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Chinnici v. Centurion of Vermont, LLC

United States District Court, D. Vermont

October 10, 2018

John Chinnici, Plaintiff,
Centurion of Vermont, LLC; Nursing Staff at Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility; Cody Baker, Defendants.


          John M. Conroy United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff John Chinnici, proceeding pro se, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Centurion of Vermont, LLC (Centurion), and the Nursing Staff at Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility (MVRCF).[1] (Doc. 4.) Chinnici alleges in his Complaint that, while he was in the custody of the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC), [2] medical personnel and correctional officers at MVRCF inadequately treated a bruise on his left leg, resulting in burning and blisters on the skin of the leg and an infection that permanently scarred his leg and damaged a tattoo. (Id. at 3, 5.) Chinnici seeks monetary damages to repair the scarring and to re-ink his tattoo, damages for his pain and suffering, and any additional relief the Court may deem appropriate. (Id. at 3.)

         Presently before the Court is Centurion and the Nursing Staff's Motion for Summary Judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (Doc. 43.) As required by Local Rule 56, Centurion and the Nursing Staff submitted a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts with their Motion, (Doc. 43-2), and informed Chinnici of the consequences of failing to respond. (Doc. 43-4.) Nevertheless, Chinnici has not responded to the Motion, even though the Court granted him an extension of time to respond. (See CMECF Entry 46.)

         Concluding that Chinnici's claims against the Nursing Staff fail to name a person or legal entity capable of being sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, I recommend that those claims be DISMISSED for failure to state a claim. Further, I conclude that Chinnici has failed to produce evidence sufficient for a reasonable juror to conclude that Centurion or the Nursing Staff violated Chinnici's constitutional rights; accordingly, I recommend that the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 43) be GRANTED in its entirety, and Chinnici's Complaint (Doc. 4) be DIMISSED with prejudice. Finally, I recommend that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state law claims raised in Chinnici's Complaint.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The sparse facts in this case are primarily drawn from Chinnici's Complaint, (Doc. 43), along with Centurion and the Nursing Staff's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Doc. 43-2), and the affidavit of Steven Fisher, MD, the Regional Medical Director for Centurion of Vermont, LLC. (Doc. 43-3.) They are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         In March 2016, as a result of some bruising on his left leg, Chinnici sought medical advice from the Nursing Staff at MVRCF. (Doc. 4 at 3; Doc. 43-3 at 1, ¶ 4.) Chinnici was advised to place warm compresses on his leg to alleviate the bruising. (Doc. 4 at 3; Doc. 43-3 at 1-2, ¶¶ 5-6.) For this purpose, according to Chinnici, the Nursing Staff “put a wet towel in a small bag” and instructed Cody Baker, [3] a former Correctional Officer at MVRCF, “to heat it up in the microwave.” (Doc. 4 at 3.) Baker then “heat[ed] . . . up [the towel] in the microwave . . . for [three] min[utes], ” and it was placed on Chinnici's leg. (Id.) Chinnici further asserts that, because he has nerve damage in his left leg, he could not feel the compress burning his skin. (Id.) Specifically, Chinnici alleges that the compress “gave [him] 3rd degree burns, blist[er]ed [his] leg, [and] burned completely through [his] tattoo (removing parts completely).” (Id.) In contrast to the facts alleged by Chinnici, Dr. Fisher's affidavit states merely that Chinnici was given a form that advised him to apply a “warm compress three times a day to [his] left lower leg, ” and that there were no instructions regarding warming up a wash cloth in the microwave. (Doc. 43-3 at 2, ¶ 6.)

         After the burns occurred, Chinnici asserts that he sought treatment from the Nursing Staff and that they “only cleaned the burns for two days with salt water, put ointment on them and covered them with bandages.” (Doc. 4 at 5.) Chinnici claims that the Nursing Staff further recommended that he “keep [his] calf uncovered all day” and provided him with bandages to put on his calf at night. (Id.) According to Chinnici, this was incorrect advice and he “should never [have] ke[pt the wound] uncovered.” (Id.) As a result, Chinnici claims that “it took a little over two months [for the wounds] to heal.” (Id.)

         By contrast, Dr. Fisher's affidavit describes a more comprehensive course of treatment. He states that, during an April 1, 2016 appointment, the Nursing Staff noted a blister in the middle of Chinnici's left calf, which Chinnici told the Nursing Staff was “the result of a burn from a heating pad.” (Doc. 43-3 at 2, ¶ 8.) The following day, April 2, the Nursing Staff saw Chinnici again and, allegedly, Chinnici “denied any pain or discomfort.” (Id. ¶ 9.) The Nursing Staff advised Chinnici to rest, elevate his legs, and apply warm compresses for the bruising. (Id.) At the follow-up appointment the next day, April 3, the Nursing Staff noted three blisters on Chinnici's leg and observed drainage issuing from one of the blisters. (Id. ¶ 10.) The Nursing Staff cleaned the area with a saline solution, applied antibiotic ointment, and placed a Band-Aid over the area. (Id.) Despite these efforts, on April 4, the Nursing Staff noted four blisters on Chinnici's leg, one of which had drained; they changed the dressing on the blisters. (Id. ¶ 11.) On the next day, April 5, the area on Chinnici's leg was “open, dry, and reddened, ” but the Nursing Staff did not observe any infection. (Id. at 3, ¶ 12.) As treatment, the Nursing Staff applied an antibiotic ointment to the area and covered it with a large Band-Aid. (Id.) On April 6, the Nursing Staff again saw Chinnici and noted that, although his leg was at risk for infection, it was not infected. (Id. ¶ 13.) Again, the Nursing Staff applied an antibiotic and covered the area with a large Band-Aid. (Id.)

         Sometime after April 6, 2016, Chinnici was transferred from MVRCF to Southern State Correctional Facility (SSCF). (Id. ¶ 14; Doc. 4 at 5.) At SSCF, according to Chinnici, medical personnel determined that the “good parts of the nerve” in Chinnici's leg had been burned and “that [his] burns were badly infected.” (Doc. 4 at 5.) Again, however, Dr. Fisher's affidavit departs from Chinnici's version of the facts, stating that, on April 14, the nursing staff at SSCF cleaned and dressed the blisters on Chinnici's leg and “did not note whether there was an infection.” (Doc. 43-3 at 3, ¶ 15.) Dr. Fisher further states that, on April 15, a medical provider at SSCF “noted that Mr. Chinnici's leg blisters were healing, ” (id. ¶ 16), “did not make any note stating that Mr. Chinnici's leg was infected, ” (id. at 4, ¶ 17), and did not “suggest that the care Mr. Chinnici received at [MVRCF] was inappropriate.” (Id. ¶ 18).

         Despite this disagreement regarding the initial diagnosis at SSCF, Dr. Fisher and Chinnici do agree that Chinnici underwent a daily treatment plan at SSCF, consisting of cleaning his blisters, applying Silvadene cream or an antimicrobial ointment, and changing the dressing on his leg. (Id. ¶ 17; Doc. 4 at 5.) Following several weeks of this plan, on May 11, 2016, Chinnici met with a provider at SSCF who evaluated the leg and noted that Chinnici's leg was “almost better, ” but advised that Chinnici should continue the daily dressing changes. (Doc. 43-3 at 4, ¶ 19.) On May 13, 2016, according to Dr. Fisher, the SSCF provider noted that Chinnici's wound was “healing well, ” (id. ¶ 20), and the wound was “considered healed” following that visit. (Id. ¶ 21). Finally, Dr. Fisher states in his affidavit that the care provided by the Nursing Staff and medical providers at both MVRCF and SSCF was consistent with the community medical standard. (Id. at 4-5, ¶¶ 24-27.)

         Although Chinnici's timeline differs slightly-he states that it “took a little over two months to heal”-he apparently agrees that the blisters healed during his time at SSCF. (Doc. 4 at 5.) Chinnici claims, however, that he still has “scarring” on his leg, and that, “when pressure is applied to the scarring, it feels like fire is burning inside [his] calf.” (Id.) He apparently attributes this pain to additional nerve damage caused by the heating pad. (Id.; see Id. at 3.) In addition, Chinnici states that parts of the tattoo on his leg “are gone.” (Id. at 5.)

         Based on these facts and as a result of these injuries, on October 12, 2016, Chinnici filed suit in this Court seeking monetary damages against Centurion and the Nursing Staff at MVRCF, for their alleged inadequate treatment of his bruised left leg. (See id.) Along with his Complaint, which was filed on a form entitled “Form to be used by Prisoners in Filing a Complaint under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, ” Chinnici submitted a series of DOC grievance forms demonstrating that he exhausted his administrative remedies prior to bringing suit, as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). (See Doc. 4-1.)

         On December 7, 2016, Centurion and the Nursing Staff filed an Answer to Chinnici's Complaint, asserting, as affirmative defenses, that Chinnici failed to state a cause of action, that the Nursing Staff and Centurion are shielded by qualified immunity, and that the medical care provided by the Nursing Staff and Centurion met the applicable standard of care. (Doc. 9 at 2, ¶¶ 1-3.) In their Motion for Summary Judgment, however, Centurion and the Nursing Staff inexplicably[4] and inartfully focus their argument on Chinnici's failure to file a “certificate of merit, ” as required by Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 1042(a) in medical malpractice actions, [5] rather than on Chinnici's § 1983 claims. (See Doc. 43 at 5-8.) Only in passing do Centurion and the Nursing Staff note that § 1983 is not the proper vehicle for Chinnici's claims because they are based on the Nursing Staff's alleged “improper medical care” rather than “deliberate indifference, ” as § 1983 requires. (Id. at 5 n.3.)


         I. Failure to State a Claim

          As an initial matter, given that Chinnici's claims against the Nursing Staff fail to name a person or legal entity capable of being sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, I recommend that the Court exercise its authority under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and DISMISS Chinnici's claim against the Nursing Staff for failure to state a claim.

         Although counsel for the Nursing Staff have not raised this issue, “where a defendant has not advanced . . . a failure-to-state-a-claim argument on a motion for summary judgment, a district court may, [sua sponte], address whether a pro se prisoner has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Jackson v. Onondaga Cty., 549 F.Supp.2d 204, 211 (N.D.N.Y. 2008). This authority arises from 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), which provides that, in the case of a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” See Fitzgerald v. First E. Seventh St. Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 363 (2d Cir. 2000) (observing court may sua sponte consider mandatory dismissal for failure to state a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)); Marsden v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 856 F.Supp. 832, 836 n.3 (S.D.N.Y. 1994) (dismissing sua sponte inmate's claims of improper medical treatment brought against county jail under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d)).

         Fundamentally, in order to sustain a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must “identify the individuals or distinct legal entity alleged to have acted under color of state law.” Wilson v. S. Health Partners Nursing Staff, 1:18-cv-00013-FDW, 2018 WL 1972716, at *2 (W.D. N.C. Apr. 26, 2018); see also Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 692-95 (1978) (observing that under § 1983, liability is personal in nature); Mallgren v. Burkholder, 52 F.Supp.3d 490, 495 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (“Section 1983 claims generally must be brought against the individuals personally responsible for the alleged deprivation of constitutional rights.”); Whitley v. Westchester Cty. Corr. Facility Admin., No. 97 CIV. 0420(SS), 1997 WL 659100, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 22, 1997) (“To proceed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff must name the ‘person' who violated or caused the violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights.”).

         Here, Chinnici names the Nursing Staff as a defendant in his Complaint. (Doc. 4 at 1.) But the Nursing Staff is not the name of an individual person within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, nor is the Nursing Staff a legal entity capable of being sued. See Wilson, 2018 WL 1972716, at *2 (dismissing claim against “Southern Health Partners' nursing staff” and “Cleveland County Detention officers” for failure to name a “person” within the meaning of § 1983 or a distinct legal entity capable of being sued); Kinney v. Susquehanna Co. Corr. Facility, Civil No. 3:16-cv-622, 2016 WL 1752769, at *2 (M.D. Pa. May 2, 2016) (concluding “the . . . Susquehanna County Nursing Staff are not . . . ‘persons' within the meaning of § 1983 and are not suitable entities for a § 1983 claim”); Coleman v. Terrebonne Par. Criminal Justice Complex, Civil Action No. 13-4325, 2013 WL 6004051, at *1 n.1 (E.D. La. Nov. 13, 2013) (“The ‘Nursing Staff' is not a distinct, juridical entity capable of being sued.”); Simrin v. Corr. Med. Servs., No. Civ. 05-2223 RBK, 2006 WL 469677, at *4 (D.N.J. Feb. 24, 2006) (dismissing claim against “Correctional Medical Services Nurses” for failure to name a legal entity capable of being sued under § 1983); Griffin v. Rikers Island House of Det. for Men, No. 91 Civ. 1694 (LBS), 1993 WL 17203, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 19, 1993) (dismissing ยง 1983 claim against ...

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