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Brown v. HG Faculty

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

May 25, 2018

MARSHAE BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
HG FACULTY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          George C. Hanks Jr. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Marshae Brown (TDCJ #1927025) is presently incarcerated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional Institutions Division (“TDCJ”). Brown has filed a prisoner civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that she was denied adequate medical care after giving birth at the John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, which is operated by the University of Texas Medical Branch (“UTMB”). Brown is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis (Dkt. 5). At the Court's request, Brown has supplemented her claims in response to a show cause order (Dkt. 10). In addition, the Texas Attorney General's Office has provided administrative records relevant to Brown's claims in a Martinez report (Dkt. 14), [1] which the Court has construed as a motion for summary judgment on behalf of the defendants (Dkt. 15). Brown has filed a response (Dkt. 16) and the Attorney General's Office has filed a supplemental brief in reply (Dkt. 18).

         After reviewing all of the evidence submitted, the parties' briefing, and the applicable law, the Court concludes that the defendants are entitled to summary judgment and that this case must be DISMISSED for the reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Brown's allegations stem from an episiotomy that was performed on her when she gave birth at the John Sealy Hospital on August 2, 2014 (Dkt. 1 at p. 11). After the episiotomy incision reopened and became infected, the wound was debrided on August 6, 2014, and surgically closed on August 7, 2014 (Id.). The following day, Brown reported that her incision had reopened again (Id.). Instead of surgical closure, the plan of care consisted of “allowing . . . the wound to heal by secondary intention with daily sitz baths 5x/day” (Id.). On August 13, 2014, Brown asked to be evaluated for another surgical closure because she did not believe that sitz baths would be sufficient (Id. at p. 13). That request was reportedly denied by “HG Faculty” (Id. at p. 4). Brown now seeks compensatory damages from unidentified members of the HG Faculty under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denying her request for another surgical closure (Id.).

         In addition to raising the defense of official immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, the Texas Attorney General's Office has provided hundreds of pages of medical records showing that Brown received ample post-partum care (Dkt. 14-1, 14-2) and that her episiotomy wound successfully healed under the prescribed plan of care (Dkt. 14-1 at p. 46). The Attorney General's Office has also provided administrative records showing that Brown did not file a grievance regarding the level of care that she received after giving birth (Dkt. 14-3). The Attorney General's Office argues, therefore, that this case should be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required before filing suit and, alternatively, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted (Dkt. 18 at pp. 3-5).

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. The PLRA and Pro Se Pleadings

         Because the 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 also 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” 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) (a “Martinez report”), is a tool to assist courts in making a determination of frivolity under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. See Norton v. Dimazana, 122 F.3d 286, 292-93 (5th Cir. 1997); see also Cay v. Estelle, 789 F.2d 318, 323 & n.4 (5th Cir. 1986) (discussing the utility of a Martinez report).

         In reviewing the pleadings, the Court is mindful of the fact that the plaintiff in this case proceeds pro se. Complaints filed by pro se litigants are entitled to a liberal construction and, “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) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Even under this lenient standard a pro se plaintiff must allege more than “labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action[.]” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted).

         B. Summary Judgment - Rule 56

         The Court has construed the Martinez report filed by the Attorney General's Office as a motion for summary judgment on behalf of the defendants (Dkt. 15). Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates the entry of 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(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). If the movant demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-movant to provide “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). If the movant meets this 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. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Littlefield 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 verdict for the nonmoving party.” DIRECT TV Inc. v. Robson, 420 F.3d 532, 536 (5th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

         In deciding a summary judgment motion, the reviewing court must “construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Dillon v. Rogers, 596 F.3d 260, 266 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). However, the non-movant cannot avoid summary judgment simply by presenting “conclusory allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation.” Jones v. Lowndes Cnty., 678 F.3d 344, 348 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002)); see also Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (a non-movant cannot demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence). Likewise, Rule 56 does not impose upon the Court a duty to sift through the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment; evidence not referred to in the response to the motion for summary judgment is not properly before the Court, even if it exists in the summary judgment record. Malacara v. Garber, 353 F.3d 393, 405 (5th Cir. 2003).

         Although the plaintiff in this case is proceeding pro se, “the notice afforded by the Rules of Civil Procedure and the local rules” is considered “sufficient” to advise a pro se party of his or her burden in opposing a summary judgment motion. Martin v. Harrison County Jail, 975 F.2d 192, 193 (5th Cir. 1992). Even a pro se plaintiff must specifically refer to evidence in the summary judgment record in order to place that evidence properly before the court. See Outley v. Luke & Assocs., Inc., 840 F.3d 212, 217 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing E.E.O.C. v. Simbaki, Ltd., 767 F.3d 475, 484 (5th Cir. 2014) (‚ÄúDespite our general willingness to construe pro se filings liberally, we still require pro ...


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