Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Hamby v. Hammond

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 2, 2016

FLEET C. HAMBY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
M.D. STEVEN HAMMOND, Chief Medical Officer, Washington Department of Corrections, in his individual and official capacities; M.D. SARA SMITH, Former Facility Medical Director, Stafford Creek Corrections Center, in her individual capacity; BERNARD WARNER, Secretary, Washington Department of Corrections, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants-Appellees

         Argued and Submitted, Seattle, Washington February 2, 2016.

Page 1086

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1087

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. D.C. No. 3:14-cv-05065-RBL. Ronald B. Leighton, District Judge, Presiding.

          SUMMARY[*]

         Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of prison officials in an action brought by a prison inmate pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs when they refused to grant his request for hernia surgery.

         Plaintiff received surgery for his umbilical hernia after the district court granted his motion for a preliminary injunction and ordered prison officials to refer him to a surgeon for evaluation and possible surgical treatment. After receiving surgery, plaintiff sought damages for the pain he allegedly suffered because of the officials' refusal to authorize surgery prior to litigation. The panel held that the officials were entitled to qualified immunity because in light of existing precedent and the specific facts of this case, it was at least debatable that they complied with the Eighth Amendment. The panel determined that to the extent that the officials played any role in the decision to deny surgery, the record made clear that they did so based on legitimate medical opinions that have often been held reasonable under the Eighth Amendment.

         The panel held that the district court properly denied injunctive relief relating to plaintiff's potential inguinal hernia. The panel determined that plaintiff had not pointed to evidence which suggested that defendants' decision to forgo surgery for the potential inguinal hernia was medically unacceptable under the circumstances and made in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to plaintiff's health.

         Concurring in part and dissenting in part, Judge Gould concurred only with the majority opinion's result regarding the denial of injunctive relief pertaining to plaintiff's potential inguinal hernia, and dissented from the rest of the majority opinion. Judge Gould stated that there was a genuine issue of material fact on whether the course of treatment the doctors chose in treating plaintiff's umbilical hernia was medically unacceptable under the circumstances, and whether they chose this course in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to plaintiff's health.

         Hank Balson, Public Interest Law Group, PLLC, Seattle, Washington argued the cause and filed the briefs for the plaintiff-appellant.

         Timothy J. Feulner, Assistant Attorney General for the State of Washington, Olympia, Washington, argued the cause and filed the brief for the defendants-appellees. With him on the brief was Robert W. Ferguson, Attorney General for the State of Washington, Olympia, Washington.

         Before: Alex Kozinski, Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, and Ronald M. Gould, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge O'Scannlain; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Judge Gould.

          OPINION

Page 1088

         Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, Circuit Judge:

         We must decide whether state prison officials can be made to pay damages to a prisoner who claims that they violated his Eighth Amendment rights when they refused to grant his request for hernia surgery.

         I

         Fleet C. Hamby is an inmate at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Washington. In April 2012, Hamby fell off of a ladder while working his prison job as an electrician's assistant. A prison medical professional diagnosed him as having an umbilical hernia, meaning that a part of his intestine or abdominal fat had pushed through a weak spot in his abdominal wall, causing a bulge in his belly. Hamby's umbilical hernia was described as " small" and " easily reducible," which means that Hamby could push the hernia back into his abdomen by applying manual pressure or by lying down. Hamby was counseled on how to push the hernia back in if it popped out, and was also given a rib belt designed to keep the hernia in.

         About two weeks later, Hamby saw another prison medical professional who noted that Hamby was in pain and had some abdominal tenderness and swelling, but could walk around without difficulty. Hamby was prescribed medication--which he was unable to take due to his other medical conditions--and was advised to continue using the rib belt for support.

         By the end of 2012, Hamby was seen at least ten times by a handful of prison medical personnel. Hamby reported that he experienced sharp pains while sleeping, using the bathroom, and when he tried to sit for long periods. In June of that year, Hamby formally requested surgical repair for his hernia. But on July 19, Hamby rated his pain a three out of ten, and when he renewed his request for surgery in August his request was denied, with prison medical officials telling him that his " condition [would] continue to be monitored as needed by Health Services." Hamby was examined again on November 16, and his hernia was confirmed to be still " easily reducible." Hamby continued using the hernia belt in addition to a variety of prostate medications.

         In March 2013, Hamby was seen by a doctor at a different prison. This doctor reported that Hamby was able to " make it to chow hall and back," and that he could use the bathroom. Hamby advised the doctor that his umbilical hernia " interfered with [his] sleep," made " sitting down . . . difficult," and generated " random pain." This doctor advised that surgery was not medically necessary at that time.

         In late August 2013, Hamby's attorney sent a letter to Dr. G. Steven Hammond, the Chief Medical Officer for the Washington State Department of Corrections; Dr. Sara S. Smith, the Facility Medical Director at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center; and Bernard Warner, the Secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections (" prison officials" ), asking them to reconsider Hamby's need for surgical treatment. Shortly thereafter, prison medical personnel presented Hamby's case to the prison's Care Review Committee (" CRC" ), a group of medical professionals that decides whether proposed health care treatments are medically necessary under the prison's Offender Health Plan.[1] Drs. Hammond and Smith were

Page 1089

voting members, with Dr. Hammond also serving as committee chair. The CRC considered whether to authorize a surgical consultation, and possible surgical repair, for Hamby's umbilical hernia. The physician's assistant who presented the request for Hamby's surgery described Hamby's hernia as " easily reducible" and noted that although Hamby was in pain, he had been going to meals and his activities of daily living were not impaired.[2] The CRC denied the request, deeming surgery not medically necessary at that time, and recommended continued monitoring of Hamby's condition.

         Hamby was subsequently examined by a physician's assistant who had treated him several times in the past. The physician's assistant noted that Hamby was attending classes and that his " activities of daily living were unaffected," and described his hernia as " minimal," and recommended monitoring. Hamby was later seen by a Department of Corrections urologist, who likewise opined that surgery was not medically necessary because Hamby " did not have continual pain and was still performing his ADLs without incident."

         A

         Hamby filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in January 2014, against Dr. Hammond, Dr. Smith, and Secretary Warner. Hamby sued each in his personal capacity, and he sued Dr. Hammond and Secretary Warner in their official capacities as well. He claimed that the prison officials exhibited deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, thereby violating his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. As of May 2014, when he moved for a preliminary injunction, Hamby rated the pain from his umbilical hernia " as a 5 on a scale of 1-10." In August 2014, the district court granted Hamby's motion for a preliminary injunction, ordering the prison officials to refer him to a surgeon for evaluation and to authorize surgical treatment if the surgeon so advised. Hamby received his hoped-for surgery, and his umbilical hernia was repaired on October 13, 2014.

         b

         After receiving surgery on his umbilical hernia, Hamby continued to press his case, seeking damages for the pain he allegedly suffered because of the prison officials' refusal to authorize surgery prior to litigation. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled for the prison officials, holding that they had not in fact been deliberately indifferent to Hamby's serious medical needs--and so they had not violated Hamby's Eighth Amendment rights, after all--but that even if they had, qualified immunity would shield them from having to pay damages.

         C

         In addition to the ordeal surrounding his umbilical hernia, Hamby complains of ailments triggered by a particularly harsh sneeze that left him reeling in October 2012. This sneeze may or may not have caused an inguinal hernia--which occurs in the groin area, when fatty or intestinal tissue pushes through a weak spot in the abdominal wall--but Hamby was never diagnosed as having an inguinal hernia. Nonetheless, in response, prison medical personnel gave him a jockstrap to reduce the pain.

         In May 2014, Hamby declared that " [t]he pain from the inguinal hernia had subsided for several months," although it

Page 1090

had " recently reappeared" and was " intermittent, ranging between 0 and 5." In September 2014--at the time Hamby moved for summary judgment--he declared that " the pain related to [his] possible inguinal hernia [had] subsided," and was " currently at a level he can tolerate." Still, Hamby requested a permanent injunction requiring the prison officials " to diagnose and treat his possible inguinal hernia should the pain associated with that condition once again become intolerable."

         The district court denied Hamby's request for a permanent injunction and granted summary judgment to the prison officials, ruling that their conduct in response to Hamby's possible inguinal hernia did not violate Hamby's rights under the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.