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Minnifield v. Dolan

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 30, 2017

WENDELL MINNIFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIN DOLAN, ET AL., Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Wendell Minnifield, is currently incarcerated at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, in Suffield, Connecticut (“MacDougall-Walker”). Mr. Minnifield initiated this action by filing a Complaint pro se against Defendants, Nursing Supervisor Erin Dolan, Nursing Supervisor Heidi Greene, and Dr. James O'Halloran, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On February 9, 2015, the Court dismissed Mr. Minnifield's claims against Ms. Greene and Dr. O'Halloran, as well as the claims for money damages against Ms. Dolan in her official capacity. The Court concluded that Mr. Minnifield's claims of deliberate indifference to medical needs would proceed against Ms. Dolan in her individual capacity and official capacity. The Court then permitted Mr. Minnifield to file an Amended Complaint within thirty days, provided that he could describe the nature of his alleged serious medical condition and specifically allege how Dr. O'Halloran and Nursing Supervisor Greene were involved in the claimed deliberate indifference to his serious medical need.

         On March 24, 2015, Mr. Minnifield filed an Amended Complaint that listed Nursing Supervisor Erin Dolan, Nursing Supervisor Heidi Greene and Dr. O'Halloran as Defendants. On November 24, 2015, the Court dismissed the claims against all Defendants for monetary damages in their official capacities pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(2). The Court concluded that the claims of deliberate indifference to medical needs would proceed against Defendants Dolan, Greene and O'Halloran in their individual and official capacities.

         Pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be GRANTED.

         I. Standard of Review

         In a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that it is “entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and is “genuine” if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” based on it. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         When a motion for summary judgment is supported by documentary evidence and sworn affidavits and “demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ” the nonmoving party must do more than vaguely assert the existence of some unspecified disputed material facts or “rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation.” Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d 42, 44 (2d Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Thus, the party opposing the motion for summary judgment “must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Id.

         In reviewing the record, the Court must “construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and to draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Gary Friedrich Enters., L.L.C. v. Marvel Characters, Inc., 716 F.3d 302, 312 (2d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). If there is any evidence in the record from which a reasonable factual inference could be drawn in favor of the opposing party on the issue on which summary judgment is sought, however, summary judgment is improper. See Security Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004).

         Where one party is proceeding pro se, the court reads the pro se party's papers liberally and interprets them “to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Willey v. Kirkpatrick, 801 F.3d 51, 62 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Despite this liberal interpretation, however, “[u]nsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact” and cannot overcome a properly supported motion for summary judgment. See Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 811 (2003).

         II. Factual Allegations[1]

         Since 1999, Mr. Minnifield has suffered from a chronic condition called folliculitis that is also known as dissecting cellulitis. The condition causes hair follicles to grow into the scalp instead of out of the scalp. As a result of this condition, Mr. Minnifield's scalp is subject to chronic bacterial infection which manifests itself in swelled lesions and chronic areas of drainage.

         Before Mr. Minnifield's transfer to MacDougall-Walker in June 2014, the nursing staff at Cheshire Correctional Institution (“Cheshire”) provided Mr. Minnifield with daily scalp scrubs, which included the manual expression, or squeezing, of pus from lesions or abscesses on his scalp. At Cheshire, medical staff also prescribed antibiotics and pain medication, as necessary, to treat Mr. Minnifield's folliculitis.

         On June 5, 2014, prison officials at Cheshire transferred Mr. Minnifield to MacDougall-Walker. At the time of his arrival at MacDougall-Walker, Mr. Minnifield signed a receipt indicating that he had received an Inmate Handbook which included an explanation of the inmate grievance procedures. Mr. Minnifield had received similar inmate handbooks, which also included explanations of the inmate grievance procedures, at other facilities in which he had been confined since 1995.

         On June 6, 2014, Dr. O'Halloran prescribed two antibiotics to treat infection, one medication to treat pain, and a topical steroid to treat inflammation of the skin. He also ordered the nursing staff to apply warm compresses to Mr. Minnifield's scalp, to express as much pus as possible from the lesions/abscesses on his scalp, to cleanse his scalp with a special shampoo and to apply a dry sterile dressing over the area every day for a year.

         On June 10, 2014, Nursing Supervisor Erin Dolan issued an order directing the nursing staff at MacDougall-Walker to perform Mr. Minnifield's scalp care in a sick call room instead of in the medical unit. Mr. Minnifield did not want to have the scalp treatment performed in the sink of the sick call room because he thought the sink was unsanitary and the room lacked privacy. He refused treatment for his scalp for three days.

         On June 13, 2014, medical staff called Mr. Minnifield to the medical unit. Mr. Minnifield met with Nursing Supervisor Dolan and Dr. James O'Halloran. During the meeting, Nursing Supervisor Dolan and Dr. O'Halloran told Mr. Minnifield that he should be engaging in his own scalp care. Dr. O'Halloran stated that expressing or squeezing lesions was beyond the scope of practice for the nursing staff at MacDougall Walker. He approved an order that required Mr. Minnifield to perform his own scalp care, including the expression of scalp lesions while he was taking a shower. Medical staff at MacDougall-Walker continued to prescribe antibiotics and pain medication as well as the special shampoo as necessary. Dr. O'Halloran informed Mr. Minnifield that he should notify the nursing staff if he observed any adverse changes in the condition of his scalp and suggested that the nursing staff would be changing the dressings on his scalp.

         On June 10, 2014, Mr. Minnifield submitted an inmate request form to Health Services Administrator Lightner, claiming that the sick call room was unsanitary and that he refused to perform the scalp care in the room. On June 17, 2014, Adminstrator Lightner authorized Mr. Minnifield to use the shower in the medical unit to perform his scalp treatment.

         Over the next year, the nursing staff at MacDougall-Walker would make a notation in his medical records when Mr. Minnifield came to the medical department for his shower and to pick up supplies to treat his scalp condition. Mr. Minnifield observed that his scalp condition became worse at times. When unusual or excess discharge became visible on the bandages, he would show the nursing staff his scalp and the bandages that he had applied to his scalp. If the nurses observed a problem with the condition of his scalp, they would make notations in Mr. Minnifield's medical records and would refer Mr. Minnifield to be seen by a physician.

         On July 17, 2014, Mr. Minnifield complained that he had a headache and asked to be seen by someone in the medical department. He saw Nurse Aimee Chofay, who determined that Mr. Minnifield had already been prescribed Motrin for pain and that his condition was not an emergency. Nurse Chofay directed Mr. Minnifield to submit a request to be seen at sick call the following day.

         On July 27, 2014, Mr. Minnifield complained that he had not received or been permitted to use a shaver that the medical department had purchased for him to shave his scalp. On September 4, 2014, Health Services Administrator Lightner disposed of the grievance by providing a shaver to Mr. Minnifield due to his medical need to keep hair off of his scalp.

         On August 28, 2014, Mr. Minnifield informed a nurse that he was concerned that his abscesses had become worse. The nurse scheduled Mr. Minnifield to see a physician, and on August 29, 2014, Dr. O'Halloran met with Mr. Minnifield. Mr. Minnifield discussed his concerns about performing his own scalp care with Dr. O'Halloran.

         During the period from June 5, 2014 to April 30, 2015, Mr. Minnifield was not considered to be indigent, thus the governing policy permitted medical officials at MacDougall-Walker to charge Mr. Minnifield a $3.00 co-pay for every medical visit. The policy also provided that medical staff are not permitted to deny an inmate treatment on the basis that the inmate cannot pay the $3.00 co-pay.

         On July 9, 2015, Dr. Naqvi saw Mr. Minnifield in response to Mr. Minnifield's request to be able to use a head shaver. Dr. Naqvi noted that Mr. Minnifield's chronic scalp infection appeared to be in better shape.

         III. Discussion

         Defendants assert two arguments in support of their motion for summary judgment. They contend that: (1) Mr. Minnifield has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to two claims in the Amended Complaint; and (2) Mr. Minnifield has failed to allege sufficient facts to demonstrate deliberate indifference to his medical need.

         As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that Mr. Minnifield's reply brief in support of his memorandum in opposition to the motion for summary judgment includes a claim that he served interrogatories on Defendants in June 2016, but Defendants did not respond to this discovery request. See Pl.'s Reply Br. at 4, ECF No. 48. In addition, ...


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