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Lawson v. Biggins

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 9, 2017

TYREE LAWSON, Plaintiff
v.
DOCTOR BIGGINS, Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          Susan Paradise Baxter United States Magistrate Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A. Relevant Procedural History

         On July 20, 2015, Plaintiff Tyree Lawson, an inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Forest in Marienville, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Forest"), filed this pro se civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Defendant Doctor Biggins, a dentist at SCI-Forest [ECF No. 3]. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant refused to provide medical treatment for an abscess on the upper gum line of his mouth that "would erupt throughout the day causing a yellowish-white liquid matter to discharge into his mouth and involuntarily swallowed." (ECF No. 3, Complaint, at ¶ 6). As a result, Plaintiff claims that Defendant was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of his rights under the eighth amendment to the United States Constitution. As relief for his claims, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         Defendant filed an answer to the complaint on December 11, 2015, and the parties completed discovery on March 31, 2016. On August 2, 2016, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 19] arguing that Plaintiff has failed to state an Eighth Amendment claim as a matter of law. In response, Plaintiff has filed an "objection" to Defendant's motion and a counter-motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 25], as well as a brief in opposition to Defendant's motion and in support of Plaintiff's counter-motion [ECF No. 26]. This matter is now ripe for consideration.

         B. Relevant Factual History [2]

         On January 11, 2012, Plaintiff was seen by Defendant for a sick call, complaining that a root canal he had done in 2004 was acting up. (ECF No. 21, Defendant's Concise Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, at ¶ 5). Defendant conducted an oral examination and took x-rays, which revealed that the former root canal on "tooth #13" was failing "due to appearance of apical abscess and a fistulous tract relieving that abscess." (Id. at ¶ 6). Defendant recommended extraction of the tooth, but Plaintiff insisted that he wanted to keep it, so Defendant offered to redo the root canal in an effort to resolve the abscess. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8). Plaintiff agreed to have the root canal redone, and the procedure was performed on January 31, 2012. (Id. at ¶¶ 17, 22).

         On September 10, 2013, x-rays of Plaintiff's teeth were taken, which revealed that tooth #13 had a small fistula remaining from the axillary canal laterally to the back of the root; thus, a curette of the area was recommended. (Id. at ¶¶ 27, 29-30). On September 23, 2013, the small fistula of tooth #13 was curetted and Plaintiff was advised by Defendant that if pain symptoms persisted, extraction of the tooth was recommended. (Id. at ¶¶ 32-34). Plaintiff had a follow-up visit with Defendant on October 9, 2013, at which time the fistula was gone and was not symptomatic. (Id. at ¶ 36).

         On October 11, 2014, Plaintiff submitted a sick call request stating that he had been suffering from irritating pain and a "puss [sic] bump which constantly drain[ed] into [his] mouth from [his] upper left gum line…." (ECF No. 28-2 at p. 2). Plaintiff was seen by Defendant on October 16, 2014, at which time Plaintiff reported "a bump above root canal had pus and now it is gone." (ECF No. 21, at ¶ 38). Defendant ordered an x-ray of tooth #13 which showed good resolution; tooth #13 was found asymptomatic and the fistulous tract was healed and did not exist. (Id. at ¶¶ 39-40). Defendant advised Plaintiff that extraction of the tooth was the next course of action if Plaintiff experienced problems in the future, and Plaintiff reiterated that he did not want to lose the tooth. (Id. at ¶ 41). Although Plaintiff claims that he continued to experience pain and symptoms from the abscess through March 2015, he never submitted another sick call request for dental care after his appointment on October 16, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 46).

         C. Standards of Review

         1. Summary Judgment

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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.” Under Rule 56, the district court must enter summary judgment against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Summary judgment may be granted when no “reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (19896). “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.

         The moving party has the initial burden of proving to the district court the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's claims. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 330. See also Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007); UPMC Health System v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 391 F.3d 497, 502 (3d Cir. 2004). When a non-moving party would have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party has no burden to negate the opponent's claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party need not produce any evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 325. “Instead, … the burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing' - that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. After the moving party has satisfied this low burden, the nonmoving party must provide facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial to avoid summary judgment. Id. at 324. “Rule 56(e) permits a proper summary judgment motion to be opposed by any of the kinds of evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c), except the mere pleadings themselves.” Id. See also Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001); Garcia v. Kimmell, 2010 WL 2089639, at * 1 (3d Cir. 2010) quoting Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Serv., 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005) (the non-moving party “must present more than just bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions to show the existence of a genuine issue.”).

         In considering these evidentiary materials, “courts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). See also Doe v. Cnty. of Centre, Pa., 242 F.3d 437, 446 (3d Cir. 2001) (when applying this standard, the court must examine the ...


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