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SKANDHA v. RATTIGAN (2021)

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Appeals Court of Massachusetts.

Bodhisattva SKANDHA v. Vanessa RATTIGAN.1

20-P-90

Decided: April 09, 2021

By the Court (Milkey, Kinder & Sacks, JJ.2)

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER PURSUANT TO RULE 23.0

The plaintiff, an inmate at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) at Norfolk, filed a complaint against MCINorfolk's health services administrator, Vanessa Rattigan, alleging that Rattigan breached a duty to provide the plaintiff with medical care. In a summary judgment motion, the plaintiff argued that Rattigan acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Rattigan filed a cross motion for summary judgment in which she argued, among other things, that the plaintiff could not demonstrate deliberate indifference.3 After hearing, a Superior Court judge denied the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and allowed Rattigan's cross motion “for reasons stated in the defendants [sic] memorandum.” We agree that the undisputed evidence did not support a claim that Rattigan acted with deliberate indifference. Accordingly, we affirm the summary judgment for Rattigan.

Background. We summarize the undisputed, material facts.4 On January 4, 2019, the plaintiff submitted a “sick call request form” seeking an appointment with the podiatrist to have his toenails clipped. A referral was made ten days later. The podiatrist visits the institution every six weeks, and inmates typically wait four months for an appointment. Rattigan is responsible for managing inmates' medical grievances, but she has no role in transmitting medical referrals or providing medical care to inmates.

After two months, the plaintiff's uncut nails were causing him pain, so he sent Rattigan a letter notifying her of his intent to sue her for not providing timely medical care. Rattigan did not receive the letter and had no knowledge of the plaintiff's medical concern until June 3, 2019, when she received a copy of the plaintiff's Superior Court complaint. On July 23, 2019, the plaintiff saw the podiatrist and his toenails were cut.

Discussion. Summary judgment is appropriate if the record “show[s] that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Mass. R. Civ. P. 56 (c), as amended, 436 Mass. 1404 (2002). “We review the allowance of a motion for summary judgment de novo to determine whether the moving party has established that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the opposing party, ‘there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law’ ” (citation omitted). Scarlett v. Boston, 93 Mass. App. Ct. 593, 596-597 (2018).

“In order to establish an unconstitutional condition of confinement, a claimant must show both an objective element and a subjective element.” Foster v. Commissioner of Correction (No. 1), 484 Mass. 698, 717 (2020). “The objective element requires an inmate to show that his or her living conditions amount to a ‘serious deprivation[ ] of basic human needs,’ which can include denial of medical care for serious medical needs.” Id., quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). “The subjective element requires an inmate to demonstrate that prison officials acted or failed to act with deliberate indifference,” Foster, supra, meaning that “the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994).

Even assuming, without deciding, that waiting six months for a toenail clipping satisfies the objective element of unconstitutional confinement,5 there is no genuine issue of material fact regarding the subjective element. The undisputed facts established that Rattigan was unaware of the plaintiff's condition and his podiatry referral. Had she known, she would have taken steps to “ensure [that his] medical needs were being met.” There is no contrary evidence in the summary judgment record. Thus, the plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact that Rattigan acted with the deliberate indifference required to meet the subjective element of his constitutional claim. There was no error in the order of summary judgment for the defendant.

Judgment affirmed.

FOOTNOTES

3.   Rattigan also argued that (1) the plaintiff's lawsuit was frivolous, see G. L. c. 231, § 6F, (2) the plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies, and (3) Rattigan was entitled to qualified immunity. Deciding the case as we do, we need not reach these arguments.

4.   The facts set forth by Rattigan in her cross motion for summary judgment are deemed admitted because the plaintiff did not respond to them as required by Rule 9A (b) (5) of the Rules of the Superior Court (2017).

5.   The objective prong “does not impose upon prison administrators a duty to provide care that is ideal, or of the prisoner's choosing,” but it requires them to respond to needs that are “so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Kosilek v. Spencer, 774 F.3d 63, 82 (1st Cir. 2014), cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 2059 (2015).

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