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Ranson v. Western Regional Jail

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington

January 25, 2018

SAMUEL PAUL RANSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WESTERN REGIONAL JAIL, JOSHUA WADE HUGHES, and NURSE JANE DOE, Defendants.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          DWANE L. TINSLEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is assigned to the Honorable Robert C. Chambers, United States District Judge, and it is referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for submission of proposed findings and a recommendation for disposition, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Pending before the court are a Motion to Dismiss filed by the Western Regional Jail (ECF No. 9) and a Motion to Dismiss filed by Johsua Wade Hughes (ECF No. 19).

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The plaintiff filed his initial Complaint on March 7, 2017. (ECF No. 2). However, this matter is now proceeding on the plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 7), which alleges that the defendants failed to ensure that the plaintiff, who had undergone penile surgery prior to his incarceration, was taken to a follow-up appointment with his outside surgeon, and that such failure has resulted in permanent scarring and possible impotence.

         On April 18, 2017, the Western Regional Jail (“WRJ”) filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 9) and Memorandum of Law in support thereof (ECF No. 11), asserting that the WRJ is not a person that is suable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and, as an arm of the State of West Virginia, is further immune from any claim for monetary damages filed in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution. The motion documents further assert that the Complaint should be dismissed, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) and West Virginia Code § 25-1A-2(c), because plaintiff failed to properly exhaust the available administrative remedies prior to filing this civil action, and because the Amended Complaint fails to state any plausible claim for relief.

         On June 12, 2017, defendant Joshua Wade Hughes (hereinafter “Mr. Hughes”) filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 19) and a Memorandum of Law in support thereof (ECF No. 20), asserting that the plaintiff failed to exhaust the required administrative remedies prior to filing suit, failed to comply with the requirements of the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act, and that the Amended Complaint fails to state a plausible claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Mr. Hughes or any 0ther medical provider at the WRJ.

         The plaintiff has responded to both Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 13 and 24). His responses focus on the defendants' exhaustion defense, stating that he did file a grievance concerning this issue and was told that a follow-up appointment had been made for him, but he was never taken to the appointment. In particular, the plaintiff's Response to Mr. Hughes' Motion to Dismiss states as follows:

You must understand that when I was booked into Western Regional Jail I was placed in the Medical Unit because of the stitches in my penis from surgery. After no response to my requests, the grievance was filed and at that time I was told that an appointment had been made with Dr. Jenkins [sic; Jenson] but I was never transported there for that appointment.
There is a kiosk in each pod, all correspondences are made through this system, including the grievance process so there is record of these correspondences. When I received no response I filed this lawsuit and was moved out of Western Regional Jail within days of Captain Savila receiving notice of this suit, at that time on April 7, 2017, it was over two months past the timeframe of removing the stitches and was permanently scarred.
Furthermore, when I was moved on April 7, 2017, I was no longer connected to the kiosk and therefore I feel I was pushed out in hopes that Western Regional Jail's negligence would simply be forgotten.

(ECF No. 24 at 1-2).

         Because the status of the plaintiff's attempts to exhaust his administrative remedies was unclear from the face of the Amended Complaint and motion documents, on January 23, 2018, the undersigned conducted a hearing on the Motions to Dismiss. The plaintiff participated in the hearing by telephone from the Salem Correctional Center, a West Virginia Division of Corrections (“WVDOC”) facility, where he is now incarcerated.

         During the hearing, the plaintiff clarified that he was incarcerated at the WRJ from January 13, 2017 to March 23, 2017, when he was transferred to the Stevens Correctional Center, a WVDOC facility located in Welch, West Virginia. He further stated that he had penile surgery on either January 3 or 4, 2017, prior to his incarceration at the WRJ, and that he was scheduled for a follow-up appointment with his urologist on January 26, 2017.

         The plaintiff further stated that, upon booking at the WRJ, he was placed in the Medical Unit and advised by Mr. Hughes, the nurse who conducted his booking, that he had undergone surgery, had stitches, and was scheduled for a follow-up appointment with his urologist. The plaintiff further stated that he repeatedly asked Mr. Hughes and other nurses whom he saw on “med pass” about his appointment and advised them that he was concerned that the surgical site was infected and “rotted out.” He further stated that it was getting harder to urinate.

         The plaintiff further stated that he subsequently filed a grievance and ultimately received a response that an appointment had been scheduled for him, but he was told that, for security reasons, he could not know when the appointment was scheduled. However, the plaintiff was not taken to any appointment while he was incarcerated at the WRJ. The plaintiff further stated that, because two months had passed without being taken to see his urologist, he filed his lawsuit. He added that he was subsequently moved to a WVDOC facility where he had no further access to the kiosk used for the grievance process at the WRJ.

         Also during the hearing, Lacy B. Browning, counsel for the WRJ, advised the court that the kiosk system now used for completion of the grievance process was installed at the regional jails in September of 2014, and that all staff and inmates in custody at that time were trained on how to use the kiosk. She further stated all inmates who have come into the regional jail after that time are allegedly shown how to use the kiosk upon booking. The plaintiff denied receiving any training on the use of the kiosk. Nevertheless, he did use the kiosk to file the grievance at issue herein.

         Anne Liles O'Hare, counsel for defendant Hughes, also discussed her knowledge of the treatment the plaintiff received while at the WRJ. She stated that the plaintiff was seen by several qualified medical personnel, and that the records demonstrate that the plaintiff had absorbable sutures, which were not required to be removed. The plaintiff responded that the medical providers he saw at the WRJ refused to treat him, stating that he needed to go back to the doctor who performed the surgery.

         Ms. O'Hare further stated that the plaintiff was scheduled for an appointment with Dr. Jenson (the urologist who performed his surgery) on March 10, 2017, but did not appear for that appointment. Ms. O'Hare was uncertain why the plaintiff was not taken to the appointment on that date. Ms. O'Hare further stated that she learned that the plaintiff was also scheduled to see Dr. Jenson on April 21, 2017, after he was moved to WVDOC custody, but he also failed to appear for that appointment. The plaintiff asserted that he has not received any treatment for this issue since he left the WRJ.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pro se complaints are held to less stringent standards than those drafted by attorneys, and the court is obliged to construe liberally such complaints. However, in Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), the Supreme Court observed that a case should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if, viewing the well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true and in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint does not contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” While the complaint need not assert “detailed factual allegations, ” it must contain “more than labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Id. at 555.

         The Supreme Court elaborated on its holding in Twombly in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), a civil rights case. The Court wrote:

Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. [Twombly, 550 U.S.] at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (Although for the purposes of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation” (internal quotation marks omitted). Rule 8 . . . does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id., at 556. * * *
In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume ...

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