Where correctional officers moved for summary judgment against claims of gross negligence, willful and wanton negligence and deliberate indifference filed by the family of a detainee who experienced chest pains that ultimately resulted in his death, but there were inconsistences and disputes in the parties’ material facts, the officers’ motions were denied.
This suit involves the quality of medical care a detainee, Robert Boley, received while experiencing chest pains that ultimately resulted in his death. Defendants Armor Correctional Health Services Inc., Alvin Harris MD and Arleathia Peck LPN have filed a motion for summary judgment on the four-count complaint alleging negligence, gross negligence, willful and wanton negligence and federal civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
The Armor defendants claim that, because plaintiff’s expert witnesses should be excluded, plaintiff lacks the requisite expert testimony needed to satisfy each element of the negligence claims. The court rejects defendants’ contention that testimony from expert nurses Roscoe and Shawler should be omitted as to Peck due to their opinions being premised on facts in dispute. If expert witnesses meet all other requirements, the veracity and weight of their testimony remains a question for the jury.
Regarding Dr. Bethea, the court separately found that he meets the active clinical practice requirement under Va. Code § 8.01-581.20. Therefore, the court will deny summary judgment as to ordinary negligence as to Dr. Harris.
As to Peck, defendants also contend that plaintiff’s case relies entirely upon the testimony of witness David Lee Copeland, one of Boley’s fellow detainees. But Copeland was not the sole witness on record recounting the events that might involve Peck in and around April 16, 2019. Thus, the court will deny summary judgment as to ordinary negligence as to Peck.
Plaintiff argues that Peck’s failure to provide immediate attention to a patient complaining of severe chest pains, her failure to document her encounter with him and her failure to inform others about his condition combine to constitute gross negligence. Because there remain facts on the record to support such a finding, the court denies summary judgment on Count Two as to Peck.
Plaintiff has presented expert testimony that Dr. Harris fell below the applicable professional standard of care by failing to immediately transfer Boley “to a facility capable of appropriately evaluating his complaints and physical findings.” Therefore, the court will deny summary judgment on Count Two as to Dr. Harris.
To satisfy objective prong of deliberate indifference, an incarcerated person must present facts that suggest the deprivation complained of was extreme and went beyond the “routine discomfort” that can be “part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.” Boley’s complaints of and presentation with severe and persistent chest pain qualify as a serious medical condition in satisfaction of the objective prong.
The second, subjective prong of the deliberate indifference standard is that “officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Viewed cumulatively, there is some amount of evidence that Peck knew of plaintiff’s medical need and failed to respond to that need, raising an inference of deliberate indifference.
Regarding Dr. Harris, the Court cannot and will not opine on Dr. Harris’s state of mind when he decided that Boley’s condition required no hospitalization or further examination despite his complaints, vitals and borderline abnormal EKG. That is an inquiry for the factfinder. But the court acknowledges that plaintiff has some evidence that Dr. Harris understood the risks inherent in Boley’s symptoms and prioritized ease to himself or the prison facilities in the face of a serious risk to Boley’s wellbeing.
Willful and wanton negligence
Under Virginia law, the standard for willful and wanton negligence closely mirrors the subjective prong of the deliberate indifference test. Because the court denied summary judgment to the defendants on both the objective and subjective prongs of the deliberate indifference standard, the court also denies summary judgment on the similar but diminished count of willful and wanton negligence as to all defendants.
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment denied.
Boley v. Armor Correctional Health Services Inc., Case No. 2:21-cv-197, Nov. 15, 2022. EDVA at Norfolk (Young). VLW 022-3-520. 22 pp.