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Abernathy v. Anderson

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 31, 2019



          F. Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge.

         This is a civil rights action arising out of an alleged attack on a prisoner by correctional officers at Souza Baranowski Correctional Center. Plaintiff Franklin Abernathy has asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state tort law.

         The complaint alleges that several correctional officers aggressively pulled and twisted Abernathy's arms through a slot in his cell door, causing various injuries, and that other officers either failed to intervene or attempted to cover up the incident. It also alleges that the sole remaining defendant, Krystal Anderson, a nurse at UMass Correctional Health (“UMCH”), refused to provide treatment to Abernathy. The complaint asserts claims against Anderson for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”), and a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deliberate indifference to medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         For the reasons set forth below, Abernathy's injuries do not meet the standard of a “serious medical need” within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment, and therefore his claim of deliberate indifference must fail. Furthermore, his claims of negligence were referred to a medical malpractice tribunal, which concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to proceed, and he did not post the required bond. Summary judgment will therefore be granted to nurse Anderson.

         I. Background

         Except where otherwise noted, the following facts are set forth in the record and are undisputed.

         A. Factual Background

         In April 2013, Franklin Abernathy was an inmate at Souza Baranowski Correctional Center (“SBCC”). (Abernathy Aff. ¶ 1). He was assigned to a cell in the Special Management Unit with inmate Leon Shelby. (Id.; Def. Ex. 2 at 5).[1]

         Krystal Anderson was working as a nurse at SBCC on that date. (Anderson Aff. ¶ 5; Anderson Dep. at 22-23). She was employed by UMass Correctional Health (“UMCH”). (Anderson Aff. ¶ 2).[2] Her job responsibilities included providing medical assessment and treatment to SBCC Special Management Unit inmates. (Anderson Dep. at 29).

         On the morning of April 3, 2013, correctional officer (“CO”) Kyle Sheldon instructed Abernathy to remove a blanket that Shelby had placed over the window in the cell. (Abernathy Dep. at 53; Def. Ex. 2 at 5). Abernathy refused because the blanket belonged to Shelby. (Abernathy Dep. at 53). Shelby also refused to remove the blanket. (Id.; Def. Ex. 2 at 5).

         Later that morning, Sergeant Michael Rumery and Anderson came to Abernathy's cell to administer his daily medications. (Abernathy Dep. at 54-56; Def. Ex. 2 at 5). Sergeant Rumery requested that Abernathy remove the blanket from the window, but he again refused, explaining that the blanket belonged to Shelby and therefore was not his responsibility. (Abernathy Dep. at 55; Def. Ex. 2 at 5). Sergeant Rumery then instructed Shelby to remove the blanket from the window, but Shelby again refused. (Abernathy Dep. at 55). Sergeant Rumery told Abernathy that he would not receive his prescribed medication if the blanket was not removed from the window. (Id.; Def. Ex. 2 at 5). He then instructed Anderson not to give any medicine to Abernathy, stating that “[h]e ain't getting shit.” (Abernathy Dep. at 57; Anderson Dep. at 45).[3]

         Anderson stated to OIS investigators that Abernathy received his medication later that day after “everything calmed down.” (Def. Ex. 2 at 27). Abernathy, however, testified that he did not receive his medication until the next day. (Abernathy Dep. at 174-75). He further testified that the delay caused him to experience severe chest pain, muscle spasms, and pain in his left shoulder for 24 hours. (Id.).

         Around noon, CO Sheldon went to the cell to provide lunch. (Id. at 64; Def. Ex. 2 at 5). An altercation between CO Sheldon and Shelby ensued. Sergeant Rumery then returned to the cell and ordered that Shelby and Abernathy be placed in restraints. (Def. Ex. 2 at 6). Abernathy stuck his hands out of the cell door to be handcuffed. (Abernathy Dep. at 93).

         Abernathy testified that the correctional officers used force to put on his handcuffs. He testified that they slammed or squeezed the handcuffs on his wrists tightly, which stopped his circulation, and that they pulled on the handcuffs, and pulled and twisted his fingers and hands, causing bleeding and pain. (Id. at 94-109; Abernathy Aff. ¶ 2).[4]

         Following the incident in the cell, Abernathy was escorted by correctional officers to the Management Unit medical triage room. (Abernathy Aff. ¶ 3). According to Abernathy, Anderson was the nurse on duty at that time and was standing in the doorway when he arrived. (Id. ¶ 4).

         According to Abernathy, he had visible cuts, bruises, and swelling. (Id. ¶ 5).[5] Shelby testified that he saw him “bleeding out of his hand.” (Shelby Dep. at 53). Abernathy contends that despite those visible injuries, Anderson did not assess his medical needs and refused to provide him with any medication or treatment. (Abernathy Aff. ¶¶ 5-6). He further testified that CO Shaun Dewey told Anderson to treat him, to which she allegedly replied, “I'm not giving him shit, and I'm not touching him.” (Abernathy Dep. at 128).

         In her deposition, which was taken in 2018, Anderson testified that Abernathy never presented for a medical examination on April 3, 2013, and that she was never told that he wanted an examination. (Anderson Dep. at 52). However, in 2013, she stated to OIS investigators that she visually assessed Abernathy on April 3, and that he appeared to be fine and had no complaints. (Def. Ex. 2 at 26). At that time, she further stated, as recounted by the investigators, that she did not submit a medical assessment report because “Abernathy was not the issue” in the altercation between CO Sheldon and Shelby. (Id.).

         There is also a dispute as to the timing and nature of Abernathy's injuries. Abernathy attested that Anderson's failure to assess and treat his medical needs and administer his medication caused him to endure physical pain, as well as fear and anxiety. (Abernathy Aff. ¶ 7). Anderson, however, contends that Abernathy testified at his deposition that he did not suffer emotional distress, mood swings, loss of sleep, or loss of appetite. Abernathy disputes that characterization of his testimony.

         The dispute appears to arise out of ambiguities in Abernathy's testimony as to whether the disputed statements concern what Abernathy experienced in 2013, or what he was experiencing at the time of his deposition in 2018. For example, he was asked and answered as follows:

Q: In that second interaction with Krystal [Anderson] on that day[, April 3, 2013], did [Anderson] cause you to experience fear?
A: No, I didn't have no fear from her.
Q: Did [Anderson] cause you to experience anxiety?
A: No. . . .
Q: Do you feel that you had emotional distress because of Krystal Anderson's actions?
A: No.
Q: Do you feel that you have stress because of Krystal Anderson?
A: No.
Q: Do you feel that you have mood swings because of ...

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