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Garcia v. Management TEAM-UTMB

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

February 21, 2018

JOHN M. GARCIA, Plaintiff,
MANAGEMENT TEAM-UTMB, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff John M. Garcia, a former Texas state prisoner in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ"), filed a pro se civil rights complaint while incarcerated (Dkt. 1). He is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis (Dkt. 8). Garcia proceeds under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and complains that he received Constitutionally inadequate medical treatment at TDCJ's Terrell Unit and at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston ("UTMB"). Garcia alleges that medical providers at the Terrell Unit and UTMB repeatedly ignored his complaints of severe abdominal pain and refused to treat him.[1] He has not sued any specific UTMB or TDCJ personnel; his complaint only lists as defendants the "Management Team-UTMB" and the "C.T. Terrell UTMB Team" (Dkt. 1 at p. 3).

         The Court requested a Martinez[2]report from the Texas Attorney General's office, which the Attorney General's office provided (Dkt. 14). The Court construed the Martinez report as a motion for summary judgment and notified Garcia of that construction (Dkt. 15). Garcia never responded and has presented no summary judgment evidence.

         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

         In his complaint, Garcia alleges that the "Management Team-UTMB" and the "C.T. Terrell UTMB Team" repeatedly refused to treat a hernia from which he was suffering, even after a doctor and a physician's assistant (neither of whom Garcia has named as a defendant) confirmed the hernia's existence (Dkt. 1 at pp. 3, 4, 6, 7). The Attorney General's Martinez report contains over 1, 000 pages of medical records detailing the extensive medical care that UTMB and TDCJ provided to Garcia for a variety of conditions. The report also includes an affidavit from Dr. Steven Bowers, the Legal Coordinator for UTMB Correctional Managed Care, that specifically discusses the treatment of Garcia's hernia (Dkt. 14-7).

         Garcia was seen by Dr. Kwabena Owusu in the Terrell Unit medical clinic for abdominal pain on April 24, 2013 (Dkt. 14-7 at p. 11). Garcia was not suffering from diarrhea or vomiting, and he was not in acute distress (Dkt. 14-7 at p. 11). His abdomen was soft with no rebound (Dkt. 14-7 at p. 11). Dr. Owusu made an urgent referral for an abdominal CT scan, gave Garcia medicine for his pain, and placed Garcia on "medically unassigned" status for 30 days (Dkt. 14-7 at p. 12).[3] Garcia was diagnosed with a ventral hernia (Dkt. 14-7 at p. 20). On September 3, 2013, Dr. Owusu gave Garcia a six-month pass for an abdominal binder, which Dr. Bowers describes as "a wide compression belt that encircles the abdomen and assists in alleviating pain" (Dkt. 14-7 at pp. 3, 14, 15). At the September visit, Dr. Owusu noted that Garcia had been "[s]een multiple times" and that "[a]ll image studies" on Garcia's abdomen were negative (Dkt. 14-7 at p. 14). Evidently, the abdominal binder was effective: at a clinic visit a month later, Dr. Marcus Hinkle and Nurse Deborah Henneberg noted that the "[a]bdominal binder seem[ed] to help with [Garcia's] ventral hernia discomfort (Dkt. 14-7 at pp. 20-21). Dr. Hinkle and Nurse Henneberg also examined Garcia's abdomen, which was soft and had no masses (Dkt. 14-7 at p. 20). In his affidavit, Dr. Bowers also points out that the chart from the October 2013 visit shows that "[Garcia's] weight had remained stable over several months and his lab was all essentially normal" (Dkt. 14-7 at p. 3).


         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. § l9l5A(b). A reviewing court may dismiss a complaint for these same reasons "at any time" where a party, like Garcia, 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. § l997e(c).

         Garcia proceeds pro 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 filed pro se is 'to be liberally construed, ' Estelle [v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)], and 'a pro 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

         The defendants have filed a Martinez report, which the Court has construed as 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 Transp. Co.,402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). The movant may meet its burden by pointing out the absence ...

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