Morris v. Fletcher et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Norman K. Moon on 3/24/2017. (slt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
TERAH C. MORRIS,
MRS. FLETCHER, et al.,
Civil Action No. 7:15cv00675
By: Norman K. Moon
United States District Judge
Terah C. Morris, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants failed to provide him adequate mental
health treatment, diagnose him with gender identity disorder (“GID”), and give him hormone
shots. Defendant Dr. McDuffie, a psychiatrist, filed a motion to dismiss and Morris responded,
making this matter ripe for disposition.1 After reviewing the record, I conclude that Morris has
stated a plausible claim against Dr. McDuffie and, therefore, will deny Dr. McDuffie’s motions
Morris alleges that in response to Morris’s multiple complaints about not being evaluated
or treated for GID, Dr. McDuffie met with him on October 29, 2015. Morris asserted that he
suffers from GID and Dr. McDuffie asked Morris why he believed he had a gender disorder
since he “look[ed] perfectly normal” to Dr. McDuffie and had male genitals when he was
classified during intake at the prison. Morris alleges that when he started to try to explain his
concerns to Dr. McDuffie, Dr. McDuffie “cut [Morris] off and yelled and said [that he] wrote
two books on GID/G[ender] D[ysphoria (“GD”), and that he did not] ever want to he[ar Morris]
discuss this subject again and told the officers to get [Morris] the hell out of” Dr. McDuffie’s
Dr. McDuffie also renewed his motion to dismiss after Morris amended his complaint.
office. Morris states that Dr. McDuffie “did not attempt or try to diagnose and/or treat [him] for
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal
sufficiency of a complaint to determine whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim; “it does
not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.”
Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). In considering a Rule
12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and must
draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94
(2007). Legal conclusions in the guise of factual allegations, however, are not entitled to a
presumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation
to provide the grounds of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions,
and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action’s elements will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and quotations omitted). “Factual allegations must
be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level,” id., with all the allegations in the
complaint taken as true and all reasonable inferences drawn in the plaintiff’s favor, Chao v.
Rivendell Woods, Inc., 415 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2005). Rule 12(b)(6) does “not require
heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Consequently, “only a complaint that states a
plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. A claim is plausible if the complaint
contains “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct alleged,” and if there is “more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
In order to allow for the development of a potentially meritorious claim, federal courts
have an obligation to construe pro se pleadings liberally. See, e.g., Boag v. MacDougall, 454
U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (citation omitted). Moreover, “[l]iberal construction of the pleadings is
particularly appropriate where . . . there is a pro se complaint raising civil rights issues.” Smith
v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th
Cir. 1978)). Nevertheless, “[p]rinciples requiring generous construction of pro se complaints are
not . . . without limits.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). “A
pro se plaintiff still must allege facts that state a cause of action.” Bracey v. Buchanan, 55 F.
Supp. 2d 416, 421 (E.D. Va. 1999) (quoting Sado v. Leland Memorial Hospital, 933 F. Supp.
490, 493 (D. Md. 1996)).
To state a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim for denial of medical care, a plaintiff
must allege facts sufficient to demonstrate that jail officials were deliberately indifferent to a
serious medical need. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105 (1976); Staples v. Va. Dep’t of Corr.,
904 F.Supp. 487, 492 (E.D.Va. 1995). “Deliberate indifference may be demonstrated by either
actual intent or reckless disregard.” Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 851 (4th Cir. 1990); see
Parrish ex rel. Lee v. Cleveland, 372 F.3d 294, 303 (4th Cir. 2004) (“[T]he evidence must show
that the official in question subjectively recognized that his actions were ‘inappropriate in light
of that risk.’”). “A defendant acts recklessly by disregarding a substantial risk of danger that is
either known to the defendant or which would be apparent to a reasonable person in the
defendant’s position.” Miltier, 896 F.2d at 851-52. A health care provider may be deliberately
indifferent when the treatment provided is so grossly incompetent, inadequate, or excessive as to
shock the conscience or is intolerable to fundamental fairness. Id. at 851. A serious medical
need is a condition 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.”
Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008).
Morris alleges that he saw Dr. McDuffie concerning mental health treatment, seeking an
assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of GID. At the meeting, Dr. McDuffie knew that Morris
thought he was suffering GID, asked Morris why he thought that, and then did not allow Morris
to answer before yelling at Morris and telling him to get out of Dr. McDuffie’s office and never
bring this issue up again. Accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true and drawing
all reasonable inferences in favor of Morris, I conclude that Morris has stated a plausible Eighth
Amendment claim against Dr. McDuffie. Accordingly, I will deny Dr. McDuffie’s motions to
dismiss and give him the opportunity to file a motion for summary judgment.
ENTER: This _____ day of March, 2017.
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