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Raper v. Cotroneo

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

September 21, 2017

LARRY D. RAPER, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH V. COTRONEO, Defendants.

          OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney United States District Judge

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court must read Plaintiff's pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff's allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim against Defendants Michigan Department of Corrections and Cotroneo. The Court will serve the complaint against Defendants Larson and Whiteman.

         Discussion I. Factual allegations Plaintiff Larry D. Raper presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Boyer Road Correctional Facility in Carson City, Michigan, which has been consolidated with the Carson City Correctional Facility (DRF) and is now referred to as DRF-West. The actions about which he complains also occurred while he was housed at the Duane Waters Hospital (DWH), operated by the MDOC. He sues the following Defendants: the MDOC; Dr. Joseph V. Cotroneo, who is a surgeon at the McLaren Hospital of Greater Lansing; DWH Doctors Lynn M. Larson and Terence Whiteman; and other unknown medical staff at DWH (Unknown Part(y)(ies)).

         Plaintiff complains that, for over 15 years, doctors within the MDOC had been aware of his problems with the circulation in his legs. He broadly alleges that unnamed persons disregarded the problems for years.

         On April 27, 2015, Dr. Cotroneo performed surgery at McLaren Hospital, placing a graft in Plaintiff's right groin to improve blood flow to Plaintiff's legs. The surgery had a number of complications, including a blood clot that moved toward Plaintiff's heart and ultimately caused a heart attack. Plaintiff alleges that the blood clot undoubtedly was the result of medications that he had been prescribed for years, of which Dr. Cotroneo should have known.

         Plaintiff was transferred to DWH on May 4, 2015, where he was placed under the care of Dr. Rashed Bashir, who is not a Defendant in the action. Plaintiff was discharged from DWH and returned to DRF-West on May 13 or 14, 2015. Over the next two weeks, Plaintiff contracted MRSA, either in his cell or in the health care center at DWH-W est. Plaintiff was readmitted at McLaren Hospital on May 31, 2015, and again placed under the care of Defendant Dr. Cotroneo. On June 2, 2015, Dr. Cotroneo operated to clean out the infected area. Dr. Cotroneo debrided the wound abcess and excised parts of the muscle areas to remove the pus and necrotic tissue. Dr. Cotroneo, however, did not remove the graft that was placed in April. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Cotroneo should have known that the graft needed to be removed at that time.

         Plaintiff was transferred to DWH and placed under the care of Defendant Dr. Larson from about June 15, 2015 to approximately August 3 or 4, 2015. Plaintiff claims that Dr. Larson visited him only 10 to 18 times during this period. He also alleges that, in an attempt to save money, Defendant Larson used a different kind of dressing and packed the wound, rather than using the type of dressing ordered by Dr. Cotroneo. Plaintiff began to bleed from his wound at about 8:30 p.m. on Augu st 3 or 4, 2015. After he was cleaned up, the nurses were instructed to check on Plaintiff every hour, to ensure that he had not started to bleed again. Plaintiff alleges that he did not receive the necessary care and that Defendant Larson ignored signs of infection. Plaintiff was scheduled to be discharged from DWH on August 6, 2015.

         On August 6, 2015, Plaintiff suddenly began to bleed profusely from a ruptured artery. He was rushed by ambulance to the Allegiance Health emergency room. Defendant Dr. Whiteman directed care during the transfer, and he had to place 80 pounds of weight on Plaintiff's groin area to control the bleeding. At Allegiance Health, Plaintiff was placed in the care of Dr. Praveen Balraj (not a Defendant), who performed surgery to remove the graft and the infection growing under the skin. However, because of the absence of sufficient blood flow, Dr. Balraj was forced to amputate Plaintiff's right leg below the knee.

         Since the amputation, Plaintiff continues to experience problems. Unspecified persons have not adequately provided assistance with his prosthetic device and have denied pain relief. In addition, since arriving back at DRF-West, Dr. Scott Holmes (not a Defendant) has denied him an air mattress, despite the fact that Plaintiff was prescribed an air mattress at DWH. Plaintiff also is being denied a pillow to place under his stub and between his legs during sleep.

         Plaintiff argues that Defendant Cotroneo should have removed the graft during the June 2, 2015, surgery and that Cotroneo therefore is responsible for Plaintiff's ultimate loss of his leg. He also asserts that the DWH and DRF-West Defendants should have known of his infection sooner, before it caused him to lose his right lower leg. Plaintiff further argues that Defendants DWH and DRF-West do not adequately clean their facilities and do not use bleach in those cleanings, leading to Plaintiff becoming infected with the MRSA virus. In addition, he contends that Defendant Larson caused his infection by not checking on him more frequently and by using an improper form of dressing.

         For relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in the amount of $750, 000.00 and punitive damages of $850, 000.00 from the individual Defendants and $5 million from the MDOC.

         II. Failure to state a claim

         A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's allegations must include more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when t he plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement, ' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed . R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).

         A. Sovereign Immunity Plaintiff may not maintain a § 1983 action against the Michigan Department of Corrections. Regardless of the form of relief requested, the states and their departments are immune under the Eleventh Amendment from suit in the federal courts, unless the state has waived immunity or Congress has expressly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-101 (1984); Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978); O'Hara v. Wigginton, 24 F.3d 823, 826 (6th Cir. 1993). Congress has not ex pressl y abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute, Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341 (1979), and the State of Michigan has not consented to civil rights suits in federal court. Abick v. Michigan, 803 F.2d 874, 877 (6th Cir. 1986). In numerous unpublished opinions, the Sixth Circuit has specifically held that the MDOC is absolutely immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. See, e.g., McCoy v. Michigan, 369 F. App'x 646, 653-54 (6th Cir. 2010); Turnboe v. Stegall, No. 00-1182, 2000 WL1679478, at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 1, 2000). In addition, the State of Michigan (acting through the Michigan ...


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