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Wilson v. Corizon Health Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Tallahassee Division

July 9, 2019



          Michael J. Frank United States Magistrate Judge.

         This prisoner civil rights case, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, is before the court on Defendant Corizon Health, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 68) and evidentiary materials (ECF Nos. 36, 67). Plaintiff has responded in opposition (ECF No. 71) with evidentiary materials (ECF No. 72). Defendant filed a reply. (ECF No. 73). For the reasons set forth below, Corizon's motion should be granted.[1]

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff, an inmate of the Florida Department of Corrections (“FDC”), is currently confined at Marion Correctional Institution in Lowell, Florida. At the time of the events giving rise to this lawsuit, Plaintiff was confined at the Wakulla Correctional Institution. (ECF No. 1 at 2). Plaintiff's complaint names four defendants: (1) Corizon, a private company contracting with the FDC to provide medical services to inmates at Wakulla Correctional Institution; (2) V. Cruse, a medical professional employed by Corizon; (3) Julie L. Jones, the former Secretary of the FDC; and (4) A. Kirkland, a medical professional employed by Corizon. (ECF No. 1 at 1-2). Plaintiff claims that the Defendants delayed and denied proper medical treatment for his injured neck and spine, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. (Id. at 2-4 ¶¶ 9-18).

         For relief, Plaintiff seeks a declaration that the Defendants violated his constitutional rights, an injunction, $2, 500, 000 in compensatory damages against each defendant jointly and severally, and $2, 500, 000 in punitive damages against each defendant jointly and severally. (Id. at 5-6 ¶¶ 26-30). He sues each defendant in their individual and official capacities. (Id. at 1).

         On September 19, 2018, on motion of the Defendants, and upon the recommendation of Magistrate Judge Charles A. Stampelos, District Judge Robert L. Hinkle dismissed Defendants Cruse, Jones, and Kirkland. (ECF No. 52); Wilson v. Jones, 2018 WL 4518987, at *4-5 (N.D. Fla. Aug. 14, 2018), adopted by 2018 WL 4518582 (N.D. Fla. Sept. 19, 2018). Upon recommendation of Judge Stampelos, Judge Hinkle denied the motion to dismiss as to Defendant Corizon, directed the case to proceed against Defendant Corizon, and ordered Corizon to answer Plaintiff's Complaint. (ECF No. 53). A scheduling order was issued on October 23, 2018, providing for a discovery period through January 31, 2019. (ECF No. 57). Following an extension of time to file dispositive motions, on February 28, 2019, Corizon filed its Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 68).

         II. Factual Allegations

         The facts recounted below are drawn from Plaintiff's verified complaint (ECF No. 1) and the evidence in the record (ECF Nos. 36, 67, 72).[2] Whenever the parties offer conflicting accounts, the undersigned “set[s] forth the facts, drawn from the evidence presented, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Snow v. City of Citronelle, 420 F.3d 1262, 1265 (11th Cir. 2005).

         On January 16, 2014, Plaintiff fell while exiting his upper bunk, striking his neck and spine. (ECF Nos. 1 at 2; 72 at 23). Plaintiff reported the fall to the officer in charge of ‘G' dorm and requested to go to emergency sick call. (ECF No. 72 at 23). The officer denied the request. (Id.; ECF No. 1 at 2 ¶ 10). Later that day, Plaintiff's symptoms-difficulty breathing, numbness in his arms and legs, “limping uncontrollably”-did not improve and he made a second request to go to emergency sick call. A dorm officer denied this request. (ECF Nos. 1 at 2 ¶ 11; 72 at 23). Plaintiff alleges that for four days he was denied access to the medical clinic by several dorm officers. (ECF No. 1 at 3 ¶ 12).

         On January 20, 2014, after reporting severe pain in his neck, difficulty balancing, shaking of his hands, and dizziness, prison personnel allowed Plaintiff to go to sick call. Licensed practical nurse Virginia Cruse (“Cruse”) examined Plaintiff. (Id.; ECF Nos. 36-1 at 1; 72 at 4, 23). At this visit, Plaintiff complained of tingling in his hands. (Id.). Cruse noted that Plaintiff was favoring his left leg and was limping. She, therefore, prescribed ibuprofen and instructed Plaintiff to return to the clinic if his symptoms worsened. (Id.). Cruse told Plaintiff that under FDC and Corizon's medical emergency policy, a slip and fall accident did not constitute a medical emergency. (ECF No. 72 at 23-24). Plaintiff completed a sick call form and submitted it. (Id.).

         On January 23, 2014, Plaintiff, unable to ambulate on his own or stand for long periods of time, was taken to sick call by wheelchair where he was again seen by Cruse. (ECF Nos. 36-1 at 2-3; 72 at 5-6, 24). At this visit, Plaintiff complained of tingling in his left limbs and right hand, weakness in his left leg and right arm, and sharp pain in his lower back. (Id.). Cruse noted that Plaintiff's right hand was weaker than his left and that he walked with an “unsteady gait.” (Id.). Cruse also noted that, while explaining his symptoms, Plaintiff stood up straight, did not lose his balance, put weight on his left leg, and used his hands freely. (Id.). Cruse concluded that Plaintiff's motor and sensory functions were normal and that the medical examination did not support Plaintiff's alleged symptoms. (Id.). Cruse observed that when she denied Plaintiff's request for a walker and a low bunk assignment, he “became wobbly and walked with spastic movements.” (ECF Nos. 36-1 at 4; 72 at 7). Cruse, therefore, sent Plaintiff to the infirmary for further evaluation. (Id.).

         On January 29, 2014, Plaintiff was seen by Amy Kirkland (“Kirkland”), an advanced registered nurse practitioner (“ARNP”). (ECF Nos. 36-1 at 5; 72 at 8). Kirkland noted that Plaintiff needed help getting on the exam table and that he had fine tremors in his left hand. (Id.). Following consultation with a Dr. Shubert, an MRI, chest x-ray, and urine toxicology were ordered. (Id.). On January 30, 2014, Plaintiff was referred to Tallahassee Diagnostic Imaging “for evaluation and diagnostic plan” and to rule out a “Cerebellar Stroke.” (ECF Nos. 36-1 at 6-7; 72 at 8-9). The MRI report noted “scattered areas of punctate leukomalacia primarily in subcortical white matter but also in periventricular regions, ” and “a prior area of subcortical ischemic change in left superior parietal lobe near vertex, ” but found no “acute infarct or mass.” On February 4, 2014, a request for consultation was submitted. (ECF Nos. 36-1 at 8-10; 72 at 11-13).

         On March 6, 2014, Plaintiff was examined by a neurologist at the Regional Medical Center (“RMC”). (ECF Nos. 36-1 at 11; 72 at 14). On that same day, based on the recommendation of the neurologist, Plaintiff was transferred to a hospital where surgeons performed “an anterior and then posterior laminectomy” for “cervical myelopathy”-compression of the spinal cord. (ECF Nos. 36-1 at 12-13; 72 at 15-16). Plaintiff was discharged to the RMC on March 19, 2014, with instructions to have his wound dressing changed daily, was permitted to perform activities to the extent he could tolerate them, and was instructed to undergo physical and occupational therapy. (Id.). After March 19, 2014, however, Plaintiff did not see a medical professional for any additional treatment or physical therapy. (Id.)

         On April 22, 2014, Plaintiff was transferred to Florida State Prison-West. (ECF Nos. 36-1 at 14; 72 at 17). Plaintiff now walks “with a severe limp and numbness in [his] arms and legs.” (ECF No. 72 at 25).

         III. Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a 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). In order to prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the nonmoving party has insufficient evidence to support his case or that an affirmative defense precludes the nonmoving party from prevailing at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-53 (1986). If the moving party successfully negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with evidentiary material demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Id.

         The “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986) (emphasis in original). A dispute is “genuine” if the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.; Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510; Hickson Corp., 357 F.3d at 1259; see Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995) (“The mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case.”). The nonmoving party must show more than the existence of a “metaphysical doubt” regarding the material facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 ...

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