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Benjamin v. Pillai

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 5, 2018

OMPRAKASH PILLAI, et al., Defendants.


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Ezra Benjamin is an inmate at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution. Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against certain members of the medical staff at MacDougall-Walker, principally including Dr. Omprakash Pillai. Plaintiff alleges claims of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment against all defendants as well as a First Amendment retaliation claim against Dr. Pillai. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims. After oral argument in this case, plaintiff moved for a preliminary injunction. I will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment and deny plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction.


         The following facts are undisputed or viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff as the non-moving party. Plaintiff has suffered chronic sciatic nerve pain since roughly June 2015. See Doc. #18-2 at 43. On June 2, 2016, plaintiff transferred from another correctional facility to MacDougall-Walker, where he is currently housed. The medical transfer summary in plaintiff's medical file does not reflect any mention of lower back pain. Id. at 8-9. On June 13, plaintiff submitted an inmate request form seeking treatment for his lower back pain. Doc. #21 at 38. On June 17, plaintiff submitted another form addressing the same issue. The second request was stamped received on June 20, and a nurse documented on June 23 that plaintiff was put in for an appointment. Doc. #18-4 at 2. On July 7, plaintiff filed a grievance detailing his medical condition and seeking treatment and better communication. Doc. #21 at 34.

         Dr. Pillai examined plaintiff on July 15. He recommended blood and urine tests, back exercises, weight loss, naproxen as needed, and a lumbar x-ray. Doc. #18-3 at 3 (¶ 7); Doc. #18-2 at 65. Dr. Pillai allegedly called plaintiff a “pain in the ass” and threatened to withhold treatment if plaintiff continued to write grievances. Doc. #21 at 30 (¶ 10). Plaintiff was also denied a cane he requested. Id. (¶ 11).

         On July 29, plaintiff filed another request form indicating that he had not received naproxen and that he had not had his x-ray scheduled. The form was stamped received on August 4, and staff responded on August 10 by indicating that the pharmacy no longer fills naproxen prescriptions “as needed, ” and plaintiff's chart was sent back to “MD” for a scheduled naproxen order. Doc. #18-4 at 3; Doc. #21 at 30 (¶¶ 14-15).

         On August 22, plaintiff filed another grievance in which he stated that he awoke the night before in excruciating pain, reiterated his symptoms and complaints about lack of follow up, and requested a cane. Doc. #21 at 35. On August 30, plaintiff filled out another request form indicating that his right leg was numb and tingling and requesting someone to bring him to the medical clinic. A corrections officer brought him to the medical clinic, and a nurse told plaintiff that she would straighten out the naproxen order. Doc. #21 at 41; Doc. #18-2 at 36. Dr. Pillai was advised of and corrected the issue with the naproxen prescription on September 1. Doc. #18-3 at 2 (¶ 10); Doc. #18-4 at 4; Doc. #18-2 at 63.

         Plaintiff filed another request form on September 8 in which he acknowledged the naproxen prescription was filled, but stated that Dr. Pillai had denied plaintiff's request for a cane. Doc. #18-4 at 4. Plaintiff received an x-ray on September 9. Doc. #18-2 at 17. Staff responded to plaintiff's request on September 15 indicating that plaintiff was scheduled to see Dr. Naqvi (who is not named as a defendant in this action) on September 18 to review his x-ray results. Doc. #18-4 at 4. On September 19, plaintiff filed another request form complaining that he missed his appointment with Dr. Naqvi because the corrections officer failed to timely release him from his cell and that the naproxen was not working. Doc. #21 at 43.

         On October 17, 2016, plaintiff filed the federal court complaint in this matter. Doc. #1. The parties have subsequently submitted additional facts in their summary judgment papers. On October 17, Dr. Pillai saw plaintiff again and noted unremarkable x-ray findings. Doc. #18-3 (¶ 11). Based on his exam, Dr. Pillai ordered an MRI. Id. (¶ 12). Dr. Pillai submitted the request for the MRI to the Utilization Review Committee (URC) on October 18. Id. (¶ 13). This was submitted as a priority-four request, meaning a decision would be made on the request within two months. Id. (¶ 14). Plaintiff was informed on November 29 that his MRI was scheduled and that he was authorized a prescription for a muscle relaxer. Id. (¶ 16). On December 12, plaintiff submitted a “Request for Reasonable Accommodation” requesting a cane and back brace. Doc. #21 at 48. This request was denied on December 16 by Dr. Pillai as not medically indicated. Ibid.

         The MRI was administered on January 3, 2017. Doc. #18-2 at 15. It revealed a number of diffuse disc bulges in the spine, some spinal stenosis, and a hemangioma. Ibid. Dr. Pillai reviewed the MRI results on January 18 and made a request to the URC for steroid injections and a neurosurgery consult. Doc. #18-3 at 5 (¶ 18). The URC approved the injections but did not approve the surgery consult because the exam results were relatively normal. Id. (¶ 19).

         On December 18, 2017, plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction seeking an order that he be prescribed opiate pain relievers or THC pills, that the URC permit him to consult with a neurosurgeon, and that plaintiff be afforded additional recreation time in order to rehabilitate and lose weight. Doc. #30 at 5. In his memorandum, plaintiff noted that all other “first line” medications-i.e., Tylenol, naproxen, Gabapentin, baclofen, Flexeril, and Elavil- have not relieved his pain. Id. at 3-4.


         The principles governing the Court's review of a motion for summary judgment are well established. Summary judgment may be granted only if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). I must view the facts in the light most favorable to the party who opposes the motion for summary judgment and then decide if those facts would be enough-if eventually proved at trial-to allow a reasonable jury to decide the case in favor of the opposing party. My role at summary judgment is not to judge the credibility of witnesses or to resolve close contested issues but solely to decide if there are enough facts that remain in dispute to warrant a trial. See generally Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam); Pollard v. New York Methodist Hosp., 861 F.3d 374, 378 (2d Cir. 2017).

         Deliberate Indifference to ...

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