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Cook v. Bland

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Pine Bluff Division

November 7, 2016



         I. Relevant facts

         Plaintiff Don Cook, an Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) inmate, filed a pro se complaint on February 27, 2015.[1] Cook filed an amended complaint on August 7, 2015, and a second amended complaint and exhibits on September 21, 2015. Cook named as defendants Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) Estella Bland and William Warren, a physician. Cook's claims against Warren were dismissed without prejudice on January 21, 2016. Doc. No. 59.

         According to Cook, he was sent to the ADC's Cummins Unit in October of 2013 after a hospital stay following an assault at another unit. Cook claims he arrived at the Cummins medical ward for treatment with a broken nose and jaw, head fractures, and cuts. Cook asserts that he continued to have pain, as well as vision and neurological problems, after his release to general population. He asserts that despite these medical problems, every time he sought medical care, he saw Bland, who became angry and disrespectful, and made it clear she had no plans to do anything else to help him. Doc. No. 15.

         Cook's deposition testimony more specifically identifies his claims against Bland. He claims Bland violated his constitutional rights when she did not renew prescriptions for a shower chair and a non-wool blanket on January 23, 2014, and that she exhibited unprofessional conduct toward him during a medical visit on February 25, 2015. Doc. No. 72-2, pages 31-33 & 47-48. Cook claims he needed a shower chair because he had difficulty standing in the shower, and a non-wool blanket because wool “breaks [him] out.” Doc. No. 72-1, page 11, Doc. No. 72-2, page 39.

         On July 5, 2016, Bland filed a motion for summary judgment, a brief in support, and a statement of facts on the merits of the case. Doc. Nos. 70-72. Cook filed a response on July 8, 2016, and Bland filed a reply on July 15, 2016. Doc. Nos. 74 & 75. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion.

         II. Standard of review

         Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 321 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Naucke v. City of Park Hills, 284 F.3d 923, 927 (8th Cir. 2002). The nonmoving party may not rely on allegations or denials, but must demonstrate the existence of specific facts that create a genuine issue for trial. Mann v. Yarnell, 497 F.3d 822, 825 (8th Cir. 2007). The nonmoving party's allegations must be supported by sufficient probative evidence that would permit a finding in his favor on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy. Id. (citations omitted). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party; a fact is material if its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Othman v. City of Country Club Hills, 671 F.3d 672, 675 (8th Cir. 2012). Disputes that are not genuine or that are about facts that are not material will not preclude summary judgment. Sitzes v. City of West Memphis, Ark., 606 F.3d 461, 465 (8th Cir. 2010).

         III. Analysis

         Cook essentially alleges that Bland violated his constitutional rights by denying him adequate medical care. The Eighth Amendment's proscription of cruel and unusual punishment obligates prison officials to provide adequate medical care to inmates in their custody. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102-03 (1976). To succeed on an inadequate medical care claim, a plaintiff must allege and prove that: (1) he had objectively serious medical needs; and (2) prison officials subjectively knew of, but deliberately disregarded, those serious medical needs. Dulany v. Carnahan, 132 F.3d 1234, 1239 (8th Cir. 1997). Additionally, the Eighth Circuit has held that a “prisoner must show more than negligence, more even than gross negligence, and mere disagreement with treatment decisions does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.” Estate of Rosenberg by Rosenberg v. Crandell, 56 F.3d 35, 37 (8th Cir. 1995). However, “‘[g]rossly incompetent or inadequate medical care can constitute deliberate indifference, as can a doctor's decision to take an easier and less efficacious course of treatment.'” Warren v. Fanning, 950 F.2d 1370, 1373 (8th Cir. 1991) (quoting Smith v. Jenkins, 919 F.2d 90, 93 (8th Cir. 1990)).

         Shower Chair/Non-wool Blanket Prescription Claims

         Cook contends Bland denied him prescriptions for a shower chair and a non-wool blanket on January 23, 2014, in deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The medical records provided by Bland in support of her summary judgment motion indicate that Cook's treating physician, Dr. William Warren, saw Cook for hypertension on January 21, 2014, two days before he was seen by Bland in the complained-of visit. In his clinic notes from that visit, Dr. Warren indicated that Cook “has scripts for non-wool blanket, use of tennis shoes for medical purposes: these are not warranted.”[2] Doc. No. 72-1, page 4. There was no mention of a shower chair prescription.[3]

         At sick call on the following day, Cook told the staff medical provider that his non-wool blanket, shower chair, and tennis shoe prescriptions needed to be renewed.[4] He stated his vision was still blurry after being assaulted and “the nerves in his neck jump” and were painful. Id., page 10. It was noted that Cook had a non-wool prescription that was good until April 21, 2014, but that the shoe and shower chair prescriptions were terminated “8/13.” He was referred to “provider” for evaluation of neck pain. Id.

         Cook was seen by Bland the next day, January 23, 2014. Bland's notes from that visit state that Cook “presents with requests for multiple items: shower chair, tennis shoes, non-wool blanket. He states that he has difficulty standing in the showers and neck pain related to the position that he has to take watching television or to write. He can't lay on the lt.side of his head without feeling pain....” Id., page 11. Bland's examination appears to address his varied complaints and requests. She evaluated Cook's neck, remarking he had full range of motion and no recent injury. She reviewed a November 2013 X-ray. She documented a normal exam. She also did “wool patch testing, ” with negative results. Finally, Bland examined Cook's feet, finding no structural abnormalities or lesions, even nails, intact pulses, and good range of motion. Id. Bland explained the medication and treatment plan in place to Cook. She informed Cook “that Dr. Warren has already told him on that non-wool blankets, shower chairs, and prescribed footwear are not medically indicated.... He was informed that his skin test for wool allergy was negative and that he may use any blanket issued by the state.” Id.

         During Cook's deposition, he testified that the first barracks to which he was assigned at Cummins had no shower chair, but “a couple of months down the road, ” he was transferred to a barracks with a built-in shower chair. Doc. No. 72-2, page 35. During the time that he was required to shower without a chair, he was able to lean ...

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