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Cooper v. Department of Corrections

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

December 12, 2017




         Plaintiff Dennis Dean Cooper, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on November 21, 2017, by filing a pro se Civil Rights Complaint (Complaint; Doc. 1). In the Complaint, Cooper names the following Defendants: (1) the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC); (2) Corizon, Inc. (Corizon); (3) Dr. L. Melendez, M.D.; (4) Dr. J. Aviles, M.D.; (5) Dr. R. LaFontant, M.D.; and (6) Centurion of Florida, LLC (Centurion). He asserts that the Defendants violated his federal constitutional rights when they failed to provide timely and proper medical care for his thyroid and heart ailments. As relief, he seeks compensatory and punitive damages. He also requests that the Court appoint counsel to assist him and direct the FDOC to replace his damaged heart. See Complaint at 19.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires the Court to dismiss this case at any time if the Court determines that the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii). Additionally, the Court must read Plaintiff's pro se allegations in a liberal fashion. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972).

         "A claim is frivolous if it is without arguable merit either in law or fact." Bilal v. Driver, 251 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Battle v. Central State Hosp., 898 F.2d 126, 129 (11th Cir. 1990)). A complaint filed in forma pauperis which fails to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is not automatically frivolous. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 328 (1989). Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) dismissals should only be ordered when the legal theories are "indisputably meritless, " id. at 327, or when the claims rely on factual allegations which are "clearly baseless." Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992). "Frivolous claims include claims 'describing fantastic or delusional scenarios, claims with which federal district judges are all too familiar.'" Bilal, 251 F.3d at 1349 (quoting Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 328). Additionally, a claim may be dismissed as frivolous when it appears that a plaintiff has little or no chance of success. Id.

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant deprived him of a right secured under the United States Constitution or federal law, and (2) such deprivation occurred under color of state law. Salvato v. Miley, 790 F.3d 1286, 1295 (11th Cir. 2015); Bingham v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1171, 1175 (11th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (citation omitted); Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 737 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (citations omitted). Moreover, the Eleventh Circuit "'requires proof of an affirmative causal connection between the official's acts or omissions and the alleged constitutional deprivation' in § 1983 cases." Rodriguez v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 508 F.3d 611, 625 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Zatler v. Wainwright, 802 F.2d 397, 401 (11th Cir. 1986)). More than conclusory and vague allegations are required to state a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See L.S.T., Inc., v. Crow, 49 F.3d 679, 684 (11th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); Fullman, 739 F.2d 553, 556-57 (11th Cir. 1984). As such, "'conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts, or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.'" Rehberger v. Henry Cty., Ga., 577 Fed.Appx. 937, 938 (11th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citation omitted). In the absence of well-pled facts suggesting a federal constitutional deprivation or violation of a federal right, Plaintiff cannot sustain a cause of action against the Defendants.

         To the extent Cooper asserts any claims against the FDOC, state and governmental entities that are considered "arms of the state" are not "persons" subject to liability for purposes of § l983 action. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70 (1989); see Mellen v. Florida, No. 3:13-cv-1233-J-34PDB, 2014 WL 5093885, at *7 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 9, 2014) (unpublished). The FDOC is an arm of the executive branch of state government, see Fla. Stat. § 20.315, and thus is not a person for purposes of § l983 litigation. Therefore, the FDOC is not a person subject to liability under § l983.

         Cooper describes the FDOC's provision of medical care for his thyroid and heart ailments during a seven-month period from August 2013 through March 2014. See Complaint at 4-18. Cooper asserts that his August 1, 2013 blood test results showed thyroid dysfunction, which started his "ordeal." Id. at 4, 5. In his Complaint, Cooper provides the following description of the events relating to his thyroid and heart ailments. On September 10, 2013, Dr. Rodriguez ordered that Cooper see an endocrinologist. Cooper saw Dr. Roura on October 2nd. Dr. Roura ordered radiation treatment on October 2nd and reordered the treatment on November 6th. Radiation treatment was administered on November 6th, and Cooper was given a ninety-day no-work pass. On December 30, 2013, Cooper saw Dr. Melendez in the urgent care clinic, at which time Dr. Melendez noted Cooper's hormonal imbalance, and decreased his medication. However, Dr. Melendez neither prescribed additional medication nor sent Cooper for a follow-up appointment with an endocrinologist. On or about January 25-26, 2014, Cooper declared a medical emergency due to rapid heart beats and shortness of breath. The electrocardiogram (EKG) results were abnormal, and blood work was ordered. Dr. Aviles examined Cooper on January 28, 2014. He noted Cooper's hyperthyroidism, and changed his medications. On or about February 3-12, 2014, Dr. LaFontant noted the abnormal EKG results and hyperthyroidism and increased Cooper's medication. But, neither Dr. Aviles nor Dr. LaFontant referred Cooper to an endocrinologist. In mid-February, Drs. Aviles, Melendez, and LaFontant saw Cooper in the urgent care clinic at Union Correctional Institution (UCI), but "continued to do nothing." In mid-February, Cooper filed a grievance with an Assistant Warden and asked for help. On or about February 19-24, Dr. Roura corrected "his misdiagnosis, " determined that the hormonal imbalance was hypothyroidism, not hyperthyroidism, and changed Cooper's medication. Cooper waited over three days for his new medication. When Cooper suffered cardiac arrest on February 24, 2014, medical providers at Memorial Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida, implanted a defibrillator. Upon Cooper's March 7th discharge, Dr. Chang, a primary care physician, ordered a follow-up with an endocrinologist. Cooper asserts that UCI doctors continue to monitor his thyroid and heart ailments and change his medications. Nevertheless, he asserts that he does not trust UCI medical providers, and therefore wants a follow-up consultation with a qualified endocrinologist.

         To the extent Cooper asserts that the Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, the Eleventh Circuit has explained the requirements for an Eighth Amendment violation.

"The Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, but neither does it permit inhumane ones . . . ." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832, 114 S.Ct. at 1976 (internal quotation and citation omitted).[1] Thus, in its prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishments, " the Eighth Amendment requires that prison officials provide humane conditions of confinement. Id. However, as noted above, only those conditions which objectively amount to an "extreme deprivation" violating contemporary standards of decency are subject to Eighth Amendment scrutiny. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8-9, 112 S.Ct. at 1000.[2] Furthermore, it is only a prison official's subjective deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of serious harm caused by such conditions that gives rise to an Eighth Amendment violation. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 828, 114 S.Ct. at 1974 (quotation and citation omitted); Wilson, 501 U.S. at 303, 111 S.Ct. at 2327.[3]

Thomas v. Bryant, 614 F.3d 1288, 1306-07 (11th Cir. 2010).

         "To show that a prison official acted with deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, a plaintiff must satisfy both an objective and a subjective inquiry." Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 1344, 1351 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003)). First, the plaintiff must satisfy the objective component by showing that he had a serious medical need. Goebert v. Lee Cty., 510 F.3d 1312, 1326 (11th Cir. 2007).

"A serious medical need is considered 'one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.'" Id. (citing Hill v. Dekalb Reg'l Youth Det. Ctr., 40 F.3d 1176, 1187 (11th Cir. 1994)). In either case, "the medical need must be one that, if left unattended, pos[es] a substantial risk of serious harm." Id. (citation and internal quotations marks omitted).

Brown, 387 F.3d at 1351.

         Next, the plaintiff must satisfy the subjective component, which requires the plaintiff to "allege that the prison official, at a minimum, acted with a state of mind that constituted deliberate indifference." Richardson, 598 F.3d at 737 (setting forth the three components of deliberate indifference as "(1) subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; ...

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