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Angel Olivares v. United States of America

December 16, 2010

ANGEL OLIVARES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle

OPINION

SIMANDLE, District Judge:

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter involving alleged inadequate medical treatment for a federal prisoner is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Docket Item 81]. The principal issue to be determined is whether Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies regarding his remaining claim for denial of a knee brace and walker, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). As explained in today's Opinion, because the Court finds that Plaintiff did fail to exhaust his administrative remedies for the only claim still in active dispute, the Court will grant Defendants' motion.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Angel Olivares, filed this lawsuit against the United States and four employees of the Bureau of Prisons in both their official and individual capacities based on Defendants' placement and transfer decisions regarding Mr. Olivares's incarceration as well as their alleged failure to provide adequate medical care. Mr. Olivares alleges that the individual defendants were negligent and deliberately indifferent to his medical needs when he was imprisoned at FCI Fort Dix from October 27, 2004 until he was transferred on March 21, 2006.*fn1 The individual defendants are Dr. Patel (a Medical Doctor and former Clinical Director at FCI Fort Dix), Dr. Sulayman (a Medical Doctor at FCI Fort Dix), Charleston Iwuagwu (the former Health Services Administrator at FCI Fort Dix) and Yvonne Phillips (the former Chief of the Bureau of Prisons' Office of Medical Designations and Transportation at the Bureau's Central Office in Washington, D.C.).

According to Mr. Olivares's Complaint, prior to his transfer to Fort Dix, he fell down and injured his left knee. (Compl. ¶¶ 8-12.) Mr. Olivares suffers from an illness known as osteogenesis imperfecta that complicates his medical care; the condition causes a group of disorders of bone formation and results in abnormally fragile bones. As a result of his fall, Plaintiff was suffering from a medial meniscus tear, a lateral meniscus tear, and chronic anterior cruciate ligament tear. (Id. ¶ 11.)

On September 28, 2004, Mr. Olivares was sentenced for his conviction on federal charges, and, according to Mr. Olivares, the sentencing judge recommended that he be placed in a facility capable of treating his serious medical condition. (Id. ¶ 81.) Mr. Olivares was placed in FCI Fort Dix rather than a federal medical center. (Id. ¶¶ 82-90.)

At Fort Dix, Mr. Olivares maintains that he was not provided adequate care for his knee injury, and his transfer to a more suitable facility was unnecessarily and maliciously delayed. On January 5, 2006, Mr. Olivares's orthopedist recommended a specialized type of knee brace for his left knee, and noted that if problems persisted then he would need surgery. (Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 26i.) Mr. Olivares's Complaint alleges that he did not receive the recommended brace or recommended surgery, and that his condition deteriorated to the point that his knee gave way on November 16, 2005, causing him to fall, fracture his left patella, and rupture his left quadriceps muscle. (Id. ¶ 37.) By the following day, Plaintiff was "at the brink of losing his leg if surgery was not immediately performed," and Plaintiff was admitted to a local hospital for surgery. (Id. ¶¶ 39-41.) The orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery upon Plaintiff's patella and quadriceps recommended that Plaintiff receive the long-prolonged ACL surgery within four weeks, but Plaintiff was not transferred to a federal medical center for four more months. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43.)

Mr. Olivares's Complaint claims that Defendants breached their common law duties and violated his Eighth Amendment rights in numerous ways: Defendant Phillips failed to initially place him in a facility capable of handling his needs (Compl. ¶¶ 82, 84-85, 96); Defendants collectively failed to inform proper authorities that his condition could not adequately be addressed at Fort Dix and did not immediately initiate medical transfer documents (Compl. ¶¶ 32, 63, 90); Defendants Patel, Sulayman and Iwaugwu denied him the recommended knee braces and the recommended knee surgery, the absence of which led to his fall in the institution dining hall on November 16, 2005 in which he suffered a fractured left patella and ruptured left quadricep muscle (Compl. ¶¶ 25-31, 65, 91, 95); Defendants Sulayman and Iwaugwu failed to provide plaintiff with a walker (Compl. ¶¶ 47, 66-67, 93); Defendant Sulayman improperly diagnosed him after his fall in the institution dining hall on November 16, 2005 (Compl. ¶¶ 38-54, 94); Defendants Patel, Sulayman and Iwuagwu failed to properly investigate his grievances regarding his medical care (Compl. ¶¶ 62, 97); and Defendants delayed his transfer to a federal medical center for seven months, in part because they misclassified the urgency of his need for transfer (Compl. ¶¶ 50, 68-73, 86-87, 98).*fn2

In the present motion, Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on both procedural and substantive grounds: they contend that Mr. Olivares's claims are foreclosed because he did not exhaust his administrative remedies; that the claims are barred by the relevant statute of limitations; that Mr. Olivares has failed to adduce the requisite evidence for his claims; and that Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. For his part, Mr. Olivares only addresses the claims against Defendants Patel and Sulayman related to the specialized knee brace and walker. As explained in the following sections, because the Court finds that this sole remaining claim is foreclosed because Mr. Olivares did not exhaust his administrative remedies as to this claim, as required by the PLRA, the Court will grant summary judgment to Defendants without reaching the rest of Defendants' arguments.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "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). A fact is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable rule of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Summary judgment will not be denied based on mere allegations or denials in the pleadings; instead, some evidence must be produced to support a material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A); United States v. Premises Known as 717 S. Woodward Street, Allentown, Pa., 2 F.3d 529, 533 (3d Cir. 1993). However, the court will view any evidence in favor of the nonmoving party and extend any reasonable favorable inferences to be drawn from that evidence to that party. Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999). Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving ...


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