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Shepard v. McClosky

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

October 24, 2018



          John J. MeConnell, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Joseph W. Shepard, an inmate with the RJ. Department of Corrections, seeks damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that nurses at the correctional facility failed to provide him prompt medical treatment when he was bleeding profusely from his rectum, a week after having hemorrhoid surgery. The question presented by these cross-motions for summary judgment is whether there are sufficient facts to support the two-pronged requirements set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Farmer v. Brennan, i.e. (1) the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, "sufficiently serious," and (2) a prison official must have a "sufficiently culpable state of mind" that constitutes "deliberate indifference" to inmate health or safety. 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (citing Wilson v. Setter, 501 U.S. 298, 303 (1991)). For reasons sot forth below, the Court GRANTS the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 55) and DENIES the Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 62.


         After undergoing hemorrhoid surgery at Rhode Island Hospital, Joseph Shepard was discharged and returned to the state prison. Hospital personnel informed him to advise prison medical providers if there were any acute changes including "bleeding, puss, or drainage, or severe pain." Nine days later, Mr. Shepard awoke at 6 a.m. with severe anal pain with his sheets and clothing soaked in his own blood. He called out of his cell for help from correctional officers. Officers contacted high security medical staff.

         Nurse Richard McCloskey, who was in the cell block distributing medicines to inmates, arrived at Mr. Shepard's cell. He noticed the bloody area and blood-soaked bedding. He performed a cursory observation of Mr. Shepard's open wound and told him he would get some gauze. Mr, Shepard told Nurse McCloskey that he was in extreme pain and that hospital personnel had told him to return to the hospital if the wound re-opened. Nurse McCloskey told Mr. Shepard that he could not go to the hospital and that "this is what happens when you have hemorrhoids, you're going to have to deal with it." Mr. Shepard continued to bleed profusely.

         Later that afternoon, prison officials transferred Mr. Shepard to the intake facility because of new criminal charges. Nurse Nancy Ruotolo Hull conducted a medical screening of Mr. Shepard. According to Mr. Shepard, Nurse Hull appeared "grossed out" at the sight of his condition and became verbally abusive, stating, "Looks like you got your period, you should be at the women's facility." She provided Mr. Shepard with additional protective brief underwear. She then placed Mr, Shepard into a windowed observation cell where Nurse Hull told him to "rest it off." At about 5:00 p.m. that evening, a second-shift nurse Steven Fortin evaluated Mr. Shepard and called prison physician Dr. Simon Melnick and Medical Director Dr. Fred Vohr. Dr. Melnick ordered Mr. Shepard to be transported to and evaluated at Rhode Island Hospital.

         Medical personnel at Rhode Island Hospital examined Mr. Shepard. He had abnormal vital signs. The doctors treated him for anemia and performed silver nitrate cauterization to his wound, Medical personnel applied a dressing to the wound. The hospital doctors prescribed pain medication. He returned to the prison at about 10 p.m. that evening.

         Nothing shows any medical issues with Mr. Shepard beyond that evening.


         A "court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is material only if it possesses the capacity to sway the outcome of the litigation; a dispute is genuine if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the nonmoving party. Estrada v. Rhode Island, 594 F.3d 56, 62 (1st Cir. 2010) (quoting Vineberg v. Bissonnette, 548 F.3d 50, 56 (1st Cir. 2008)); Santiago-Ramos v. Centennial PR. Wireless Corp., 217 F, 3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2000) (quoting Sanchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996)). When there are cross-motions for summary judgment, as there are here, "[the Court] evaluate[s] each motion independently and determine[s] 'whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not disputed."' Matusevich v. Middlesex Mut. Assur, Co., 782 F.3d 56, 59 (1st Cir. 2015) (quoting Barnes v. Fleet Nat'l Bank, N.A., 370 F.3d 164, 170 (1st Cir. 2004)). In viewing each motion separately, the Court "drawls] all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Cooper v. D'Amore, 881 F.3d 247, 249-50 (1st Cir. 2018) (quoting Fadili v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co., 772 F.3d 951, 953 (1st Cir. 2014)).


         The Eight Amendment to the United States Constitution mandates that the government not inflict cruel and unusual punishment. In the context of medical treatment a prisoner receives (or fails to receive), the United States Supreme Court in Farmer v. Brennan established a twoprong test a plaintiff must meet to hold a prison official liable for violating the Eighth Amendment.

         First, the deprivation, or maltreatment alleged must be "objectively and 'sufficiently serious.'" Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298). The First Circuit has held that "a 'serious medical need' is one 'that has been diagnosed by a physician as a mandating treatment, or one that is so obvious that even a layperson would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention."' Mahan v. Plymouth Cty. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 14, 18 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Gaudreault v. Municipality of Salem, Mass., 923 F.2d 203, 208 (1st Cir. 1990)). The "seriousness" of an inmate's needs may be determined by reference to the effect of the dela3' of treatment. Gaudreault, 923 F.2d at 208.

         Second, under Farmer the defendants must possess a culpable state of mind, meaning that they were deliberate in their indifference to the prisoner's health or safety. 511 U.S. at 834. The deliberate indifference standard for a claim based on inadequate medical care "encompasses a 'narrow band of conduct'- subpar care amounting to negligence or even malpractice does not give rise to a constitutional claim; rather, the treatment provided must have been so inadequate as to constitute an unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain or to be repugnant to the conscience of mankind." Leavitt v. Con: Med. ...

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