Watson v. Harris County, Texas

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER granting {{13}} MOTION for Summary Judgment; Plaintiff's case is DISMISSED on the merits. (Signed by Judge Ewing Werlein, Jr) Parties notified.(kcarr,)

Southern District of Texas, txsd-4:2010-cv-03203

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5 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS HOUSTON DIVISION JOHNNY R. WATSON, § § Plaintiff, § § v. § CIVIL ACTION NO. H-10-3203 § HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS, § § Defendant. § MEMORANDUM AND ORDER Pending is Defendant Harris County, Texas' ("Defendant") Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 13). After carefully considering the motion, response, reply, and applicable law, the Court concludes as follows. I. Background Plaintiff Johnny Watson ("Plaintiff") sues Defendant under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for recovery of damages based upon his claim of a Fourteenth Amendment violation in denying him reasonable care and failing to protect him from serious physical harm.1 Plaintiff, at the time 32 years old, was detained in the Harris County Jail twice over a period of several months, first for three days in June 2008 1 Document No. 1 at 4. 5 on a charge of criminal trespass,2 and again in September 2008, on a charge of aggravated assault of a family member.3 It was on October 5, 2008, during his second detention, that he had a fall in the shower and could not move his legs. After first giving Plaintiff immediate medical attention at the jail, the physician ordered that he be transferred to Ben Taub General Hospital for further assessment and an MRI, and Plaintiff was admitted the next day. Plaintiff was diagnosed with paraplegia and a vascular malformation at the thoracic T6 level. A thoracic laminectomy was successfully performed from T5-T7 and, after 12 days in the hospital, during which he also had physical therapy and rehabilitation, Plaintiff was discharged on October 18. He declined a transfer to Quentin Meese Hospital to receive further rehabilitation, choosing instead to return to jail to handle his legal issues. Plaintiff alleges that he remains paralyzed and wheelchair bound. The uncontroverted summary judgment evidence of the medical attention Plaintiff received in response to his complaints or other events while he was in the Harris County Jail prior to his surgery at Ben Taub General Hospital is as follows: 2 Document No. 14, ex. A-1 at 6 of 40. 3 Id. at 11 of 40. 2 5 A. Plaintiff's First Detention Date Event or Uncontroverted Summary Judgment Complaint Evidence of Medical Response 6/7/08 Plaintiff was Intake interview indicates that detained in the he had gunshot wound to his left Harris County Jail leg in 2005, and surgery on that at 1200 Baker leg one week ago. He had a Street. history of seizures and was blind in his left eye. Plaintiff also indicated that he was taking Dilantin, Phenobarbital, and eye drops, and that he had a mental health history for which he was not taking medication. Plaintiff was examined by a physician. His evaluation notes indicate Plaintiff's history, described above. The notes also indicate that the physician examined Plaintiff's chest, finding it "clear" and examined the lower leg wound and noted that there was no discharge or redness. The physician prescribed Phenobar- bital for 30 days and Dilantin for 30 days (and gave a dosage), gave a recommendation for a bottom bunk pass and crutches, and referred Plaintiff to Orthopedics for a lower leg x-ray. The physician also gave Plaintiff a Vicodin and prescribed Tramadol for 30 days. A radiologist examined the leg x- ray a day later, finding that there was no acute osseous injury. Seale Aff. at 2. 6/8/08 Plaintiff had a The medical staff responded to fall. call and found Plaintiff on the floor lying on his right side. Plaintiff complained of back 3 5 pain, that he was unable to move and was in severe pain. Plain- tiff was put on a backboard, carried on a stretcher, and taken to the clinic via stretcher. The notes indicate the medical staff's awareness that Plaintiff had a history of seizures and used crutches to walk. Plaintiff was examined by a physician. The physician noted that Plaintiff complained of back and right arm pain. The physician ordered x- rays of his lumbar spine from two views and of his right elbow. He prescribed Vicodin, to be taken orally, for 10 days. A radiologist examined the x-rays the following day, finding that there was no indication of acute osseous injury to the spine or elbow and that the vertebral body heights and interspaces were intact. Seale Aff. at 3; Document No. 15, ex. 2 at 00007- 00009. 6/10/08 Plaintiff released from detention. B. Plaintiff's Second Detention Three Months Later Date Event or Uncontroverted Summary Judgment Complaint Evidence of Medical Response 9/3/08 Plaintiff was On September 5, Plaintiff was detained in the medically screened again, and it Harris County Jail was noted that he suffered from at 1200 Baker seizures and was taking Street. Phenobarbital and Dilantin. Plaintiff was examined by a physician. The physician 4 5 prescribed Dilantin, Pnenobar- bital, and Tramadol for 30 days. He also filled out a Special Needs Assessment form for a bottom bunk and crutches. Seale Aff. at 3. 9/10/08 Plaintiff and Plaintiff did not claim nor another inmate appear to have been injured. engaged in a fight Nonetheless, Plaintiff was regarding the offered medical attention, which telephones. he declined by signing a medical refusal form. Document No. 14, ex. A-1 at WATSON/ HC-00017-23. After a hearing by the Disci- plinary Committee, Plaintiff for his role in the fight was sanctioned with 7 days loss of visitation and commissary privileges. Id. at WATSON/HC- 00017-32. 9/12/08 Plaintiff had a Medical staff responded and noted fall and said that that "[u]pon arrival patient he was not able to laying on floor alert and get up. oriented times three with no apparent distress. Patient backboarded without difficulty and transferred to clinic via stretcher." Plaintiff was examined by a physician. Plaintiff told the physician that "he passed out after feeling weak and dizzy." The doctor ordered cervical and lumbar spine x-rays, and an EKG. The EKG indicated a normal sinus rhythm. The doctor prescribed 800mg of Ibuprofen to be taken at that time, and prescribed Flexeril for 7 days. A radiologist examined the x-rays the following day, determining that his lung fields were clear, his cardiac silhouette was within 5 5 normal limits, there was no indication of acute osseous injury, and his vertebral body heights and inter-spaces were intact. Seale Aff. 3-4; Document No. 15, ex. 2 at 00022-23, 00026-27. 9/15/08 Plaintiff Plaintiff was examined by a complained of back physician. Plaintiff complained pain and was of a cough and dyspnea and stated wheeled to the he thought he was developing a clinic (despite blood clot and that he had back stating he did not pain from falling in the shower. want medical Plaintiff noted that he had treatment). Upon previously had a pulmonary arrival at the embolus in 2007 and that he was clinic, Plaintiff not currently taking any anti- slid out of his coagulant medication. The wheelchair and physician determined that fell on the floor. Plaintiff had a cough, left leg pain, and lower back pain; he prescribed a Z-pak, ECASA for 30 days, and a walker. The physician completed a Special Needs Advisement form for the walker, crutches, and bottom bunk. Two days later, Plaintiff signed a "Keep on Person" medication administration record receipt for Zithromax and enteric coated aspirin. Seale Aff. at 4; Document No. 15, ex. 2 at 00028- 30. 9/18/08 Plaintiff Plaintiff was examined by a complained of a physician. Plaintiff told the cough. physician about his history of pulmonary embolus in 2007, and complained of blood streaked sputum, which had occurred that day. The physician ordered a chest x-ray, which was interpreted by a radiologist the following day. The x-ray 6 5 indicated no change since the previous x-ray on September 12; Plaintiff's lung fields were clear and his cardiac silhouette was within normal limits. The physician filled out a consultation request that a CT scan be made of Plaintiff's chest at the Harris County Hospital District ("HCHD"). Seale Aff. at 5; Document No. 15, ex. A-l at WATSON/HC-0097. 9/21/08 Plaintiff Plaintiff was examined by a complained of an physician. The physician eye injury or determined that Plaintiff had a discomfort. stye in his right lower lid. Plaintiff informed the physician that he was supposed to be on eye drops for right eye, but he did not know the name of the medication. The physician noted that Plaintiff's doctor needed to be called to find out the name of the medication. The physician prescribed Naproxen for 30 days and discontinued Tramadol. Seale Aff. at 5. 10/1/08 Follow-up on Action taken to ask HCHD to do CT Plaintiff's scan requested by physician on complaint about September 18. Document No. 15, cough. ex. A-l, at WATSON/HC-0097. 10/5/08 Plaintiff had a Medical staff arrived, and fall in the Plaintiff complained of blacking shower. out and hitting the floor and said he could not feel his legs. Plaintiff was examined by a physician. The physician ordered x-rays of Plaintiff's right shoulder, lower spine, and left ankle. The physician ordered Plaintiff to be transferred to 7 5 Ben Taub General Hospital for further assessment and an MRI. Plaintiff was admitted to Ben Taub General Hospital on October 6, 2008, and remained there until October 18, 2008. Plaintiff had an initial diagnosis of para- plegia, and a secondary diagnosis of a vascular malformation at the thoracic T6 level. An MRI showed an epidural hemangioma or mass approximately from T5-T7. A thoracic laminectomy was performed to excise the vascular malfunction, followed by physical therapy and rehabilitation. Seale Aff. at 5-6; Document No. 15, ex. 2 at 00051, 55-60. II. Discussion A. Summary Judgment Standard Rule 56(a) provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). Once the movant carries this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to show that summary judgment should not be granted. Morris v. Covan World Wide Moving, Inc., 144 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 1998). A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon mere allegations or denials in a pleading, and unsubstantiated assertions that a fact issue exists will not suffice. Id. "[T]he nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing the existence 8 5 of a 'genuine' issue concerning every essential component of its case." Id. "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record. . .; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1). "The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Id. 56(c)(3). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court must view the evidence "through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2513 (1986). All justifiable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986). "If the record, viewed in this light, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find" for the nonmovant, then summary judgment is proper. Kelley v. Price- Macemon, Inc., 992 F.2d 1408, 1413 (5th Cir. 1993). On the other hand, if "the factfinder could reasonably find in [the nonmovant's] favor, then summary judgment is improper." Id. Even if the standards of Rule 56 are met, a court has discretion to deny a motion for summary judgment if it believes that "the better course 9 5 would be to proceed to a full trial." Anderson, 106 S. Ct. at 2513. B. Municipal Liability The Civil Rights Act of 1866 creates a private right of action