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Stewart v. Kirkegard

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

May 9, 2017

WARDEN LEROY KIRKEGARD, et al., Defendant.


          Dana L. Christensen, Chief Judge.

         United States Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston entered findings and recommendations in this case on December 12, 2016, recommending that certain defendants and counts in Plaintiff Laurence Stewart's ("Stewart") complaint be dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Stewart filed an objection to the findings and recommendations, and so is entitled to a de novo review of those findings and recommendations to which he specifically objects.[1] 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). This Court reviews for clear error those findings and recommendations to which no party objects. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mack, Inc., 656F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981); Thomas v. Am, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985). Clear error exists if the Court is left with a "definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Syrax, 235 F.3d 422, 427 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted).


         Stewart is an inmate at the Montana State Prison. He filed a civil rights petition against the following Defendants: Leroy Kirkegard, Mike Batista, Loraine Wodnik, Paul Szczpasiak, Colleen Ambrose, Connie Wimer, Cathy Redfern, Myron Beeson, Associate Warden Wood, Cindy Hiner, Jami Eads, Sam Jovanovich, Sgt. Wohlman, Captain Wigert, Crystal Foster, Sgt. Postma, Unit Manager Kremer, Tom Tutty, Dr. Pirinian, Lt. Harmon, Kristy Cobban, Billie Reich, and John Does 1-12. Stewart alleged eight claims: Count I: denial of mental health care; Count II: denial of medical care for cutting wounds; Count III: handcuffs too tight-excessive force; Count IV: placement in isolation on suicide watch; Count V: deprived of properly for one week; Count VI: retaliation-lost job; Count VII: access to policies, staff names, investigations; Count VIII: grievance restriction. (Doc. 11.)

         Because the parties are familiar with the facts of this case they will only be included here as necessary to explain the Court's order.

         Stewart objected to Judge Johnston's finding on each count. Therefore, they will be addressed separately below.


         I. Count I: Denial of Mental Health Care

         Judge Johnston found that while Stewart contends he had a serious mental health condition at the outset of entering the prison system, Stewart did not present sufficient factual allegations to plausibly suggest that any named defendant was deliberately indifferent to those mental health needs. (Doc. 13 at 7-8.) When prison staff discovered Stewart was cutting himself with razors, he received adequate mental health treatment and was seen by a psychiatrist. Id. Thus, Judge Johnson determined that Stewart failed to show that any of the staff members purposefully fail to respond to his medical needs. See Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006).

         Stewart contends that under Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1123 (9th Cir. 2012), Cabrales v. County of Los Angeles, 864 F.2d 1454, 1461 (9th Cir. 1991), and Jones v. Johnson, 781 F.2d 769, 771 (9th Cir. 1985), an unnecessary delay in prescribed medical treatment and the under-staffing of mental health providers to the point where staff can only spend "minutes per month" with a prisoner constitutes a deliberate indifference to medical care. Stewart argues that after his cutting incident on January 22, 2015, MSP staff delayed Stewart's mental health treatment by providing only two wellness checks within four months. (Doc. 25-1 at 2.)

         Upon review of the record, the Court finds no error with Judge Johnston's finding that no prison staffer was deliberately indifferent to Stewart's mental health care. Unlike in Wilhem, where the physician diagnosed the prisoner with a hernia and then failed to perform surgery for over a year, here Stewart received mental health treatment from a psychiatrist on February 23, 2015, a wellness check on March 4, 2015, a second psychiatrist meeting on May 15, 2015, and another wellness check on May 31, 2015. This level of care indicates that MSP staff did not ignore Stewart's mental health needs. Thus, Judge Johnston's finding that Stewart's claims for denial of mental health care under Count I is affirmed, and Count I is dismissed.

         II. Count II: Denial of Medical Care for Cutting Wounds

         In Count II, Stewart claims that the doctors who treated him for his wrist wounds after he cut himself on January 22, 2015, did not properly care for him because they only glued his injuries back together and then the wounds later broke open and became painful. Judge Johnston recommended dismissal of this count because Stewart did not "show that the course of treatment the doctors chose was medically unacceptable under the circumstances and that the defendants chose this course in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to [his] health." Snow v. McDaniel, 681 F.3d 978, 988 (9th Cir. 2012). Since the doctors immediately took Stewart to the infirmary and sealed his wounds, the decision to bind the wound with medical glue instead of stitches was medically acceptable and did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.

         Stewart claims that because his wounds were deep and damaged, it was medically unacceptable and intentional when the MSP physician and staff glued his wound back together instead of using stitches. Stewart cited to Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1995), and Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096, and acknowledged that in these circumstances a plaintiff must show a "serious medical need" and a "failure to treat a condition that could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Stewart argues that it is common sense in a prison environment ...

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