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Stewart v. Owusu

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

May 25, 2018

ARTHUR LEE STEWART, TDCJ #01440946, Plaintiff,
KWABENA OWUSU,, Defendants.


          George C. Hanks Jr. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Arthur Lee Stewart, an inmate at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Correctional Institutions Division (“TDCJ”), brings this civil rights suit against Defendants Kwabena Owusu, M.D., and Johnny Abraham.[1] Plaintiff alleges that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs when they denied him morphine. Plaintiff proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis. At the Court's request, the Texas Attorney General submitted a Martinez report (Dkt. 20) attaching relevant records, and served Plaintiff with a copy.[2] After the Court converted the report to a summary judgment motion (Dkt. 21), Plaintiff filed a response (Dkt. 22). Having reviewed the evidence submitted, the parties' briefing, and the applicable law, the Court concludes that summary judgment should be GRANTED for Defendants and that this case must be DISMISSED for the reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Stewart complains that he was denied morphine in 2014 and 2015, during his incarceration at TDCJ's Ramsey III Unit in Rosharon, Texas. He brings claims against Kwabena Owusu, M.D., a doctor at the Ramsey III Unit, and against Johnny Abraham, a family nurse practitioner. The Texas Attorney General states that both Defendants are employees of the University of Texas Medical Branch (“UTMB”). Along with its Martinez report, the Attorney General has supplied an affidavit from Steven Bowers, M.D., the Legal Coordinator for UTMB Correctional Managed Care, regarding medical care provided to Plaintiff (Dkt. 20-1, at 2-5).[3]

         After Plaintiff had back surgery in 2010, he was prescribed morphine, among other medications (Dkt. 1-1, at 3). Plaintiff reports that he took morphine until September 24, 2014, and was “doing fine with his therap[eut]ic exercises” (id.). Dr. Bowers' affidavit generally corroborates Plaintiff's account, stating that Stewart was prescribed morphine regularly from 2010 through 2014 (Dkt. 20-1, at 3).

         In September 2014, Plaintiff's morphine prescription was not renewed. Dr. Bowers, having reviewed Plaintiff's medical records, states that on September 25, 2014, Dr. Owusu prescribed Tylenol 3 instead of morphine:

On September 25, 2014, Dr. Owusu reviewed Mr. Stewart's medical chart because there was a request from the pharmacy to refill Mr. Stewart's Morphine prescription once again. The note from this review states that Mr. Stewart was previously approved for Morphine for back pain by Dr. Vincent and that approval had since expired. The note goes on to state that Mr. Stewart has a history of trafficking drugs and trading them at other units and at one point, the medical provider was attempting to taper down the dosage Mr. Stewart was on; Mr. Stewart's dosage of Morphine had steadily increased from 15 mg to 60 mg since 2011 following his surgery. For these reasons, Dr. Owusu decided to defer the renewal of Morphine to Dr. Donahue, the medical director, and prescribe Tylenol 3 for Mr. Stewart's pain in the meantime.

(Dkt. 20-1, at 3-4). Clinic records attached to the Martinez report include those from Dr. Owusu's September 25, 2014 encounter with Plaintiff, which support the summary in Dr. Bowers' affidavit (Dkt. 20-1, at 192).[4] That same day, nursing notes indicate that Plaintiff “refused” the prescribed Tylenol 3 “stating that he has an allergy to this medication, ” but that Plaintiff's chart did not list Tylenol 3 as an allergy (Dkt. 20-2, at 962). Dr. Bowers' affidavit states that the medical records do not contain “any indication of the side effects Mr. Stewart alleged he was experiencing from Tylenol 3, also a pain reliever” (Dkt. 20-1, at 4).

         Plaintiff alleges that the non-renewal of his morphine prescription resulted in “severe pain, ” shaking, and difficulty in standing and walking (Dkt. 1-1, at 4-5). He states that he took Tylenol 3 “under duress” but that it did not control his pain (id. at 5). He grieved the denial of morphine through both stages of TDCJ's administrative grievance procedure (Grievance No. 2015023807). Officials responded to the grievance with notations that Plaintiff's provider had changed his medication to Tylenol 3, that he had been compliant with the Tylenol 3 regimen, and that he had additional upcoming medical appointments scheduled (Dkt. 1-3, at 3-6).

         Plaintiff states in his complaint that Dr. Owusu renewed Plaintiff's morphine prescription approximately six months later, on February 20, 2015 (Dkt. 1-1, at 8). Plaintiff characterizes the renewal as a belated attempt by Dr. Owusu to “correct his mistake” (id. at 9). Plaintiff states, and the medical records corroborate, that he received frequent medical attention during the six-month period without morphine, and that Tylenol 3 and other pain management was made available to him.[5] UTMB medication compliance records submitted with the Martinez report show that, after Plaintiff's morphine prescription was renewed, he was administered morphine daily from February 20, 2015, through August 23, 2016 (Dkt. 20-5, at 13-71).

         Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Owusu's non-renewal of his morphine prescription on September 25 was “intentional interference” with medical treatment by an unnamed specialist who previously had prescribed morphine and had told Plaintiff that the prescription would be extended past September (Dkt. 1-1, at 4-5). He also alleges generally that Defendants were “negligent” in their medical treatment when they allowed his morphine to lapse, which led to increased back pain and difficulty standing and walking. Regarding Abraham, Plaintiff alleges that, in clinic on January 5, 2015, Abraham refused his request for morphine despite Plaintiff's reports of pain (id. at 6). Clinic notes from January 5 reflect that Abraham advised Plaintiff that “he needs to stay in line” to get his medications and further advised him to take insulin to control his diabetes (Dkt. 20-1, at 184).

         In his response to the Martinez report, Plaintiff asserts that many of the medical records provided by the Attorney General are falsified or inaccurate.[6]

         Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief ordering Defendants to give him morphine (Dkt. 1-1, at 11). Given Plaintiff's statement in his pleadings that his morphine prescription was renewed in February 2015, this request for injunctive relief is moot. Plaintiff also seeks compensatory damages of $50, 000 against each Defendant and punitive damages of $10, 000 (id.).


         A. The PLRA and Pro Se Pleadings

         Because Plaintiff is an inmate proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court is required by the PLRA 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), 1915(e)(2)(B); see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c) (providing that the court “shall on its own motion or on the motion of a party dismiss an action brought with respect to prison conditions” 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”). An administrative report submitted by state officials pursuant to Martinez v. Aaron, 570 F.2d 317 (10th Cir. 1978), is a tool to assist ...

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