Abernathy v. Anderson

Citation984 F.3d 1
Decision Date18 December 2020
Docket NumberNo. 19-1880,19-1880
Parties Franklin B. ABERNATHY, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. Krystal ANDERSON, Defendant, Appellee, Captain Shaun Dewey; Sergeant Michael Rumery; Thomas Groblewski, MD, Medical Director for UMass Correctional Health Inc. ; Officer Gerard Breau, a/k/a John Doe II; Lieutenant David Darling, a/k/a John Doe I; Officer Kyle Sheldon, a/k/a John Doe III; Officer Shawn Gyles, a/k/a John Doe IV; Bruce Gelb; Luis Spencer; John Doe V, Officer for the D.O.C., Defendants.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)

Ezekiel L. Hill, Boston, MA, Diana E. Coleman, Washington, DC, and Goodwin Procter LLP on brief, for appellant.

Tory A. Weigand, Boston, MA, and Morrison Mahoney LLP on brief, for appellee.

Before Howard, Chief Judge, and Barron, Circuit Judge.*

Per curiam.

Plaintiff-Appellant Franklin B. Abernathy ("Abernathy"), an inmate at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center ("SBCC"), appeals the district court's order granting summary judgment on his deliberate indifference claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant-Appellee Krystal Anderson ("Anderson"), a nurse at SBCC. Because we agree with the district court that Abernathy has failed to establish a triable issue that he had a serious medical need to which Anderson was indifferent, we affirm.

I. Background
A. Factual Background

On April 3, 2013, Abernathy was incarcerated at SBCC in the J-Unit tier of the Special Management Unit. At the time, Anderson worked as a nurse at SBCC. In the morning, Correctional Officer Kyle Sheldon ("C.O. Sheldon") instructed Abernathy's cellmate, Leon Shelby ("Shelby"), to remove a blanket that was covering the rear window of the cell, which Shelby refused to do. Later that morning, Sergeant Michael Rumery ("Sergeant Rumery") accompanied Anderson for medication rounds in J-Unit. Upon reaching Abernathy and Shelby's cell for distribution of medication, Sergeant Rumery noticed the blanket covering the window and instructed Abernathy to remove it. Abernathy refused to remove the blanket because it belonged to Shelby. Sergeant Rumery then instructed Shelby to remove the blanket, which Shelby once again refused to do. As a result of Shelby's refusal, Sergeant Rumery instructed Anderson not to dispense the medication and told Abernathy that he would not receive his medications until the blanket was removed from the window.1

Around noontime, C.O. Sheldon went to Abernathy and Shelby's cell and attempted to hand a tray of food to Shelby. Shelby, who refused to take the tray, stated that he believed his food had been tampered with, and then threw a cup of liquid at C.O. Sheldon, hitting him in the face. As a result of the altercation, it was ordered that Shelby be placed in restraints. Sergeant Rumery told Abernathy that he also needed to be placed in restraints because the correctional officers were going to open the cell to remove Shelby from it. Abernathy stuck his hands out of the cell door in order to be handcuffed. According to Abernathy, the officers "slammed" or "squeezed" the handcuffs on his wrists so tightly that it affected his blood circulation, and they then pulled on the handcuffs, twisting his fingers and hands, causing bleeding and pain in the process.

Correctional officers escorted Abernathy over to the Special Management Unit medical triage room, where Anderson was the nurse on duty. According to Abernathy, even though he had blood on his body and "visible cuts, bruises, and swelling on [his] hands, wrists, and arms," Anderson refused to assess his medical needs and refused to provide him with any medication or treatment.2

The next day, Abernathy submitted a sick-call request, stating that he had bruises and lacerations on both arms, as well as a strained or broken wrist. In the morning, he received his medications for pre-existing conditions, including pain medication, but was not medically assessed for his alleged injuries from the day before. On April 5, 2013, the SBCC medical staff assessed Abernathy and determined that he had no bruising or swelling, although he did have old, already healed scars. The medical staff provided Abernathy Motrin

200mg and ordered x-rays.

On April 8, 2013, Abernathy reported the April 3 incident to Feltus Bradford, a mental health professional at SBCC. The next day, on April 9, 2013, Abernathy submitted another sick call request, this time reporting that he was suffering from a numb wrist, pain in the area near his thumb, soreness from the handcuff cutting into the flesh of his wrist, and what he thought could be "nerve damage." Medical progress notes prepared on April 10, 2013 reveal that Abernathy claimed a numb thumb, "scabbing" of the right thumb joint, tenderness on his wrist, and "ecchymosis" (i.e. bruising) on "both arms from wrist to elbow."

On April 15, 2013, x-rays were taken of Abernathy's right wrist and right thumb, showing no fractures, dislocations or other abnormalities. Progress notes from May 7, 2013, state that Abernathy complained of "hand pain," but had "no functional impairment." The medical examiner noted that Abernathy's hands had no "gross deformity" or "pain on palpation."

B. Procedural Background

In February 2015, Abernathy filed his original complaint pro se, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state tort law against Anderson and several other defendants. Abernathy later retained counsel and amended his complaint several times. Abernathy contends that Anderson's failure to assess and treat his alleged medical needs on April 3, as well as her refusal to administer his medication, caused him physical pain, fear, and anxiety arising from not knowing the extent of his wounds.

The court dismissed the claims against all defendants, save for those against Anderson. Anderson, the sole remaining defendant, then moved for summary judgment on all claims against her: a § 1983 deliberate indifference claim for the alleged denial of medical care and treatment to Abernathy on April 3, 2013; a claim for negligence due to Anderson's alleged failure to provide medical assessment and/or treatment to Abernathy on April 3, 2013; and a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress related to Anderson's alleged actions and/or omissions on that same day. Abernathy opposed. On July 31, 2019, the district court granted summary judgment for Anderson on all claims. Abernathy appeals only the disposition of his § 1983 claim. We thus limit our discussion accordingly.

II. Discussion

We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, construing the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and resolving all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Ocasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset, 777 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2015) ; Mesnick v. Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991) (quoting Griggs-Ryan v. Smith, 904 F.2d 112, 115 (1st Cir. 1990) ). Summary judgment may be granted only when "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 considered material when it has the "potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law." Sánchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996) (quoting One Nat'l Bank v. Antonellis, 80 F.3d 606, 608 (1st Cir. 1996) ). "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 non-moving party.’ " Id. (quoting Rivera–Muriente v. Agosto–Alicea, 959 F.2d 349, 351-52 (1st Cir. 1992) ). The party opposing summary judgment "bears ‘the burden of producing specific facts sufficient to deflect the swing of the summary judgment scythe.’ " Theidon v. Harvard Univ., 948 F.3d 477, 494 (1st Cir. 2020) (quoting Mulvihill v. Top-Flite Golf Co., 335 F.3d 15, 19 (1st Cir. 2003) ). "For this purpose, [it] cannot rely on ‘conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, acrimonious invective, or rank speculation.’ " Id. (quoting Ahern v. Shinseki, 629 F.3d 49, 54 (1st Cir. 2010) ).

Abernathy's § 1983 claim alleges that Anderson violated his Eighth Amendment rights. The Eighth Amendment prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. Although the Eighth Amendment "does not mandate comfortable prisons," Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981), it does not "permit inhumane ones" either, Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994). Accordingly, "the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment." Id. (quoting Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31, 113 S.Ct. 2475, 125 L.Ed.2d 22 (1993) ).

It is well established that "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain’ proscribed by the Eighth Amendment," Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976) (citation omitted) (quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976) ), and is actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, id. at 105, 97 S.Ct. 285. To succeed on a deliberate indifference claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must satisfy a two-prong standard. Leavitt v. Corr. Med. Servs., Inc., 645 F.3d. 484, 497 (1st Cir. 2011). First, a plaintiff must show, as an objective matter, that he has a "serious medical need[ ]" that received inadequate care. Id. A serious medical need is that which "has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment, or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention." Id. (quoting Gaudreault v. Municipality of Salem, 923 F.2d 203, 208 (1st Cir. 1990) ). "The ‘seriousness’ of an inmate's needs may also be determined by reference to the effect of the delay of treatment." Id. at 497-98 (quoting Gaudreault, 923 F.2d at 208 ). The serious medical need inquiry is fact-specific and must be tailored to the specific...

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