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Molina-Ruiz v. Corizon Health Services

United States District Court, D. Idaho

April 16, 2019





         Before the Court is Defendants Samuel Pierson and Grant Roberts' Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. 22. The motion is fully briefed and at issue. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion.

         FACTS [1]

         Mr. Molina is currently an inmate in the custody of the Idaho State Correctional Center (“ISSC”). On April 19, 2017 Mr. Molina filed a complaint alleging, inter alia, that Mr. Roberts and Mr. Pierson interfered with or otherwise delayed physician-recommended cataract eye surgery, which caused him to suffer harm and temporarily lose vision in his right eye. See Dkt. 24. In their motion for summary judgment, Defendants argue that there is no evidence to support Mr. Molina's allegations. Dkt. 22-1 at 10.

         On February 28, 2017, Mr. Molina first started complaining of vision loss in his right eye. Dkt. 22-2 at ¶ 1. Three days later, he was evaluated by a nurse, who referred Mr. Molina to a health care provider to assess the problem. Id. at ¶ 1-2. Within a week, Mr. Molina was sent to an emergency room and was diagnosed with a tentative retinal problem. Id. Two days later, Mr. Molina went to an off-site ophthalmologist, Dr. Scott Simpson, who specializes in retinal issues. Id. Dr. Simpson diagnosed a cataract in Mr. Molina's right eye, and indicated that “[t]there would be no contraindications to proceed with cataract extraction from a retinal standpoint.” Id. Mr. Molina was then scheduled for a follow-up visit with a health care provider to discuss Dr. Simpson's diagnosis and next steps. Id. at ¶ 4. But Mr. Molina failed to attend his follow-up appointment with his provider on March 20, 2017, and again when it was rescheduled on April 13, 2017. Id.

         On March 24, 2017, Mr. Molina submitted his first official grievance regarding his vision, complaining that he had not received proper treatment. Id. at ¶ 5. Prior to their review of Mr. Molina's grievances, neither Defendant had any knowledge of Plaintiff's medical problems. Id. Defendant Pierson responded first to this grievance as a “first level responder, ” and reviewed Plaintiff's then-existing medical records. Id. Defendant Roberts did the same as a “second level responder.” Id. On April 5, 2017, both Defendants denied Mr. Molina's grievance, suggesting that Mr. Molina follow-up with his providers regarding next steps. Id; see also Dkt. 22-4 at 2-3.

         On April 10, 2017, Mr. Molina appealed Defendants' decisions. Id. In his appeal Mr. Molina insisted that the “off-sight [sic] provider [Dr. Simpson]” had recommended surgery; that his right “eye ha[d] gotten worst [sic]”; and that he “can't see at all” out of that eye. Dkt. 22-4 at 3. Mr. Roberts then discussed the grievance appeal with Rona Siegert, the Health Services Director at ISCC. Dkt. 22-2 at ¶ 6. The two agreed that, though Dr. Simpson had not clearly recommended cataract surgery, and though Molina had repeatedly failed to meet with his providers to discuss next steps, it was appropriate to seek approval for the removal of the cataract in Plaintiffs right eye. Id.

         On April 27, 2017, Ms. Siegert responded to Mr. Molina's appeal. Id. at ¶ 6. Ms. Siegert explained that Dr. Simpson had diagnosed Mr. Molina with “a cataract in [his] right eye and a cataract extraction was recommended.” Dkt. 22-4; Dkt. 24 at 1-2. Ms. Siegert also explained that “facility medical staff had scheduled Molina three times for an off-site follow up appointment to discuss a treatment plan, ” and that each time Mr. Molina left before being seen. Dkt. 22-4. Ms. Siegert reminded Mr. Molina to “stay for [his] appointments so the provider can discuss the specialist's recommendation and further treatment.” Id. Ms. Siegert also stated that a consultation had been requested on April 25, 2017. Id. at 6.

         Because Dr. Simpson is a retina specialist who does not perform cataract extraction surgeries, it was necessary to locate another provider to evaluate Plaintiff and perform this procedure. Id. at ¶ 7. Mr. Molina was scheduled to see ophthalmologist Dr. Lawrence Anderson on August 14, 2017, which was Dr. Anderson's first available appointment. Id.

         On June 6, 2017, Mr. Molina submitted his second grievance complaining that he still had not yet had surgery on his right eye. Id. at ¶ 8. As a first-level responder, Mr. Pierson again reiterated that Mr. Molina needed to attend his appointments with providers to discuss his condition, and emphasized that Dr. Simpson had not recommended a cataract extraction procedure. Id. Nevertheless, Mr. Pierson responded to Mr. Molina that an appointment with an ophthalmologist had been scheduled. Id. As the second level responder, Mr. Roberts stated that Mr. Molina was scheduled to be seen and, while “[w]e try to schedule appointment as soon as possible . . . we are at the mercy of the community to get our patients seen timely.” Id. at ¶8. Neither Defendant subsequently had any involvement in Mr. Molina's care or any related grievances. Id. at ¶ 8. Mr. Roberts' and Mr. Pierson's only involvement was to respond to Mr. Molina's two grievances, filed in March and June of 2017. Id.

         On June 14, 2017, Dr. Simpson saw Mr. Molina again to ensure that his condition was not becoming more severe, and to re-assess his diagnosis. Id. at ¶ 9. At that visit, Dr. Simpson noted no pain and measured Plaintiff's eye pressure as 12 in both eyes. Id. Dr. Anderson then conducted a pre-surgical consultation with Mr. Molina on August 14, 2017. Id. Dr. Anderson confirmed that a cataract extraction procedure on Mr. Molina's right eye was appropriate, noted no eye pain, measured normal eye pressure, and suggested for the first time that Mr. Molina had a milder cataract in his left eye. Id. Dr. Anderson measured Mr. Molina's vision in his left eye as 20/40. Id. Dr. Anderson suggested that a second cataract extraction procedure could be performed on Plaintiffs left eye sometime after he recovered from the procedure on his right eye. Id. Dr. Anderson performed a cataract extraction on Mr. Molina's right eye on October 14, 2017, the earliest available date following the August 14 evaluation. Id. at ¶ 11.

         In June 2018, Dr. Oliver Mullins tested Mr. Molina's vision in his right eye as 20/20-2, or nearly normal, and 20/63 in his left eye, with normal eye pressure in each. Id. at 12. A cataract extraction was performed on Mr. Molina's left eye just a month later, in July of 2018. Id. Mr. Molina has since stated that his vision is “very good” and that he has no complaints. Id. at ¶ 13.


         1. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims....” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is “not a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but is instead the “principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources.” Id. at 327, “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact-a fact “that may affect the outcome of the case.” Id. at 248.

         The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988). The Court must be “guided by the substantive evidentiary standards that apply to the case.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. If a claim requires clear and convincing evidence, the question on summary judgment is whether a reasonable jury could conclude that clear and convincing evidence supports the claim. Id.

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to material facts. Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001)(en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support ...

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