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Williams v. Byrd

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

January 30, 2019

JOE L. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,



         This action is before the Court for resolution of Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Dkt. [31]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

         On summary judgment, a party must identify evidence that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Gekas v. Vasilades, 814 F.3d 890, 896 (7th Cir. 2016). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Skiba v. Illinois Cent. R.R. Co., 884 F.3d 708, 717 (7th Cir. 2018). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. Miller v. Gonzalez, 761 F.3d 822, 827 (7th Cir. 2014). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to “scour every inch of the record” for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them. Grant v. Trustees of Ind. Univ., 870 F.3d 562, 573-74 (7th Cir. 2017). Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).

         II. Facts

         Plaintiff Joe Williams is an inmate at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (WVCF). On November 25, 2015, Plaintiff slipped and fell while working at his job in the prison's kitchen. Dkt. 23 at ¶ 10.[1] Plaintiff felt severe pain in his left knee and could not walk very well on his left leg. Id.

         Twenty-three months later, the WVCF medical staff arranged for Plaintiff's knee to be examined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The MRI revealed that Plaintiff's medial meniscus was frayed and that his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) was torn. Dkt. 32-3 at 117. On November 12, 2017, Plaintiff underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn meniscus and ACL. Id. at 135-138.

         This lawsuit concerns the treatment Plaintiff received during the two years between his injury and his operation. Defendant Corizon Health, Inc. is a private entity that was contracted by the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) to provide medical treatment to inmates at WVCF. Defendants Samuel Byrd, Maryann Chavez, and Bobby Riggs were medical professionals employed by Corizon to treat inmates at WVCF. The action includes claims that Defendants Byrd, Chavez, and Riggs were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights, that his rights were violated due to a Corizon custom or policy, and that he was injured by a breach of Corizon's contract with the IDOC.

         A. Previous Treatment for Knee Pain, Injury, and Initial Examinations by Nurses Klaiber and Riggs

         Plaintiff had previously complained of and received treatment for pain in his left knee. See Id. at 1-9. In May 2015, he received a cortisone injection in the knee. Id. at 5-8. In September 2015, he received a brace for the knee. Id. at 9.

         Plaintiff injured his knee at work on November 25, 2015. The following day, he was examined by Nurse Rhonda Klaiber. Id. at 10-13. Nurse Klaiber's notes document that Plaintiff's knee was swollen, that it hyperextended and locked, and that he experienced pain while walking that had worsened since the injury. Id. at 10-11. Her notes also document that Plaintiff had been treating the knee with ice and over-the-counter pain medications he obtained from the commissary but that his symptoms were not responding to that treatment. Id. at 11. Nurse Klaiber referred Plaintiff for an appointment with a physician and counseled him to immobilize the knee and apply ice and heat in the meantime. Id.

         On November 30, 2015, Plaintiff was examined by Nurse Riggs. Id. at 14- 17. Nurse Riggs documented that Plaintiff felt his knee “pop” at the time of his injury and that he was unable to work due to the pain. Id. at 14. Her notes also document that Plaintiff had been icing, elevating, and taking ibuprofen, but his condition had not improved since his visit with Nurse Klaiber. Id. at 15. Nurse Riggs described the knee as stable and found no swelling, bruising, or accumulation of fluid. Id. Plaintiff told Nurse Riggs he believed he had torn a ligament because he experienced so much pain when he put weight on his knee. Dkt. 38-1 at ¶ 2. However, Nurse Riggs characterized the injury as a sprain or strain. Dkt. 32-3 at 15. She counseled Plaintiff to continue icing and elevating the knee and provided him with an exercise plan. Id.

         Plaintiff states that Nurse Riggs accused him during the November 30 examination of faking his injury. Dkt. 38-1 at ¶ 3. He adds that Nurse Riggs also told his supervisor in the kitchen that he was faking to get out of work and he lost his job as a result. Id. Nurse Riggs disputes these allegations. Dkt. 32-4 at ¶ 7.

         B. Initial Examinations by Drs. Rajoli and Byrd

          On December 16, 2015, Dr. Naveen Rajoli examined Plaintiff during a chronic care appointment. Dkt. 32-3 at 18-21. Dr. Rajoli found no swelling, determined that diagnostic imaging was not warranted, and advised Plaintiff to continue taking non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as needed for his knee pain. Id. at 18, 20.

         On January 7, 2016, Dr. Byrd examined Plaintiff for the first time in response to Nurse Klaiber's referral six weeks earlier. Id. at 22-28. Dr. Byrd's treatment notes from the January 7 examination recount Plaintiff's description of his injury and the symptoms he experienced thereafter. Dr. Byrd described Plaintiff's knee pain as “sharp” and “throbbing” when he placed weight on the knee. Id. at 22. He further noted that Plaintiff experienced pain when standing, walking, ascending or descending stairs, kneeling, and going to recreation; and that he struggled to dress and put on shoes. Id. Plaintiff described sensations of grinding, popping, and catching and stated that his knee sometimes gave out. Id. Dr. Byrd observed a decreased range of motion in Plaintiff's knee and mild accumulation of fluid in the joint. Id. He ordered and reviewed x-rays, which did not show a dislocation or accumulation of fluid. Id.

         Dr. Byrd's examination included a McMurray test, which Dr. Byrd explains is used to determine whether a patient has torn cartilage in the knee. Dkt. 32-2 at ¶ 11. Plaintiff's McMurray test was positive, suggesting he may have had a torn meniscus. Id.; dkt. 32-3 at 22. Plaintiff states that Dr. Byrd informed him that his injury likely included a torn ligament. Dkt. 23 at ¶ 16.

         Based on these observations, Dr. Byrd determined that Plaintiff should undergo an MRI. Dkt. 32-3 at 22. Dr. Byrd noted that he had seen Plaintiff in the past for complaints of knee pain “with much less impressive findings.” Id. He suspected a “bucket-handle tear” in Plaintiff's meniscus, but, based on his training and experience, Dr. Byrd knew that torn cartilage is not visible on an x-ray. Id.; dkt. 32-2 at ¶ 12. Dr. Byrd requested authorization for an MRI and gave Plaintiff crutches and a 15-day supply of naproxen, a NSAID. Dkt. 32-3 at 22, 25, 27; Dkt. 32-2 at ¶ 11.

         C. Denial of MRI, Physical Therapy, and Second Examination by Nurse Riggs

          Although Dr. Byrd suspected that Plaintiff had a torn meniscus and knew that an MRI would be necessary to confirm the tear, he was not authorized to order an MRI. Dkt. 32-3 at 22-26. Rather, Dr. Byrd could only request that an MRI be arranged for Plaintiff, and his request required approval by a Corizon administrator. Id. at 29.

         Dr. Byrd submitted his MRI request on January 15, 2016. Id. at 29-31. On January 21, Corizon denied the request. Id. at 32-34. The Corizon administrator determined that Plaintiff's injury could be treated adequately with physical therapy. Id.

         Plaintiff completed physical therapy sessions on January 28 and February 15, 2016. Id. at 35-37. The physical therapist's notes indicate that Plaintiff's symptoms did not improve as a result of the physical therapy. Id. at 37.

         On February 23, 2016, Nurse Riggs again examined Plaintiff. Id. at 38- 41. Plaintiff complained of constant pain and an inability to walk on his left leg. Id. at 38. Nurse Riggs noted that the knee was swollen and that his condition was not responding to the treatment he had been provided. Id. at 39. Accordingly, she stated she would refer Plaintiff for another appointment with a physician. Id. Plaintiff again completed physical therapy on March 21 and 31, 2016. Id. at 42-43. Records of these sessions document Plaintiff's impression that physical therapy was not helping his symptoms. Id.

         D. Treatment by Dr. Chavez

         Dr. Chavez examined Plaintiff for the first time on June 22, 2016, during a chronic care appointment. Dkt. 32-3 at 45-50. This was Plaintiff's first meeting with a physician since his examination by Dr. Byrd more than five months earlier and four months after Nurse Riggs stated she would refer him for an appointment with a physician.

         Dr. Chavez's notes from that examination do not show any improvement in Plaintiff's symptoms. See Id. at 48. Dr. Chavez ordered and reviewed new x-rays, which revealed no changes from the x-rays Dr. Byrd reviewed five months earlier. Id. at 49-50. Moreover, Dr. Chavez noted that Plaintiff was no longer receiving physical therapy because the physical ...

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