Baker v. Stamps et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER (See Full Order) IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, pursuant to the service agreement the Court maintains with Corizon, the Clerk of Court shall issue process or cause process to issue upon the second amended complaint with respect to Plaintiffs § 1983 claim that Defendants Dr. Ruane Stamps and Corizon Health Care acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiffs serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Signed by Magistrate Judge Patricia L. Cohen on 10/4/19. (EAB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
DAVID J. BAKER,
DR. RUANE STAMPS and CORIZON
No. 2:18-CV-78 PLC
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on review of Plaintiff David Baker’s second amended
complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The Court granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma
pauperis and appointed counsel to represent Plaintiff. The Court directed Plaintiff’s counsel to
file a second amended complaint and stated that the Court would review the second amended
complaint in compliance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915. See ECF No. 14 at 6. Appointed counsel filed a
second amended complaint, along with a supplement specifying the capacity in which Plaintiff
sues each Defendant. See ECF Nos. 19 & 21. At this stage, the Court finds that the second
amended complaint sufficiently states a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against both named
Defendants for their allegedly deliberate indifference to Plaintiff’s serious medical needs in
violation of the Eighth Amendment. Therefore, the Court directs summons to issue on the second
amended complaint as to both Defendants. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d).
Legal Standard on Initial Review
Under § 1915(e)(2), a court dismisses a complaint filed in forma pauperis if upon initial
review the complaint is found frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. To state
a claim for relief, a complaint must plead more than “legal conclusions” and “[t]hreadbare recitals
of the elements of a cause of action [that are] supported by mere conclusory statements.” Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A plaintiff must demonstrate a plausible claim for relief, which
is more than a “mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 679. “A claim has facial plausibility when
the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. Determining whether a complaint
states a plausible claim for relief is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679. When reviewing a complaint
under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the Court accepts the well-pleaded facts as true. See, e.g., White v. Clark,
750 F.2d 721, 722 (8th Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (in reviewing a dismissal under § 1915, a court
takes the facts “in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and all well-pleaded [factual] allegations
are considered as true”).
The Second Amended Complaint
Plaintiff, an inmate at Moberly Correctional Center (“MCC”), brings this action under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 against two Defendants: Corizon Health Care (“Corizon”) (the medical services
provider for the Missouri Department of Corrections including MCC) and Dr. Ruane Stamps (who
is employed by Corizon as a licensed physician and the medical director at MCC). The supplement
to the complaint clarifies that Plaintiff sues Defendants in their individual capacities.
Plaintiff was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014 and received radiation treatment. The
cancer went into remission. The treating physician recommended a follow-up appointment in six
months. However, a month later, Plaintiff discovered a peanut-sized lump in his neck. Plaintiff
reported the lump to Defendant Dr. Stamps in November 2017. As a result, Dr. Stamps ordered a
fine needle aspiration (“FNA”) and ultrasound. The FNA showed no malignancy. After the FNA
and ultrasound, Dr. Stamps concluded that the lump was “necrosis and calcified debris” – not
The lump in Plaintiff’s neck continued to grow. In January 2018, Plaintiff again saw Dr.
Stamps about the lump. Dr. Stamps noticed at that time that Plaintiff’s left tonsil was more
pronounced. In February 2018, Dr. Stamps ordered a computed tomography (“CT”) scan for
Plaintiff. In March 2018, Dr. Stamps ordered an excisional biopsy that occurred the following
month. By the time the biopsy took place, Plaintiff’s lump had grown to seven inches in size. A
direct laryngoscopy and biopsy “showed metastatic moderately differentiated squamous cell
carcinoma, meaning the cancer in [Plaintiff]’s neck was spreading.” Plaintiff was informed that
the mass was inoperable.
After the diagnosis, it took over a month for Corizon to approve chemotherapy treatment
for Plaintiff, which eventually started in June 2018. However, by June 2019, the chemotherapy
was found ineffective and discontinued. Plaintiff was recently told he has approximately six
months to live.
Plaintiff alleges Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs by
intentionally denying or delaying his access to appropriate medical treatment in violation of the
Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff asserts that when he first reported the lump in his throat, instead of
the FNA and ultrasound, the appropriate course of treatment should have been “a [CT] scan, a
direct laryngoscopy, or an excisional biopsy of the lump” due to his history of throat cancer.
Plaintiff states that Defendants chose the FNA because it is a “far less expensive” medical
procedure. In addition, Plaintiff asserts that his excisional biopsy was delayed over a month so
that Defendants could “locate a doctor who would perform the biopsy in the[ doctor’s] office under
local anesthesia.” According to Plaintiff, Corizon “makes it known to [its] doctors to choose less
expensive treatments without regard for the most effective treatment.”
Generally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants’ inadequate response to and delay of treatment
of his health complaints – especially in light of his medical history – detrimentally affected his
health and resulted in a terminal throat cancer prognosis. For his claim against Dr. Stamps,
Plaintiff alleges she was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff’s serious medical needs by refusing to
treat Plaintiff to the best of her ability in an effort “to save money.” Specifically, Plaintiff alleges
that, in addition to delaying treatment, Dr. Stamps knew of Plaintiff’s throat cancer history, knew
or should have known “that an FNA is not as reliable as an excisional biopsy,” and “elected to
order the less expensive, but less effective FNA to save money for Corizon.” With respect to his
claim against Corizon, Plaintiff alleges Corizon’s “policies and procedures seek to force doctors
to recommend less expensive procedures to save money.” Plaintiff seeks compensatory and
punitive damages, along with attorneys’ fees and costs, from both Defendants.
The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment protects a prisoner
from deliberate indifference to the prisoner’s serious medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S.
97, 104 (1976). Therefore, “[d]eliberate indifference to a prisoner’s serious illness or injury states
a cause of action” under Section 1983. Id. at 105. Importantly, allegations of mere negligence in
giving or failing to supply medical treatment will not suffice under § 1983. Id. at 106. Nor will a
prisoner’s “mere disagreement with treatment decisions” support a claim of deliberate indifference
to a prisoner’s serious medical needs. Jones v. Minnesota Dep’t of Corr., 512 F.3d 478, 482 (8th
Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
To establish a claim of deliberate indifference to a prisoner’s serious medical needs under
§ 1983, a plaintiff “must demonstrate (1) that [he] suffered objectively serious medical needs and
(2) that the prison officials actually knew of but deliberately disregarded those needs.” Dulany v.
Carnahan, 132 F.3d 1234, 1239 (8th Cir. 1997). A “serious medical need” is “one that has been
diagnosed by a physician requiring treatment, or one that is so obvious that even a layperson would
easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s attention.” Holden v. Hirner, 663 F.3d 336, 342 (8th
Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A prisoner may show a defendant acted
with deliberate indifference by showing the defendant engaged in intentional delay in or denial of
the prisoner’s access to medical care. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05. When a prisoner claims a delay
in treatment violates his constitutional rights, the objective severity of the deprivation is measured
“by reference to the effect of the delay in treatment.” Jackson v. Riebold, 815 F.3d 1114, 1119
(8th Cir. 2016) (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Laughlin v.
Schriro, 430 F.3d 927, 929 (8th Cir. 2005)).
Importantly, a defendant’s “[l]iability under § 1983 requires a causal link to, and direct
responsibility for, the deprivation of rights.” Madewell v. Roberts, 909 F.2d 1203, 1208 (8th Cir.
1990). According to Plaintiff’s allegations, Dr. Stamps had knowledge of Plaintiff’s history of
cancer when Plaintiff presented with a small knot on his throat. Despite this history, Dr. Stamps
allegedly chose to treat Plaintiff’s medical problems with less expensive medical procedures and
to delay treatment at times to save money, resulting in a terminal prognosis.
With respect to Plaintiff’s claim against Corizon, it is well established that a private
corporation acting under color of state law will only be held liable under § 1983 when “its own
unconstitutional policies” inflict actionable injury. Sanders v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 984 F.2d
972, 975-76 (8th Cir. 1993). Under § 1983, a private corporation acting under color of state law
is not liable for the actions of its employee based on a respondeat superior theory of liability. Id.
at 976. Rather, to state a claim against Corizon, Plaintiff must allege that a policy or custom of
Corizon inflicted injury actionable under § 1983. Id. (citing Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436
U.S. 658, 690 (1978)). A “policy” for purposes of § 1983 is “a deliberate choice of a guiding
principle or procedure made by an official with authority.” Mettler v. Whitledge, 165 F.3d 1197,
1204 (8th Cir. 1999). Plaintiff alleges that Corizon has a policy of cost-saving measures that have
delayed and/or denied him access to adequate medical care, resulting in a terminal prognosis.
Accepting Plaintiff’s allegations as true for purposes of the initial review under Section
1915(e)(2), Plaintiff’s § 1983 claim against both Defendants is facially plausible. See, e.g., Burke
v. North Dakota Dep’t of Corr. and Rehab., 294 F.3d 1043, 1044 (8th Cir. 2002) (per curiam)
(finding that, for purposes of § 1915, a prisoner stated a claim against a corporate medical services
provider for a state department of corrections when the prisoner alleged, in relevant part, that the
provider’s “treatment protocol . . . [was] damaging his health in violation of his Eighth Amendment
rights”); Allard v. Baldwin, M.D., 779 F.3d 768, 772 (8th Cir. 2015) (noting “a doctor’s decision
to take an easier and less efficacious course of treatment” may constitute deliberate indifference).
Therefore, the Clerk shall issue process on Plaintiff’s second amended complaint against both
Accordingly, after careful consideration,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, pursuant to the service agreement the Court maintains
with Corizon, the Clerk of Court shall issue process or cause process to issue upon the second
amended complaint with respect to Plaintiff’s § 1983 claim that Defendants Dr. Ruane Stamps and
Corizon Health Care acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff’s serious medical needs in
violation of the Eighth Amendment.
PATRICIA L. COHEN
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Dated this 4th day of October, 2019
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