question, as the
Detention Center’s call logs do not reflect the call. (Doc. # 51 at 3).
During the approximately eighteen hours that Griffith was in the medicalobservation cell, jail officials performed forty-eight separate monitoring checks. (Doc. #
48-14). At the last check—at 6:45 a.m. on Friday, February 14, 2014—Griffith was
observed “quiet” and “relaxed.” Id. But within an hour, sometime around 7:40 a.m.,
Deputy Joe Littleton, a sergeant on the midnight shift, checked on Griffith and observed
that he “was a little bit pale” and that his stomach did not appear to rise or fall. (Doc. #
48-8 at 19:3-17). Because of these observations, Deputy Littleton had the cell door
opened and checked Griffith’s pulse. Id. at 19:17-20. When he did not feel a pulse and
did not see or feel Griffith breathing, he instructed other jail officials to call 911 and
commenced CPR efforts on Griffith. Id. at 19:21-20:6. Deputy Littleton performed CPR
until EMS arrived. Id. at 20:11-13. At that time, Griffith was pronounced dead. Id. at
An autopsy later determined that Griffith died as a result of
pyopneumoperitoneum, perforation of duodenal ulcer, and peptic ulcer disease.
Defendants claim that these facts, even when construed in favor of the Plaintiff, do
not create a genuine dispute as to any of Plaintiff’s claims.
(Doc. # 48-1 at 17).
Specifically, Defendants claim that the Plaintiff has failed to prove that they were
deliberately indifferent to Griffith’s serious medical needs; failed to establish that
Correcthealth had a policy, procedure, or custom resulting in inadequate medical care;
and failed to prove that Defendants’ care fell below the established standard of care and
proximately caused Griffith’s death. Id. In response, the Plaintiff argues that there is
sufficient evidence from which a jury could find that the Defendants were deliberately
indifferent, that Correcthealth is liable for establishing and executing policies that resulted
in constitutional violations by its employees, and that Defendants’ care fell below the
standard of care and proximately caused Griffith’s death. (Doc. # 51).
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists where “there is
sufficient evidence … for a jury to return a verdict for” the non-moving party. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The “moving party bears the burden of
showing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact.” Sigler v. Am. Honda Motor
Co., 532 F.3d 469, 483 (6th Cir. 2008). Once a party files a properly supported motion
for summary judgment, by either affirmatively negating an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim or establishing an affirmative defense, “the adverse party must set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at
250. However, “the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving
party’s] position will be insufficient.” Id. at 252.
The Court must “accept Plaintiff’s evidence as true and draw all reasonable
inferences in [her] favor.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014)
(citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). The Court is not permitted to “make credibility
determinations” or “weigh the evidence when determining whether an issue of fact
remains for trial.” Id. (citing Logan v. Denny’s, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001)).
“The ultimate question is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to
require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law.’” Back v. Nestle USA, Inc., 694 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52). If there is a dispute over facts that might affect the
outcome of the case under governing law, the entry of summary judgment is precluded.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
As the moving parties, the Defendants must shoulder the burden of showing the
absence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to at least one essential element of
Plaintiff’s claim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Assuming Defendants satisfy their burden,
the Plaintiff “must—by deposition, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions
on file—show specific facts that reveal a genuine issue for trial.” Laster, 746 F.3d at 726
(citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).
Plaintiff’s deliberate-indifference claim is dismissed with prejudice.
“To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must set forth facts that, when
construed favorably, establish (1) the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or
laws of the United States (2) caused by a person acting under the color of state law.”
Sigley v. City of Parma Heights, 437 F.3d 527, 533 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing West v. Atkins,
487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)).
With respect to the second prong, it is clear that Defendants are subject to suit
under § 1983 because they acted “under the color of state law.” “It is well[-]settled that
private parties that perform fundamentally public functions, or who jointly participate with
a state to engage in concerted activity, are regarded as acting ‘under color of state law’
for purposes of § 1983.”
Bartell v. Lohiser, 215 F.3d 550, 556 (6th Cir. 2000).
“Contracting out prison medical care does not relieve” the Commonwealth or its counties
of the “constitutional duty to provide adequate medical treatment to those in its custody,
and does not deprive … prisoners of the means to vindicate their” constitutional rights.
West, 487 U.S. at 56; see also Hicks v. Frey, 992 F.2d 1450, 1458 (6th Cir. 1993).
Defendants do not contest this conclusion. (Doc. # 48-1 at 17). Because there is no
dispute that the Defendants in this case acted “under color of state law,” the “Court’s
inquiry must focus on” the first prong—“whether there was an actionable deprivation of a
right secured under the Constitution or the laws of the United States.” 2 Miller v. Calhoun
Cty., 408 F.3d 803, 812 (6th Cir. 2005).
Plaintiff claims that the Defendants violated Griffith’s Eighth Amendment rights.3
(Doc. # 1 at ¶ 42). The Constitution requires the Government, and those who have been
“Being subject to suit under § 1983, however, does not mean that a party has the right to
assert qualified immunity.” Harrison v. Ash, 539 F.3d 510, 521 (6th Cir. 2008); see also McCullum
v. Tepe, 693 F.3d 396, 700 (6th Cir. 2012). The Sixth Circuit has held that “the purposes of
qualified immunity do not support the extension of the doctrine to nurses employed by a private”
corporation, providing medical services to inmates. Id. at 524. Therefore, Defendants do not
attempt to argue, and are not eligible for, qualified immunity on Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims.
Accordingly, qualified immunity, which often plays a pivotal role in § 1983 cases, will not be
addressed in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.
Plaintiff’s Complaint contains a count alleging a violation of Griffith’s rights guaranteed by
the Kentucky Constitution. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 45-48). The contours of this state-constitutional claim
are unclear. Plaintiff neither cites to specific sections of the Kentucky Constitution nor provides
details from which the Court could ascertain which provisions of the Kentucky Constitution have
allegedly been violated. Therefore, the Court is left reading tea leaves with respect to this claim.
Section 17 of the Kentucky Constitution prohibits the infliction of cruel punishment. Ky.
Const. § 17. The Kentucky Supreme Court has determined that Section 17 is virtually identical
to the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and therefore, the analysis of such
claims can be collapsed. Riley v. Kentucky, 120 S.W.3d 622, 633 (Ky. 2003). However, claims
alleging violations of state-constitutional rights are “not cognizable under § 1983,” which provides
a cause of action only for violations of federally created rights. Radvansky v. City of Olmsted Falls,
395 F.3d 291, 314 (6th Cir. 2005). Nor is there an analogue to § 1983 under Kentucky law. St.
Luke Hosp., Inc. v. Straub, 354 S.W.3d 529, 534-38 (Ky. 2011) (holding that neither the Kentucky
Constitution nor any Kentucky statute “create[s] a private right of action for violations of the state
constitution” and refusing to judicially create a constitutional tort for state-constitutional violations).
Thus, to the extent Plaintiff has attempted to assert a cause of action for violation of Section 17
of the Kentucky Constitution, that claim must be dismissed.
Section 241 of the Kentucky Constitution, however, provides for the recovery for wrongful
death, and a state statute—Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 411.130—provides the cause of action.
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s wrongful-death claim will be addressed infra.
delegated governmental power, “to provide medical care for those whom it is punishing
by incarceration,” and “the failure to provide such medical care may result in a violation
of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment.” Harrison v.
Ash, 539 F.3d 510, 518 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 428 U.S. 97, 103
“Although the Eighth Amendment’s protections apply specifically to post-
conviction inmates … the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment operates
to guarantee those same protections to pretrial detainees.” Miller, 408 F.3d at 812 (citing
Barber v. City of Salem, Ohio, 953 F.2d 232, 235 (6th Cir. 1992); Thompson v. Cty. of
Medina, Ohio, 29 F.3d 238, 242 (6th Cir. 1994)). Thus, pretrial detainees, like Griffith,
“have a right to adequate medical treatment that is analogous to the Eighth Amendment
rights of prisoners.” Watkins v. City of Battle Creek, 273 F.3d 682, 685-86 (6th Cir. 2001)
(citing City of Revere v. Mass. Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244 (1983)).
“To sustain a cause of action under § 1983 for failure to provide medical treatment,
plaintiff must establish that the defendants acted with ‘deliberate indifference to serious
medical needs.’” Watkins, 273 F.3d at 686 (quoting Estelle, 428 U.S. at 104). “Deliberate
indifference is a stringent standard of fault.” Miller, 408 F.3d at 815. It is not “mere
negligence.” Watkins, 273 F.3d at 686. After all, “medical malpractice does not become
a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner.” Estelle, 429 U.S. at
106. Nor does “every claim by a prisoner that he has not received adequate medical
treatment state[ ] a violation of the Eighth [or Fourteenth] Amendment.” Id. at 105.
“[I]n the medical context, an inadvertent failure to provide medical care cannot be
said to constitute ‘an unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.’” Id. at 105-06.
Accordingly, “a complaint that a physician has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a
medical condition does not state a valid [constitutional] claim of medical mistreatment.”
Similarly, “[w]hen a prison doctor provides treatment, albeit carelessly or
inefficaciously, to a prisoner, he has not displayed a deliberate indifference to the
prisoner’s needs, but merely a degree of incompetence which does not rise to the level
of a constitutional violation.” Comstock v. McCrary, 273 F.3d 693, 703 (6th Cir. 2001).
Although the treatment Griffith received was ultimately unsuccessful as he later
died, this fact is of no consequence to whether the Defendants were deliberately
indifferent to Griffith’s serious medical need. Instead, the Plaintiff’s allegations must
allege that the Defendants acted with “deliberate indifference” to Griffith’s serious medical
needs, before the case can proceed to a jury.
Specifically, a deliberate-indifference claim has “two components, one objective
and one subjective.” Comstock, 273 F.3d at 702. “The failure to address a serious
medical need rises to the level of a constitutional violation” only “where both objective and
subjective requirements are met.” Harrison, 539 F.3d at 518 (internal citations omitted).
“First, the failure to protect from risk of harm must be objectively ‘sufficiently
serious.’” Id. (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994)). “To meet this
requirement, [plaintiff] must show ‘the existence of a sufficiently serious medical need.’”
Id. (quoting Blackmore v. Kalamazoo Cty., 390 F.3d 890, 895 (6th Cir. 2004)). “A serious
medical need 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.’” Id. (quoting Blackmore, 390 F.3d at 897).
In the instant case, the parties do not dispute that the Plaintiff has established the
objective component of her § 1983 claim.
Nor could they.
Griffith suffered from
pyopneumoperitoneum, perforation of duodenal ulcer, and peptic ulcer disease, and died
as a result.
See Rouster v. Cty. of Saginaw, 749 F.3d 437, 446 (6th Cir. 2014)
(characterizing a “perforated duodenum” as “an objectively serious need for medical
treatment.”). Thus, the parties’ arguments, and the Court’s analysis, focus on whether
Plaintiff has satisfied the subjective component of her deliberate-indifference claim.
“Second, to satisfy the subjective requirement, [plaintiff] must show ‘a sufficiently
culpable state of mind in delaying medical care.’” Id. (quoting Blackmore, 390 F.3d at
“Officials have a sufficiently culpable state of mind where officials act with
‘deliberate indifference’ to a serious medical need.” Jones v. Muskegon Cty., 625 F.3d
935, 941 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). “The Supreme Court has
defined ‘deliberate indifference’ as being more than mere negligence but less than acting
with purpose or knowledge.” Id. “Instead, the prison official must have acted with a state
of mind similar to recklessness.” Id.
To prove the required level of culpability, a plaintiff must allege facts, which if true,
would show that: “(1) ‘the official being sued subjectively perceived facts from which to
infer substantial risk to the prisoner;’ (2) the official ‘did in fact draw the inference;’ and (3)
the official ‘then disregarded that risk.’” Anthony v. Swanson, No. 16-3444, 2017 WL
2992224, at *2 (6th Cir. Jul, 14, 2017) (quoting Rouster, 749 F.3d at 446). Under this
framework, “an official’s failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived
but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot … be condemned as the infliction
of punishment.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 838 (emphasis added).
The “plaintiff bears the onerous burden of proving the official’s subjective
knowledge.” Comstock, 273 F.3d at 703. However, “this element is subject to proof by
‘the usual ways, including inference from circumstantial evidence.’” Id. (quoting Farmer,
511 U.S. at 842). Thus, it is “permissible for reviewing courts to infer from circumstantial
evidence that a prison official had the requisite knowledge.” Id. A “court must also
consider other factors—such as the obviousness of the risk, the information available to
the official, the observable symptoms, and the expected level of knowledge of the
particular official.” Sours v. Big Sandy Reg’l Jail Auth., 593 F. App’x 478, 484 (6th Cir.
2014) (internal citations omitted).
“If a risk is obvious or if it is well-documented and circumstances suggest that the
official has been exposed to information such that she must have known of the risk, the
evidence is sufficient for a jury to find that the official had knowledge.” Id. (citing Farmer,
511 U.S. at 842-43). Accordingly, “a prison official ‘may not escape liability if the evidence
showed that he merely refused to verify underlying facts that he strongly suspected to be
true, or declined to confirm inferences of risk that he strongly suspected to exist.’”
Comstock, 273 F.3d at 703 (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 843 n.8). But, “it is not enough
for plaintiff to demonstrate a question of fact whether the [defendants] should have
known” that there was a substantial risk of harm. Watkins, 273 F.3d at 686.
Nurse Nichols and Nurse Practitioner Hatfield4
The subjective component of a deliberate-indifference claim must be addressed for each
defendant individually. Phillips v. Roane Cty., Tenn., 534 F.3d 531, 542 (6th Cir. 2008); see also
Garretson v. City of Madison Heights, 407 F.3d 789, 797 (6th Cir. 2005). Accordingly, the Court
must separately “consider whether each individual defendant had a sufficiently culpable state of
mind.” Id. However, because the facts known and actions taken by Nurse Nichols and Nurse
Because the subjective component of the deliberate-indifference standard requires
a fact-intensive inquiry, the Court will briefly recount the interactions Nurse Nichols and
Nurse Practitioner Hatfield had with Griffith, and then summarize the facts known to each
of the Defendants when they made their treatment decisions.
Nurse Nichols had approximately four interactions with Griffith on Thursday,
February 13, 2014, each occurring within a matter of five hours. (Doc. # 48-13 at 1-3).
She was the only medical provider to perform in-person, physical examinations of Griffith.
Id. Nurse Nichols documented Griffith’s complaints, observed him vomit, checked his
vitals, examined Griffith’s abdomen, performed a urinalysis, drew blood for other tests,
requested and reviewed Griffith’s medical records from King’s Daughters Medical Center,
and communicated with her supervisor, Nurse Practitioner Hatfield, regarding Griffith’s
Nurse Practitioner Hatfield had one “telemed” interaction with Griffith on Thursday,
February 13, 2014. Id. at 4. Before and after this “telemed” examination, Nurse Nichols
informed Nurse Practitioner Hatfield of Griffith’s condition, updated her with test results,
and reviewed the information contained in Griffith’s medical records.
At the time Nurse Nichols and Nurse Practitioner Hatfield cared for Griffith, they
knew the following facts: (1) Griffith complained of severe abdominal pain, (2) Griffith was
experiencing nausea and vomiting, (3) Griffith’s vital signs were normal, (4) Griffith’s
abdomen was “soft” and “non-tender to touch,” (4) Griffith had a history of Hepatitis-C and
pancreatitis, (5) Griffith had suffered from similar pain recently, and (6) Griffith’s urinalysis
revealed that he was possibly dehydrated, but was otherwise unremarkable. Nurse
Practitioner Hatfield are virtually identical, the Court will avoid duplication and provide a combined
analysis where appropriate.
Nichols knew one additional fact—that Griffith’s complaints of pain and nausea persisted
the night of Thursday, February 13th.5
Even when viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, these facts do not
establish a dispute of material fact with respect to deliberate indifference. It is undisputed
that the Defendants were not aware of one critical fact—Griffith’s medical history of peptic
ulcer disease and a duodenal ulcer. Nor were the Defendants aware of facts from which
they could have inferred that Griffith was at a substantial risk of harm. This is not a case
where the Defendants “merely refused to verify underlying facts that [they] strongly
suspected to be true, or declined to confirm inferences of risk that [they] strongly
suspected to exist.” Comstock, 273 F.3d at 703. The risk posed to Griffith by his peptic
ulcer disease, or the perforation of a duodenal ulcer, was not “obvious” or “welldocumented,” and there are no facts to suggest that Nurse Nichols or Nurse Hatfield were
“exposed to information such that [they] must have known of the risk.” Sours, 593 F. App’x
Moreover, it is undisputed that neither Nurse Nichols nor Nurse Practitioner
Hatfield drew such an inference.
Nurse Nichols and Nurse Practitioner Hatfield treated Griffith for the condition that
they thought he had—severe abdominal pain and possible pancreatitis. (Docs. # 48-13;
48-5 at 29:21-30:9; and 48-6 at 46:14-22, 52:23-53:22, 55:15-56:1). They were wrong.
Plaintiff has called Nurse Nichols’s 10:00 p.m. call into question, as the Detention Center’s
call logs do not reflect the call. (Doc. # 51 at 3). However, because the call increases the facts
available to Nurse Nichols—that Griffith’s complaints of pain and nausea had persisted—the
Court will consider this fact in addressing Nurse Nichols’s subjective knowledge.
There is no indication in the record that Nurse Nichols notified Nurse Practitioner Hatfield
that Deputy McDavid had informed her that Griffith’s complaints of pain and nausea had persisted,
or that Phenergan and Tylenol had been re-administered. Instead, Nurse Nichols’s notes indicate
only that she informed Deputy McDavid that Nurse Practitioner Hatfield could be contacted if
needed. (Doc. # 48-13 at 3).
But, it is undisputed that Nurse Nichols and Nurse Practitioner Hatfield did not know, nor
do the facts permit the drawing of an inference, that Griffith was suffering from peptic ulcer
disease and the perforation of a duodenal ulcer.
Furthermore, neither Nurse Nichols nor Nurse Practitioner Hatfield consciously
disregarded Griffith’s complaints or needs, nor did they fail to treat what they thought was
severe abdominal pain and potential pancreatitis.6 Although the “diagnosis ultimately
proved to be incorrect,” Nurse Nichols’s and Nurse Practitioner Hatfield’s “treatment
represented a reasoned, good-faith effort to treat [Griffith’s] symptoms.” Shade v. City of
Middletown, Ohio, 200 F. App’x 566, 569-70 (6th Cir. 2006). Put simply, the Defendants’
“actions clearly did not exhibit the recklessness or callous disregard for” Griffith’s wellbeing that has been “exemplified” in “decisions finding § 1983 liability.” Id. at 570.
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s deliberate-indifference claim fails to satisfy the subjective
Plaintiff’s arguments, which can be best characterized as complaints that
Defendants should have done more to treat Griffith, fail to persuade the Court to conclude
otherwise. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that Defendants “deviated from the standard of
care” by failing to transport Griffith “to a higher level of care and/or hospital,” and instead
transferred Griffith “to a medical cell, when he clearly should have been taken to a hospital
so he could have been properly treated with acid[-]reducing medicine or anti[-]ulcer
medicine.” (Doc. # 51 at 8, 11). Plaintiff also claims that the Defendants failed to
“diligently inquire into [Griffith’s] past medical history,” and failed Griffith “by only
Even “in cases where prison officials actually knew of a substantial risk to inmate health
or safety, they may be found free from liability if they reasonably responded to the risk, even if the
harm ultimately was not averted.” Harrison, 539 F.3d at 519 (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 844)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
conducting a cursory examination of incomplete medical records.” Id. at 10.7
It is true that “prison officials may not entirely insulate themselves from liability
under § 1983 simply by providing some measure of treatment.” McCarthy v. Place, 313
F. App’x 810, 814 (6th Cir. 2008). “Indeed, deliberate indifference may be established in
cases where it can be shown that a defendant rendered ‘grossly inadequate care’ or made
a ‘decision to take an easier but less efficacious course of treatment.” Jones, 625 F.3d
at 944-45 (quoting McCarthy, 313 F. App’x at 814). However, in order to qualify as
“grossly inadequate,” the medical care must be “so grossly incompetent, inadequate, or
excessive as to shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness.” Miller,
408 F.3d at 819.
The medical care Nurse Nichols and Nurse Practitioner Hatfield provided was not
“grossly inadequate.” Nurse Nichols listened to and documented Griffith’s complaints,
inspected his vomit, checked his vitals, examined his abdomen, performed a urinalysis,
drew blood for other tests, dispensed Phenergan and Tylenol, requested and reviewed
Griffith’s medical records from King’s Daughters Medical Center, and communicated with
her supervisor, Nurse Practitioner Hatfield, regarding Griffith’s care. (Doc. # 48-13 at 13). Nurse Practitioner Hatfield reviewed Nurse Nichols’s findings, conducted a “telemed”
examination, prescribed Phenergan and Tylenol, ordered a urinalysis and additional
laboratory tests, and reviewed Griffith’s medical records. Neither Nurse Nichols’s nor
Nurse Practitioner Hatfield’s provision of care can be deemed unreasonable in response
Plaintiff makes an additional, extraneous argument regarding the Defendants’ decision to
administer Tylenol to Griffith, knowing he had Hepatitis-C and knowing “Tylenol could be toxic.”
(Doc. # 51 at 11). This argument is entirely unsupported by the facts in the record. There is no
allegation that Griffith’s ingestion of Tylenol caused his death or harmed him in any way. (Doc. #
48-7 at 28:14-29:3).
to the symptoms Griffith exhibited, because, as stated above, there is no indication that
Nurse Nichols or Nurse Practitioner Hatfield perceived Griffith’s ailment as anything other
than severe abdominal pain and possible pancreatitis.
“Had [Nurse Nichols or Nurse Practitioner Hatfield] been subjectively aware of the
seriousness of [Griffith’s] medical condition, [their] decision to treat him only with”
Phenergan, Tylenol, a liquid diet, and medical observation “might have been so cursory
as to amount to a conscious disregard of his needs.” Rouster, 749 F.3d at 448. However,
Plaintiff has failed to show that Nurse Nichols or Nurse Practitioner Hatfield were “in fact
aware that [Griffith] had a serious medical need” that required transportation to a hospital.
Id. “Indeed, [Nurse Nichols and Nurse Practitioner Hatfield] did not have one very critical
piece of information, which might have allowed [them] to draw such a conclusion: [they]
did not know that” Griffith had a history of ulcers. Id. (finding defendants were not
“deliberately indifferent” where they did not know that inmate had been treated the
previous year for a perforated duodenal ulcer); see also Winkler v. Madison Cty., Ky., No.
5:15-cv-45-KKC, 2017 WL 3585407 (E.D. Ky. Aug. 18, 2017) (holding same); Cf.
Westlake v. Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 859 (6th Cir. 1976) (concluding that a prisoner stated
a claim of deliberate indifference because prison officials provided no treatment even after
the prisoner informed them that he suffered from an ulcer and needed medication and a
Similarly, the failure to request and review more, or different, medical records does
not constitute deliberate indifference. The Sixth Circuit has held that failure to check
medical records is “negligence at most.” Sanderfer v. Nichols, 62 F.3d 151, 155 (6th Cir.
1665) (“While perhaps in hindsight [defendant] should have checked [inmate’s] medical
history records, her failure to do so is negligence at most.”). Here, Defendants did attempt
to obtain a fuller picture of Griffith’s medical history. Nurse Nichols requested medical
records from King’s Daughters Medical Center and reviewed them with Nurse Practitioner
Hatfield. Significantly, those medical records did not indicate any prior history of ulcer
problems. If a complete failure to request and review medical records does not amount
to deliberate indifference, neither does a failure to request and review all potentially
pertinent medical records.8
Even if Nurse Nichols or Nurse Practitioner Hatfield could have done more, the
facts do not show that Nurse Nichols or Nurse Practitioner Hatfield perceived that Griffith
had a more serious condition than severe abdominal pain and possible pancreatitis, and
they certainly do not show that Nurse Nichols or Nurse Practitioner Hatfield consciously
disregarded any risk to a serious medical need. The “standard is not whether there is
something easy that the doctors, with the benefit of hindsight, could have done.’” Rouster,
749 F.3d at 453 (quoting Williams v. Mehra, 186 F.3d 685, 692 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc)).
The Court can only “judge [Defendants’] actions based on the information that was
available to them at the time.” Id. Therefore, the Plaintiff has failed to create a genuine
dispute as to any material fact, and Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the
As a private corporation that “perform[s] a traditional state function such as
Griffith’s alleged mental deficits do not compel a different conclusion. First, there is no
evidence in the record to corroborate Griffith’s claim of a “learning disability.” (Doc. # 48-12). Nor
is there any evidence in the record to establish the nature or severity of Griffith’s alleged mental
deficits. Furthermore, there is no evidence in the record to support Plaintiff’s argument that
because of Griffith’s learning disability, “the Defendants should have known” that Griffith “may not
be able to relate specific medical diagnoses to them.” (Doc. # 51 at 9).
providing medical services to prison inmates,” Correcthealth may be sued under § 1983.
Street v. Corrs. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996). However, “private
corporations cannot be held liable on the basis of respondeat superior or vicarious
liability.” Rouster, 749 F.3d at 453 (citing Street, 102 F.3d at 818). Therefore, the Plaintiff
must prove that there has been a constitutional violation and “that a policy or custom” of
Correcthealth “was the ‘moving force’ behind the deprivation” of constitutional rights. Id.
(quoting Miller v. Sanilac Cty., 606 F.3d 240, 254-55 (6th Cir. 2010)).
The Plaintiff argues that Correcthelath established policies, procedures, and
customs “that ultimately led to” Griffith’s death, as well as “constitutional violations” by
(Doc. # 51 at 12).
Specifically, Plaintiff makes three
allegations against Correcthealth. First, Plaintiff claims that Nurse Nichols and Nurse
Practitioner Hatfield failed to follow Correcthealth’s “Emergency Services” policy, which
requires transfer to a hospital if the “patient’s needs exceed the capabilities” at the
Detention Center. (Doc. # 51 at 13). Second, Plaintiff contends that Correcthealth “failed
to have in place a policy, which allowed for the Defendants to promptly assess” Griffith’s
“worsening condition.” Id. And lastly, Plaintiff alleges that Correcthealth “failed to properly
train its medical providers on the proper procedures and protocols to use to [assess] a
patient who has worsening symptoms.” Id. at 14.
However, for Correcthealth to be liable, Plaintiff must identify some policy,
procedure, or custom that caused a violation of Griffith’s constitutional rights. See Grose
v. Corr. Med. Servs., Inc., 400 F. App’x 986, 989 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Perez v. Oakland
Cty., 466 F.3d 416, 430 (6th Cir. 2006)). As discussed above, Plaintiff is unable to create
a genuine dispute as to whether Griffith’s constitutional rights were violated. Therefore,
the Court need not consider whether Correcthealth’s policies or training might have
caused such a violation. Rouster, 749 F.3d at 454. Accordingly, Correcthealth is entitled
to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s deliberate-indifference claim.
Plaintiff’s wrongful-death claim is dismissed without prejudice.
With respect to Plaintiff’s wrongful-death claim, Defendants contend that this Court
should grant summary judgment because Plaintiff has failed to produce sufficient expertwitness testimony regarding the standard of care and proximate cause. (Doc. # 48-1 at
The granting of summary judgment and consequent dismissal of Plaintiff’s § 1983
claims renders this Court’s jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims solely
supplemental under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.9 The Sixth Circuit has held that “a federal court
that has dismissed a plaintiff’s federal-law claims should not ordinarily reach the plaintiff’s
state-law claims.” Rouster, 749 F.3d at 454; see also Moon v. Harrison Piping Supply,
465 F.3d 719, 728 (6th Cir. 2006); United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715,
726 (1966) (“Certainly, if the federal claims are dismissed before trial … the state claims
should be dismissed as well.”).
Federalism cautions that “[n]eedless decisions of state law should be avoided both
as a matter of comity and to promote justice between the parties, by procuring for them a
surer-footed reading of applicable law.”
Gibbs, 383 U.S. at 726.
This Court has
consistently adhered to these principles of federalism, and continues to do so in the
instant case. See, e.g., Schulker v. Kenton Cty., Ky., No. 2:10-cv-143-DLB, 2013 WL
Although Correcthealth is a Georgia-based corporation, complete diversity of citizenship,
as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1332, does not exist due to the presence of Nurse Nichols, a citizen
of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
190210, at *8 (E.D. Ky. Jan. 17, 2013). Because Plaintiff’s remaining wrongful-death
claim arises under state law and implicates complex questions regarding the standard of
care for nursing professionals in the Commonwealth, the Court declines to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction, and Plaintiff’s wrongful-death claim is dismissed without
Accordingly, for the reasons stated herein,
IT IS ORDERED as follows:
Defendants Correcthealth Kentucky, LLC, Michale D. Nichols, and Susie
Hatfield’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 48) is granted;
Plaintiff Mary Griffith’s federal Section 1983 deliberate-indifference claim is
dismissed with prejudice;
Plaintiff Mary Griffith’s state law wrongful-death claim is dismissed without
This action is dismissed and stricken from the Court’s active docket.
This 30th day of August, 2017.
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