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Roberts v. Kopel

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 23, 2017

Barton Roberts, Plaintiff,
Sergeant Kopel, CO Gondeck, CO Gapinski, and John Does 1 through 10, Defendants.


          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted.


         In September 2015, Plaintiff Barton Roberts was an inmate at the Minnesota Correctional Facility (MCF) in St. Cloud. (2d Am. Compl. (Docket No. 54) ¶ 13.) Late on Friday, September 25, he began feeling ill. (Moccio Decl. (Docket No. 98) Ex. 1 (Barton Dep.) at 184.) He was vomiting and felt dizzy. (Id.) He reported his symptoms to an unidentified passing corrections officer, but the officer did not assist him. (Id.) It is undisputed that the only three named Defendants, Corrections Officers Craig Gondeck and Curtis Gapinski and Corrections Sergeant Jay Kopel, were not on duty at the time Roberts fell ill. (Gondeck Aff. (Docket No. 86) ¶ 2; Gapinski Aff. (Docket No. 84) ¶ 3; Kopel Aff. (Docket No. 85) ¶ 2.)

         Nor did any of these Defendants work at MCF St. Cloud over the weekend of September 26 and 27. (Id.) Roberts acknowledges that there is no physician on duty at the prison over the weekend; inmates who are ill may see a nurse. Roberts did not request to see a nurse, although he contends that unidentified corrections officers who were on duty that weekend were aware that he was ill.

         All Defendants worked at the facility on Monday. (Gondeck Aff. ¶ 3; Gapinski Aff. ¶ 4; Kopel Aff. ¶ 3.) That morning, Roberts asked another inmate, identified only as “New York, ” to tell the corrections officers that Roberts was too ill to report to his prison job. (Roberts Dep. at 17-18.) Somehow, Roberts's name was put on the sick call list, but that list showed that Roberts needed to see a dentist, not a physician. (Marisam Aff. (Docket No. 80) Ex. 6.) Roberts denies asking New York or anyone else to put him on a dental sick call list and denies that the handwriting on the list is his. (Roberts Dep. at 18.) Roberts contends that he spoke to all three Defendants on Monday, September 28, and that each either ignored his symptoms, minimized his illness, or refused to help him.

         A nurse examined Roberts on Tuesday, September 29, after he was transported to Washington County for a court appearance. The nurse told Roberts to drink water and keep an eye on himself. (Id. at 22-23; see also Marisam Aff. Ex. 7 (Washington County Jail intake nurse's notes).) Roberts did not return to MCF St. Cloud until Thursday, October 1. The intake nurse at MCF St. Cloud examined Roberts, who complained of vertigo-like symptoms. (Roberts Dep. at 81.) The nurse called the on-duty physician, who thought the vertigo symptoms might be caused by an abscessed tooth. (Id. at 82-83.) Roberts then went to the facility's dentist, who extracted the tooth. (Id. at 8-9.) Just after dinner that evening, Roberts collapsed outside his cell. (Id. at 85.) Gondeck, who was doing rounds, immediately requested emergency care for Roberts. (Id. at 86-87.) After a nurse examined him, he was transported by ambulance to the hospital, where he was diagnosed as having suffered a stroke. (Id. at 88, 225.) Roberts did not return to MCF St. Cloud, and was ultimately released from prison at the end of December 2015. (Zetah Aff. (Docket No. 89) Ex. 2.)

         Roberts's expert witness, Dr. Scott Lipson, opined that Roberts first experienced a stroke late on September 25 or early on September 26. (Marisam Aff. Ex. 8 (Lipson Expert Report) at 2.) According to Dr. Lipson, had the facility properly recognized Roberts's symptoms as a stroke at that time, he could have received immediate and time-sensitive treatment that would have minimized the damage the first stroke did to his neurological system, and he would not have experienced the second, more damaging, stroke on October 1. (Id. at 4.)

         Roberts brought this lawsuit initially against not only the three named Defendant corrections officers, but also against MCF St. Cloud Warden Collin Gau, the private prison healthcare provider, and the physician who examined him on October 1. (Compl. (Docket No. 1) ¶¶ 2, 4, 6.) Roberts resolved his claims against the physician, the healthcare provider, and Warden Gau, and those claims were dismissed with prejudice. (Docket Nos. 68, 77.) All that remains is Roberts's claim that the three corrections officer Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because they were deliberately indifferent to Roberts's serious medical needs. Defendants seek summary judgment on that claim.


         Summary judgment is proper if there are no disputed issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court must view the evidence and inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Enter. Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest on mere allegations or denials, but must set forth specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986).

         To establish a claim of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a prisoner must show both “an objectively serious medical need” and “that the defendant actually knew of, but deliberately disregarded, such need.” Vaughn v. Gray, 557 F.3d 904, 908 (8th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). In addition, because the prison officials here are state actors, Roberts must overcome their qualified immunity defense. To do this, he must show that “the facts, viewed in the light most favorable to [him], demonstrate the deprivation of a constitutional or statutory right” and that “the right was clearly established at the time of the deprivation.” Howard v. Kan. City Police Dep't, 570 F.3d 984, 988 (8th Cir. 2009). “Intentional delay in providing medical treatment shows deliberate disregard if a reasonable person would know that the inmate requires medical attention or the actions of the officers are so dangerous that a knowledge of the risk may be presumed.” Gordon ex rel. Gordon v. Frank, 454 F.3d 858, 862 (8th Cir. 2006).

         Roberts's claim that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs depends in large part on the prison's failure to get him medical help over the weekend of September 26 and 27. But these Defendants cannot be liable for anything that happened over the weekend, because they were not at the prison during that time. Roberts claims that he was too sick to notice which corrections officers he encountered during the weekend for the purpose of naming them in this lawsuit, and while the Court is sympathetic to Roberts's plight, the Court cannot hold a Defendant liable for the actions of other individuals. The three Defendants were not at the prison over the weekend and their liability can only arise out of actions they took or failed to take on Monday, September 28.

         Roberts also argues that the three Defendants were deliberately indifferent for not recognizing the seriousness of his symptoms on Monday, and thus that summary judgment is inappropriate. An objectively serious medical need is one that is either supported by a physician's diagnosis or is “so obvious that even a layperson would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Bailey v. Feltmann, 810 F.3d 589, 594 (8th Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted). “Establishing the subjective component of a deliberate indifference claim requires showing ‘a mental state akin to criminal recklessness' and neither ...

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