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Clements v. Geo Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

July 27, 2017

JESSE CLEMENTS #35551, Plaintiff,


         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant GEO Group, Inc.'s Martinez Report (Doc. 52) and Defendant Corizon's Martinez Report and Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 54) (“Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment”), both filed April 11, 2017. The Honorable Martha Vazquez referred these motions to me on June 13, 2017. Doc. 60 at 1. Pursuant to this Court's Order of January 12, 2017, Plaintiff's responses to these motions were due by May 11, 2017. Doc. 49. Also before the Court is Plaintiff's letter of June 21, 2017 (Doc. 61), which the Court construes as a request for a Settlement Conference and which Defendants oppose (Docs. 63 & 64).

         For the reasons that follow, the Court recommends that Plaintiff's request for a settlement conference be denied, summary judgment be entered in favor of Defendants, and that this action be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Plaintiff's Claims

         Factually, Plaintiff alleges that on or about May 3, 2014, correctional officers entered his cell, conducted a strip search, and handcuffed him behind his back, despite his request that he be handcuffed in the front or double-handcuffed because of shoulder injuries. Doc. 1, Ex. A, at ¶ 20, 22, 23-28. According to Plaintiff, he was required to sit, handcuffed, in a plastic chair for over two and a half hours, while experiencing “severe pain and additional injuries to his shoulders, ” until Corrections Officer Baca handcuffed him in front. Id. at ¶ 37-38. Following this handcuffing incident, Plaintiff alleges that he continued to experience severe pain and weakened shoulders with popping and swelling but received only “minimal medical care.” Id. at ¶ 40-41. Thereafter, on November 15, 2014, as he was attempting to exit the top bunk in his cell, Plaintiff contends that his “shoulder strength gave out and he fell and broke his lower hip socket and thigh bone.” Id. at ¶ 42. Attributing his November 15, 2014 fall to his earlier handcuffing incident, Plaintiff asserts that he “fell because of his weakened and injured shoulders which resulted from the handcuffing incident.” Id. at ¶ 42.

         Legally, Plaintiff appears to assert the same claims against both Defendant Geo Group, Inc. (“Defendant GEO”) and Defendant Corizon, Inc. (“Defendant Corizon”). These include alleged violations of his right to substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment (Count Two), violations of his Eighth Amendment rights (Counts One and Four), negligence per se (Count Five), and negligent medical care and treatment (Count Six). Id. at 7-11. Additionally, Plaintiff makes a general allegation that Defendants' “acts and omissions were pursuant to policy and custom causing the violation of [his] constitutional rights” (Count Three). Id. at 10.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff Jesse Clements (“Plaintiff”) has failed to respond to Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment, nor has he requested an extension of time to do so. As such, he has not identified any facts proffered by Defendants which he disputes or pointed to evidence in the record to support his claims. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; see also D.N.M.LR-Civ. 56.1(b) (“All material facts set forth in the Memorandum will be deemed undisputed unless specifically controverted”). Thus, the undersigned will “accept as true all material facts asserted and properly identified in the summary judgment motion[s].” Reed v. Bennett, 312 F.3d 1190, 1195 (10th Cir. 2002).

         Plaintiff is an inmate in the custody of the New Mexico Corrections Department (“NMCD”) and, at times relevant to the Amended Complaint, was housed at Guadalupe County Correctional Facility (“GCCF”) in Santa Rosa New Mexico. Doc. 1, Ex. A, at ¶ 4. NMCD has contracted with Guadalupe County to house its state prisoners at GCCF. Doc. 52, Exs. B & C. GCCF, in turn, has contracted with Defendant GEO to operate GCCF. Doc. 52, Exs. A, B & C.

         Defendant GEO employs only security and non-medical staff at GCCF. Doc. 52, Ex. C. It has adopted policies and procedures designed to protect inmate safety and inmate rights. Doc. 52, Exs. C, D, & E. Additionally, it has agreed to abide by NMCD's policies and procedures governing inmate safety and inmate rights. Doc. 52, Exs. C, F, & G. Defendant GEO's employees receive refreshers in these policies and procedures on an annual basis. Doc. 52, Ex. C, at ¶ 9.

         On May 1, 2014, GCCF was placed on institutional lockdown at the behest of then-Warden Erasmo Bravo. Doc. 52, Exs. H & I. While the lockdown was initially related to incidents of inmate aggression at GCCF, it continued by the direction of NMCD as part of a statewide operation called “Operation Contraband Free.” Id. During this operation, NMCD and GEO worked jointly in an effort to locate and eradicate drugs and drug-related contraband from NMCD facilities. Doc. 50, Ex. H.

         Following the first statewide operation, NMCD directed that GCCF remain on full lockdown, and on May 3, 2014, NMCD initiated a second operation at the facility. Id. This second operation targeted inmates in Housing Unit II, where Plaintiff was housed, and was designed to address inmate aggression toward prison staff, gang tensions, and narcotics in the facility. Id. This operation was conducted entirely by officials from NMCD. Id. No employees of Defendant GEO were involved in searching inmates, developing protocols for the operation, monitoring inmates, or supervising the officers conducting the operation. Id.

         Pursuant to its contract with Guadalupe County, NMCD retained the responsibility for providing, through a health care services contractor, health care services to inmates, including the provision of unimpeded access to sick call, 24-hour per day emergency medical care, regular physician visits, health care administration, and sufficient on-site medical staff. Doc. 52, Ex. B at 5, Ex. C at ¶ 10. At all times relevant to this lawsuit, NMCD contracted directly with Defendant Corizon, a private health care services company, to provide these medical services to NMCD prisoners at GCCF. Doc. 52, Ex. C, at ¶ 11-12. Defendant GEO, on the other hand, had no contractual relationship with Defendant Corizon. Id. at ¶ 19.

         Defendant GEO's only duty with respect to inmate medical care was to “provide adequate space and security support.” Id. at ¶ 13. It did not pay for any medical care provided to NMCD inmates. Id. at ¶ 20. Similarly, it did not employ any health care providers at GCCF; nor did any of its employees provide non-emergent medical services or advice to GCCF inmates. Id. at ¶ 16-17. No employee of Defendant GEO had any personal involvement in diagnosing or treating Plaintiff's medical conditions or in hiring, retaining, training, or supervising any medical provider who was involved in diagnosing or treating Plaintiff's medical conditions. Id. at ¶ 18. Indeed, no GEO employees supervise Corizon employees. Id. at ¶ 21.

         Generally, when a GCCF inmate requests medical care in a non-emergent situation, he must submit a health service request form. Id. at ¶ 14. Following the submission of such a form, employees of the health care services company schedule the inmate for an appointment. Id. Security personnel employed by Defendant GEO escort the inmate to and from the medical unit to been seen by medical providers at the scheduled time. Id. Defendant GEO's corrections staff are verbally instructed to refer any requests for medical attention to medical providers. Id. at ¶ 15.

         At the time of the May 3, 2014 operation at GCCF, Plaintiff did not have a medical slip that exempted him from behind-the-back handcuffing. Doc. 52, Ex. H, at ¶ 17. In operations conducted by Defendant GEO, inmates are generally only exempted from behind-the-back handcuffing if they have a medical slip requiring as much. Id. It is not uncommon for inmates to complain about being handcuffed during security operations; they sometimes ask officers to remove their handcuffs or even fabricate medical conditions in an attempt to convince officers to remove them. Doc. 50, Ex. H.

         Here, Plaintiff alleges that he received injuries to his shoulders as a result of being handcuffed behind his back for over two and a half hours during the May 3, 2014 operation. Doc. 1, Ex. A, at ¶ 20-27, 37-42. Prior to that date, he had a long history of orthopedic problems with his right shoulder, dating back to at least the mid-1980s, when he had an open reduction and internal fixation with pinning at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center. Doc. 54, Ex. A, at ¶ 10. Before and after the May 3, 2014 handcuffing incident, Plaintiff's medical records demonstrate a consistent pattern of complaints related to his shoulders, with similar care required to address his complaints. Id. at ¶ 12. According to Robert D. Jones, M.D., a Certified Correctional Health Professional who serves as a Clinical Assistant Professor with the University of Arizona School of Medicine, the medical care provided by Defendant Corizon to Plaintiff for shoulder pain Plaintiff associated with the May 3, 2014 handcuffing incident met or exceeded the applicable standard of care, not only in a correctional setting, but also in any outside medical setting. Id. at ¶ 19.

         On May 12, 2014, nine days after the handcuffing incident, Plaintiff submitted a Health Services Request Form, asking “to talk to someone about [his] shoulders.” Doc. 52, Ex. K, at 1. Plaintiff was seen by medical providers at GCCF the next day, on May 13, 2014. Id. Dr. Jones opines that the medical care, treatment and examination, and work-up of Plaintiff by Corizon in response were appropriate, did not cause any injury or damage to Plaintiff, and served to relieve his symptoms. Doc. 54. Ex. A, at ¶ 20.

         The following month, on June 10, 2014, Plaintiff presented to the medical department. This time he reported that he had sustained an eye injury while using the bench press machine. Doc. 52, Ex. K, at 2. Then, on June 18, 2014, Plaintiff obtained a medical slip, which provided that he should be “double cuff[ed] . . . for medical purposes.” Id. at 3.

         Inmates at GCCF may be assigned to either top or bottom bunks in the housing units as security and space permit. Doc. 52, Ex. H. If inmates have medical conditions that make it improper for them to be assigned to top bunks, they may obtain medical passes limiting them to lower bunk assignments. Id. at ¶ 19. In November of 2014, Plaintiff did not have a lower bunk pass. Id. at ¶ 20. He alleges that he was attempting to exit his top bunk on November 15, 2014, when his “shoulder strength gave out and he fell and broke his lower hip socket and thigh bone.” Doc. 1, Ex. A, a ¶ 42. According to Plaintiff, this November 2014 fall was a result of his “weakened and injured shoulders, which resulted from the handcuffing incident.” Id. at ¶ 43. As with the medical care provided following the May 3, 2014 handcuffing incident, it is Dr. Jones' opinion that no harm or damage of any kind was caused to Plaintiff as a result of medical care provided to him by Corizon following his November 15, 2014 fall. Doc. 54, Ex. A, at ¶ 28.

         At all relevant times, GCCF had a policy and procedure governing inmate grievances. See, e.g., Doc. 52, Exs. L & M. The grievance procedure consisted of three steps: (1) an inmate was required to file an Inmate Informal Complaint and attempt to resolve his complaint informally; (2) if the informal effort was unsuccessful, the inmate was required to file a formal Inmate Grievance; and (3) if the inmate was not satisfied with the disposition of the formal Inmate Grievance, he was required to appeal to the Office of the Secretary of Corrections. Doc. 52, Ex. L, at 11-16, Ex. M, at ¶ 3.

         On or about June 19, 2014, Plaintiff filed an Inmate Informal Complaint regarding the May 3, 2014 handcuffing incident. Doc. 52, Ex. M, at ¶ 5, Ex. N, at 4. Therein, he explained that he was handcuffed behind his back by an officer during a “shake-down, ” despite pleading with the officer not to do so because of shoulder injuries. Doc. 52, Ex. N, at 4. Sometime between July 2, 2014, and July 7, 2014, Plaintiff filed a formal grievance, asserting that he had been subject to “excessive restraint behind [his] back.” Doc. 52, Ex. M, at ¶ 5, Ex. N, at 1-3. In his formal grievance, he sought “full medical examination and treatment to see what internal damage [he had] suffered” as well as compensation for pain and suffering. Doc. 52, Ex. N, at 1. The grievance officer determined that Plaintiff's formal grievance was untimely. Id. According to Steve Madrid, the Statewide Grievance Administrator Coordinator for NMCD, Plaintiff failed to file an Inmate Informal Complaint within five days of the May 3, 2014 handcuffing incident, or by May 8, 2014, and he therefore failed to comply with the applicable grievance process as to injuries sustained during that incident. Doc. 54, Ex. C, at ¶ 10. Although Plaintiff did file a grievance related to the handcuffing incident on or about June 19, 2014, he did not specifically grieve the medical care that he received. Id. at ¶ 11. Instead, he limited his grievance to being “excessively restrain[e]d” and suffering potential “internal damage” and pain and suffering. See Doc. 52, Ex. N.

         Plaintiff did not file any informal grievance, formal grievance, or a grievance appeal regarding his November 2014 fall from the top bunk. Doc. 52, Ex. M, at ¶ 6; Doc. 54, Ex. C, at ΒΆ 12. The Statewide Grievance Administrator Coordinator for NMCD confirmed as much ...

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