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Medical professionals sued for deliberate indifference

Where a former detainee alleged that a doctor and dentist delayed in administering prescribed medical treatment, his deliberate indifference claims survived their motion to dismiss. Because the detainee did not show that two nurses were deliberately indifferent, however, they were dismissed from the suit. 

Background

Jeremy Corbin alleged that, while he was a detainee at Dillwyn Correction Center, Dr. Sonya Movassaghi, dentist Goutom Bhowmick and nurses Tamika Mitchell and Karen Woodson violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by showing deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. Before the court are defendants’ motions to dismiss.

Eleventh Amendment 

Plaintiff filed suit against Bhowmick, Woodson and Movassaghi in their individual and official capacities. Because plaintiff’s claim for damages against state employees sued in their official capacities implicates the Eleventh Amendment, and sovereign immunity is a jurisdictional issue, the court will grant defendants’ motions to dismiss plaintiff’s claims against them in their official capacities.

Woodson and Mitchell

To prove a claim for Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, a detainee must establish “(1) objectively, the deprivation suffered or injury inflicted was ‘sufficiently serious,’ and (2) subjectively, the prison officials acted with a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind.’”

Plaintiff alleged that Woodson was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical when he: (1) failed to expedite plaintiff’s oral surgery; (2) failed to provide plaintiff with “adequate pain and antibiotic treatment” and (3) failed to ensure that plaintiff received his prescription antibacterial mouthwash on one occasion. Plaintiff’s claims against Woodson fail because the amended complaint failed to allege any facts that, taken as true, would show that Woodson had subjective knowledge of his tooth pain. Woodson’s motion to dismiss will be granted.

Plaintiff alleges that Mitchell violated his rights when he, in the two weeks before June 25, 2020, and his surgical appointment, “refused Mr. Corbin adequate pain and antibiotic treatment as Mr. Corbin endured an additional two weeks of pain and suffering before his dental surgery and when, on one occasion, failed to bring him prescription antibiotic mouthwash and medication and refused to bring them to him.

A case in this district previously recognized that a defendant nurse did not commit deliberate indifference by negligently giving an inmate the wrong prescription. Various courts have found that a single denial of medication fails to constitute a sufficiently serious deprivation of rights under the Eighth Amendment. Even with subjective knowledge of plaintiff’s pain, Mitchell, as a nurse relying upon a doctor’s medical judgment for treatment of plaintiff, will not be found to have acted with deliberate indifference “absent extraordinary circumstances.” Plaintiff alleges no facts supporting such extraordinary circumstances. Thus, the motion to dismiss as to Mitchell will be granted.

Movassaghi

Plaintiff alleges that, by determining that plaintiff’s health situation did not qualify as an emergency, Movassaghi delayed his treatment, “unnecessarily prolong[ing] Mr. Corbin’s pain, about which he made frequent complaints.” A claim of delay in administering prescribed medical treatment can state an Eighth Amendment claim. Delayed treatment “may constitute deliberate indifference if the delay exacerbated the injury or unnecessarily prolonged an inmate’s pain.”

A government official who violates a defendant’s Eighth Amendment rights may still escape liability based on qualified immunity. Here, however, based on the facts alleged in the amended complaint, a reasonable person would have known a delay in treatment, resulting in frequent complaints of severe pain, could constitute a violation of defendant’s constitutional rights. At this stage, arguments against Movassaghi and Bhowmick should not be dismissed based on qualified immunity. Thus, the court will deny Movassaghi’s motion to dismiss Count One of the amended complaint.

Bhowmick

At the pleading stage, all that is required for the subjective prong of an Eighth Amendment claim is for plaintiff to demonstrate that defendant actually knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of serious harm to his person. Here, plaintiff has alleged substantial facts that (1) Bhowmick had subjective knowledge of plaintiff’s pain and (2) defendant’s delay in treatment unnecessarily prolonged an inmate’s pain, meeting the Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference standard, even if the delay lasted only 39 days under Bhowmick’s care. Accordingly, the court will also deny the motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims against Bhowmick.

Defendants’ motions to dismiss granted in part, denied in part.

Corbin v. Movassaghi, Case No. 6:22-cv-00012, Aug. 19, 2022. WDVA at Lynchburg (Moon). VLW 022-3-362. 16 pp.

VLW 022-3-362

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