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Hutto v. Delgado

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

September 10, 2019

KELLY L. HUTTO, Plaintiff,
DR. NICHOLAS DELGADO et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Kelly L. Hutto (“Hutto”), a pre-trial inmate of the Okaloosa County Department of Corrections housed at the County jail (“Jail”), is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Hutto is suing the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners (“County”) (the municipality which operates the Jail), Corizon Health, Inc. (“Corizon”) (the private entity which contracts with the County to provide medical services to inmates), and Dr. Nicholas Delgado (a doctor employed by Corizon as a physician at the Jail). Hutto brings Eighth Amendment claims against Defendants. He claims Corizon and Dr. Delgado were deliberately indifferent to his need for treatment of Hepatitis A. Hutto claims the County's alleged policy or custom of failing to provide adequate shower, restroom, and other cleaning supplies to inmates exposes him to a substantial risk of serious harm. In his Complaint, Hutto requests declaratory relief and monetary damages.

         Presently before the court is Hutto's “Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and a Preliminary Injunction, ” with an attached supporting Memorandum and Declaration (ECF No. 18). Hutto seeks a preliminary injunction requiring Defendants to “arrange for an examination and plan of treatment by a qualified specialist, ” and “carry out that plan of treatment” (id. at 1). Corizon and Dr. Delgado filed a Response in opposition to Hutto's motion, with supporting materials (ECF Nos. 20, 21). The County joined the Response filed by Corizon and Dr. Delgado (ECF No. 22).

         The case was referred to the undersigned for the issuance of all preliminary orders and any recommendations to the district court regarding dispositive matters. See N.D. Fla. Loc. R. 72.2(C); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), (C); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). After careful consideration of the parties' submissions, it is the opinion of the undersigned that Hutto is not entitled to a preliminary injunction.


         A. Preliminary Injunction Standard

         A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish four prerequisites: (1) he has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of his claim; (2) he faces a substantial threat of irreparable injury if an injunction is not issued; (3) the threatened injury to the plaintiff outweighs the potential harm to the defendants; and (4) an injunction will not disserve the public interest. See Wreal, LLC v., Inc., 840 F.3d 1244, 1247 (11th Cir. 2016). A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy not to be granted unless the plaintiff clearly establishes the burden of persuasion as to each of the four requisites. See Siegel v. LePore, 234 F.3d 1163, 1176 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (emphasis added).

         When brought by convicted prisoners, claims of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs proceed under the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment. See Gilmore v. Hodges, 738 F.3d 266, 271 (11th Cir. 2013). Pretrial detainees, however, must proceed under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Dang by and through Dang v. Sheriff, Seminole Cnty. Fla., 871 F.3d 1272, 1279 (11th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted). Nevertheless, the minimum standard for providing medical care to a pretrial detainee is identical to the minimum standard required by the Eighth Amendment for a convicted prisoner; therefore, the claim is analyzed under the decisional law of both Amendments. Id. (citation omitted).

         Stating a claim of inadequate medical treatment requires satisfying two minima (from which the case law has ultimately derived four requirements). First, there must be, objectively speaking, conduct by public officials “sufficiently serious” to constitute a cruel or unusual deprivation-one “denying ‘the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981)). Second, there must be a subjective intent by the public officials involved to use the sufficiently serious deprivation in order to punish. See Wilson, 501 U.S. at 300 (“The source of the intent requirement is not the predilections of this Court, but the Eighth Amendment itself, which bans only cruel and unusual punishment. If the pain inflicted is not formally meted out as punishment by the statute or the sentencing judge, some mental element must be attributed to the inflicting officer before it can qualify.” (emphases in original)).

         In the context of denial of medical treatment, each of these minima has been more specifically described as encompassing two subsidiary requirements. To show an objectively serious deprivation, it is necessary to demonstrate, first, an objectively “serious medical need[ ], ” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976), one that, if left unattended, “pos[es] a substantial risk of serious harm, ” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994). A serious medical need is “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.” Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003). Second, it is necessary to demonstrate that the response made by the public official to that need was poor enough to constitute “an unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, ” and not merely accidental inadequacy, “negligen[ce] in diagnosi[s] or treat[ment], ” or even “[m]edical malpractice” actionable under state law, Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06. Conduct that is more than merely negligent includes: “(1) grossly inadequate care; (2) a decision to take an easier but less efficacious course of treatment; and (3) medical care that is so cursory as to amount to no treatment at all.” Bingham v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1171, 1176 (11th Cir. 2011).

         A plaintiff may also establish deliberate indifference by showing “[a] complete denial of readily available treatment, ” or that the defendants “delay[ed] necessary treatment for non-medical reasons.” Bingham, 654 F.3d at 1176. To show the required subjective intent to punish, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the public official acted with an attitude of “deliberate indifference, ” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105, which is in turn defined as requiring two separate things: “aware[ness] of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists [ ] and . . . draw[ing of] the inference, ” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.

         In the prison context, the court must “distinguish between evidence of disputed facts and disputed matters of professional judgment.” Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 530, 126 S.Ct. 2572, 165 L.Ed.2d 697 (2006). A medical decision not to pursue a particular course of diagnosis or treatment is a classic example of a matter for medical judgment, an exercise of which does not represent cruel and unusual punishment. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 107-08. Further, a mere disagreement between an inmate and the prison's medical staff as to the course of treatment does not establish deliberate indifference. See Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1505 (11th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). Moreover, “[w]here a prisoner has received . . . medical attention and the dispute is over the adequacy of the treatment, federal courts are generally reluctant to second guess medical judgments and to constitutionalize claims that sound in tort law.” Hamm v. Dekalb Cnty., 774 F.2d 1567, 1575 (11th Cir. 1985) (quotation omitted).

         A municipality, or functional equivalent thereof, is not liable under section 1983 for injuries caused solely by its employees, McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004), and may be held liable only when the execution of a government policy or custom causes the injury.[1]City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989). There are several different ways of establishing municipal liability under § 1983. A municipality may be liable for an official policy enacted by its legislative body (e.g., an ordinance or resolution passed by a city council). See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 661, 694-95, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978); McCusik v. City of Melbourne, 96 F.3d 478, 483 (11th Cir. 1996). Municipal liability may also attach if final policymakers have acquiesced in a longstanding practice that constitutes the entity's standard operating procedure. See Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403-04, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 137 L.Ed.2d 626 (1997); Brown v. City of Ft. Lauderdale, 923 F.2d 1474, 1481 n.11 (11th Cir. 1991). And a municipality may be held liable “on the basis of ratification when a subordinate public official makes an unconstitutional decision and when that ...

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