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Hamilton v. John Sealy Hospital

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

July 6, 2017

TOMMY HAMILTON, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN SEALY HOSPITAL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GEORGE C. HANKS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Tommy Hamilton is an elderly federal prisoner (Federal Register Number: 39463-177) who was treated by the defendants while he was in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ"). He has filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the defendants left the tip of a catheter in his chest and deliberately concealed that information from him (Dkt. 1). The defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 25), to which Hamilton has responded (Dkt. 27). The Court will also consider Hamilton's original complaint and its attachments to be part of the summary judgment record because Hamilton declared under penalty of perjury that the facts set forth in the complaint are true and correct (Dkt. 1 at p. 12). See Hart v. Hairston, 343 F.3d 762, 765 (5th Cir. 2003) ("On summary judgment, factual allegations set forth in a verified complaint may be treated the same as when they are contained in an affidavit."); see also Davis v. Hernandez, 798 F.3d 290, 293 (5th Cir. 2015) ("[F]ederal courts, this one included, have a traditional disposition of leniency toward pro se litigants.") (quotation marks omitted).

         After reviewing all of the evidence submitted, the parties' briefing, and the applicable law, the Court concludes that the defendants' motion for summary judgment must be GRANTED for the reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The individual defendants in this case-Dr. David Beckles, a cardiothoracic surgeon; Dr. Smitha Oommen, an oncologist; and Dr. Techksell Washington, an oncologist-successfully treated Hamilton for lung cancer in 2011.[1] The cancer was discovered after a CT scan and a chest x-ray found a mass in Hamilton's upper right lung in December of 2010 (Dkt. 26-4 at pp. 76-77). The interpreting physicians, who are not defendants in this suit, recommended a "biopsy or repeat CT in three to six months" (Dkt. 26-4 at p. 77).

         In early March of 2011, the Interventional Radiology Department of the University of Texas Medical Branch ("UTMB") performed a CT-guided biopsy of the mass (Dkt. 25-1 at p. 3; Dkt. 26-4 at pp. 68-69). During the procedure, a pneumothorax[2] developed, which required the placement of a catheter in Hamilton's chest for decompression (Dkt. 26-4 at p. 69). Unfortunately, while the catheter was being removed, Hamilton, according to his medical records, "jerked backwards[;]" and the catheter tube broke while the tip of the catheter was still inside Hamilton's chest (Dkt. 26-4 at pp. 62- 63). After using x-rays to locate the catheter tip, the Interventional Radiology Department realized that it "ha[d] no way of safely retrieving th[e] catheter" (Dkt. 26-4 at p. 53). Surgery would be necessary, so the Interventional Radiology Department consulted with UTMB's Cardiothoracic Surgery Department (Dkt. 26-4 at p. 53). Meanwhile, the results of the CT biopsy were coming back; and they were consistent with non-small-cell lung cancer, making it clear that the Cardiothoracic Surgery Department would have to perform a surgical resection of the right lung (Dkt. 26-4 at p. 129). Since the catheter tip would also have to be removed surgically, the cardiothoracic surgery team was then faced with the choice of whether to remove the catheter immediately or leave it in Hamilton's chest temporarily and remove it during the resection-in other words, the choice of whether to perform two surgeries or only one (Dkt. 25-1 at p. 3). The doctors chose to perform one surgery (Dkt. 26-4 at p. 129). The plan of care was explained to Hamilton, who verbalized understanding of the plan and agreed to it (Dkt. 26-2 at pp. 51, 65-66).

         In his affidavit, Dr. Beckles, who ultimately performed the surgery, explains that:

It was made clear to [Hamilton] that the catheter (which is FDA approved to be placed within the chest cavity for sometimes an extended period of time as indicated) was safe to remain in place until the time of his lung cancer surgery. Other pre-operative studies were pending prior to surgical resection of the cancer.
Redo operations on the chest have a higher complication rate and mortality and is [sic] associated with worse cancer survival rates. The patient made his decision that he wanted to have surgery ONCE and not twice.
Therefore, we decided to remove the catheter at the same time as surgical removal of the cancer to offer the patient the most benefit with the smallest risks as possible and he agreed.
The benefits of completing the oncological workup clearly outweighed the risks of waiting [until the resection to remove the catheter]. Dkt. 25-1 at pp. 3-5 (all-caps emphasis in original).

         On April 11, 2011, Dr. Beckles performed the surgical resection and, during the same procedure, removed the catheter tip from Hamilton's chest (Dkt. 26 at pp. 1094- 97). There were no complications (Dkt. 26 at pp. 1094-97), and in his affidavit Dr. Beckles notes that Hamilton survived "one of the . . . deadliest cancers" (Dkt. 25-1 at p. 5). A picture of the removed catheter tip is included in the summary judgment record (Dkt. 30-1 at p. 33). In all, the catheter tip spent five weeks in Hamilton's chest.

         II. THE PLRA, SUMMARY JUDGMENTS, AND QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

         A. ...


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