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Niemic v. UMass Correctional Health

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 2, 2015

KEITH NIEMIC, Plaintiff,
v.
UMASS CORRECTIONAL HEALTH, THOMAS HICKS, JR., GERALDINE SOMERS, AYSHA HAMEED, BART NELSON, MARK SCHNABEL, CARMEN NEWRY, and THOMAS GROBLEWSKI, Defendants

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Keith Niemic, Plaintiff, Pro se, Shirley, MA.

For UMass Correctional Health Care Services, Geraldine Somers, Aysha Hameed, Bart Nelson, N.P. Mark Schnabel, Carmen Newry, Thomas Groblewski, Defendants: James A. Bello, Robert V. Delanders, Morrison, Mahoney LLP, Boston, MA.

For Thomas Hicks, Defendant: Robert V. Delanders, Morrison Mahoney LLP, Boston, MA.

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MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

WILLIAM G. YOUNG, DISTRICT JUDGE.

I. INTRODUCTION

Keith Niemic (" Niemic" ) brings this suit pro se against UMass Correctional Health (" UMCH" ), Thomas Hicks (" Hicks" ), Geraldine Somers (" Somers" ), Aysha Hameed (" Hameed" ), Bart Nelson (" Nelson" ), Mark Schnabel (" Schnabel" ), Carmen Newry (" Newry" ), and Thomas Groblewski (" Groblewski" )[1] (collectively, the " Medical Defendants" ) seeking injunctive relief and damages for alleged violations of the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, and Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 12, section 11I.[2] Niemic, an inmate incarcerated at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, asserts that the Medical Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs and committed other constitutional violations during the course of his medical treatment.

The Medical Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Because Niemic cannot demonstrate that the Medical Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs or violated his constitutional rights, this Court GRANTS the motion.

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A. Procedural Posture

Niemic filed his initial complaint on June 3, 2013, Compl., ECF No. 1, and he filed an amended complaint on August 26, 2013, Am. Compl., ECF No. 42. On August 5, 2013, Niemic moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Mot. TRO & Prelim. Inj., ECF No. 14. Judge Tauro denied the motion on September 9, 2013, holding that Niemic failed to provide sufficient evidence to show that the Medical Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs and that he failed to " demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits." Order, ECF No. 49.

UMCH filed a motion to dismiss August 26, 2013. Def. UMass Correctional Health's Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 37. Additionally, defendants Johanna Shaw (" Shaw" ); the Massachusetts Department of Correction, Bruce Gelb, Luis Spencer, and Lawrence Weiner (collectively, the " Corrections Defendants" ); and Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional Health (" Partnership" ) filed motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment on September 16, 2013, Def. Johanna Shaw, M.D.'s Mot. Dismissal & Summ. J. Re: Pl. Keith Niemic's Compl., ECF No. 53, November 22, 2013, Defs. Mot. Dismiss Or. Alternative, Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 67, and November 26, 2013, Def. Mass. P'ship Correctional Healthcare's Mot. Dismiss, Or, Alternatively, Mot. Summ. J. Pl. Keith Niemic's Am. Compl., ECF No. 69, respectively.[3]

Niemic attempted to certify a class action on July 22, 2013, Pl.'s Mot. Class Action Certification, ECF No. 12. On February 19, 2014, that motion was denied. Order (" February 2014 Order" ) ¶ 1, ECF No. 115. That same day, Judge Tauro accepted and adopted Magistrate Judge Collings's Report and Recommendation dated January 29, 2014, ECF No. 108, granting UMCH's motion to dismiss with respect to all claims asserted under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, and denying the motion without prejudice as to all other remaining claims, February 2014 Order ¶ 3. Additionally, on March 25, 2014, Judge Tauro allowed the motions to dismiss filed by Shaw, Partnership, and the Corrections Defendants and dismissed Niemic's Rehabilitation Act and ADA claims against all remaining defendants. Order ¶ ¶ 1-3, 7, ECF No. 122.

The case was reassigned to this session of the Court on May 20, 2014. Elec. Order, ECF No. 131. Two days later, the Medical Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment. Defs. UMass Correctional Health, Thomas Hicks, Geraldine

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Somers, Aysha Hameed, Bart Nelson, Mark Schnabel, Carmen Newry, & Thomas Groblewski's Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 134; Defs. UMass Correctional Health, Thomas Hicks, Geraldine Somers, Aysha Hameed, Bart Nelson, Mark Schnabel, Carmen Newry, & Thomas Groblewski's Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (" Defs.' Mem." ), ECF No. 135; Defs. UMass Correctional Health, Thomas Hicks, Geraldine Somers, Aysha Hameed, Bart Nelson, Mark Schnabel, Carmen Newry, & Thomas Groblewski's Statement Undisputed Facts Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (" Defs.' Undisputed Facts" ), ECF No. 136. Niemic filed his opposition on August 11, 2014. Pl.'s Opp'n UMCH Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 148; Pl. Keith Niemic's Mem. Supp. Opposing Mot. Summ. J. (" Niemic's Mem." ), ECF No. 149. The only remaining claim against UMCH is the state law claim, and the remaining claims against the Medical Defendants are the constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 and the state law claim. See Niemic's Disputed Facts ¶ ¶ 19-20.

B. Undisputed Facts

Niemic is an inmate currently incarcerated at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (" SBCC" ) in Shirley, Massachusetts. Id. ¶ 1. This case arises out of Niemic's ongoing medical treatment for a variety of ailments, including severe back pain, migraine headaches, and Hepatitis B and C. See Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 14-16, 18. Thomas Groblewski is the former Regional Medical Director of UMCH. Niemic's Disputed Facts ¶ 2. Bart Nelson and Mark Schnabel are nurse practitioners, Carmen Newry is a nurse, and Aysha Hameed, Geraldine Somers, and Thomas Hicks are physicians, all former employees of UMCH.[4] Id. ¶ ¶ 3-8. UMCH is a state agency and is the former medical provider for the Massachusetts Department of Corrections. Defs.' Undisputed Facts ¶ 9.

In June 2005, following an altercation with another inmate, Niemic severely injured his back, resulting in the herniation of his L4-L5 disc. Pl.'s List Exhibits (" Pl.'s Exhibits" ), Ex. B at 3, ECF No. 151.[5] His doctors recommended surgery after failed epidural steroid injections, but Niemic did not have surgery at that time. Defs.' Undisputed Facts, Ex. A at 1, ECF No. 136.[6] There is some dispute as to why Niemic did not receive surgery: evidence provided by both parties suggests that Niemic himself declined the surgery, id.; Pl.'s Exhibits, Ex. B at 10, but Niemic has also provided a form filed in 2007 requesting that he receive back surgery, Pl.'s Exhibits, Ex. C at 3. Niemic also provides a report filed by a non-party physician from 2007, however, stating (1) that his injury appeared to have resolved and was having no affect on his daily activities, and (2) that Niemic had a history of narcotic-seeking behavior. Pl.'s Exhibits, Ex. G at 3.

As a result of his back injury, Niemic suffered falling episodes on May 14, May 28, June 25, September 1, and November 18, 2009. See Niemic's Disputed Facts ¶ ¶ 21-25. Only the May 28 fall resulted in a trip to the emergency room, as he suffered a head injury that required staples. Id. ¶ 22. Ultimately, on January 26, 2010, Niemic underwent neurosurgery at Tufts

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Medical Center, Defs.' Undisputed Facts, Ex. B at 1, despite the surgeon's warnings that surgery might not fully resolve the issue " given that this has been a chronic problem for the past four years . . . and that the nerve might have sustained permanent damage," Pl.'s Exhibits, Ex. B at 8. After the surgery, Niemic was prescribed several medications, including Neurontin, methadone, and oxycodone. Defs.' Undisputed Facts, Ex. B at 2.

Upon postoperative examination, Niemic's right leg pain had improved considerably and he had increased sensation in both feet. Id. Niemic returned to SBCC on January 27, 2010 and was provided with a mix of oxycodone and methadone, until a higher dosage of methadone capable of replacing the oxycodone became available. Id. ; Defs.' Undisputed Facts, Ex. G at Bates 90-92. Three days later, Niemic was released back to his cell upon his request, after he agreed that his oxycodone would be discontinued and he would be maintained on methadone. See Defs.' Undisputed Facts, Ex. C at 1. Niemic was evaluated by a nurse practitioner on February 27, 2010, in response to sick slips submitted on February 12 and 14 complaining of unbearable back pain. See Pl.'s Exhibits, Ex. H at 2-3. Although Niemic said in his February 14 sick slip that he was contemplating suicide because of the pain, prison staff discussed the issue with Niemic and noted that he did not plan to hurt himself at the present time, but just wanted to be seen by a doctor. Id. at 3.

On March 11, 2010, Niemic refused his initial follow up with his neurosurgeon due to intense pain. Niemic's Disputed Facts ¶ 64; Defs.' Undisputed Facts, Ex. E at 1. His methadone prescription was discontinued on March 24, 2010, as a result of suspected medication hoarding in his cell.[7] See Pl.'s Exhibits, Ex. J at 6, 15; Defs.' Undisputed Facts, Ex. F at 1. That evening, Niemic attempted suicide and was hospitalized and later monitored in a suicide isolation cell for several days. See Niemic's Disputed Facts ¶ 67.

Niemic continued to complain of severe pain and was thereafter given two pain relievers, Clonidine and Neurotin, as well as Baclofen, a muscle relaxant. Defs.' Undisputed Facts, Ex. G at Bates 86-87. Niemic submitted several sick slips after his methadone was discontinued, complaining of withdrawal, gastrointestinal issues, and severe pain. See Niemic's Disputed Facts ¶ 68. On April 13, 2010, Niemic was prescribed Motrin for daily use, and on April 24, 2010, that prescription was increased to address his severe pain, although he was not prescribed methadone as he requested. See Defs.' Undisputed Facts, Ex. G at Bates 374-77.

Niemic attended a follow up with his neurosurgeon on April 15, 2010, and complained that the surgery had not resolved his pain issues. See Defs.' Undisputed Facts, Ex. H at 1. The surgeon was unsure why Niemic did not benefit from the surgery, noting that he could be suffering from permanent nerve damage or that there could be issues of secondary pain involved. Id. He did conclude, however, that he had no further options to address Niemic's pain management issues. Id.

Soon thereafter, on April 24, 2010, Niemic was advised by a nurse practitioner that she would continue to monitor his pain, but he would not likely receive narcotic pain medication prospectively due to his disciplinary report and ...


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