680 F.3d 617 (6th Cir. 2012), 11-1252, Reilly v. Vadlamudi

Docket Nº:11-1252.
Citation:680 F.3d 617
Opinion Judge:ZOUHARY, District Judge.
Party Name:Joshua REILLY, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Seetha VADLAMUDI and Phillip Payne, Defendants-Appellants, Terry D. Smith and Correctional Medical Services, Defendants.
Attorney:Clifton Schneider, Office of the Michigan Attorney General, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellants. Derek J. Brackon, McKeen & Associates, P.C., Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee. Clifton Schneider, Office of the Michigan Attorney General, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellants. Derek J. Brackon, McKeen & As...
Judge Panel:Before: DAUGHTREY and ROGERS, Circuit Judges; ZOUHARY, District Judge.[*]
Case Date:May 25, 2012
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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680 F.3d 617 (6th Cir. 2012)

Joshua REILLY, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Seetha VADLAMUDI and Phillip Payne, Defendants-Appellants,

Terry D. Smith and Correctional Medical Services, Defendants.

No. 11-1252.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

May 25, 2012

Argued: April 12, 2012.

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ARGUED:

Clifton Schneider, Office of the Michigan Attorney General, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellants.

Derek J. Brackon, McKeen & Associates, P.C., Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Clifton Schneider, Office of the Michigan Attorney General, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellants.

Derek J. Brackon, McKeen & Associates, P.C., Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

Before: DAUGHTREY and ROGERS, Circuit Judges; ZOUHARY, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

ZOUHARY, District Judge.

This is a prisoner civil rights action brought by Plaintiff-Appellee Joshua Reilly against the doctor and nurses who treated him in prison. Plaintiff began experiencing severe headaches and swelling in his left eye in 2007 while incarcerated at the Mound Correctional Facility in Detroit, Michigan. In 2008, shortly after his release, Plaintiff was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a serious form of bone cancer. According to Plaintiff, surgery would have been sufficient to treat the disease had prison staff detected it earlier. However, due to the late diagnosis, chemotherapy and radiation is now necessary. This action claims Eighth Amendment violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as medical malpractice under Michigan law.

Defendants, Dr. Seetha Vadlamudi and nurses Phillip Payne and Terry Smith, moved for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Civil Rule 12(c), asserting that they are immune from liability. Following a hearing, the district court denied the motion, holding Plaintiff pled " sufficient facts upon which one could draw the inference that [Defendants] violated the Eighth Amendment and committed medical malpractice." Dr. Vadlamudi and nurse Payne filed this interlocutory appeal, arguing their involvement with Plaintiff was minimal and cannot form the basis for a finding of deliberate indifference or gross negligence. Nurse Smith, who evaluated Plaintiff after eleven months of eye pain, severe headaches, and vomiting, did not join the appeal.

For reasons set forth below, we REVERSE and order the entry of judgment in favor of Dr. Vadlamudi and Payne.

MEDICAL HISTORY

Michigan prisoners are able to receive medical attention in prison by filing a " kite" request with the prison warden, who then refers the prisoner to a physician or nurse provided to the prison system by Correctional Medical Services, a Missouri corporation. Plaintiff's medical history is laid out in some detail in the Complaint, as follows.

Plaintiff first requested medical assistance on February 13, 2007, reporting a headache and swelling over his left eye. He was referred to Dr. Vadlamudi, who recommended applying a warm compress

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to the eye. Three days later, Plaintiff was treated (records do not disclose by whom) for a headache and was told to take Tylenol and drink coffee. The Complaint does not indicate whether these remedies were effective in treating Plaintiff's pain in the short term.

On June 6, Plaintiff submitted another request, this time reporting a bump over his left eye. Payne examined Plaintiff, concluded the bump was an innocuous calcium nodule, and recommended no treatment. Plaintiff returned on July 8, but there is no indication who treated Plaintiff or what happened during this visit. Payne saw Plaintiff a second time on October 7, and referred him to an optometrist who prescribed eye drops and glasses. Finally, on December 27, Smith treated Plaintiff who relayed an eleven-month history of left eye problems. Smith noted a small nodule under Plaintiff's left brow, recommended he take Tylenol, and told him to report back if he experienced continued vomiting.

Soon after his consultation with Smith, Plaintiff was released from prison. He visited the Kellogg Eye Center at the University of Michigan for evaluation of the nodule above his eye and his headaches. A CT scan performed in April 2008 revealed the nodule was cancerous, and doctors ultimately diagnosed Plaintiff with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that develops in bone or soft tissue.

The Complaint indicates Dr. Vadlamudi treated Plaintiff only once, and Plaintiff presented with no pre-existing condition. Further, Payne treated Plaintiff twice and referred him to an optometrist for further evaluation. These Defendants argue on appeal that their involvement with Plaintiff was minimal and cannot form the basis for a finding of deliberate indifference or gross negligence.

ANALYSIS

Standard of Review

This Court reviews a district court's denial of qualified immunity de novo. Gregory v. City of Louisville, 444 F.3d 725, 742 (6th Cir.2006). The applicability of governmental immunity under Michigan law is also reviewed de novo. Herman v. City of Detroit, 261 Mich.App. 141, 680 N.W.2d 71, 74 (2004). This interlocutory appeal is properly before this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 because the denial of qualified immunity constitutes a " final decision" of a district court when, as here, it turns on pure issues of law. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985); see also Rich v. City of Mayfield Heights, 955 F.2d 1092, 1094 (6th Cir.1992) (holding denials " on the basis of qualified immunity are immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine" ).

A district court's denial of a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Civil Rule 12(c) is " analyzed under the same de novo standard as motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)." Sensations, Inc. v. City of Grand Rapids, 526 F.3d 291, 295 (6th Cir.2008). In scrutinizing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), this Court is required to " accept all well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint as true and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Dubay v. Wells, 506 F.3d 422, 426 (6th Cir.2007). Although a complaint need not contain " detailed factual allegations," it does require more than " labels and conclusions" or " a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Thus, a complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it " contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief

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that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). And, " [a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Hensley Mfg. v. ProPride, Inc., 579 F.3d 603, 609 (6th Cir.2009) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949).

Section 1983 and Qualified Immunity

Plaintiff argues Defendants are liable because their medical treatment— or failure to treat— amounted to " deliberate indifference" in violation of the Eighth Amendment. This claim arises under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which creates a civil cause of action against individuals who, while acting under color of state law, deprive a person of the " rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws" of the United States. See Bennett v. City of Eastpointe, 410 F.3d 810, 817 (6th Cir.2005); Gregory, 444 F.3d at 738.Section 1983 claims, however, are subject to the affirmative defense of qualified immunity which, if applicable, shields individuals not just against liability, but against the suit itself. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). The burden rests on Plaintiff to show Defendants are not entitled to immunity. Untalan v. City of Lorain, 430 F.3d 312, 314 (6th Cir.2005).

Qualified immunity protects state officials, including prison employees, so long as " their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Cochran v. Gilliam, 656 F.3d 300, 306 (6th Cir.2011) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). In resolving qualified immunity claims, we ask whether: (1) the facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, show a violation of a constitutional right; and (2) the right at issue was " clearly established" at the time of the alleged misconduct. Id. (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001)). While this Court can consider these prongs in either order, Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, we do not need to reach the " clearly established" prong in this case because, as discussed below, there are no allegations of a constitutional violation.

Eighth Amendment Liability

Plaintiff's constitutional claims under Section 1983 are based on alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment, which " forbids prison officials from ‘ unnecessarily and wantonly inflicting pain’ on an inmate by acting with ‘ deliberate indifference’ toward [his] serious medical needs." Blackmore v. Kalamazoo County, 390 F.3d 890, 895 (6th Cir.2004) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976)).1

The Eighth Amendment embodies " broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity, and decency" against which courts must evaluate penal measures. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 102, 97 S.Ct. 285. " These elementary principles establish the government's obligation to provide medical care for those whom it is punishing by incarceration." Id. at 103, 97 S.Ct. 285. In Wilson v. Seiter, the Supreme Court set forth a two-step framework

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for determining whether certain...

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