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Wright v. Corizon Health, Inc.

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

June 6, 2019





         Plaintiff Douglas Wright commenced this action in this Court on June 9, 2016, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that the Defendant medical service provider, Corizon Health, Inc., and three individual health care professionals - Defendants Betsy Spreeman, Dr. Keith Papendick, and Dr. Steven Bergman - violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by providing inadequate medical treatment for a knee injury he sustained while incarcerated at a prison facility operated by the Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that after he suffered a severe injury to his left knee in April of 2015, Defendants took insufficient steps to properly diagnose this injury, and then prescribed inadequate treatment measures such as pain medication, exercise, and physical therapy. Plaintiff further alleges that fifteen months passed before Defendants finally sent him for an orthopedic consultation in July of 2016, and that he underwent surgery shortly thereafter for repair of a torn medial meniscus.

         Two motions presently are pending before the Court. First, Defendant Corizon Health and the two individual defendants employed by Corizon, Dr. Papendick and Dr. Bergman (collectively the “Corizon Defendants”), seek an award of summary judgment in their favor under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, arguing (i) that the evidence marshaled by Plaintiff fails to establish that either of the individual medical professionals acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs, as opposed to exercising ordinary medical judgment, and (ii) that Plaintiff has not produced evidence that a Corizon policy or practice caused a violation of his constitutional rights. Next, the remaining individual defendant named in Plaintiff's complaint - Betsy Spreeman, an MDOC employee who worked at the prison facility where Plaintiff was confined in 2015 - also moves for summary judgment, contending that her minimal involvement in Plaintiff's medical treatment cannot support a claim that she was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs.

         Defendants' two motions have been fully briefed by the parties. Having carefully reviewed the parties' submissions in support of and in opposition to Defendants' motions, as well as the remainder of the record, the Court has determined that it is appropriate to decide these motions without a hearing. See Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), Eastern District of Michigan. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motions for summary judgment.


         In April of 2015, Plaintiff Douglas Wright was incarcerated at MDOC's Lakeland Correctional Facility (“LCF”), serving a lengthy sentence for second-degree murder. He was 62 years old at the time. Defendant Corizon Health, Inc., has a contractual arrangement with MDOC to provide medical care to inmates at LCF and other MDOC facilities.

         On April 12, 2015, Plaintiff visited LCF's medical clinic, stating that he was walking outside when something snapped in his left knee and he fell to the ground. (See Dkt. 69, Corizon Defendants' Motion, Ex. A, Medical Record at 246; see also Dkt. 79, Plaintiff's Response, Ex. 1, Plaintiff's Dep. at 5.) He was seen by a nurse, who noted his complaint that he could not “bend [his] knee flat, ” and also observed that he was “very unsteady” when he attempted to walk with crutches. (Medical Record at 246.) Plaintiff was instructed to use a wheelchair, and was given a temporary no-work assignment and a five-day restriction on his activities. (See Id. at 246-48.)

         On April 15, 2015, Plaintiff's primary medical provider at LCF, physician's assistant (“P.A.”) Kyle Sperling, reviewed Plaintiff's chart and ordered acetaminophen and ibuprofen for pain, as well as an x-ray of Plaintiff's knee to be taken the next day. (See Id. at 241-42.)[1] The x-ray was read by Russell Gelormini, D.O., who found “no fracture or dislocation, ” no “significant degenerative disease, ” a “normal pattern of osseous mineralization, ” and “normal” soft tissues. (Id. at 876.) Dr. Gelormini concluded that the exam was “[n]ormal.” (Id.) P.A. Sperling then examined Plaintiff on April 17, observing that Plaintiff was experiencing “swelling and stiffness” in his left knee and stating that he “[s]uspected medi[]al meni[s]cal involvement and MCL involvement, ” although Plaintiff's “lig[a]ments [we]re intact at this time.” (Id. at 233.) He added an Ace bandage to Plaintiff's treatment, as well as crutches and a wheelchair for long distances, and ordered an additional pain medication to be taken for the next five days. (Id. at 233-34.)[2]

         Over the next several months, Plaintiff was repeatedly seen by medical personnel at LCF, primarily P.A. Sperling, and the treatment for his knee injury remained conservative. On June 2, 2015, for instance, P.A. Sperling saw Plaintiff for his knee injury and another condition, and he noted that Plaintiff “denie[d] new injuries, falls, instability, or assaults since [his] April fall while walking.” (Medical Record at 210.) Upon examining Plaintiff, P.A. Sperling observed that he “ambulate[d] into [the] clinic with [left] knee limp” and that the knee was “slightly swollen, ” but he opined that Plaintiff's knee was “stable at this time.” (Id.) P.A. Sperling further noted that Plaintiff “refuses to use crutches” and that he arrived at the clinic “without crutches or [a] wheelchair, ” and he “encouraged [Plaintiff] to use crutches” and avoid “continued weight bearing” on his left knee, explaining that the knee “needs time to heal [and] bearing weight will continue to aggr[a]vate it.” (Id. at 211.) Plaintiff “request[ed] to have a ‘scan' done of [his] knee, ” but P.A. Sperling responded that he would “need to comply w[ith] medical recommendations before further imaging or scans will be considered.” (Id.) In the meantime, Plaintiff's pain medications were continued. (See id.)

         On June 10, 2015, Plaintiff had his sole clinical visit with Defendant Betsy Spreeman, an MDOC employee and registered nurse who served as the health unit manager at LCF. Plaintiff reported that he suffered “aching pain [in his knee] in [the] morning and sometimes sharp pains in [the] afternoon, ” and Ms. Spreeman found on examination that Plaintiff had a “bruise like color on [the] inner part of [his] left knee” but “[m]inimal swelling, ” “[n]o decrease in strength, ” and range of motion and gait within normal limits. (Id. at 206.) According to Plaintiff, Ms. Spreeman took his crutches away and gave him a shorter pair so that he would “start putting more weight on” his knee. (Plaintiff's Dep. at 20, 29-30.) These shorter crutches did not provide the necessary stability, however, causing Plaintiff's knee to “lock up” and leading him to fall “[n]umerous times.” (Id. at 29-30.) Plaintiff also told Ms. Spreeman that the pain medications ordered for him “were not working, ” but she advised him to “take extra doses of whatever [he] had” and generally “did everything she could to brush . . . off” his complaints of pain and discomfort. (Id. at 21, 28.)

         At Plaintiff's clinic visit on July 2, 2015, P.A. Sperling noted that Plaintiff had arrived on crutches, and that he had been unable to “walk without assistance for the past 3-4 months.” (Medical Record at 197.) He further noted Plaintiff's report that he had fallen “on 3 sep[a]rate occasions” while using his crutches. (Id.) On examination, P.A. Sperling found (i) that Plaintiff's knee was “slightly swollen, ” (ii) that he experienced “[a]pprehension . . . with McMurray test, ” (iii) that “laxity [and] tenderness” was observed in a varus stress test, and (iv) that there were “limitations with full extension and flexion.” (Id.) P.A. Sperling requested an orthopedic consultation, (see Id. at 193), and this request was reviewed by Defendant Keith Papendick, M.D., who served at the time as medical director of utilization management for Defendant Corizon's Michigan division. (See Id. at 194; see also Plaintiff's Response, Ex. 8, Papendick Dep. at 8, 11.)[3] Dr. Papendick determined that the “[m]edical necessity” for an orthopedic consult was “not demonstrated at this time, ” and he instead recommended an alternative treatment plan (“ATP”) consisting of “quadriceps muscle strengthening/toning exercise to treat . . . [p]atellofemoral syndrome.” (Medical Record at 194.) As Plaintiff observes, however, there is no indication in the record that any medical service provider ever diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from this condition.

         Based on Dr. Papendick's recommendation, P.A. Sperling requested a physical therapy consult to evaluate Plaintiff's knee. (See Id. at 186.) Dr. Papendick approved this request, and Plaintiff was sent for “evaluation, development and training for [a] home exercise program directed towards” Plaintiff's knee symptoms. (Id. at 184.) A physical therapist performed this evaluation on July 30, 2015, and determined that Plaintiff had a “fair” potential for rehabilitation of his knee. (Id. at 178-79.) Plaintiff was given an “extensive” home exercise program to strengthen his knee, and was advised to follow up with his primary medical service provider if his condition did not improve within eight weeks. (Id. at 179.) Although Plaintiff complained a few days later that his left leg was “painful” after performing these exercises, (id. at 176), P.A. Sperling advised him at an August 14 clinic visit that he should continue with the home exercise program recommended by the physical therapist, and that he should return to the clinic in September when he had nearly completed this two-month program, (see Id. at 164-65.)

         Prior to this September visit with P.A. Sperling, Plaintiff filed a series of kites protesting the inadequacy of the treatment of his knee injury. On August 17, 2015, for example, Plaintiff noted that he had previously complained about falls while using his crutches due to “pain attacks” in his left knee, and he stated that he had fallen “again today adding pain to other areas [due to] the fall.” (Id. at 163.) In response, Plaintiff was reminded that “at [his] medical provider visit three days ago, [he] w[as] advised to continue the physical therapy given to [him] for another month, ” when he would “seen again by the medical provider.” (Id.) Plaintiff was offered a “nurse evaluation” because his August 17 “kite indicate[d] a possible new injury and different pain, ” (id.), but Plaintiff responded in a subsequent kite that “I DO NOT have a new injury or different pain” and thus he did not “wish to see a nurse, ” (id. at 162). Instead, he emphasized that his complaint arose from his April 12 knee injury that “ha[d] yet to be properly diagnosed or property treated.” (Id.) Similarly, in an August 25 kite, Plaintiff characterized the offer of a nurse evaluation as “an attempt at humor, ” and he opined that a nurse visit would do nothing to address his “constant” pain because a nurse would be unable to authorize the MRI or surgery that Plaintiff believed was warranted. (Id. at 159; see also Id. at 153 (Plaintiff states in September 8 kite that he was “appalled” by the responses to his prior kites, where his next provider visit was not scheduled until later that month and he was suffering “constant left knee pain” in the meantime); id. at 152 (Plaintiff reports in September 14 kite that the exercises he was “given to strengthen [his] quadr[i]cep [and] make [his] left knee usable and less painful” were not working “so far”).)

         Plaintiff next saw P.A. Sperling on September 23, 2015. (See Id. at 146-47.) Following his exam of Plaintiff, P.A. Sperling noted that Plaintiff had undergone “physical therapy approxi[ma]tely 2 months ago without benefit or sign[i]ficant improv[e]ments.” (Id. at 147.) He diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from derangement of the medial meniscus and requested an MRI of Plaintiff's left knee, “given 4-5 months of inability to walk on knee and McMurray sign pos[i]tive.” (Id.) Dr. Papendick denied this request, however, stating that the “[m]edical necessity” for an MRI was “not demonstrated at this time, ” and instead recommending “knee extensor and flexor strengthening exercises . . . four times daily, ” to be performed in the health care unit to ensure Plaintiff's compliance. (Id. at 143.) In Defendants' view, this need to monitor Plaintiff's compliance with his exercise program was confirmed in an October 17, 2015 chart review, in which P.A. Sperling stated that he was “informed by [the health utilization manager] that [Plaintiff] was seen with single crutch use and double crutch under one arm use while in the yard.” (Id. at 134.) Plaintiff was advised at that time “to start using [his] crutches properly and toe touch on side of affected knee as tolerated until a [followup] visit could be scheduled in the near future.” (Id.)

         On October 22 and 28, 2015, P.A. Sperling again requested MRIs of Plaintiff's knee. (See Id. at 114, 127.) Before making the second of these requests, P.A. Sperling reported that he had “received contact from [MDOC's chief medical officer] to appeal for [an] MRI of [Plaintiff's] knee, ” in order to secure a diagnosis and enable Plaintiff's treatment to “move forward.” (Id. at 117.) Once again, however, Dr. Papendick denied these two requests for lack of “[m]edical necessity.” (Id. at 113, 126.) In response to the first of these requests, Dr. Papendick recommended that P.A. Sperling should “[c]onsider scheduling and restricting NSAIDS and acetaminophen to demonstrate compliance, ” as well as “changing to a different formulary NSAID every 90 days.” (Id. at 126.) As for the second request, Dr. Papendick opined that an “X[-]ray of the knee [was] necessary prior to [an] MRI.” (Id. at 113.)

         This recommended x-ray was performed on November 4, 2015, and the radiologist who read this x-ray, Dr. Uchendu Azodo, reported that “[d]egenerative changes [we]re present” and were “new” since the last x-ray back in April. (Id. at 875.) Thus, Dr. Azodo diagnosed Plaintiff's condition as left knee arthritis. (Id. at 875.) In the wake of these new findings, Dr. Papendick approved an MRI of Plaintiff's left knee on November 9, 2015. (See Id. at 104.) This MRI was performed on December 1, 2015, with findings of (i) “[t]orn and macerated posterior horn and body of medial meniscus with adjacent posterior capsular sprain, ” (ii) “[s]ubarticular insufficiency fracture medial femoral condyle superimposed over medial compartment arthritic change, ” (iii) “[g]rade III to IV chondromalacia patella with moderate to large joint effusion, ” and (iv) MCL bursitis, prepatellar bursitis.” (Id. at 874.)

         On December 9, 2015, P.A. Sperling requested an orthopedic consult in light of the “significant” findings from the MRI. (Id. at 93.) The next day, P.A. Sperling received a phone call from Dr. Papendick, asking him to conduct research regarding the stress fracture revealed in the MRI before submitting his request for an orthopedic consult. (See Id. at 90.) P.A. Sperling's research revealed that Plaintiff should “remain non-weight bearing” on his injured knee “for at least 6 weeks.” (Id.) This advice was conveyed to Plaintiff, and he was instructed to use crutches or a wheelchair for six weeks and to cease his exercise program. (See id.) P.A. Sperling indicated that further imaging would be ordered in six weeks to determine the status of Plaintiff's stress fracture, and that a request for an orthopedic consult would be revisited at that time “once [the] stress [f]racture has improved or healed.” (Id.) P.A. Sperling acknowledged that Plaintiff's “torn and macerated meniscus still needs to be addressed, ” but opined that this could not “take place before healing of the stress [fracture].” (Id.)

         Another x-ray was taken of Plaintiff's knee on January 20, 2016, with Plaintiff filing another series of kites in the interim complaining of continued pain and a lack of effective treatment of his knee injury. (See, e.g., Id. at 81 (Plaintiff's January 3, 2016 kite stating that “[s]ince 4/12/15, I've been waiting for [the health care unit] to treat my injured left knee, ” and that it “apparently . . . is [the unit's] depraved plan” that he continue to suffer “horrible” pain); id. at 75 (Plaintiff's January 15, 2016 kite reporting “[a]nother pain filled day” and complaining that it had been “[n]ine months [and] still waiting for my left knee to be treated”).) The x-ray revealed “narrowing of the joint space due to modest degenerative changes” and “modest degenerative spurring involving tibial spine and femoral condyles, ” but “[n]o fracture or dislocation.” (Id. at 870.) The next day, P.A. Sperling reviewed the results of the x-ray with Plaintiff, and advised him to “continue with [his] crutches and to remain non-weight bearing.” (Id. at 72-73.) P.A. Sperling further indicated that he would consider additional measures to treat Plaintiff's knee during his next scheduled visit. (See Id. at 73.)

         After this second x-ray, Corizon's regional medical director, Defendant Steven Bergman, D.O., became involved in Plaintiff's treatment. (See Id. at 64; see also Plaintiff's Response, Ex. 5, Bergman Dep. at 13.) On or around February 16, 2016, P.A. Sperling contacted Dr. Bergman to express his view that the “conservative therapy” used for Plaintiff's knee injury was “not working as well as he would have liked, ” and to inquire about the “next appropriate step” in this treatment. (Bergman Dep. at 13; see also Medical Record at 64.) As a result of this conversation, P.A. Sperling requested another MRI of Plaintiff's knee. (Medical Record at 64-65; see also Bergman Dep. at 22.) Dr. Papendick denied this request for a follow-up MRI, however, determining that it was not medically necessary, and recommending instead that Plaintiff's condition should be “follow[ed] in [the] on site clinic” and that he should complete “quad extensor exercises . . . in front of nursing four times daily.” (Medical Record at 66.)

         Plaintiff was next seen by P.A. Sperling on March 23, 2016, (see Id. at 45-46), and then about two weeks later, on April 8, (see Id. at 39-40). At this latter visit, P.A. Sperling reported that as a result of his continued communications with Dr. Bergman, it had been determined that Plaintiff would be transferred to Duane Waters Hospital for inpatient physical therapy. (See Id. at 39; see also Bergman Dep. at 25-26.) In connection with this treatment plan, Plaintiff was transferred from LCF to the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility, and he was seen by physical therapist Scott J. Weaver on April 26, 2016. (See Medical Record at 19-21, 24.) Weaver assessed Plaintiff's rehabilitation potential as “[p]oor, ” noting that “[h]is MRI reveals significant dera[n]gement of medial meniscus, ” but he stated that “[w]e will attempt 2 months of [physical therapy] to see if a conservative approach will work.” (Id. at 20.)

         In Plaintiff's view, this course of action meant that he “suffered two more months of severe pain caused by physical therapy with no improvement.” (Dkt. 79, Plaintiff's Response Br. at 13-14.) According to the Corizon Defendants, however, the record demonstrates Plaintiff's lack of compliance with his physical therapy treatment plan. On May 17, 2016, for example, physical therapist Kim Kosman noted Plaintiff's report that “he is non weight bearing on” his left leg, but observed that Plaintiff had been “putting weight on [this leg] since arriving to therapy” and “wacking] short distances without [his] crutches.” (Medical Record at 2; see also Id. at 1229 (Kosman's May 19, 2016 treatment record notes Plaintiff's assertion that “he is non weight bearing” but states that Plaintiff “walks in the therapy room without his crutches bearing a significant amount of weight” on his left leg).) At a later session, Kosman cited Plaintiff's complaint that “therapy is not helping and that he thinks it is making it worse, ” but she reported that he “seemed] to be tolerating” the physical therapy and “did] not complain of pain during his exercises.” (Id. at 1217.)

         Regardless of these factual disputes, all are agreed that Plaintiff's condition showed “little to no improvement” as a result of the two-month course of physical therapy. (Id. at 1209.) Accordingly, Plaintiff's medical provider at his new facility, Dr. Charles Jamsen, requested a consultation for orthopedic surgery, and Dr. Papendick approved this request. (See Id. at 1207-10.) Dr. Khawaja Ikram, D.O. examined Plaintiff on July 27, 2016 and recommended that he undergo an “arthroscopic medial meniscectomy with chondroplasty of the left knee.” (Id. at 762-63.) Dr. Papendick approved this recommendation, (see Id. at 1179-80), and on August 11, 2016, Dr. Ikram performed arthroscopic surgery on Plaintiff's left knee, (see Id. at 760-61).


         Through the present pair of motions, the Corizon Defendants and Defendant Betsy Spreeman seek awards of summary judgment in their favor on each of the claims asserted against them in Plaintiff's first amended complaint. Under the pertinent Federal Rule governing these motions, summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that 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). As the Supreme Court has explained, “the plain language of Rule 56[] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986).

         In deciding a motion brought under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence “in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, giving that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences.” Smith Wholesale Co. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 477 F.3d 854, 861 (6th Cir. 2007). Yet, the nonmoving party may not rely on bare allegations or denials, but instead must support a claim of disputed facts by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). Moreover, any supporting or opposing affidavits “must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Finally, “[a] mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient” to withstand a summary judgment motion; rather, “there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party.” Smith Wholesale, 477 F.3d at 861 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiff Has Failed to Raise a Genuine Issue of Material Fact as to the Eighth Amendment Claims Asserted Against the Three Individual Defendants.

         In Count III of his first amended complaint, Plaintiff has asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against each of the three individual Defendants, alleging that these three medical service providers violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by failing to “provide him with appropriate and reasonable medical care.” (Dkt. 17, First Amended Complaint at ¶ 53.) In their present motions, Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment in their favor on these § 1983 claims, where the record, in their view, fails as a matter of law ...

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