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Lozada v. MPCH

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 23, 2019

MIGUEL LOZADA, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
MPCH, JULIE IRELAND, & DR. KING, Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND/OR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. 23)

          DONALD L. CABELL, U.S.M.J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pro se Plaintiff Miguel Lozada is a prisoner at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts (“SBCC”). He contends that he has received inadequate medical care and has brought suit against the prison's health care provider, the Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional Healthcare (“MPCH”), and two individuals employed by or associated with MPCH, Health Services Administrator Julie Ireland and podiatrist Dr. Charles King. MPCH and Ireland move for judgment on the pleadings or in the alternative for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the motion for judgment on the pleadings will be allowed and the complaint will be dismissed against all defendants, without prejudice.[1]

         II. RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The relevant facts are not disputed. Lozada is an inmate at the SBCC, part of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC). At all relevant times, MPCH was responsible for providing medical services to DOC inmates. Defendant Ireland is a Registered Nurse and is the Health Services Administrator for MPCH at SBCC. Defendant King is a podiatrist who was subcontracted by MPCH to provide specialized podiatry services to inmates. Complaint ¶ 1.

         The plaintiff's lawsuit arises from his efforts to obtain relief for longtime medical issues associated with his feet and ankles. In 2010 Lozada had received custom-molded inserts, a lace-up ankle brace, customized boots, and special high-top shock absorbent footwear. In 2014, however, Lozada was transferred from one DOC facility to another and his orthotic devices and special footwear were misplaced during transit and never accompanied him. Complaint ¶¶ 6-11. Lozada spent the next two years or so trying unsuccessfully to obtain replacement equipment. In the course of those efforts, he submitted five separate administrative grievances asking for assistance. (Dkt 24-1, Exhibit A, Affidavit of Linda Farag (“Farag”), ¶¶ 5-11).

         Lozada submitted these grievances through a formal DOC grievance process administered by MPCH. By its terms, the grievance policy covers complaints from inmates concerning medical, dental and mental health services provided by the health vendor staff, subcontractors, specialty referrals, and facilities used by the health vendor. MPCH's Health Services Administrator (HSA) or a designee has the overall responsibility for handling inmate-patient grievances regarding all health care services.

         The grievance process has three steps. First, the inmate makes an informal complaint by talking to the HSA or their designee. If the inmate is not satisfied with the response he receives, he can advance to step two, which involves submitting within 10 days a written complaint on an “Inmate Medical and Mental Health Grievance & Appeal Form” (the Appeal Form). If the inmate is not satisfied with the response he receives to this written complaint, he can move on to step three, which consists of filing within 10 days an appeal to the MPCH Grievance and Appeal Coordinator, by mailing the appeal to MPCH's headquarters. In this regard, the Appeal Form has language at the bottom providing that “An appeal must be filled out within 10 working days from receipt of the decision by the HSA or designee.” Dkt. 24-2, Defendants' Ex. B - MPCH's Clinical Grievance Mechanism.

         As noted, Lozada submitted five written grievances over the course of about two years. On October 17, 2014, Lozada was an inmate at DOC's Old Colony Correctional Center and filed a grievance requesting a referral to the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital so he could replace his custom boots. The HSA designee, Paul Caratazzola, denied his request but agreed to refer the matter to Dr. King. Farag Aff., ¶ 6. Lozada did not appeal the HSA's decision.

         On or about January 16, 2015, Lozada was at DOC's MCI-Shirley facility and filed a second grievance requesting a referral so he could obtain medically prescribed boots. The HSA designee, Leticia Wright, denied the grievance on the ground that Lozada could purchase the boots on his own through the DOC. Farag Aff., ¶ 7. Lozada did not appeal this decision.

         On or about December 30, 2015, Lozada, now at SBCC, submitted a third grievance asking to be sent to the Brace Clinic at the Shattuck Hospital so that he could obtain custom footwear and orthopedic devices. Lozada was particularly upset that his order for special footwear had not been renewed despite the favorable recommendations of two separate physicians. Id., ¶ 8; Dkt. 24-5; Defendant's Ex. E, Department of Correction Medical/Mental Inmate Grievance Form. On January 26, 2016, Ireland, as SBCC's HSA, issued a decision approving Lozada's request. In particular, Ireland noted that a referral had been submitted for Lozada to have a consultation with the Brace Clinic. Id. Despite numerous inquiries, however, Lozada was never issued a referral. Compl. at ¶ 15.

         On May 3, 2016, Lozada submitted a fourth grievance to complain that he still had not been sent to the Brace Clinic despite Ireland's approval of his prior (third) grievance.[2] Farag Aff., ¶ 9. On or about May 6, 2016, Ireland denied this grievance. In doing so, Ireland explained that although a referral had been submitted for the Brace Clinic, MPCH's medical treatment team had subsequently decided to refer Lozada to MPCH's physical therapy clinic instead of the Brace Clinic. Dkt. 24-6; Defendant's Ex. F, Department of Correction Medical/Mental Inmate Grievance Form. Lozada did not appeal this decision.

         Finally, the plaintiff submitted a fifth grievance on September 11, 2016. Dkt. 24-8; Defendant's Ex. H, Department of Correction Medical/Mental Inmate Grievance Form. Lozada complained that he still had not been sent to the Shattuck Hospital despite having previously received four referrals to the Brace Clinic. He also reported that a cyst in his ankle had flared to the size of a golf-ball, and that staff had refused to provide ice or a wrap aggravating his conditions. Id. Lozada also stated that he was filing the grievance in order to exhaust his administrative remedies before commencing a civil action. Id.

         On October 4, 2016, Ireland partially approved the plaintiff's grievance. Ireland informed Lozada that he would be seen by a MPCH medical provider as soon as possible but decided that an internal podiatry referral would be made to determine whether it was necessary to ...


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