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Douglas v. Jin

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 27, 2014

DR. BYUNGHAK JIN, Medical Director, SCI GREENE, Defendant.


CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

On January 17, 2014, this Court heard oral argument on two motions for summary judgment: the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 83) filed on behalf of defendant Dr. Byunghak Jin, the lone remaining defendant;[1] and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment Against Defendant Jin (ECF No. 91). Having previously reviewed the copious documentary and testimonial evidence submitted by the parties in support and in opposition to summary judgment, and after considering the cogent, well-argued positions of the parties, this Court ruled from the bench on Dr. Jin's Motion for Summary Judgment and took Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment under advisement.

In denying Dr. Jin's Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court stated its reasoning on the record in open court. First, the Court rejected Dr. Jin's argument that Plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies through the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections grievance procedures, finding he had filed the necessary grievances related to Dr. Jin's treatment of his right eye which were pursued through all three steps of DOC's administrative process.

On the merits of the Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment - deliberate indifference claim, the Court noted that there was no dispute that Mr. Douglas' medical condition - a detached retina - presented a serious medical need. Additionally, the Court found a genuine dispute of material fact for the finder of fact: having considered the evidence submitted in the light most favorable to the non-movant, Plaintiff adduced sufficient competent evidence upon which a reasonable jury could determine that Dr. Jin failed to follow explicit, post-operative care instructions by the retinal specialist who performed reattachment surgery on Plaintiff's right eye. The treating specialist indicated Plaintiff needed to have silicone oil that had been injected into his eye removed surgically, and Dr. Jin's failure to follow his instructions in a timely manner could reasonably be deemed deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs.

Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment presents a closer question, and the Court indicated it needed to review certain portions of the summary judgment record before making a ruling. The Court therefore took that motion under advisement.

This Memorandum Opinion is issued in support of the ruling from the bench denying Dr. Jin's Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court will also deny Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, after reconsideration of the summary judgment record, for the reasons stated herein.

II. Plaintiff's Claim and Arguments for Summary Judgment

Because the Court writes only for the parties, who are quite familiar with the facts and circumstances, and because this case will soon be placed under a Pretrial Order scheduling trial for the week of March 31, 2014 (see Hearing Memo Minute Entries at (ECF Nos. 110 and 111)), the Court will not recite all of the relevant facts, but only so much of the operative facts as necessary to place the Court's rulings and analysis in context.

Distilled to its essence, Plaintiff offers record evidence to support the following: Plaintiff has been legally blind in his left eye since 1987; after Plaintiff hit his head on September 11, 2009 and complained of pain and discomfort in his right eye, Dr. Jin sent Plaintiff to Regional Eye Associates ("REA"), which made the diagnosis of retinal detachment; because Mr. Douglas's condition was too complicated for REA to perform the retinal detachment surgery, REA recommended Mr. Douglas be seen by a specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center ("UPMC") Eye and Ear Institute in Pittsburgh; on September 15, 2009, Mr. Douglas was examined by Dr. Andrew Eller, Director of Ocular Trauma Service, Retina and Vitreous Services at UPMC School of Medicine; on September 16, 2009, Dr. Eller performed retinal detachment surgery; upon Plaintiff's release, Dr. Eller issued written instructions for post-operative care, which included: "If the retina remains attached, I will remove the silicone oil in a few months."; on November 19, 2009, Dr. Eller performed follow up laser treatment, as planned, and directed that Mr. Douglas continue eye drops for pressure control, have a follow-up appointment in two to three months, and "[a]t some point in three to six months [Mr. Douglas] will require additional surgery to remove the silicone oil."

Despite having actual knowledge of Dr. Eller's instruction that the silicone oil that he injected into Mr. Douglas's eye was to be removed within three to six months from November 2009, Dr. Jin did not send Mr. Douglas to have the oil removed for almost one year. Instead, Dr. Jin sent Plaintiff back to REA, which had already acknowledged that they could not treat his detached retina. Dr. Jin also authorized Plaintiff's transfer to a facility in Michigan during his post-operative treatment period until that facility realized Mr. Douglas required follow up eye care and returned him to SCI-Greene. By the time Dr. Jin finally arranged for Mr. Douglas to be seen at UPMC by Dr. Eller, fourteen months after he injected the silicone oil, the silicone oil had emulsified, creating a Styrofoam-like substance inside Mr. Douglas's right eye, blinding him.

These historical facts are not in much dispute, if any, although Dr. Jin counters with substantial evidence about the medical treatment and follow up actually provided to Mr. Douglas for his serious medical need, and vigorously challenges the inference that his failure to follow the instructions for removal of the silicon oil from his right eye within three to six months amounted to deliberate indifference. Dr. Jin asserts he referred Plaintiff to REA, retinal "subspecialists, " on numerous occasions following Dr. Eller's surgical procedures, and that REA's medical examinations during the relevant post-operative time frame showed that Plaintiff's ocular pressure was stable and that his retina remained attached. Thus, Dr. Jin was entitled to rely on the opinions and treatment provided by REA; rather than deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's medical needs, there is merely a difference of medical opinion as to one course of treatment over another, and Plaintiff disagrees with the course Dr. Jin chose. At most, Dr. Jin maintains, that amounts to medical malpractice, not a constitutional injury.

III. Standards

A. Summary Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a)

Rule 56(a) provides that summary judgment shall be granted 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." When applying this standard, the court must examine the factual record and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). "A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Burton v. Teleflex ...

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