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Bell v. Martinez

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

July 17, 2017




         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") (Doc. 57) of the Honorable Erin L. Wiedemann, United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, regarding a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 49) filed by Defendant Nurses Jana Hulet, Gail Hartgraves, and Amber Goff; and a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 51) filed by Defendants Deputy J. Martinez and Nurse Darla Watson.[1] Judge Wiedemann recommends granting the Motion to Dismiss and granting in part and denying in part the Motion for Summary Judgment. The effect of Judge Wiedemann's recommendation would be: (1) the dismissal of all official-capacity claims; (2) the dismissal of the sole individual-capacity claim against Deputy Martinez; (3) the dismissal of the individual-capacity claim against Nurses Hulet, Hartgraves, and Goff for failing to wear gloves while dispensing medication; (4) the preservation of the sole individual-capacity claim against Nurse Watson for failing to provide adequate medical care for Plaintiff's diabetic foot ulcer; and (5) the preservation of a newly asserted individual-capacity claim against Nurses Hulet, Hartgraves, and Goff for failing to provide adequate medical care for Plaintiff's diabetic foot ulcer.

         It appears that during an evidentiary hearing conducted before Judge Wiedemann on November 22, 2016, Plaintiff Alan James Bell testified that he had intended to bring his medical-care claim concerning the treatment of his foot ulcer against all the Defendants who are nurses (hereinafter, "Nurse Defendants"). Prior to this point in the case, this claim had only been stated against Nurse Watson. Despite this fact, Judge Wiedemann recommended that the claim be expanded to include all the Nurse Defendants, and that they all stand trial for this claim. In response, the Nurse Defendants collectively filed a Partial Objection to the R&R (Doc. 58), arguing, first, that Nurses Hulet, Hartgraves, and Goff should not be made to answer to a claim that had never before been asserted against them; and, second, that Nurse Watson was entitled to summary judgment in her favor on this claim.

         On June 2, 2017, Mr. Bell filed an Objection to the R&R (Doc. 60). In that Objection, he reiterated his claim that "all 5 nurses" refused to provide him medical care for his foot, in violation of his rights, and refused "to do anything with the swelling of [his] right leg and refus[ed] to treat the Dibeitc [sic] sore on [his] right foot." Id. at 1. Mr. Bell also objected to Judge Wiedemann's recommendation to dismiss the individual-capacity claim against Deputy Martinez. In light of the objections filed by the parties, the Court reviewed the entire record of the case de novo, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 636, including the audio recording of the evidentiary hearing. For the reasons discussed herein, Defendants' Objections will be sustained in part and overruled in part, and Plaintiff's objections will be overruled. The Court will ADOPT IN PART AND DECLINE TO ADOPT IN PART the R&R (Doc. 57).

         I. BACKGROUND

         In light of the R&R's thorough recitation of the background facts in this case, a brief summary of those facts is all that is needed here to give context to the Court's discussion below. The record reflects that Mr. Bell filed this action pro se, concerning events that took place while he was in the custody of the Benton County Detention Center ("BCDC") from May 10, 2013, to February 27, 2015. He alleges in his Complaint that he was deprived of certain constitutional rights during his incarceration, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He sues Deputy Martinez, in both his official and individual capacities, for stating aloud, in front of other inmates, that Mr. Bell was a sex offender. That statement, according to Mr. Bell, "put [him] in a bad place with the other Inmates and also cause[d] [him] to be Lock[ed] down 23 and 1 Hours a day because of it." (Doc. 1, p. 4). He does not contend that he was ever physically attacked by any inmate.

         Mr. Bell also sues Nurses Hulet, Hartgraves, and Goff, in both their official and individual capacities, for being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs by dispensing medication to him without gloves. He does not contend he ever became sick from this practice or otherwise suffered any ill effects other than concern that he might become sick. Also, the Complaint clearly and plainly asserts only this claim, and no other, against these three Defendants.

         Finally, Mr. Bell sues Nurse Watson, whom he contends is the head nurse in charge of the BCDC nursing staff, in both her official and individual capacities, for failing to attend to and properly treat a diabetic ulcer on the bottom of his foot. He contends that her refusal to treat his wound showed deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. It is undisputed that he had been receiving weekly wound care for his foot-including cleaning, debriding, and dressing the wound with antibiotic salve-immediately prior to his incarceration at the BCDC. He maintains that shortly after he entered the custody of the BCDC, his leg and foot swelled, and the wound started to bleed. He then sought medical care from Nurse Watson on May 17, 2013, and she refused to provide any treatment at all, instead scheduling an appointment for him to see his outside doctor, which did not take place until May 30, 2013. He never saw the jail's doctor during that time.


         Nurses Hulet, Hartgraves, and Goff jointly filed a Motion to Dismiss the only claim that was asserted against them: that they violated Mr. Bell's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by dispensing his medication without wearing gloves. In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all of a complaint's factual allegations as true, and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs favor. See Ashley Cnty., Ark. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Nurse Watson and Deputy Martinez jointly filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. In the Motion, Nurse Watson contends that she is entitled to judgment in her favor as to Mr. Bell's claim that she denied him adequate medical care for his foot and was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Deputy Martinez argues in the same Motion that merely stating aloud that an inmate is a sex offender, even if that comment is overheard by other inmates, cannot state a constitutional rights violation as a matter of law. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Such a motion must be analyzed by considering the facts in the light most favorable to the opposing party, and giving that party the benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from the facts. Canada v. Union Bee. Co., 135 F.3d 1211, 1212-13 (8th Cir. 1997). Once the moving party has met its burden of proving the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, the non-moving party must "come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)).


         A. Official-Capacity Claims

         Mr. Bell submitted his Complaint in this case by filling out a document entitled "Form to be Used by Prisoners in Filing a Complaint under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983." This form was developed by the courts to assist prisoners representing themselves pro se. The form contains blanks for the plaintiff to list the name of each defendant and the cause of action stated against each. Below each defendant's name, the form also contains an area where the plaintiff may indicate, using check marks, whether the defendant is being sued in his or her official ...

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