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Estate of Hunter v. Uintah County

United States District Court, D. Utah

June 10, 2019

ESTATE OF JEREMY HUNTER, by its Personal Representative, BRIAN HUNTER, Plaintiff,
v.
UINTAH COUNTY; KATIE SMITH; R.S. SMUIN; COLE ANDERTON; JULIANNE EHLERS; DEPUTY GRAY; RICHARD GOWEN; DEPUTY GURR; DEPUTY HARRISON; DEPUTY JENSEN; DEPUTY KELLY; GALE ROBBINS; ROLLIN COOK; and, John and Jane Does 1 thru 25, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Ted Stewart United States District Judge.

         District Judge Ted Stewart This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Uintah County, Katie Smith, Cole Anderton, Richard Gowen, Caitlyn Gurr, Cody Harrison, Tony Jensen, Daren Kelly, and Gale Robbins.[1] For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from the death of Jeremy Hunter, an inmate at the Uintah County Jail. Mr. Hunter was booked into the Uintah County Jail on December 18, 2014, at approximately 1:00 p.m. During the booking process, Mr. Hunter informed Deputy Cole Anderton that he had high blood pressure and was taking blood pressure medication, but that he did not have any medication or prescriptions with him. This information was passed along to Nurse Smuin, a registered nurse, who worked at the jail. Deputy Anderton asked Mr. Hunter if he was in any pain or required immediate health care and Mr. Hunter reported that he was not in pain and did not require immediate health care.

         The following afternoon, Mr. Hunter requested that his blood pressure be taken. Nurse Smuin's notes indicate that his blood pressure was 163/121. Mr. Hunter's blood pressure was also taken manually and was 160/108. Nurse Smuin called a pharmacy and had Mr. Hunter's blood pressure medications transferred to another pharmacy and indicated that they would be picked up the next morning.

         Corporal Gale Robbins came on as the supervising officer on December 19, 2014, at 6:00 p.m. Corporal Robbins was informed that Mr. Hunter had complained of chest pain and anxiety. Corporal Robbins was informed that Mr. Hunter had been seen by Nurse Smuin and physician's assistant (“P.A.”) Logan Clark and that Mr. Hunter would be fine throughout the night and that officers should observe him.

         At 7:15 p.m., Mr. Hunter complained of numbness and pain. Deputy Cody Harrison gave Mr. Hunter ibuprofen and a decongestant. Deputy Harrison took Mr. Hunter's vitals and his blood pressure was 171/100.[2] Deputy Harrison relayed this information to Corporal Robbins. Two later blood pressure readings were also elevated: 188/133 and 176/118.

         At 11:22 p.m., officers received a call from Pod Control asking them to check on Mr. Hunter. Deputies Caitlyn Gurr, Cody Harrison, Tony Jensen, and Daren Kelly all responded. The deputies observed Mr. Hunter on the floor on his hands and knees, spitting saliva. Mr. Hunter related that he was having pains. Corporal Robbins was then summoned. Officers moved Mr. Hunter to a lower bunk and provided an extra mattress to try to make Mr. Hunter comfortable. Corporal Robbins attempted to calm Mr. Hunter and help him relax. Mr. Hunter's blood pressure was taken with a reading of 130/98.

         Officers continued to attend to Mr. Hunter. They offered to move Mr. Hunter to booking so that he could be more closely monitored, but Mr. Hunter declined and stated that he would be fine. Corporal Robbins told Mr. Hunter to ask for help if he needed anything. By the time officers left Mr. Hunter's cell at 11:45 p.m., he was no longer in a panicked state and appeared to be resting peacefully.

         Around this same time, Corporal Robbins contacted Nurse Smuin to inform her of the situation. Nurse Smuin told Corporal Robbins that P.A. Clark had seen Mr. Hunter and that the officers just needed to keep an eye on him. When asked by Corporal Robbins whether Mr. Hunter should be taken to the hospital, Nurse Smuin said “no” and that P.A. Clark had stated that Mr. Hunter's heart was not the problem.

         At approximately 2:30 a.m. on December 20, 2014, Mr. Hunter again complained of chest pain and anxiety. Mr. Hunter's blood pressure was taken and was 111/80. Mr. Hunter was moved to the booking area where he could be more closely monitored. Mr. Hunter was permitted to shower and received clean clothes and sheets. He then returned to his cell and slept.

         At approximately 3:15 a.m., Corporal Robbins called Nurse Kate Smith, another nurse who worked at the jail. Corporal Robbins reported to Nurse Smith that Mr. Hunter was complaining of chest pains and anxiety attacks. Corporal Robbins relayed that Mr. Hunter's blood pressure was 111/80. Based upon this information, Nurse Smith told Corporal Robbins to have Mr. Hunter drink plenty of fluids and try to relax, and that she would check on him when she started her shift. Nurse Smith told Corporal Robbins that he should call her, Nurse Smuin, or P.A. Clark if Mr. Hunter's pain worsened.

         When Mr. Hunter woke up at approximately 5:30 a.m., he reported to Corporal Robbins that he was feeling a lot better and had not felt so good in a while.

         Nurse Smith arrived at the jail at 6:00 a.m. Upon arrival, she went directly to see Mr. Hunter. Nurse Smith checked Mr. Hunter's vital signs and he had a blood pressure of 140/98. Nurse Smith informed Mr. Hunter that she would pick up his medication as soon as the pharmacy opened at 9:00 a.m.

         At 8:15 a.m., Mr. Hunter informed Nurse Smith that he had vomited. Nurse Smith provided over-the-counter nausea medication and again took Mr. Hunter's vitals, which were within the normal ranges.

         At 8:30 a.m., Nurse Smith contacted Nurse Smuin to report Mr. Hunter's vitals and that he had been complaining of chest pain. Nurse Smuin stated that they should continue to monitor Mr. Hunter and get his medications.

         Nurse Smith left the jail for the pharmacy at 8:50 a.m. and returned with Mr. Hunter's medication at 9:15 a.m. Mr. Hunter stated that he had recently thrown up, but was up and moving around well and did not appear to need medical attention or treatment. Mr. Hunter was then given his medication. Soon thereafter, Mr. Hunter clutched his chest and collapsed on the floor.

         Several officers attended to Mr. Hunter, performing CPR and administering chest compressions until an ambulance arrived. Mr. Hunter was transported to the hospital and was later pronounced dead. The cause of death was pericardial tamponade due to aortic dissection due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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.”[3] In considering whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the Court determines whether a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party in the face of all the evidence presented.[4] The Court is required to construe all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[5]

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. INDIVIDUAL DEFENDANTS

         The Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment “requires jail officials ‘to provide humane conditions of confinement” including “adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.”[6] In Estelle v. Gamble, [7] the Supreme Court held that “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,' proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.”[8]

         “Deliberate indifference involves both an objective and a subjective component.”[9] The objective component is met if the deprivation is “sufficiently serious.”[10] A medical need is sufficiently serious “if it is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.”[11]

         The subjective component is met only if a prison official “knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.”[12] Thus, “a plaintiff must establish that defendant(s) knew he faced a substantial risk of harm and disregarded that risk, ‘by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.'”[13][P]rison officials who lacked knowledge of a risk cannot be said to have inflicted punishment.”[14]Additionally, “prison officials who actually knew of a substantial risk to inmate health or safety may be found free from liability if they responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm ultimately was not averted.”[15] “[P]rison officials who act reasonably cannot be found liable under the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause.”[16]

         Additionally, the “negligent failure to provide adequate medical care, even one constituting medical malpractice, does not give rise to a constitutional violation.”[17] Similarly, “accidental or inadvertent failure to provide adequate medical care, or negligent diagnosis or treatment of a medical condition do not constitute a medical wrong under the Eighth Amendment.”[18]

So long as a medical professional provides a level of care consistent with the symptoms presented by the inmate, absent evidence of actual knowledge or recklessness, the requisite state of mind cannot be met. Indeed, our subjective inquiry is limited to consideration of the doctor's knowledge at the time he prescribed treatment for the symptoms presented, not to the ultimate treatment necessary.[19]

         1. Objective Component

         As stated above, Mr. Hunter had a heart attack while at the jail and later passed away. The Tenth Circuit has held that a prisoner's heart attack and death are “without doubt, sufficiently serious to meet the objective component.”[20] Thus, Plaintiff's evidence is sufficient to withstand summary judgment as to the objective component.

         2. Subjective Component

         With regard to the subjective component, it is necessary to evaluate the claims against each Defendant individually.[21] Plaintiff must present evidence that each defendant knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.[22] The role of each Defendant is addressed below.

         a. Katie Smith

         Nurse Smith was a nurse working at the jail. She received a call from Corporal Robbins at approximately 3:15 a.m. on December 20. Corporal Robbins informed her of Mr. Hunter's situation and relayed his vital signs, with his blood pressure being 111/80. Nurse Smith was not informed of the prior elevated blood pressure readings and was unaware of Mr. Hunter's history of hypertension. Based on the information she had, Nurse Smith advised Corporal Robbins to have Mr. Hunter drink plenty of liquids and try to relax. She also informed Corporal Robbins that she would check on Mr. Hunter when her shift began at 6:00 a.m., but that he should contact herself, Nurse Smuin or P.A. Clark if Mr. Hunter's pain worsened. When Nurse Smith arrived at the jail, she immediately went to check on Mr. Hunter. She checked Mr. Hunter's vital signs and contacted her supervisor, Nurse Smuin, to advise her of the situation. Nurse Smith also went to the pharmacy to pick up Mr. Hunter's blood pressure medications as soon as it opened and promptly provided Mr. Hunter his medication when she returned. Under these circumstances, no reasonably jury could conclude that Ms. Smith was deliberately indifferent. Rather, she took reasonable measures, based on the information she knew, to treat Mr. Hunter. Therefore, summary judgment is appropriate.

         b. Cole Anderton

         Deputy Anderton was the officer who booked Mr. Hunter into the jail. Deputy Anderton completed the booking form, which indicated that Mr. Hunter had hypertension and was taking medications. This information was passed along to Nurse Smuin, who was responsible for helping obtain medications for prisoners. Deputy Anderton asked Mr. Hunter if he was in any pain or required immediate health care and Mr. Hunter reported that he was not in pain and did not require immediate health care. Deputy Anderton had no other interaction with Mr. Hunter on December 18 and did not work on December 19. On December 20, Deputy Anderton was one of the officers who responded when Mr. Hunter collapsed. At that time, he performed CPR and chest compressions. Under these circumstances, no reasonable jury could conclude that Deputy Anderton was deliberately indifferent.

         c. Richard Gowen

         Corporal Gowen first interacted with Mr. Hunter on December 20. When Corporal Gowen came in for his shift that morning, he learned that Mr. Hunter was having pains, that Nurse Smith was getting Mr. Hunter's medications, and that Mr. Hunter was being kept in booking for closer observations. Corporal Gowen observed Mr. Hunter and nothing about his observations caused him any concern. Rather, Mr. Hunter was either standing or walking in his cell. Later, when Mr. Hunter collapsed, Corporal Gowen had another officer contract dispatch to call for an ambulance and gave another officer an Automated External Defibrillator to use. No. reasonable jury could conclude that Corporal Gowen was deliberately indifferent.

         d. Caitlyn Gurr

         Deputy Gurr was one of the deputies who worked the afternoon and overnight shift beginning on December 19. Deputy Gurr and others responded to Mr. Hunter's cell when they received a call from Pod Control at approximately 11:22 p.m. She observed Mr. Hunter on his hands and knees clutching his chest and stating that he was having pain. Deputy Gurr tried to calm Mr. Hunter down and called for her supervisor, Corporal Robbins. Deputy Gurr also took Mr. Hunter's blood pressure, which was 130/98. After Deputy Gurr and the other officers interacted with Mr. Hunter for about fifteen minutes, his condition seemed to improve, and they left his cell. Deputy Gurr next interacted with Mr. Hunter at about 3:15 a.m. when he again complained of chest pains. Deputy Gurr and Corporal Robbins took Mr. Hunter's vitals and his blood pressure was 111/80. Deputy Gurr believed that Corporal Robbins had contacted the nurses to relay the information about Mr. Hunter's condition. This is documented in a contemporaneously-created report.[23] Prior to her shift ending, Deputy Gurr observed Mr. Hunter sleeping. No. reasonable jury could conclude that Deputy Gurr was deliberately indifferent.

         e. Cody Harrison

         Deputy Harrison also worked the afternoon and overnight shift on December 19. At 6:30 p.m. that evening, Deputy Harrison was told by the day shift that Mr. Hunter reported having a panic attack earlier. At 7:15 p.m., Mr. Hunter complained of numbness and pain. In response, Mr. Harrison gave Mr. Hunter ibuprofen and a decongestant. Deputy Harrison took Mr. Hunter's vitals. Mr. Hunter's blood pressure was 171/100. Deputy Harrison relayed this information to Corporal Robbins who he believed contacted the jail nurses. Around 11:30 p.m., Deputy Harrison was one of the officers who responded to Mr. Hunter's cell. Deputy Harrison observed Deputy Gurr take Mr. Hunter's blood pressure, which by that time was 130/98. At 2:26 a.m., Deputy Harrison helped move Mr. Hunter to booking so ...


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