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Mora v. Chapa

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division

March 30, 2017

GERALD MORA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSE CHAPA, et al, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Hilda Tagle Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Gerald Mora (“Mora”), a Texas state prisoner, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mora is currently incarcerated at the McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas. Mora is a throat cancer survivor and has a stoma in his throat to facilitate his breathing. Mora alleges that on four different occasions-March 25, 2012, August 25, 2013, November 11, 2013, and August 24, 2014-he went to the medical department at the McConnell Unit in order to obtain his medical supplies to care for his stoma and was denied the supplies by Defendant Jose Chapa (“Chapa”), Nurse Clinician of the McConnell Unit. See Compl., D.E. 1, at 6-16. Mora claims that Chapa was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment and retaliated against Mora for filing grievances against Chapa. Plaintiff also brings claims against Defendant Gary Eubanks, Associate Chief Nursing Officer (see D.E. 57 at 1), for injunctive relief under § 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The Court has before it Mora's Complaint (D.E. 1), Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (D.E. 68), Mora's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (D.E. 97), the Memorandum and Recommendations (“M&R”) of the Magistrate Judge to whom this case was referred pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) (D.E. 98), and Mora's response in opposition to the M&R (D.E. 105).

         The Magistrate Judge recommended that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted. More specifically, the Magistrate Court determined that Mora had exhausted his administrative remedies for incidents occurring in March 2012, August 2013, and November 2013, and therefore recommended that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of exhaustion be denied. See M&R, D.E. 98 at 9-12. On all of Mora's substantive claims, however, the Magistrate Judge recommended granting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. On the Eighth Amendment claim, the Magistrate Court determined that there is no genuine dispute of material fact as to if Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Mora's serious medical needs. Id. at 13-18. On the retaliation claim, the Magistrate Court determined that there is no genuine dispute of material fact that Defendants denied Mora his medical supplies on four sporadic and infrequent occurrences due to McConnell Unit and Texas Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”) “sick call” policy[1] rather than in retaliation against Mora. Id. at 19-22. On the ADA claim, the Magistrate Court found no genuine dispute of material fact that Mora was denied or delayed medical supplies to clean his stoma for policy reasons, and not on the basis for disability. Id. at 24-26. Furthermore, the Magistrate Court found that Mora did not satisfy his burden to overcome the defense of qualified immunity. Id. at 22-24.

         More files several objections to the M&R. On the Eight Amendment claim, Mora points to language of the Magistrate Judge's February 17, 2016 Supplemental Memorandum and Recommendation on Remanded Claims (“February 17, 2016 Supplemental M&R”). D.E. 105 at 3 (citing D.E. No. 31 at 8-9). In the February 17, 2016 Supplemental M&R, entered at an earlier stage of litigation, the Magistrate Judge found that:

The additional evidence offered by Plaintiff establishes that he has alleged sufficient facts to state a claim of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs against Nurse Chapa in his individual capacity, as well as a claim for retaliation. In addition, his allegations state a cognizable claim under the ADA.

February 17, 2016 Supplemental M&R, D.E. 31 at 8.

         This language from the February 17, 2016 Supplemental M&R indicates that the Magistrate Judge found that Mora had alleged sufficient facts to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and thereby was issuing his recommendation regarding the sufficiency of Mora's complaint under the motion to dismiss standard as outlined in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6). Under the (12)(b)(6) standard, a court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe all facts in favor of the plaintiff. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). However, at the summary judgment phase of litigation, which is the stage at which the Magistrate Judge issued the instant M&R, the court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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. In other words, at the summary judgment phase, the court examines the evidence to determine whether a trial is needed. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). If, based on the available proof, a reasonable jury would be required to find for one party at trial, then there is no need to proceed to trial and the court can enter judgment as a matter of law for that party. See Steven S. Gensler, Rule 56, Summary Judgment, 2 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules and Commentary (Feb. 2017). Therefore, any implication by Mora that the February 17, 2016 Supplemental M&R requires that this Court deny Defendants' motion for summary judgment is without legal merit.

         Mora also argues that Chapa knew of Mora's serious medical needs and, despite this knowledge, Chapa repeatedly denied Mora his stoma cleaning supplies. Mora argues that clinical notes provided that Mora should be given his supplies regardless of whether or not there is an order in the computer, and that Chapa's actions constituted deliberate indifference to Mora because Mora's condition is life-threatening. Dkt. No. 105 at 3-4. Mora states that his condition is life-threatening because his stoma must be cleaned and cleared regularly for it to function properly and to avoid infection or death by blockage (suffocation). Id. at 4. Mora quotes language from the Magistrate Court from the February 17, 2016 Supplemental M&R:

As a registered nurse and a nurse that has personally treated Plaintiff, Nurse Chapa knew of Plaintiff's serious medical needs. Despite this knowledge, the evidence establishes that Nurse Chapa repeatedly denied Plaintiff his stoma cleaning supplies, allegedly because an order was missing in the computer. However, as noted by [Physician Assistant Susanna] Corbett on November 12, 2013, Plaintiff should be given his medical supplies regardless of whether or not there is an order to do so in the computer, as it is well established that he has a life threatening condition for which he will need the supplies the rest of his life. (D.E. 21-4, pages 6-7). Plaintiff's detailed medical history makes it unreasonable for a qualified medical provider to avoid responsibility on the excuse that there is “no order in the computer.” Plaintiff has stated an Eighth Amendment claim under Farmer for purposes of § 1915A screening.

Supplemental M&R, D.E. 31 at 9.

         As explained above, this language from the Supplemental M&R-while indicating that Mora has alleged sufficient facts to state a plausible Eighth Amendment claim-is not dispositive of this case on summary judgment. At the summary judgment phase, the Magistrate Court had before it additional summary judgment evidence in order to make a decision as to whether a reasonable jury would be required to find for one party at trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Magistrate Court found that the evidence did not establish a violation of the Eighth Amendment. The undersigned agrees, and briefly provides its reasons below.

         The Supreme Court has held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the Supreme Court held that “a prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id. at 837. Additionally, delay in treatment may be actionable only if there has been deliberate indifference and the delay results in substantial harm. Stewart v. Murphy, 174 F.3d 530, 537 (5th Cir. 1999).

         In the M&R, the Magistrate Court concluded that Mora did not present evidence to meet this standard for an Eighth Amendment claim because he “does not advance any evidence that denying him his cleaning supplies on these isolated instances posed a substantial risk to his future health.” M&R, D.E. 98 at 16-17. The Magistrate Court provided extensive detail of its reasons in the M&R. See Id. at 13- 18. Mora argues that Chapa did put Mora's health and safety in great danger and that Chapa was aware of Mora's cancer history and the presence of his stoma. D.E. 105 at 4.

         Pursuant to its de novo review of this case, the undersigned briefly highlights some of the evidence in the record. The TDCJ operates a “sick call” system for the treatment of routine, non-emergency illness or injury, as outlined in the Correctional ...


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