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Hood v. Collier

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

July 29, 2019

RODNEY DALE HOOD TDCJ # 01659266, Plaintiff,
v.
BRYAN COLLIER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GEORGE C. HANKS JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         State inmate Rodney Dale Hood brings this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaining of inadequate medical care and other issues while incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Correctional Institutions Division (“TDCJ”). Hood proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis. Defendants Erin Jones and Owen Murray filed a motion to dismiss (Dkt. 31), which the Court converted to a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff has filed a response (Dkt. 35), and the motion is ripe for decision.[1]Having considered the pleadings, the parties' briefing, the applicable legal authorities, and all matters of record, the Court determines that Defendants' summary judgment motion should be granted for the reasons explained below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff originally filed this suit in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas. The Court struck his original complaint because Hood had alleged claims against officials at three TDCJ facilities, two of which are in the Eastern District of Texas, and had improperly joined unrelated claim. See Dkt. 11, at 5-6 (citing Fed. R. C . P. 18, 20). The Court instructed Plaintiff to file an amended complaint “limited to iv[2] those claims and defendants who are located here in the Southern District of Texas, at the Terrell Unit or Hospital Galveston” (id. at 6-7).

         Plaintiff filed an amended complaint as ordered, bringing claims against Bryan Collier, Executive Director of TDCJ; Owen Murray, Vice President of Offender Care Services at the University of Texas Medical Branch (“UTMB”); Erin Jones, D.O., Medical Director at TDCJ's Terrell Unit; and five other defendants at the Terrell Unit (Dkt. 23).[3] The Court dismissed Hood's claim against Collier for failure to state a claim and transferred the case to the Galveston Division, where the remaining defendants are located (Dkt. 24).

         After transfer, the Court ordered service process on two Defendants: Murray, in his official capacity for UTMB, and Jones (Dkt. 28). Defendants filed a motion to dismiss (Dkt. 31). Because the motion referred to medical records and other documents outside the pleadings, the Court converted the motion to a summary judgment motion. See Dkt. 34, at 6 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d)). Plaintiff now has filed a response (Dkt. 35) to the motion.

         B. Factual Background

         Plaintiff claims that he is disabled based on an accident that took place before his incarceration.[4] His allegations in this lawsuit fall into three categories. First, he alleges that TDCJ and UTMB officials have denied him adequate treatment and a “cure” for the Hepatitis C Virus (“HCV”) (Dkt. 23, at 2-4). See Dkt. 35, at 5 (“I just want a [HCV] cure”); id. at 8 (alleging that Murray and Jones “delib[e]rately allow [HCV] to damage my organs and joints”). Second, he alleges that officials denied him shoulder replacement surgery and related pain medication (Dkt. 23, at 4-6). Third, he alleges that Jones denied him medical restrictions and passes (id. at 6-9). Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to injunctive relief and revision of TDCJ or UTMB policies relevant to his complaints.[5]

         On December 14, 2017, Plaintiff arrived at the Terrell Unit and informed medical staff that he needed treatment for HCV (id. at 2). He alleges that “all defendants listed in this complaint” denied him treatment (id.), apparently because his medical condition was not severe enough to qualify him for treatment under TDCJ's policy regarding HCV treatment. Although the parties have not supplied a copy of the policy to which Plaintiff refers, a recent HCV treatment policy is available on TDCJ's public website. See Correctional Managed Health Care Infection Control Manual, No. B-14.13.3, Hepatitis C Policy (eff. April 2019), available at https://www.tdcj.texas.gov/ divisions/cmhc/docs/cmhc_infection_control_policy_manual/B-14.13.03.pdf (last visited July 26, 2019) (“HCV Policy”). The HCV Policy states that patients with HCV infection must be seen at least once every 12 months and provides a protocol as to when, based on results of medical testing, the patient should be considered for HCV treatment. Plaintiff alleges that medical personnel at the Terrell Unit did not arrange HCV treatment for him, which specialists had ordered before his arrival at the Terrell Unit, because Plaintiff did not satisfy the relevant criteria.[6]

         Plaintiff alleges that on May 22, 2018, Jones “illegally discontinued” his transport passes without examining him (Dkt. 23, at 8). He claims that Jones' actions were motivated by retaliation because of this lawsuit, which he filed on April 3, 2018.

         Grievance records submitted by Plaintiff indicate that pain medications for his shoulder were increased by a Terrell Unit provider in May 2018 (Dkt. 35, at 50). They also indicate that Plaintiff was seen by a HCV specialist on June 6, 2018, but was not in treatment and was scheduled to follow up six months later (id. at 42, 50).[7] At that time, Plaintiff did not qualify for HCV treatment:

On 06/06/2018, you were seen in telehealth for HCV monitoring and review of your labs. If you are an eligible HCV candidate for drug therapy and meet the criteria, you will be prioritized for treatment.

(id. at 44). Regarding his shoulder surgery, the grievance records indicate that Plaintiff was treated by an orthopedic specialist on June 28, 2018 but that Hood had chosen “to delay [shoulder] surgery until [he] receive[d] further treatment for [his] Hepatitis, ” that his “pain control [had been] deferred to the unit provider to manage, ” and that a follow up orthopedic appointment was scheduled for September (id. at 50). Terrell Unit officials acknowledged that a notification error had contributed to a delay in Hood's shoulder surgery, but stated that the error had been corrected, leading to scheduling of Hood's June 28, 2018 appointment with orthopedics. See id. at 42 (explaining that Plaintiff had been “cleared by dental” for shoulder surgery, but that “medical” had not been notified to refer him back for the surgery, causing a delay that had since been corrected). Plaintiff does not dispute the statements contained in the grievance records about his medical appointments.

         Plaintiff also submitted medical records from his appointment with the orthopedic specialist on June 28, 2018 (id. at 143). He alleges that the specialist again ordered HCV treatment but that the Terrell Unit medical team refused to “put in” for the treatment with “Upper Management” (Dkt. 23, at 2). The medical records reflect that Hood requested to receive HCV treatment before his shoulder surgery, and that the specialists attempted to facilitate the HCV treatment:

Although he has severe pain, the patient would like to have his [HCV] treated prior to consideration of joint arthroplasty given the elevated risk of complications. I have contacted case management to assist with this.

(Dkt. 35 at 143). See id. at 145 (plan of care notations state “patient wishes to pursue operative treatment[, ] however, he would like to have his hepatitis treated prior to surgery . . . . Unit provider to refer for hepatitis treatment . . . [follow up] 3 months”); Dkt. 23, at 3 (Plaintiff states, “my doctor (ORTHO) and I talked about [this] on the last ORTHO visit and we both decided that it would be best to get the [HCV] treatment, before surgery”).

         Plaintiff alleges that on June 28, 2018, as he travelled back from his orthopedic appointment, he fell on a transport bus and hurt his neck and shoulder. He attributes the fall to Jones' decision to discontinue his transport passes on May 22, 2018 (id. at 8). Plaintiff also alleges that on July 20, 2018, Jones discontinued his medically unassigned status in the “biggest blatant act of reprisal so far” (id.). He submits grievance records indicating that Jones changed his restrictions because of a change in TDCJ policy and because his medical condition did not meet the relevant criteria (Dkt. 35, at 52). He also submits several grievance records stating that his requested medical passes or restrictions had been denied because they were not medically indicated.[8]

         In August 2018, Terrell Unit officials informed Plaintiff that all his medications approved by the central pharmacy were current (id. at 42). Records indicate that medical personnel increased some dosages for Plaintiff's pain medication in August 2018 (id. at 56). Nevertheless, Plaintiff alleges in his amended complaint, filed in September 2018, that “all defendants” continued to deny him pain medications (Dkt. 23, at 5). Plaintiff received treatment at an orthopedic clinic on September 27, 2018 for right shoulder arthritis and hip pain (Dkt. 35, at 135-36). These records reflect that Plaintiff had been “turned down for [HCV] treatment due to not meeting criteria” (id. at 135). In November 2018, Plaintiff had surgery on his shoulder (id. at 3). He alleges that Jones continued to deny him medical restrictions, even after his surgery (id. at 7, 11-12).

         Plaintiff makes general allegations that personnel with TDCJ or UTMB are manipulating and falsifying his medical records. See, e.g., id. at 9 (“[m]y medical files have been manipulate[d] and changed a lot. Only I can rev[ie]w them and point out the changes, because only I [u]nderstand what happen[ed]”). However, he does not identify any particular records that allegedly have been altered.

         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 Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) to scrutinize the claims and dismiss the complaint at any time, 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”). A claim is frivolous if it lacks any arguable basis in law or fact. 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).

         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)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citation omitted). 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); McCormick v. Stalder, 105 F.3d 1059, 1061 (5th Cir. 1997).

         B. Summary ...


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