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Fletcher v. Sussex County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 27, 2019

MICHAEL FLETCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
SUSSEX COUNTY, et al, Defendants.

          OPINION

          KEVIN MCNULTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The plaintiff in this civil rights matter, Michael Fletcher, represented by counsel, avers that various individuals associated with Keogh Dwyer Correctional Facility (the "Facility" or "Keogh Dwyer") were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See DE 1.) Now before the court is the motion for summary judgment brought by defendants Sussex County, Sussex County Sheriffs Office, Warden Homer E. Wanamaker, Sr., and the Facility itself (collectively, the "Sussex Defendants").[1] (DE 30.) For the reasons stated herein, motion will be granted.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On April 2, 2014, at 3:24 p.m., Fletcher, who was then incarcerated at Keogh Dwyer, was sent to Saint Clare's Hospital in Dover, New Jersey, for emergency treatment of his "infected and diseased sinuses which ultimately extended into [his] left orbit." (See Fletcher's Mar. 17, 2018 Expert Report, DE 31-12 at 224;[2] accord Keogh Dwyer's Apr. 2, 2014 Med. Progress Notes, DE 31-5 at 185.) There is no dispute that Fletcher thereafter "required two [offsite] surgeries to resolve the underlying infection." (See Fletcher Opp. Br. 1, DE 32.) Fletcher's present § 1983 action is rooted in his assertion that but for the "[Sussex] Defendants' [improper] delay in having Mr. Fletcher evaluated by a doctor..., he would not have needed [a second surgery] to resolve the infection." (See id.)

         a. Factual Background

         The documents and other record evidence establish the following facts beyond reasonable dispute: On August 30, 2013, Fletcher, who was not then imprisoned, [3] fell down a set of stairs and fractured several bones in his face. (See Newton Med. Ctr. Aug. 30, 2013 Report, DE 31-5 at 179; Fletcher's June 28, 2017 Dep. Tr. 16-17, DE 31-4.) On the same day, Fletcher went to Newton Medical Center (not a prison or prison-related facility). There he was diagnosed with "comminuted displaced fractures[4] of his left orbital lateral and inferior walls" and "comminuted displaced fractures of the left maxillary sinus lateral and anterior walls." (See DE 31-5 at 179.)

         Approximately ten days later, on September 8, 2013, while still suffering from his injuries, Mr. Fletcher was arrested for a probation violation and taken to Keogh Dwyer. (Fletcher Dep. Tr. 20-21, DE 31-4; accord Keogh Dwyer Sept. 8, 2013 Med. Progress Notes, DE 31-16 at 260.) Fletcher was detained at the Facility for roughly one and a half months and released in late November 2013. (Fletcher Dep. Tr. 21, DE 31-4.) The Facility's contemporaneous medical records show that Fletcher was examined by Keogh Dwyer medical staff upon his arrival there in early September 2013, and that during that examination, Fletcher reported his pre-incarceration August 30, 2013 injuries to medical staff. (See DE 31-16 at 260.) In response, the Facility's medical department obtained Fletcher's August 30, 2013 medical records from Newtown Medical Center. (See generally DE 31-16.) On September 10, 2013, the medical staff prescribed an antibiotic, Augmenting[5] to Fletcher. (See Keogh Dwyer Sept. 10, 2013 Physician Orders, DE 31-16 at 247.) Medical personnel also advised Fletcher that he should "notify [the on-site nurse] of any medical condition which develops while incarcerated." (See Keogh Dwyer's Sept. 9, 2013 Med. Record, DE 31-16 at 244.)[6] Despite this invitation, Fletcher never made any formal requests for medical treatment at Keogh Dwyer - or otherwise required any emergent medical care - when he was incarcerated there between early September 2013 and late November 2013. (See Sussex Def. Statement of Facts ("SOF") ¶ 14, DE 31-1; Fletcher Dep. Tr. 48, DE 31-4.)

         After his release in late November 2013, Fletcher remained free for only about a month. On December 31, 2013, Fletcher was again arrested for violating probation and was again taken to Keogh Dwyer.[7] (See Keogh Dwyer Dec. 31, 2013 Inmate Med. Info. Form, DE 31-5 at 181.) When Fletcher arrived at Keogh Dwyer on December 31, 2013, he advised the Facility's medical personnel that he was not sick or hurt. (See id.)

         On January 9, 2014, Mr. Fletcher submitted a written sick call request to the Facility's medical staff in which he complained about "hav[ing] severe cold symptoms" and requested "decongestant cold medicine." (See DE 31-6 at 187.) At 8:35 p.m. on that same date, Maria Kajogo, a nurse at the Facility, met with Fletcher. (Id.) Nurse Kajogo noted that Fletcher's temperature was then 97.9 degrees and that she advised Fletcher to treat his cold-like symptoms with nasal spray, Tylenol, and by gargling salt. (Id.) The nurse also told Fletcher to inform "medical staff of any worsening symptoms." (Id.)

         On January 23, 2014, Fletcher submitted another sick call request in which he reported having a "runny nose, sore throat, headache, sneezing, and also coughing." (See DE 31-6 at 189.) At 7:30 a.m. on that date, a member of the Facility's medical staff met with Fletcher. (Id.) That individual observed that Fletcher's temperature was then 98.3 degrees, that his throat was "slightly red," that he was congested, and that there was a "moderate [amount of] nasal drainage." (Id.) That individual recommended Tylenol and nasal spray to treat Fletcher's symptoms. (Id.)

         Fletcher's January 9, 2014 and January 23, 2014 sick call requests are the only two written requests for medical treatment that Fletcher submitted between December 31, 2013 and March 28, 2014. Other evidence in the record likewise suggests that Fletcher appeared to be in good health during this period. For example, on various dates between February 2, 2014 and March 26, 2014, Fletcher was one of a handful of inmates who would leave the Facility to "perform various [offsite] work details for nonprofit organizations and government entities" as part of Keogh Dwyer's "SWAP" program. (See Officer Aumick July 18, 2017 Dep. Tr. 6-10, DE 31-8; accord SWAP calendar entries, DE 31-9.) On February 14, 2014, Fletcher - as part of his SWAP duties - shoveled snow outside of Keogh Dwyer. (See Aumick Feb. 14, 2014 Letter, DE 31-13.) At approximately 7:40 a.m. on that date, another inmate inadvertently hit Fletcher in the head with a shovel. Fletcher declined medical attention and instead "continued to shovel snow and work diligently until approximately 2:00 p.m." (See id.)

         On March 28, 2014, Fletcher submitted a sick call request in which he complained of having a "runny nose, sneezing, sore through, cough and headaches [for] the past 2 days." (See DE 31-7 at 191; accord Sussex Def. SOF ¶ 22; Fletcher Resp. to SOF ¶ 17.) Fletcher requested only a decongestant to treat these symptoms. (See DE 31-7 at 191.) That request was reviewed by medical personnel at the Facility at 7:50 a.m. on March 28th. (Id.) Medical personnel formally responded within two hours, at 9:40 a.m. (Id.) At that time, Fletcher received nasal spray and Motrin, was told to rest and increase his fluid intake, and was also prescribed chlorpheniramine and acetaminophen. (See id; Keogh Dwyer Mar. 28, 2014 Physician Orders, DE 31-17 at 266; Sussex Def. SOF ¶ 23; Fletcher Resp. to SOF ¶ 23.)

         As of March 28, 2014, there is no record of a medical problem requiring more than routine treatment. That changed, however, on April 1, 2014. Fletcher testified that when he woke up on that day, his "symptoms fully just went crazy"; at that time, his "[left] eye swelled shut and [he] had a high fever of 103." (Fletcher Dep. Tr. 32, 91, DE 31-4; accord Keogh Dwyer Apr. 1, 2014 Med. Progress Notes, DE 31-5 at 183.) At 8:00 a.m., a Keogh Dwyer nurse, Bonnie Queen, met with Fletcher. (See Sussex Def. SOF ¶¶ 26-27; Fletcher Resp. to SOF ¶¶ 26-27; accord DE 31-5 at 183.) Nurse Queen's contemporaneous notes confirm that when she saw Fletcher on the morning of April 1, 2014, the left side of his face was swollen and he had a temperature of 103.1 degrees. She also noted that Fletcher complained of "nasal congestion and facial swelling" and reported that he had "had a cold for a few days." (See Sussex Def. SOF ¶ 26; Fletcher Resp. to SOF¶ 26; accord DE 31-5 at 183; Nurse Acker Oct. 16, 2017 Dep. Tr. 44, DE 31-15.)

         Nurse Queen then contacted a Keogh Dwyer physician, Dr. Fielding, for orders. (See Keogh Dwyer Apr. 1, 2014 Med. Progress Notes, DE 31-5 at 183.) Dr. Fielding responded to Nurse Queen twelve minutes later, at 8:12 a.m., and formally prescribed Fletcher an antibiotic, Augmentin, as well as Motrin, at 8:20 a.m. on April 1, 2014. (See id; Keogh Dwyer's Apr. 1, 2014 Physician Orders, DE 31-17 at 267.) Nurse Queen also then segregated Fletcher from the rest of Keogh Dwyer's inmates, i.e., placed him in "med lock." (See Sussex Def. SOF ¶ 24; Fletcher Resp. to SOF ¶ 24; accord Fletcher Dep. Tr. 32, DE 31-4 ("Med lock is where they think it's contagious because the nurse thought I had pink eye."). Fletcher remained "in med lock until he was seen by a doctor and taken to the hospital." (See Sussex Def. SOF ¶ 24, Fletcher Resp. to SOF ¶ 24.)

         On the evening of April 1, 2014, at 7:30 p.m., another Keogh Dwyer nurse, Bonnie Acker, met with Fletcher. (See Keogh Dwyer Apr. 1, 2014 Med. Progress Notes, DE 31-5 at 183; Nurse Acker Dep. Tr. 44, DE 31-15.) Nurse Acker's corresponding medical notes indicate that Fletcher's temperature had then dropped to 100.9 degrees, but that the area around his left eye remained swollen shut. (See DE 31-5 at 183.)

         On the following day, April 2, 2014, at 1:45 p.m., Fletcher was evaluated by Keogh Dwyer medical personnel for the third time in just under thirty hours. He was then diagnosed by a nurse practitioner as potentially having periorbital cellulitis and possible septicemia.[8] (See Sussex Def. SOF ¶ 98; Fletcher Resp. to SOF ¶ 98; Keogh Dwyer Apr. 2, 2014 Med. Progress Notes, DE 31 -5 at 184.) At that time, it was determined that Fletcher would need to be sent "to the [emergency room] for further evaluation." (See DE 31-5 at 184.) The Facility's medical records indicate that Fletcher left Keogh Dwyer at 3:24 p.m. on April 2, 2014 for treatment at Saint Clare's Hospital in Dover, New Jersey. (See id.) The Facility's medical records also demonstrate that in the following days, Keogh Dwyer medical staff continued to follow up with Saint Clare's hospital personnel about Fletcher's case. (See Keogh Dwyer Apr. 3, 2014 and Apr. 4, 2014 Med. Progress Notes, DE 31-5 at 185.)

         In sum, the record makes clear that: (i) Fletcher's medical condition did not present as emergent or even serious until the morning of April 1, 2014; (ii) Keogh Dwyer medical personnel examined Fletcher on at least two separate occasions on April 1, 2014, and at least once on April 2, 2014; and (iii) within thirty-six hours of meeting with Nurse Queen on the morning of April 1, 2014, Fletcher was transported to the emergency room at Saint Clare's Hospital. (Accord Fletcher Dep. Tr. 31, DE 31 -4 ("they put me in med lock for a day and a half until I guess the doctor showed up and then she saw me and said, he needs to go to the hospital right away."). In light of these facts, it is unsurprising that Fletcher's own medical expert, Dr. Carl A. Mazzara, concluded that "the records show proper care, treatment and diagnosis of the medical personnel at the Keogh-Dwyer facility. The staff quickly noted that [Fletcher] had a serious problem and within 24 hours or so he was being transferred and treated at St. Claire's Hospital." (See DE 31-12 at 223.)

         b. Procedural History

         Fletcher initiated this action in the Superior Court of New Jersey on February 29, 2016. (See Fletcher's Compl., DE 1-2 at 8.) In addition to the Sussex Defendants, Fletcher's complaint also names several classes of Facility-related John Doe defendants, consisting of otherwise unidentified correctional officers, nurses, doctors, administrators, and entities. In Counts I, II, III, and IV, Fletcher asserts that the defendants failed to provide him with adequate medical attention and treatment, in violation of his rights under the United States Constitution.[9] (DE 1-2 at 11-13.) In Counts VI and VII, [10] he asserts state law claims of medical malpractice. On April 6, 2016, the Sussex Defendants removed this action to federal court. (DE 1.)

         On June 27, 2017, Fletcher consented to the dismissal with prejudice of Counts VI and VII, i.e., his only non-§1983 claims. (See Fletcher June 27, 2017 Letter and Proposed Consent Order, DE 18.) On June 28, 2017, 1 formally dismissed both of those state law claims with prejudice. (See June 28, 2017 Consent Order, DE 19.)

         On July 26, 2018, the Sussex Defendants filed their Rule 56 motion for summary judgment.[11] (DE 30, 31.) Defendants' motion includes, among other things, a statement of facts which are said to be undisputed. (DE 31-1.) As is proper, each such fact is cited to a specific portion of the evidentiary record appended to the motion. See L. Civ. R. 56.1(a) ("On motions for summary judgment, the movant shall furnish a statement which sets forth material facts as to which there does not exist a genuine issue, in separately numbered paragraphs citing to the affidavits and other documents submitted in support of the motion.").

         Mr. Fletcher filed his opposition to the motion on August 21, 2018. (DE 32.) Fletcher's opposition consists of a brief, his response to the Sussex Defendants' Rule 56.1 statement of facts, and his own counterstatement of material facts. (See id.) Fletcher has not submitted any additional evidence for the court's consideration; i.e., he relies on the evidentiary materials submitted by the Sussex Defendants. Although Fletcher at times generally denies the truth and accuracy of some of the Sussex Defendants' stated facts (see Id. at 212-15), he fails to cite to specific portions of the record evidence in support of those denials. See L. Civ. R. 56.1. ("The opponent of summary judgment shall furnish, with its opposition papers, a responsive statement of material facts, addressing each paragraph of the movant's statement, indicating agreement or disagreement and, if not agreed, stating each material fact in dispute and citing to the affidavits and other documents submitted in connection with the motion; any material fact not disputed shall be deemed undisputed for purposes of the summary judgment motion."), I have given the matter due consideration and, as required, I have examined the record as a whole. Where I have found no countervailing evidence, however, properly supported factual statements have been treated as undisputed.

         On August 28, 2018, the Sussex Defendants filed their reply (at DE 33), as well as their response to Mr. Fletcher's counterstatement of material facts (at DE 33-1).

         III. SUMMARY ...


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