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Moore v. Rice

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 25, 2017

William Moore, Plaintiff,
v.
Dr. Benjamin Rice, Dr. R. Gupta, and Cheryl Owens, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint. Plaintiff seeks to amend his Complaint for the third time to address deficiencies raised by Defendants' dispositive Motion, but because Plaintiff's underlying allegations do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation, any amendment would be futile. The Court has, however, considered the allegations in the proposed Third Amended Complaint when evaluating whether Plaintiff has sufficiently raised a constitutional claim. For the following reasons, the Court denies the Motion to Amend and grants the Motion to Dismiss.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff William Moore is currently incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp in Duluth, Minnesota. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 2.) In 2013, Moore injured his left knee while working at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minnesota. The institution referred Moore to a specialist (3d Am. Compl. ¶ 8) who recommended that Moore undergo surgery to repair his knee. (Id. ¶ 9.) Shortly after the injury, Moore was transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wisconsin. (Id. ¶ 10.) The medical director at FCI-Oxford, Dr. Gupta, a Defendant here, referred him to another specialist, who recommended that Moore undergo total knee replacement. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         In 2015, Moore was again transferred, this time to FPC-Duluth. (Id. ¶ 15.) Defendant Dr. Benjamin Rice is the medical director at FPC-Duluth. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 4.) Moore alleges that Dr. Rice denied him effective pain medication and referred him once again to specialists. (3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16-17.) According to Moore, both specialists recommended that he undergo total knee replacement. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.)

         Dr. Rice submitted a request for Moore's surgery to the Bureau of Prisons. (Id. ¶ 23.) The BOP's Chief of Health Programs, Dr. Jeffrey Allen, [2] ultimately denied the request (id. ¶ 24), because Moore's Body Mass. Index (“BMI”) was above the recommended level for knee-replacement surgery. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 10.)

         Moore claims that his BOP physicians failed to provide for his medical needs and that this amounts to deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. ¶¶ 19-21; 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30-32.) He seeks compensatory damages of $500, 000 against each Defendant, a declaration that Defendants are violating his rights, and an injunction requiring the BOP to allow Moore to have the recommended knee surgery. (2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 25-27.)[3]

         DISCUSSION

         When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court assumes the facts in the complaint to be true and construes all reasonable inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1986). However, the Court need not accept as true wholly conclusory allegations, Hanten v. Sch. Dist. of Riverview Gardens, 183 F.3d 799, 805 (8th Cir. 1999), or legal conclusions that the plaintiff draws from the facts pled. Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990).

         Although the Court liberally construes pro se pleadings, a pro se complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007). The complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” it must contain facts with enough specificity “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” will not pass muster under Twombly. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In sum, this standard “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the claim].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         When a party submits evidence outside the pleadings in support of a motion to dismiss, as Defendants have done here, the Court may convert the motion into a motion for summary judgment. Casazza v. Kiser, 313 F.3d 414, 417-18 (8th Cir. 2002). Indeed, Defendants seek summary judgment as an alternative to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), and have submitted several affidavits describing Moore's treatment. Moore responds not by requesting additional discovery, but rather by contending that he should be allowed to amend his complaint. Because it is apparent that discovery will not advance Moore's claims or support his opposition to Defendants' Motion, and because Moore has been afforded a meaningful opportunity to respond to the facts Defendants raise, the Court will consider Defendants' Motion as one for summary judgment.[4]

         In order for any Defendant to be liable for deliberate indifference to Moore's serious medical needs, Moore must establish both a violation of his constitutional rights and that qualified immunity does not protect Defendants from suit. Put another way, if Moore cannot establish a violation of a constitutional right, Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. Brockington v. City of Sherwood, 503 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir. 2007).

         To establish a claim under the Eighth Amendment, Moore must demonstrate both that he had an objectively serious medical need and that Defendants knew of this need but deliberately disregarded it. Schaub v. VonWald, 638 F.3d 905, 914 (8th Cir. 2011). A difference of opinion on the proper course of treatment does not amount to deliberate indifference, nor can a plaintiff establish a constitutional violation for conduct that is merely negligent. Bender v. Regier, 385 F.3d 1133, 1137-38 (8th Cir. 2004); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). Medical providers “do not violate the Eighth Amendment when, in the exercise of their professional judgment, they refuse to implement a prisoner's requested course of treatment.” Long v. Nix, 86 F.3d 761, 765 (8th Cir. 1996).

         Moore believes that only a total knee replacement will relieve his pain and solve his mobility issues, and that Defendants' refusal to authorize the surgery amounts to deliberate indifference to his pain and mobility issues. He does not, and indeed cannot, dispute that the BOP has a neutral policy in place regarding surgeries such as knee replacements that requires any prisoner undergoing such a procedure to have a BMI under 35. (Rice Decl. (Docket No. 39) ¶ 10; id. Ex. G at 3 (Docket No. 39-7) (BOP's Clinical Practice Guideline “Evaluation and Management of Osteoarthritis of the Hip and Knee”).) Nor can he dispute that this policy is grounded in sound medical science. As Defendants point out, the Medicare standards for elective joint replacement surgery similarly establish a BMI ...


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