United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION
Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge.
Lewis, an inmate in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,
Ferguson Unit, committed suicide in July 2016 by hanging
himself in his prison cell. (Docket Entry No. 75 at 16). His
parents, Fredrick Bernard Lewis and Janice Marie Close, sued
27 state officials, alleging violations of the Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendments. In December 2018, the court dismissed
the claims against several defendants, with leave to conduct
limited discovery and to replead. The plaintiffs filed a
third amended complaint, asserting claims against the
University of Texas Medical Branch, known as
“UTMB”; Doctors Owen J. Murray and Lannette
Linthicum; Registered Nurse Virginia Lovell; Licensed
Professional Counselor Sheri Nichols-Woodward; and Licensed
Vocational Nurses Michael W. Utley, Nicole M. Bertram, and
Melissa A. Harris. (Docket Entry No. 97). Nurses Bertram and
Harris have separately moved to dismiss the complaint, the
plaintiffs responded, and the parties replied and surreplied.
(Docket Entry Nos. 101, 109, 112, 115, 117, 120). The court
heard oral argument in May 2019.
careful review of the pleadings; the motions, responses,
reply, and surreply; the record; counsels' arguments; and
the applicable law, Nurse Bertram's and Harris's
motions to dismiss are granted, with prejudice and without
leave to amend. The reasons are explained in detail below.
case's allegations were detailed in the court's
December 2018 Memorandum Opinion and Order. (Docket Entry No.
84). The court focuses here on the allegations related to
Nurses Bertram and Harris. In 2014, Lewis was convicted of
robbery and unlawfully carrying a weapon, and a Texas court
sentenced him to three years in prison. (Docket Entry No. 97
at 8). After his sentencing, Lewis went to a Texas Department
of Criminal Justice, or “TDCJ”, intake center,
where he received two medical screens. (Id. at 8-9).
The first medical screen found that Lewis had been taking
anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-psychotic medications
during his time at the county jail. (Id. at 9). The
medical examiners discontinued these medications and
prescribed him Sertraline and Risperidone for 30 days.
(Id.). In the second medical screen, Lewis informed
the examiners that he “suffered from mental illness and
was taking medication.” (Id.).
was transferred to the TDCJ's Hodge Unit for the
developmentally disabled following his medical screens.
(Id.). During his time at the Hodge Unit, Lewis
became increasingly “aggressive” and acted
“strangely.” (Id.). Lewis met with
Efraim Reese, a licensed professional counselor, who
“noted that [Lewis] denied any problems, but that his
behavior declined rapidly during the interview.”
(Id. at 9-10). Lewis was not admitted into the
developmentally disabled program. Lewis returned to the
intake center in June 2015. Frances McGinnis, a clinical
nurse specialist at the intake center, met with Lewis and
extended his Sertraline and Risperidone prescriptions.
(Id. at 10).
was transferred to another prison in mid-June, and then to
the Jim Ferguson Unit on July 23, 2015. (Id.). Lewis
had a mental-health screen the day after his arrival at the
Ferguson Unit, flagging him as an individual with “a
serious mental disorder, depressive disorders with psychosis,
psychosis disorders, . . . organic brain syndrome, ”
and possibly having a “schizoaffective disorder or
schizophrenia.” (Id. at 11). Lewis had a
psychological evaluation on July 27, 2015, and the examiner
found that Lewis was “refusing his medication”
and his “medication compliance rate . . . was under
50%.” (Id.). In August, a case manager noted
that Lewis “was not taking his meds because of their
[e]ffect” and kept him under mental-health
“monitoring.” (Id.). On August 27, Lewis
cut his finger with a razor, and then, on August 31, he
fought with another inmate and suffered minor injuries.
(Id. at 13).
September 3, 2015, Lewis had a teleconference with John Q.
Wang, a physician's assistant, for a psychological
evaluation and an individualized treatment plan.
(Id. at 12). Lewis told Wang of a “prior
hanging incident and previous free world psych hospital
stays.” (Id.). Wang noted Lewis's
“erratic behavior, poor ability to comprehend[, ] and
anxiety.” (Id.). Wang diagnosed Lewis with
anxiety disorder, ruling out other conditions.
(Id.). Wang set Lewis's status as
“psychiatric-non-serious depressive disorder,
temporary, ” and prescribed Lewis Citalopram instead of
the Risperidone and Sertraline. (Id.).
early October, Lewis met with Sheri Nichols-Woodward, a
licensed professional counselor, after Lewis submitted a
grievance stating that he wanted to kill himself.
(Id. at 13-14). Lewis told Nichols-Woodward that he
had been “hearing voices.” (Id. at 14).
Nichols-Woodward noted that Lewis's “medical
compliance was now 75%” and that Lewis had “no
current mental health needs.” (Id.).
months later, on December 7, Lewis asked to see
Nichols-Woodward again. Nichols-Woodward met with Lewis on
December 10, finding that “he had no current mental
healthcare needs.” (Id.). On December 12,
Lewis filed a complaint that he had not received his
prescribed medication. (Id.). The next week, Lewis
was treated for a suspected self-inflicted cut on his left
arm. (Id.). Nichols-Woodward saw Lewis again on
December 23, 2015.
asked to see Nichols-Woodward many times between January and
March 2016, seeking help, expressing concerns for his safety,
and worrying that “everyone on his [U]nit was trying to
hurt him.” (Id. at 13-15). Nichols-Woodward
tracked Lewis's medication compliance; stated that he was
in an “offender protection investigation”; and
noted that while Lewis had “thoughts of self-injury,
” he “denied plans” to harm himself.
(Id.). Nichols-Woodward concluded that Lewis had
“no current mental health needs.” (Id.).
March 10, 2016, Lewis had a mental-health appointment with
Wang by teleconference. Wang stated that Lewis's
“anxiety was in remission and that [Lewis] stated he
had no mood issues and no longer needs meds.”
(Id. at 16). Based on Lewis's representations,
Wang “stopped all [Lewis's] medications and
psych[ological] services.” (Id.). Three days
later, Lewis complained that he had trouble with his
medication and wanted to try Zoloft. (Id.). Lewis
was told that “he wouldn't get any more
medication.” (Id.). Lewis met with two more
mental-health professionals in March, seeking medications
“to calm him down, ” but they told him that his
prescriptions had been stopped. (Id.).
April, security staff and Nichols-Woodward referred Lewis to
crisis management after he had been treated for
self-mutilation and had said that “[I] seriously needed
help, that I've been cutting myself and trying to hang
myself. I need help.” (Id. at 16-17). Because
crisis management had no space for Lewis, he was instead
placed under “constant direct observation.”
(Id. at 17). A few days later, on May 2, 2016, Lewis
stated that he “needed help” because he was
“cutting himself, hanging himself, and eating off the
ground.” (Id.). Lewis met with Nichols-
Woodward that day, but he denied that he needed help or had
injured himself. (Id.). Nichols-Woodward found that
Lewis was not a suicide risk. (Id.).
May and June 2016, Lewis met with Nichols-Woodward a number
of times. In late May, after a session with Lewis,
Nichols-Woodward opined that Lewis had been “faking a
psychotic episode.” (Id.). On June 6, Lewis
went to see Nichols-Woodward after making threats to hurt
himself. (Id.). Lewis denied attempting to hurt
himself, but he requested to be put back on medication, and
Nichols-Woodward scheduled Lewis for a mental-health
appointment with Wang. (Id.). On June 11, before his