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Miller v. Steele-Smith

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 27, 2016



          Lisa Pupo Lenihan United States Magistrate Judge.

         This is a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 filed by Plaintiff, Michael K. Miller, regarding medical treatment he received while he was a pretrial detainee at the Beaver County Jail. Southern Health Partners is a private corporation that provides medical services to inmates at the jail. Beth Harris is the jail's medical services manager, Betty Wegner is a nurse at the jail, and Carol Steele-Smith is the jail's deputy warden ("Individual Defendants"). Pending before the Court are the motions for summary judgment filed by Defendants. (ECF Nos. 50, 53). For the following reasons, the motions will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 23, 2013, Plaintiff was in a car accident while driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Med. Defs.' Concise Statement of Material Facts ("CSMF") ¶ 3. At the time, he was on parole for a prior DUI conviction. Pl.'s Dep. at 33:4-6. Following the accident, Plaintiff was arrested and taken to Heritage Valley Hospital with complaints of lower back pain.[1]Med. Des.' CSMF ¶¶4, 5. Upon examination, Plaintiff exhibited some tenderness in his lower lumbar region and a "mild amount of abrasion over the knuckles" of his left hand, but "[n]o crepitation or deformity." Med. Defs.' Ex. B, ECF No. 51-1 at 14. Plaintiff also had normal strength in his upper extremities. Id. According to Plaintiff, he was blacked out during this evaluation, and he has no specific recollection of what happened at the hospital. Pl.'s Dep. at 36:12-14.

         Following his discharge around midnight on May 23, Plaintiff was taken to the Beaver County Jail, where, early the next morning, he underwent an initial medical screening with Angela Pugh, LPN. Med. Defs.' CSMF ¶ 10. Upon examination, Pugh noted that Plaintiff had cuts on his left hand and appeared to still be under the influence of alcohol. Med. Defs.' Ex. D., ECF No. 51-1 at 20. Plaintiff testified, however, that by the time he met with Pugh, he "had already discovered that [he] had pain to [his] wrist" and that his wrist was moving abnormally. Pl.'s Dep. at 44:20-21. He alleges that he told the nurse that his wrist was broken and held it up to show her. Id. at 45:1-7. Pugh allegedly responded, '"I don't see anything wrong with it[, ]'" and gave him a Tylenol. Id. at 45:22-23.

         During the intake screening, Pugh had Plaintiff execute an authorization for Heritage Valley to release his medical records, including "any/all x-ray/lab results including any follow up care." Med. Defs.' Ex. E, ECF No. 51-1 at 22. Lab results and two discharge summary forms were faxed to the jail later that day. Pl.'s Ex. C, ECF No. 60-3. According to a "Physician's Order" form, Dr. Earnest Bonitatibus prescribed Motrin and Flexeril on May 24, which medication administration records indicate he received as directed.[2] Med. Defs.' CSMF ¶ 15. Two days later, Dr. Bonitatibus issued an order by phone for Plaintiff to receive an extra blanket to elevate his left arm. Id.¶ 16.

         Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Bonitatibus on May 28, 2013. Id.¶ 19. Dr. Bonitatibus prescribed Plaintiff Naprosyn in place of Motrin, along with Tylenol as needed. He also ordered the nursing staff to obtain the records from Plaintiffs emergency room visit to determine whether his left wrist had been x-rayed.[3] Id. If not, Dr. Bonitatibus ordered an x-ray be scheduled. Id. Per Dr. Bonitatibus's order, Harris made a second record request from Heritage Valley. The records were received via fax later that day. Pl.'s Ex. E, ECF No. 59-5 (handwritten notation indicating "[r]ecords rec'd 5/28/2013"). For unspecified reasons, Harris did not contact Dr. Bonitatibus until May 31 to advise him that an x-ray had not been completed. Upon learning that, Dr. Bonitatibus ordered Harris to schedule an x-ray with Mobile X. Med. Defs.' Ex. H, ECF No. 51-1 at 31. The x-ray was scheduled for June 3. Harris could not recall why the x-ray was not scheduled until then. Harris Dep. at 105:7.

         Plaintiff underwent the x-ray as scheduled, which revealed an acute fracture of the distal radius. Med. Defs.' Ex. H, ECF No. 51-1. On June 4, 2013, Wegner examined Plaintiff and noted, among other things, that his left wrist was swollen and that there was a fracture. Med. Defs.' Ex. K, ECF No. 51-1 at 37.

         Although the x-ray took place on June 3, [4] for reasons she could not recall, Harris did not report the results to Dr. Bonitatibus until June 6, at which point Dr. Bonitatibus directed Harris to refer Plaintiff to an orthopedic specialist, Dr. Bernard Hirsch. Med. Defs.' Ex. F, ECF No. 51-1 at 24; Med Defs.' Ex. H, ECF No. 51-1 at 31. Harris scheduled an appointment for June 10. Id. That same day, Plaintiff was also placed on bottom bunk status. Med. Defs.' Ex. F, 51-1 at 24.

         At the June 10 appointment, Dr. Hirsch diagnosed Plaintiff with a displaced left distal radius fracture and recommended that he be referred to a hand surgeon for a consultation. Med. Defs.' CSMF f 33. Dr. Hirsch noted that Plaintiff "may remove splint for hygiene only."[5] Med. Defs.' Ex. L, ECF No. 51-1 at 40.

         That same day, the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County issued an order releasing Plaintiff on a $1.00 bond. Med. Defs. Ex. M, ECF No. 51-1 at 42. The order further noted that the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole was set to detain Plaintiff upon his release on bond and transfer him to a state facility. Id. The medical staff was thereafter informed that Plaintiff was set to be transferred. On June 13, 2013, Harris completed an inmate transfer form, in which she indicated that Plaintiff had a "splint on [his] left hand/wrist" and was taking Naproxen and Tylenol. Med. Defs.' Ex N, ECF No. 51-1 at 44. Harris further noted that Plaintiff needed a have a consultation scheduled with a hand surgeon. Id. Plaintiff was released from the jail later that day and transferred to SCI-Pittsburgh.

         According to Plaintiff, at some point prior to his transfer, he had one encounter with Steele-Smith regarding his wrist injury. Cnty. Defs.' CSM ¶ 63. Plaintiff testified that his mother called the jail, and he was brought to an "administration room" to speak to her. Id. ¶ 64-65. After speaking with his mother, Plaintiff raised his left arm so that Steele-Smith could see it and "said, 'Listen, I need treatment. I am not getting treated in medical.'" Pl.'s Dep. at 136:25 - 137:1-3. Plaintiff claims that his wrist was "[d]isfigured" at the time. Pl.'s Dep. at 137:14. After Plaintiff broached the subject, Steele-Smith allegedly "turned her back on [him] before she even answered" and "over her shoulder" said, '"I'm sure they are treating you.'" Id. at 76:3-8.

         On August July 3, 2013, Plaintiff was seen by an orthopedic surgeon, Edward L. Birdsong, M.D., for a consultation. Cnty. Defs.' Ex. N, ECF No. 55-14 at 2. Plaintiff "complain[ed] of swelling, pain and deformity of the wrist[, ]" which was exacerbated by "[a]ny kind of activity." Id. However, "[a]t complete rest with the splint in place, he [was] relatively pain free." Id. Upon examination, Dr. Birdsong diagnosed Plaintiff with a malunion of the left distal radius. Id. After Dr. Birdsong explained that the bone would never return to normal alignment if left untreated, Plaintiff elected to have corrective surgery. Id. at 3. Plaintiff underwent the surgery on August 1, 2013, after which he was placed in a short arm cast. Id. at 4-6. The cast was removed on September 13, 2013, at which point Dr. Birdsong noted that Plaintiff was doing "quite well" and displayed a good range of motion. Id. at 7. X-rays showed that the bone was in "excellent alignment[.]" Id. However, Plaintiff continues to experience "a dull ache" in his wrist. Pl.'s Dep. at 100:3. He also testified that he feels a "slight weakness" in some of his fingers.[6] Id.

         Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint against Steele-Smith, Southern Health Partners, Beaver County, and various "Doe" Defendants on May 20, 2015. (ECF No. 1). Beaver County and Steele-Smith responded by filing a partial motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 12). On August 28, 2015, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, in which Steele-Smith, Beaver County, Southern Health Partners, Harris, and Pugh were named as Defendants. (ECF No. 26). On August 31, 2016, Plaintiff filed a stipulation of dismissal as to Pugh. (ECF Nos. 48). Following the close of discovery, Defendants filed the pending motions, which have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. (ECF Nos. 51, 52, 54-63).

         II. STAND ...

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