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PARRILLA v. CUYLER

March 16, 1978

ARTURO PARRILLA
v.
JULIUS T. CUYLER, Warden, State Correctional Institution, Graterford, Pennsylvania, WILLIAM B. ROBINSON, Commissioner of Corrections for the State of Pennsylvania, and JOHN NEGREY, Ophthalmologist at Graterford Penitentiary



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LUONGO

 This action was brought pro se by Arturo Parrilla, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, against the prison superintendent ("Warden"), Julius T. Cuyler; Commissioner of Correction William B. Robinson; and a prison ophthalmologist, John Negrey. Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated his civil rights *fn1" by affording him inadequate medical treatment. Cuyler and Robinson have moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.

 Plaintiff's brief factual allegations are as follows:

 
"Shortly after plaintiff arrived at the prison (mentioned herein) he requested medical assistance in that one of his eyes was giving plaintiff pain and discomfort. In the month of April of 1976, plaintiff was called to the hospital (upon his request) wherein he was examined by Doctor John Negrey, and upon completion of the examination plaintiff was told that he would be taken to another place (Wills Eye Hospital) wherein his eye would have to be operated on otherwise he could loose [ sic ] his eye-sight.
 
Plaintiff returned to the hospital periodically to be treated with eye drops. Approximately on June 2, 1976 plaintiff again was examined by Doctor John Negrey and as a result of the examination plaintiff was told by the doctor that 'there is nothing we can do for you.' As a result of this plaintiff has lost total vision in one eye and is loosing [ sic ] his vision in the other eye. Again plaintiff is requesting adequate medical assistance and the doctor and the defendants mentioned herein are refusing to assist plaintiff in his medical needs."

 The complaint asserts that defendants' conduct violates the prohibition against infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. *fn2" The complaint also asserts that in some unspecified manner plaintiff has been treated differently than other inmates because of his Hispanic origin, and therefore plaintiff contends that he has been denied equal protection. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment, an "injunction requiring the defendants to transfer plaintiff for treatment to the 'Wills Eye Hospital' or its equivalency," and damages.

 Defendants' jurisdictional argument is based on the Eleventh Amendment. They contend that plaintiff is seeking damages from them in their official capacity and that he therefore is attempting, in effect, to obtain money from the state in violation of the Eleventh Amendment prohibition. See generally Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 39 L. Ed. 2d 662, 94 S. Ct. 1347 (1974). Under Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 237-38, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90, 94 S. Ct. 1683 (1974), however, an Eleventh Amendment bar should not lightly be assumed from the face of the complaint. Instead, in a case such as this in which the plaintiff has not specified whether the defendants are sued in their official or personal capacities, the "allegations against state officials should be liberally construed in the plaintiff's favor." Flesch v. Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, 434 F. Supp. 963, 978-79 (E.D. Pa. 1977); accord, West v. Keve, 571 F.2d 158, 163 (3d Cir. 1978); Ahmad v. Burke, 436 F. Supp. 1307, 1312 (E.D. Pa. 1977). I therefore shall not dismiss the claim for damages as violative of the Eleventh Amendment. Of course, the Eleventh Amendment is no bar to equitable relief against state officials in any event. See, e.g., Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 52 L. Ed. 714, 28 S. Ct. 441 (1908).

 Defendants contend that plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because his factual allegations of medical mistreatment do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. The controlling case on cruel and unusual punishment claims based on inadequate medical care is Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251, 97 S. Ct. 285 (1976). In that case, after reviewing its past decisions on the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court concluded:

 
"These elementary principles establish the government's obligation to provide medical care for those whom it is punishing by incarceration. An inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met. In the worst cases, such a failure may actually produce physical 'torture or a lingering death,' In Re Kemmler, [136 U.S. 436, 447, 34 L. Ed. 519, 10 S. Ct. 930 (1890)], the evils of most immediate concern to the drafters of the [Eighth] Amendment. In less serious cases, denial of medical care may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose. Cf. Gregg v. Georgia, [428 U.S. 153, 182-83, 49 L. Ed. 2d 859, 96 S. Ct. 2909 (1976) (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.)]. The infliction of such unnecessary suffering is inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency as manifested in modern legislation codifying the common-law view that 'it is but just that the public be required to care for the prisoner, who cannot, by reason of the deprivation of his liberty, care for himself.' [ Spicer v. Williamson, 191 N.C. 487, 490, 132 S.E. 291, 293 (1926).]
 
We therefore conclude that deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,' Gregg v. Georgia, supra, at 173 (joint opinion), proscribed by the Eighth Amendment. This is true whether the indifference is manifested by prison doctors in their response to the prisoner's needs or by prison guards in intentionally denying or delaying access to medical care or intentionally interfering with the treatment once prescribed. Regardless of how evidenced, deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or injury states a cause of action under ยง 1983." 429 U.S. at 103-05 (footnotes omitted).

 The Court cautioned, however, that a claim of mere negligence in diagnosis or treatment of a medical condition is not so offensive to "evolving standards of decency" ( Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101, 2 L. Ed. 2d 630, 78 S. Ct. 590 (1958)) as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. 429 U.S. at 105-06. As it observed, "[medical] malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner." Id. at 106. The controlling standard, therefore, is whether the plaintiff has alleged "acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Id.; see West v. Keve, 571 F.2d 158, 161 (3d Cir. 1978) (recognizing that Estelle sets forth two-pronged test of deliberate indifference by defendants and seriousness of plaintiff's medical problems).

 In this case I have no doubt that plaintiff's medical needs, as alleged, are serious. Plaintiff avers that as a result of improper medical treatment he is losing his sight. Loss of this important sense certainly is a major medical problem, and therefore plaintiff's allegations meet the seriousness requirement. Cf. West, supra, at 161-62.

 The determinative issue in this case is whether the allegations set forth a claim of deliberate indifference. In focusing on this issue, I note at the outset that the motion to dismiss only deals with plaintiff's claims against Superintendent Cuyler and Commissioner Robinson. Apparently, defendant Negrey has not been served, and he is not a party to the motion. In Estelle, because the Court of Appeals had focused on the inmate's claims against the prison doctors and not those against prison supervisory personnel, the Supreme Court did not express its views on such claims against prison supervisors and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration of that issue. 429 U.S. at 108. On remand, the Court of Appeals held that the claims against the Director of the Department of Corrections and the prison warden should be dismissed:

 
"[The] complaint is directed primarily at the prison physician who actually performs the medical treatment, while the Director and the warden are parties, not for having failed to provide treatment, but more on respondeat superior principles in line with their official capacities. We can find no evidence in the record that either exhibited 'deliberate indifference' to Gamble's medical needs by means of interference with the prison doctor's performance or in any other ...

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