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Carson v. Wetzel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 27, 2019

JEFFREY WETZEL, et al., Defendants


          Richard A. Lanzillo United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Kenneth A. Carson commenced this §1983 action based on allegations that Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) officials and medical personnel at the State Correctional Institution at Forest, Pennsylvania (SCI-Forest) violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by displaying deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The remaining defendants in this action fall into two categories: the "Medical Defendants" (Barry Eisenberg, D.O., and Lisa Zupsic, C.R.N.P.), and the "DOC Defendants" (Secretary of the DOC John Wetzel, Superintendent at SCI-Forest Michael Overmeyer, and Corrections Health Care Administrator Kimberly Smith). Each group has filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant both motions.[1]

         II. Relevant Procedural History

         Carson filed this lawsuit alleging that the Defendants violated several of his rights during a series of incidents at SCI-Forest, beginning on January 5, 2016. See ECF No. 55. Carson's Complaint named nineteen individuals as defendants, all of whom were employees of the DOC or medical providers at SCI-Forest. By Order dated February 5, 2019, the Court dismissed all claims against Defendants Dasily, Dicky, Z. Gearhart, John Does 1, 2, 3, 4, Miller, Keri Moore, L. Reeher, E.J. Sager, Stonebraker, and Dorina Varner for failure to prosecute. ECF No. 78. This Order left only one claim pending in this action, Carson's Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Eisenberg, Zupsic, Wetzel, Overmeyer, and Smith.

         After discovery, the DOC Defendants and Medical Defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment. At the request of the Court, Attorney Alexander K. Cox agreed to represent Carson for purposes of opposing the motions for summary judgment.[2] The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

         III. Factual Background

         At all relevant times, Carson was incarcerated at SCI-Forest. On January 5, 2016, around 1:29 p.m., Carson experienced a "black out episode" while at triage and was subdued by correctional officers. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 3; ECF No. 89-1, p. 183. During this incident, Carson injured his right (dominant) hand. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 3. At triage, Carson complained to staff members nearby that his hand was in pain and possibly broken. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 3.' Dr. Eisenberg entered a note at 4:00 p.m. on January 5, 2016, indicating that he had examined Carson and recording, among other things, that Carson had "abrasions of his right fist [], of unknown etiology." ECF No. 89-1, p. 134, 185. Dr. Eisenberg asserts that he ordered medical staff to take Carson's vitals four times daily.[3] Id. Carson disputes this assertion. At 5:30 p.m. on January 5, 2016, RN Holser entered a note indicating that Carson informed her that his hand hurt. Id. at 182.

         Dr. Eisenberg examined Carson again the next morning (January 6, 2016) around 10:00 a.m. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 6; ECF 89-1, p. 134. At the time of this examination, Carson's hand had swollen to the size of a "boxing glove." ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 6. Carson informed Dr. Eisenberg that he had pain in that hand, that it might be broken, that he could not make a fist, and that he needed an x-ray. Id. Dr. Eisenberg wrapped Carson's hand in gauze. Id. RN Hoffman noted that Carson would receive medication, and, on January 6, 2016, Carson received one dose of ibuprofen. ECF 89-1, p. 182; ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 9.

         Carson made a sick call request for the pain in his hand on January 8, 2016. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 8. Four days later, on January 12, 2016, he was seen by Nurse Zupsic at the RHU cell door in response to his sick call. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 12; ECF 89-1, pp. 134, 182. Nurse Zupsic noted the following regarding Carson's hand: (1) circulation, sensation, and motion were intact; (2) strength was 4/5; (3) Carson was able to flex and extend his hand; (4) there was tenderness over the metacarpal of fourth and fifth lateral aspect; and (5) scabs were forming over his knuckles. ECF No. 89-1, pp. 134, 182. Following her examination at the RHU cell door, Nurse Zupsic ordered an x-ray of Carson's right hand and provided him with ibuprofen. Id.; ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 13. Carson disputes the accuracy of Nurse Zupsic's diagnostic notes. Specifically, he contends Nurse Zupsic did not perform a hand squeeze test or any other physical test at the cell door evaluation. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 11-12. He further contends that he was not in fact able to flex and extend his hand, and that his hand strength was "far from a 4/5." Id.

         The following day, on January 13, 2016, Carson underwent an x-ray of his right hand. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 13. On January 15, 2016, Nurse Zupsic entered an order that Carson was to consult "with ortho." ECF No. 89-1, pp. 130, 180. On January 15, 2016, Carson made a sick call regarding pain in his hand and to receive his x-ray results. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 16. He was seen in response to his January 15 sick call four days later, on January 19, 2016, by Nurse McKeel. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 17. Nurse McKeel was not aware of the x-ray but saw the note "ortho consult" and provided Carson with ibuprofen. She also wrapped and splinted Carson's hand with an ace bandage "due to recent fracture." ECF No. 89-1, pp. 130, 1320133, 180-181. Carson requested a higher dose of medication, but this request was denied by Nurse McKeel. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 19.

         During the January 19, 2016 sick call, Carson saw Dr. Eisenberg in the hallway and spoke with him. ECF No. 113-1, ¶ 17-20. Carson informed Dr. Eisenberg that his hand still hurt. Id. Dr. Eisenberg responded that he thought Carson had arthritis. Id. Dr. Eisenberg did not mention the January 13 x-ray results. Id.

         On January 25, 2016, Carson was transported to Kane Community Hospital for a consultation with Dr. Vasileios Kostopoulos, an orthopedic surgeon, for a right-hand fracture. ECF No. 89-1, pp. 88, 94, 179. From his review of the January 13 x-ray, Dr. Kostopoulos noted the following: (1) fourth metacarpal fracture without significant displacement; and (2) 80 degrees of angulation of the neck and head fractures of the fourth metacarpal. Id. Following a physical examination of Carson's right hand, Dr. Kostopoulos noted the following: (1) wound over the third metacarpal head in the healing process; (2) some deformity in the ring and little finger with shortened metacarpals; (3) range of motion was mildly diminished and Carson was nearly able to make a full fist; (4) no evidence of overlapping or malrotation during the range of motion; and (5) extensor tendons were intact. Id. Based upon his examination, Dr. Kostopoulus determined Carson to be a candidate for open reduction and osteosynthesis with a K-wire. Id. That same day, Dr. Eisenberg requested the recommended surgery as well as a preoperative EKG and chest x-ray. ECF No. 89-1, p. 186-187.

         On January 28, 2016, Carson underwent surgery upon his right hand to address fourth and fifth metacarpal fractures. ECF No. 89-1, p. 86-97, 93, 179, 188-190. The operation included open reduction and osteosynthesis with K wires and surgical pins for both fractures. Id. Following the surgery, Carson was discharged with a prescription for Percocet and Bactrim DS. Id. ...

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