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Lewis v. Smith

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

July 8, 2019

CORNELIUS DESHUN LEWIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
YOLANDA SMITH, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

          Lee H. Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge.

         Cornelius 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.

         After a 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.

         I. Background

         This 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.).

         Lewis 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).

         Lewis 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).

         On 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.).

         In 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.).

         A few 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.

         Lewis 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.).

         On 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.).

         In late 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.).

         Between 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 ...


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