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Hakala v. Park

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 29, 2017

GARY HAKALA, Plaintiff,

         ECF Nos. 115 & 121


          Lisa Pupo Lenihan United States Magistrate Judge

         This is a civil rights action that was initiated by Plaintiff pro se on October 18, 2012.[2] In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs while he was incarcerated at SCI-Fayette between 2009 and 2010. Specifically, he alleges that Defendants intentionally failed to diagnose and treat his lung cancer and related symptoms and also alleges that they falsified his medical records to reflect that he had no medical issues concerning his lungs. All Defendants are or were medical providers who worked at SCI-Fayette during the time period at issue and whom Plaintiff alleges denied and/or failed to diagnose and treat his medical issues.[3] Now pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Dr. Park, Dr. Bulk and PA Darla Cowden, (ECF No. 115), and a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Nurse Bilohlavek, (ECF No. 121). These Motions will be granted for the following reasons.[4]

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated and are taken from the parties' Statements of Material Facts and Responses thereto at ECF Nos. 117/120 & 125, 123 & 126, 127 & 134.[5]

         As previously stated, Plaintiff's claims stem from medical issues he experienced while he was incarcerated at SCI-Fayette in 2009 and 2010.[6] (ECF Nos. 127, 134, 138, at ¶¶ 1-2.) Plaintiff has a medical history that includes insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, hepatitis C, and hypertension. (Id., at ¶ 20.) For his chronic diseases, Plaintiff was examined at the SCI-Fayette chronic clinic where he saw physicians and had his blood tested at least once every three months. (Id., at ¶¶ 21-22.)

         According to Plaintiff, he started to have difficulty breathing, and experienced fatigue and weakness sometime in late March 2010. (ECF No. 127, ¶ 23.) He claims he was not able to exercise and run the track as he had before because he was “breathing all heavy and got light-headed.” (Id.) He also claims that he lost 60 pounds of his weight. (Id.)

         Plaintiff states that he complained to nurses and doctors about his difficulties in breathing, fatigue and weakness, and that two of these people were PA Darla Cowen and Nurse Byron Bilohlavek, who performed insulin injections for Plaintiff. (Id., at ¶¶ 24, 55, 57-61.) Plaintiff also states that he complained to medical personnel about his symptoms every time he visited the chronic care clinic, and at least once he put in a request for the sick line because of his breathing problems. (ECF No. 125, at ¶ 3.)

         Plaintiff claims that he talked to Dr. Park at least twice. (ECF No. 127, at ¶ 42.) He states that one of those times he complained about his respiratory distress and then afterward he received an EKG and a chest x-ray. (Id., at ¶ 44.) He further states that sometime in May or June 2010, he was told by an unidentified doctor that “everything was fine.”[7] (Id., at ¶¶ 26, 27.) He was also told that he was fine and had no medical issues concerning his lungs in September 2010 when they cleared him for release. (ECF No. 125, at ¶ 3.) He states that he was specifically told that he was “healthy as a horse” and “his lungs look good and sound good.” (Id.) Plaintiff states that he eventually “started getting agitated” and told them to send him to an outside hospital if they could not help him. (Id., at ¶ 5; ECF No. 127, at ¶¶ 28-29.)

         Defendants dispute Plaintiff's allegations of having x-rays taken- see fn. 7- and also dispute Plaintiff's claims regarding his communication with any of the Defendants about his difficulties in breathing and feeling fatigued and weak. Defendants state that while Dr. Park has no recollection of Plaintiff and his treatment, Plaintiff's medical records indicate that Dr. Park only twice examined him, the first time on March 6, 2009, at which time Plaintiff made no complaints of respiratory distress, and his chest was found to have regular respirations and lungs were reported as clear. (ECF No. 117, at ¶¶ 14, 18.) Dr. Park also examined Plaintiff at the chronic care unit on March 9, 2009, where he provided Plaintiff with treatment for his diabetes and hypertension. (ECF No. 117, at ¶ 13.)

         Plaintiff's medical records do not indicate any complaints of cough, discharge from the larynx, dyspnea or shortness of breath. (ECF No. 117, at ¶ 11.) In fact, they show that Plaintiff's lungs were checked on August 31, 2009 and the record indicates “lungs clear to auscultation.” (ECF No. 117, at ¶ 17.) Defendants also point out that the “Inter-System Transfer Reception Screening” document Plaintiff Dated: September 20, 2010, indicates that he denied any acute conditions or problems. (ECF No. 117, at ¶ 10.) However, Plaintiff claims that this was because he could not see the form due to his sight issues as a result of his diabetes and he did not know what the diagnosis was in the release. (ECF No. 125, at ¶ 10.)

         As to Dr. Balk, Defendants contend that he never met Plaintiff personally and his only involvement with respect to Plaintiff was to cosign medical records of physician's assistants. (ECF No. 117, at ¶¶ 16, 19.) Plaintiff disputes this and alleges that he met Dr. Balk at least twice, complained to him about his symptoms and asked Dr. Balk to send him to an outside hospital. (ECF No. 125, at ¶ 16.).

         After his release from SCI-Fayette on September 20, 2010, Plaintiff saw a primary care physician, Dr. Dolan Wenner, because of complaints of dyspnea on exertion and fatigue. (ECF Nos. 127, 134, 138, at ¶ 30.) He underwent a chest x-ray on October 13, 2010, (id., at ¶ 31), and a CT scan on October 20, 2010, (ECF No. 127-2, at p.1).

         On October 27, 2010, he visited Dr. Chinskey at Chest Diseases of Northwestern PA under referral of Dr. Wenner to evaluate a pulmonary nodule. (ECF Nos. 127, 134, 138, at ¶ 32.) Dr. Chinskey's consultation note indicates that Plaintiff's chest x-ray “described an ill-defined left upper lobe lesion” that “felt suspicious for neoplasm.” (ECF No. 127-2, at p.1.) It also indicates that his CT scan “confirmed an irregular spiculated lesion in the left upper lobe” that was “noncalcified.” (Id.) Of somewhat importance, Dr. Chinskey's consultation note indicates that Plaintiff “had never been told of a previously abnormal x-ray while incarcerated” and that “he had them periodically.” (Id.) Dr. Chinskey concluded that “the left upper lobe lesion could be primary lung cancer” but that he was “not sure that explain[ed] [Plaintiff's] exertional dyspnea.” (Id., at p.3.)

         On November 11, 2010, Plaintiff had a PET/CT scan that indicated a “somewhat nodular and irregular” lesion on his left lung. (ECF No. 127-3, at p.1.) On November 16, 2010, Plaintiff underwent exercise stress testing with perfusion imaging to evaluate hypertension. (ECF No. 127-4, at p.1.)

         On November 18, 2010, Plaintiff returned for a follow-up visit with Dr. Chinskey. (ECF No. 127-5, at p.1.) Dr. Chinskey noted that the cause of Plaintiff's dyspnea was “uncertain, ” and that Plaintiff had “normal pulmonary function” and “no obvious cardiac disease.” (Id.) Dr. Chinskey also noted that malignancy of Plaintiff's left upper lobe nodule could not be excluded and after discussion Plaintiff indicated that he wanted a tissue diagnoses. (Id.) Dr. Chinskey proposed a navigational bronchoscopy and a specific CT, and Plaintiff agreed to proceed with the proposed procedure. (Id.)

         After the navigational bronchoscopy, Plaintiff returned to see Dr. Chinskey on December 16, 2010. (ECF No. 127-6, at p.1.) He was diagnosed with “nonsmall cell cancer in his left upper lobe, ” and he agreed to proceed with “surgical and other intervention.” (Id.)

         On December 22, 2010, Dr. Jan M. Rothman confirmed that Plaintiff had “what appear[ed] to be early stage lung cancer” and recommended lobectomy/node dissection. (ECF No. 127-7, at pp.1-2.) Also on this day, Dr. Walter E. Rizzoni recommended that Plaintiff undergo “intraoperative fiberoptic bronchoscopy, left upper lobectomy and mediastinal node dissection.” (ECF No. 127-8, at pp.1-2.) Dr. ...

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