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Longoria v. Collier

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

May 24, 2019

JOHN M. LONGORIA, TDCJ # 01878423, Plaintiff,
v.
BRYAN COLLIER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          George C. Hanks Jr United States District Judge

         Plaintiff John M. Longoria is incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Correctional Institutions Division (“TDCJ”). On February 28, 2019, Plaintiff filed a pro se civil rights complaint alleging that prison officials denied him adequate medical care (Dkt. 1). Plaintiff has paid the Court's filing fee. Because Longoria is a prisoner seeking redress from government officials, the Court is required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) to scrutinize the pleadings. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss the case, in whole or in part, if it determines that the action is frivolous, 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). After reviewing Plaintiff's complaint (Dkt. 1), more definite statement (Dkt. 4), and supplemental more definite statement (Dkt. 7), and having considered the applicable law, the Court concludes that Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Owusu, Collier, Jones, and Matthews must be DISMISSED for the reasons that follow. Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Isabel will be TRANSFERRED to the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In March and April 2018, while incarcerated at the Ferguson Unit in Madison County, Plaintiff sought treatment for symptoms including pain and swelling in his leg, a dry hacking cough, and chest pain (Dkt. 1, at 4).[1] He alleges that Nurse Isabel, who is named as a Defendant in this action, failed to recognize his potentially fatal condition and his need for immediate treatment. In particular, he alleges that on March 30 and April 16, 2018, Isabel gave him non-aspirin and instructed him to return to his cell, refusing him additional treatment (id. at 4, 6; Dkt. 4, at 13).

         On April 16, 2018, after Plaintiff allegedly had complained about his symptoms “for 16 day[s] straight, ” a major at the Ferguson Unit called 911 and arranged for Plaintiff's emergency transport to a hospital in Huntsville (id.). Longoria later was transferred to Hospital Galveston and had emergency surgery for blood clots to the lungs, or pulmonary embolism. See Dkt. 1-1, at 5 (discharge summary dated April 30, 2018). He states that his pulmonary embolism was caused by untreated and undiagnosed deep vein thrombosis. He alleges that, as a result of Isabel's failure to provide adequate treatment from March 30 through April 16, he suffered pain in his leg, swelling, lack of oxygen in his lungs, and emotional trauma (Dkt. 4, at 15).[2]

         In May 2018, shortly after his discharge, Longoria was transferred to the Terrell Unit in Brazoria County. Longoria alleges in his pleadings that he has been “untreated” since his discharge in April 2018, stating that he “remains in URGENT need of corrective/preventative procedures/surgery for Pulmonary Thrombo-embolism and emergency intervention for blood clot migration to his lungs and is at imm[i]nent risk of sudden death” (Dkt. 1, at 6). See Dkt. 4, at 10 (“Since April 2018 to present, no treatment has been ordered that I know of”); id. at 6 (“I receive no treatment to help medical issues”). However, Plaintiff also acknowledges that he takes Warfarin, a blood thinner, for his condition and has had multiple medical appointments since his discharge. See id. at 5-6 (referencing Warfarin and follow up care on October 25 and November 15, 2018); id. at 25-31 (I-60 forms furnished by Plaintiff reflect medical appointments in May 2018, June 2018, and March 2019); Dkt. 1-1, at 4 (grievance response furnished by Plaintiff references medical appointment on September 7, 2018).[3] Moreover, in response to this Court's questions, Plaintiff clarified that new blood clots have not formed since his April 2018 discharge.

         Plaintiff brings claims against Kwabena Owusu, M.D., a physician at the Terrell Unit, for failure “to properly identify and treat” his pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis and for failure to transfer him to the hospital. See Dkt. 1, at 5 (Owusu did not “transfer Plaintiff to a hospital when Plaintiff had a medical condition that any provider should be able to recognize” with symptoms of painful, swollen leg, dry cough, and chest pain). Despite the Court's request, Plaintiff has provided no dates or other specific information regarding his complaint that Dr. Owusu denied him medical care. See Dkt. 4, at 17-18 (in response to Court's question about when Owusu failed to provide adequate treatment or what treatment was necessary at the time, Plaintiff stated that he is “still in need of treatment to resolve[] my medical problem the clot and the abnormal size leg and an open wound” and referred the Court to “medical records”).

         Plaintiff also alleges that Dr. Owusu improperly denied him medical restrictions on his prison work assignments. See id. at 17 (alleging that Dr. Owusu “put the medical issue off” and forced Plaintiff to work and stand on his leg); id. at 18 (alleging that Owusu “only gave [him] 3 times a 30 day work restriction”). In response to the Court's questions, Plaintiff identified the dates of Owusu's denials as May 22, 2018 and January 7, 2019. See Dkt. 7, at 2. He refers the Court to his medical restrictions list which reflects that, on both dates listed by Plaintiff, Dr. Owusu authorized a four-hour work restriction for Plaintiff (Dkt. 4, at 24). Plaintiff therefore appears to complain that Dr. Owusu issued a four-hour restriction rather than the “medically unassigned” status Plaintiff requested (Dkt 7, at 3). He failed to respond directly to the Court's instruction to identify any specific physical harm that resulted from Dr. Owusu's decision to order a four-hour work restriction for the two relevant periods.[4] The Court notes that, based on the documents submitted by Plaintiff, Dr. Owusu had authorized medically unassigned status at other times since Plaintiff's hospital discharge, and other medical personnel at the Terrell Unit issued a medical unassignment to Plaintiff as recently as April 2019.[5]

         Plaintiff brings claims against Dr. Jones, the medical director at the Terrell Unit, for failure to provide adequate treatment alleging that she “is the head provider she should [have] known as she reviews all patients' medical problems . . . and she didn't do anything medical wise” (Dkt. 4, at 15). He states that Jones should have referred him “to a professional doctor of internal medicine” (id. at 17). Despite the Court's request, he did not provide a date or approximate date on which Jones allegedly denied him treatment (id. at 15).

         Plaintiff alleges that Bryan Collier is liable for his claims regarding denial of medical care because, as director of TDCJ, he has “legal authority” (id. at 13). Plaintiff alleges no personal involvement by Collier.

         On May 6, 2019, approximately one week after filing his supplemental more definite statement, Longoria filed a request for a temporary restraining order (Dkt. 8). Plaintiff alleges that, on May 1, 2019, Dr. Jones laid him in for a medical appointment “then took [his] medical unassigned restriction without reason” (id. at 1). See Dkt. 8-1, at 6 (“job change” slip dated May 1, 2019 states that Longoria is assigned to the cannery). Plaintiff states, “[t]his is the 4th to 5th time medical unassigned restriction was issued by medical staff, ” and alleges “Direct Retaliation” by Dr. Jones (Dkt. 8, at 1). He does not provide any information about what allegedly motivated Jones to retaliate against him.[6]He seeks relief in the form of a court order directing Terrell Unit officials to stop denying him medically unassigned status pending resolution of his case (Dkt. 8, at 2).

         B. LEGAL STANDARDS

         As required by the PLRA, the Court screens this case to determine whether the action is frivolous, 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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). A district court may dismiss a complaint as frivolous “if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact.” Geiger v. Jowers, 404 F.3d 371, 373 (5th Cir. 2005); Samford v. Dretke, 562 F.3d 674, 678 (5th Cir. 2009). “A complaint lacks an arguable basis in law if it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory. . . . A complaint lacks an arguable basis in fact if, after providing the plaintiff the opportunity to present additional facts when necessary, the facts alleged are clearly baseless.” Rogers v. Boatright, 709 F.3d 403, 407 (5th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         A dismissal for failure to state a claim is governed by the same standard as a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Newsome v. EEOC, 301 F.3d 227, 231 (5th Cir. 2002). Under this standard, the Court “construes the complaint liberally in favor of the plaintiff, ” “takes all facts pleaded in the complaint as true, ” and considers whether “with every doubt resolved on [the plaintiff's] behalf, the complaint states any valid claim for relief.” Harrington v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 563 F.3d 141, 147 (5th Cir. 2009) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         In reviewing the pleadings, the Court is mindful of the fact that Plaintiff 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)); see Patrick v. Wal-Mart, Inc., 681 F.3d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 2012). “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). Additionally, regardless of how well-pleaded the factual allegations may be, they must demonstrate that the plaintiff is entitled to relief under a valid legal theory. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989); Geiger, 404 F.3d at 373.

         C. ANALYSIS

         A. Official Immunity

         The defendants were, at all relevant times, TDCJ or University of Texas Medical Branch (“UTMB”) officials. A claim against a state employee in his or her official capacity is a claim against the State of Texas. See Mayfield v. Tex. Dep't of Crim. Justice, 529 F.3d 599, 604 (5th Cir. 2008). Because the Eleventh Amendment protects the states' sovereign immunity, federal courts lack jurisdiction over suits against a state for money damages unless the state has waived its immunity or Congress has clearly abrogated that immunity. NiGen Biotech, L.L.C., v. Paxton, 804 F.3d 389, 393-94 (5th Cir. 2015); Moore v. La. Bd. Of Elem. And Secondary Educ., 743 F.3d 959, 963 (5th Cir. 2014). Texas has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, and Congress did not abrogate that immunity when enacting Section 1983. NiGen, 804 F.3d at 394.

         Plaintiff seeks nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages. To the extent he brings any claims for money damages against Defendants in their official capacities, the state is immune under the Eleventh Amendment. The claims therefore will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

         B. Plaintiff's ...


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