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Coward v. United States

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

August 14, 2017

WILLIAM COWARD, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Alan C. Kay Sr. United States District Judge.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendant the United States of America's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 44.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff William Coward (“Plaintiff”) has been experiencing vision loss since September 2010 and has been diagnosed with various eye conditions, including Glaucoma, Central Vein Occlusion, Cystoid Macular Edema, and Cataracts. Defendant United States' Concise Statement of Facts ¶ 2, ECF No. 45 (“U.S. CSF”). Plaintiff was prescribed eye medications in order to treat his glaucoma and reduce eye pressure, including Cosopt (Dorzolamide) and Lumigan. Declaration of Jennifer Ringwood, Attach 1-009, 1-015, 1-023.

         On May 5, 2011, Plaintiff entered the custody of the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) at the Federal Detention Center of Honolulu (“FDC Honolulu”) to begin serving a prison sentence. U.S. CSF ¶ 1. He was prescribed Cosopt upon incarceration. U.S. CSF ¶ 7. After a June 13, 2011 office visit, he was also prescribed Latanoprost (Xalatan), but the prescribing doctor noted after a July 22, 2011 visit that no medications had apparently been initiated and repeated the prescriptions for Cosopt and either Xalatan or its pharmaceutical equivalent Lumigan. See Vickers Attach 2-009 to 2-014. On August 31, 2011, Plaintiff was transferred from FDC Honolulu to a Residential Reentry Center, after which he did not have any medical visits with or otherwise receive new treatment from a BOP medical provider. U.S. CSF ¶ 9. Plaintiff was released to home confinement on December 12, 2011 and completed his sentence on January 3, 2012. Id. ¶ 10.

         Around the time his sentence ended, Plaintiff filed an administrative claim with the BOP alleging that the medical staff at FDC Honolulu was negligent in failing to administer prescribed medications to him until July 2011, which allegedly caused partial vision loss in both eyes. Plaintiff's Concise Statement of Facts ¶ 7, ECF No. 51 (“Pl. CSF”); U.S. CSF ¶ 11; Vickers Attach 2-002. The BOP denied this claim on January 20, 2016. U.S. CSF ¶ 11.

         Plaintiff filed his complaint in federal court on May 31, 2016. Compl., ECF No. 1. The government filed its motion for summary judgment on April 19, 2017. ECF No. 44 (“Motion”). Plaintiff filed his opposition on July 14, 2017. ECF No. 54 (“Opp.”). The government filed its reply on July 21, 2017. ECF No. 55 (“Reply”). On July 24, 2017, Plaintiff amended his concise statement of facts to specifically dispute portions of the government's statement of facts.[1] ECF No. 56. (“Pl. Am. CSF”).

         The Court held a hearing on the government's Motion on Wednesday, August 9, 2017.

         STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 56(a) mandates summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to the 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 (1986); see also Broussard v. Univ. of Cal., 192 F.3d 1252, 1258 (9th Cir. 1999).

         “A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and of identifying those portions of the pleadings and discovery responses that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323); see also Jespersen v. Harrah's Operating Co., 392 F.3d 1076, 1079 (9th Cir. 2004). “When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56[(a)] its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts [and] come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (stating that a party cannot “rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading” in opposing summary judgment).

         “An issue is ‘genuine' only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact finder could find for the nonmoving party, and a dispute is ‘material' only if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” In re Barboza, 545 F.3d 702, 707 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). When considering the evidence on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all reasonable inferences on behalf of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587; see also Posey v. Lake Pend Oreille Sch. Dist. No. 84, 546 F.3d 1121, 1126 (9th Cir. 2008) (stating that “the evidence of [the nonmovant] is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor”) (internal citation and quotation omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Plaintiff's Claim and the Parties

         Plaintiff claims that BOP staff negligently failed to administer prescribed eye medications[2] to him which resulted in vision loss, in violation of its statutory duty under 18 U.S.C. § 4042(a)(2) to provide the safekeeping and care of inmates. Compl. ¶¶ 8-10, ECF No. 1; Pl. CSF ¶¶ 4-5; 18 U.S.C. § 4042(a)(2) (the BOP shall “provide suitable quarters and provide for the safekeeping, care, and subsistence of all persons charged with or convicted of offenses against the United States, or held as witnesses or otherwise”). This claim arises under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), which establishes federal jurisdiction over civil suits for money damages against the United States for

injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.

28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1); Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1.

         In order to assert his FTCA claim, Plaintiff must show that Hawaii would recognize a cause of action in negligence against a private individual for the conduct alleged. See Boltv. United States, 509 F.3d 1028, 1031 (9th Cir. 2007) (“As the party seeking federal jurisdiction, Bolt must therefore demonstrate that Alaska law would recognize a cause of action in negligence against a private individual for like conduct.”). Plaintiff contends that his claim is merely one of simple negligence, rather than medical malpractice. See Opp. at 4. However, as the government notes, this is a distinction without a difference here. Reply at 11. “[M]edical malpractice cases have been predicated on the negligent failure of a physician or surgeon to exercise the requisite degree of skill and care in treating or operating on a patient.”[3]Bernard v. Char, 79 Haw. 371, 377, 903 P.2d 676, 682 (Haw. Ct. App. 1995), aff'd79 Haw. 362, 903 P.2d 667 (1995). Plaintiff's claim that BOP staff “fail[ed] to take care of the inmate even after they were told what he needed, ” see Opp. at 4, is thus merely a claim for negligent failure to treat. See id. at 6 (noting expert opinion that “[t]he failure to properly treat Plaintiff's eye condition, glaucoma, while he was incarcerated damaged his optic nerve”). ...


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