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Taylor v. Stearns County Jail

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 27, 2019


          Teresa Fariss McClain, ROBINS KAPLAN LLP, for plaintiff.

          Andrew A. Wolf and Jason M. Hively, IVERSON REUVERS CONDON, for defendants Stearns County Jail and John L. Sanner.

          Charles Gross and Mark W. Hardy, GERAGHTY O'LOUGHLIN & KENNEY, PA, for defendants MEnD Correctional Care, PLLC, Elaine Byker, Martin Langenfeld, Jodie French, and Ashley Altendahl.



         Plaintiff Zachary Taylor brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Stearns County Jail (“SCJ”), and Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner (collectively referred to as the “SCJ Defendants”). Taylor alleges that SCJ violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by denying him adequate and timely medical care (Count One), and by failing to adequately train its medical staff (Count Two). Taylor realleges Count One against Sanner. Both SCJ and Sanner now move for judgment on the pleadings, or, in the alternative, summary judgment of all the claims against them. The Court will convert the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings to a Motion for Summary Judgment, and, because SCJ is a non-suable entity and because Sanner did not commit any constitutional violations, the Court will grant the Motion.

         Taylor also asserts Count One against MEnD Correctional Care, PLLC (“MEnD”), Martin Langenfeld, Elaine Byker, Jodie French, and Ashley Altendahl, (collectively referred to as the “MEnD Defendants”). He additionally claims that the MEnD Defendants were medically negligent (Count Three). The MEnD Defendants now move for summary judgment of Count One. Because the medical care provided by the MEnD Defendants did not violate the Constitution, the Court will grant the Motion.


         A. Factual Background

         Taylor was arrested in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on March 21, 2014. (Compl. ¶ 14, Oct. 25, 2016, Docket No. 1.) During his arrest, he was tackled to the ground and, in the process, injured his left arm and wrist. (Id.) Requiring treatment, St. Cloud police took Taylor to the St. Cloud Hospital Emergency Department (“ED”), where an x-ray revealed that he had a broken left wrist. (Aff. of Mark W. Hardy (“Hardy Aff.”) ¶ 3, Aug. 31, 2018, Docket No. 44; Ex. A at 2, Aug. 31, 2018, Docket No. 45.)

         The ED applied a splint to Taylor's wrist, and gave him several written discharge instructions, including to “follow up in ortho - call today to make an appointment in 5-7 days” and to “return for repeat evaluation if increase, changes, new or worsen symptoms.” (Hardy Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. A at 2-3.) He was also provided with the name and address of an orthopedic care clinic and told to “[s]chedule an appointment as soon as possible for a visit in 1 week.” (Id. at 3.) Finally, the ED prescribed Taylor oxycodone for pain management. (Id. at 3.)

         After being discharged by the St. Cloud Hospital, St. Cloud police took Taylor to SCJ. (Compl. ¶ 16.) Because SCJ contracted with MEnD, a local medical center, to fulfill its duty to provide healthcare to inmates, MEnD was responsible for inmate healthcare at SCJ and privately employed its own medical staff to do so. (Answer ¶ 6, Dec. 27, 2016, Docket No. 7.) Elaine Byker, Jodie French, and Ashley Altendahl are all nurses who were employed by MEnD, and Martin Langenfeld is a physician's assistant. (Id. ¶ 7.) Though not a licensed physician, Langenfeld was the highest level of care that consistently examined patients at SCJ and ultimately made final treatment decisions.[1] Accordingly, the nurses reported to and received instructions from Langenfeld, and could not schedule outside medical appointments for inmates without a direct order from Langenfeld. (Aff. of Andrew A. Wolf (“Wolf Aff.”) ¶ 8, Ex. 8 at 12, Aug. 30, 2018, Docket No. 37-6.)

         On March 22, the day after his arrest, Altendahl examined Taylor at SCJ. Altendahl noted that Taylor had come in for a broken wrist, but did not otherwise substantially examine the wrist. (Hardy Aff. ¶ 4, Ex. B (“SCJ Records”) at 1-2, Aug. 31, 2018, Docket No. 46.) Because March 22 was a Saturday, Altendahl's main goals in this first examination were to make sure the wrist was stable and that Taylor's pain was under control so that Taylor could wait until full-time staff came in the following Monday to more fully examine the wrist. (Hardy Aff. ¶ 5, Ex. C (“Altendahl Dep.”) at 5-6, Aug. 31, 2018, Docket No. 47.) However, before he was examined by full-time staff, Taylor was assaulted by an inmate at SCJ, and subsequently underwent another general examination, this time by Byker. (Compl. ¶ 18-19.) Byker noted that Taylor was still experiencing wrist pain and told him that he would remain in a splint until he could see Langenfeld or possibly an orthopedic doctor. (SCJ Records at 3.) She also notified Langenfeld of Taylor's assault and told Langenfeld that Taylor should be seen on the next clinic day. (Id.) She did not order any x-rays on Taylor's wrist. (Id.)

         Langenfeld first examined Taylor's wrist on March 27, six days after his arrest. (Id. at 4.) Langenfeld noticed significant issues with Taylor's wrist, such as the fact that it was discolored, its range of motion was limited, it was cool to the touch, and the area around the wrist had a capillary refill of four seconds. (Id.) Pursuant to his evaluation, Langenfeld extended Taylor's oxycodone prescription for another week, and established a plan of care for the wrist that would include continued splinting and pain medication, as well as additional examination as necessary should Taylor's symptoms worsen. (Id. at 4, 7.)

         Langenfeld also had Taylor sign a release form which allowed Langenfeld to order the St. Cloud Hospital ED records, including the ED's x-ray images. (Id.) Langenfeld did not order additional x-rays on the wrist during his March 27 examination, because, in his medical judgment, additional x-rays were not warranted at that time. (Wolf Aff. ¶ 12, Ex. 14 (“Langenfeld Dep.”) at 21, Aug. 30, 2018, Docket No. 37-10.) Consequently, because Langenfeld had not yet obtained the ED's x-ray images nor had x-rays taken on site, Langenfeld established his plan of care without having seen any internal imaging of the wrist. (Langenfeld Dep. at 26.)

         While Langenfeld's plan of care included placing Taylor in a splint for the following four weeks and only then taking follow-up x-rays, (SCJ Records at 7), before the four weeks had elapsed, Taylor was transferred to the Minnesota Department of Correction's Stillwater facility and out of MEnD's control. (Compl. ¶ 26.) After being transferred to Stillwater, Taylor did not see a medical professional until May 6, when he was examined by Nurse Patti Ramler. (Compl. ¶ 27; Hardy Aff. ¶ 10, Ex. H (“MCF Records”) at 1, Aug. 31, 2018, Docket No. 52.) Ramler, during this first examination, ordered x-rays of the wrist, and after reviewing the images, requested that Taylor be seen by an outside orthopedist. (MCF Records at 1.)

         Pursuant to Ramler's request, Taylor's wrist was examined by Dr. Timothy Hiesterman at St. Cloud Orthopedics on May 12. (Hardy Aff. ¶ 11, Ex. I (“SCO Records”) at 1-6, Aug. 31, 2018, Docket No. 53.) Hiesterman noticed that Taylor “ha[d] almost no motion of his wrist” and that the wrist showed signs of “malalignment and malunion.” (SCO Records at 4.) As a result, Hiesterman recommended that Taylor undergo wrist surgery. (Id. at 5.) The subsequent surgery took place on May 14, and Hiesterman noted in his post-operation report that the surgery was “extremely technically difficult” because the wrist had “fully healed in a malunited position.” (Id. at 7-8.)

         Believing that both MEnD and its medical professionals, as well as SCJ and Sheriff Sanner, provided him with constitutionally deficient medical care, Taylor filed this lawsuit in October, 2016. MEnD and its medical professional have filed a summary judgment motion on these constitutional claims, (Mot. for Summ. J., Aug. 31, 2018, Docket No. 40), and SCJ and Sheriff Sanner have filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or Motion for Summary Judgment in the alternative (Mot. for J. on the Pleadings, Aug. 30, 2018, Docket No. 33.)


         I. ...

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