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Bailey v. Harris

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

February 27, 2017

CHARLES RAY BAILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
ELIZABETH HARRIS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GEORGE C. HANKS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Charles Ray Bailey (TDCJ #01486071), who is currently in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ"), has filed a pro se civil rights complaint alleging that a correctional officer, Defendant Elizabeth Harris, [1] interfered with his medical care and retaliated against him for his use of the prison grievance process. Bailey has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. 43). Harris has filed a motion for summary judgment, to which Bailey has responded (Dkt. 56 and Dkt. 57). After reviewing all of the evidence submitted, the parties' briefing, and the applicable law, the Court concludes that Harris's motion for summary judgment must be GRANTED for the reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Bailey is an insulin-dependent diabetic who has also been diagnosed with hypertension (Dkt. 56-1 at pp. 3-7, 10-11, 22). He receives two insulin shots a day and has been prescribed a host of other medications (Dkt. 56-1 at pp. 3-7, 10-11, 22). His claims in this case stem from three occasions on which he alleges that his medical care was interrupted by Harris, who often stood a security post in the medical facility at TDCJ's Darrington Unit when Bailey was incarcerated there (Bailey is now at the Ramsey Unit). Bailey claims that the second and third occasions were retaliatory (Dkt. 17 at pp. 2-3).

         February 11, 2012

         The first alleged incident took place on February 11, 2012 (Dkt. 17 at p. 1). Bailey handed Harris two lay-in passes giving him permission to enter the unit medical facility (Dkt. 17 at p. 1). The passes indicated that Bailey was to receive an insulin injection and get his toenails clipped (Dkt. 17 at p. 1). Harris allowed Bailey to enter the medical facility's waiting area, and Bailey sat down (Dkt. 17 atp. 1). According to Bailey, "[o]nly a short time later[, ]" Harris began tapping on the window of the waiting area and yelling at Bailey (Dkt. 17 at p. 1). Bailey could not understand what Harris was saying on account of the glass barrier, so he left the waiting area to hear her more clearly, whereupon she "stated that [Bailey] had to leave, that [Bailey] could'nt [sic] await treatment, without a logical reason as to why" (Dkt. 17 atp. 1).

         Bailey, wanting "[t]o defuse this hostile situation[, ]" obeyed Harris's order and left the medical facility without receiving his insulin injection or nail clipping (Dkt. 17 at p. 1). He contacted a superior officer a short time later to see if the officer could get him back into the unit clinic, but the officer said that he was too busy to help (Dkt. 17 at p. 1). Unit medical records indicate that Bailey did in fact only receive one insulin injection on February 11, 2012 (Dkt. 56-1 at p. 3). Bailey filed a grievance against Harris related to this incident (Dkt. 56-1 at pp. 43-55). The notes from the investigation indicate that a "formal disciplinary was written on [Harris, ]" but the notes contain no other information regarding what, if any, disciplinary action was taken against her (Dkt. 56-1 at p. 48).

         February 19, 2012

         The second alleged incident took place about a week later, on February 19, 2012 (Dkt. 17 at p. 2). Bailey entered the medical facility to get an insulin shot and a "walk-in blood pressure check"-he does not mention having a lay-in pass on this occasion (Dkt. 17 at p. 2). Harris, according to Bailey, sent "all other offender's [sic] that arrived after [him] to the back of [the medical] department to recive [sic] their treatment" (Dkt. 17 at p. 2). Bailey "became agitated" and left (Dkt. 17 at p. 2). He again talked to a superior officer, who advised him to return to the medical facility and wait to be treated (Dkt. 17 at p. 2). Bailey returned to the medical facility and asked Harris "if in fact this department were [sic] dispencing [sic] insulin" (Dkt. 17 at p. 2). Harris, "in an aggressive tone[, ]" replied that she didn't know (Dkt. 17 at p. 2). Bailey "turned to walk away toward the back of [the medical] department" (Dkt. 17 at p. 2). When he did so, he heard a "laugh of mockery" from Harris (Dkt. 17 at p. 2).

         Unit medical records indicate that Bailey only received one insulin injection on February 19, 2012 (Dkt. 56-1 at p. 4). Bailey filed a grievance against Harris related to this incident (Dkt. 56-1 at pp. 56-66). The notes from the investigation do not indicate that any disciplinary action was taken against Harris-rather, according to the Step 2 grievance response, the investigators found "no evidence to substantiate [Bailey's] allegations" (Dkt. 56-1 at p. 57).

         July 14, 2012

         The last alleged incident took place about five months later, on July 14, 2012 (Dkt. 17 at p. 3). Bailey claims that he was in the unit medical facility with a blood pressure reading of 222/107-which, according to the website of the Mayo Clinic, [2] is within the hypertensive crisis range (Dkt. 17 at p. 3). He further claims that the nurse who took the blood pressure reading "instructed [Harris] that [Bailey] needed to remain in [the medical] department" (Dkt. 17 at p. 3). However, Harris, according to Bailey, screamed "at the top of her voice" that Bailey had to leave, even though the nurse "repeatedly advised her" that Bailey needed to stay (Dkt. 17 at p. 3). Bailey left and talked to a superior officer, who ordered Bailey to return to the medical facility to receive treatment (Dkt. 17 at p. 3). Unit medical records indicate that Bailey got both of his insulin shots on July 14, 2012; that his blood pressure was checked three times on that date; and that he received a 50-milligram dose of Atenolol, a beta blocker, at the prison medical unit (Dkt. 56-1 at pp. 6, 20). Bailey does not mention having a lay-in pass at the July 14, 2012 clinic visit that Harris allegedly interrupted. Bailey filed a grievance against Harris related to the July 14, 2012 incident; and, as a result, Harris was "counseled to ensure that offenders receive proper medical care" (Dkt. 56-1 at pp. 154-65).

         II. THE PLRA. SUMMARY JUDGMENTS. AND QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

         A. The PLRA

         The complaint in this case is governed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (the "PLRA"). Upon initial screening of a prisoner civil rights complaint, the PLRA requires a district court to scrutinize the claims and dismiss the complaint, in whole or in part, if it determines that the complaint "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted" or "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). A reviewing court may dismiss a complaint for these same reasons "at any time" where a party, like Bailey, proceeds in forma pauperis. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) (mandating dismissal where the complaint is "frivolous or malicious, " "fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, " or "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief')• The PLRA also provides that the court "shall on its own motion or on the motion of a party dismiss an action" if it is satisfied that the complaint is "frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c).

         Bailey proceeds/?™ se in this case. Courts construe pleadings filed by pro se litigants under a less stringent standard of review. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972) (per curiam). Under this standard, "[a] document filedpro se is 'to be liberally construed, ' Estelle [v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)], and 'apro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Nevertheless, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (observing that courts "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation"). The Supreme Court has clarified that "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         B. Rule 56

         Harris has filed a motion for summary judgment. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing of the existence of an element essential to the party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must determine whether the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 322-23.

         For summary judgment, the initial burden falls on the movant to identify areas essential to the non-movant's claim in which there is an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Lincoln Gen. Ins. Co. v. Reyna, 401 F.3d 347, 349 (5th Cir. 2005). The movant, however, need not negate the elements of the non-movant's case. See Boudreaux v. Swift Tramp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). The movant may meet its burden by pointing out the absence of evidence supporting the non-movant's case. Duffy v. Leading Edge Products, Inc., 44 F.3d 308, 312 (5th Cir. 1995).

         If the movant meets its initial burden, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Littlefleld v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist., 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir. 2001). "An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action. A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a ...


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