United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
July 26, 2001
WAYNE THOMAS, PLAINTIFF,
WILLIAM ZINKEL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, Judge.
This is a prisoner civil rights case brought by Plaintiff Wayne Thomas
("Plaintiff"), a prisoner currently incarcerated at the State
Correctional Institution at Graterford ("SCI-Graterford"), against
several prison and medical officials, including William Zinkel
("Zinkel"), School Principal at SCI-Graterford; David DiGuglielmo
("DiGuglielmo"), Deputy Superintendent for Facility Management at
SCI-Graterford; Terrance Swartz ("Swartz"), Maintenance Supervisor at
SCI-Graterford; Correctional Physicians Services, Inc. ("CPS"); Frank
Botto ("Botto"), CPS's Administrator; Dr. Emre Beken ("Beken"); Dr.
Baddick ("Baddick"), Medical Director at SCI-Graterford; and Julie Knauer
("Knauer"), Correctional Health Care Administrator (collectively
"Defendants"). In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that various
Defendants violated his federally protected civil rights under the Eighth
and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and
42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition, Plaintiff alleges several state common
Presently before the Court are: (1) Plaintiff's Motion to Amend; (2)
Zinkel, DiGuglielmo, Vaughn, Swartz, and Knauer's ("Prison Defendants")
Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); and (3) CPS, Beken,
and Botto's ("Medical Defendants") Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6) and/or for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow we will
grant all of the Motions before the Court.
In August 1998, Plaintiff was assigned to the "school area" within
SCI-Graterford to work as a typewriting clerk. The typewriting area where
Plaintiff worked had a roof leak that allowed rain water to enter the
room. Plaintiff was directed by Zinkel to clean the area and to attempt
to divert the leaking water. On May 18, 1999, while attempting to repair
the leak, Plaintiff slipped and fell from the ledge he was standing on
and suffered several injuries to his lower back region.
Immediately after his fall, Plaintiff was taken to the prison hospital
and received medical treatment from the Physician's Assistant on duty. In
the months that followed, Plaintiff received a variety of tests,
prescriptions, and ongoing diagnoses from several different physicians.
Despite this continuing treatment, Plaintiff's injuries from the fall
persisted, and he became increasingly unsatisfied with his doctors'
refusal to order certain tests and their care in general. Following his
injury, Plaintiff filed a variety of informal and formal prison
grievances complaining about the unsafe conditions that led to his fall
and the shortcomings of the medical care he received. Plaintiff filed the
instant Complaint in this Court on December 20, 2000.
I. Motion to Amend
In the midst of Defendants' dispositive motions, Plaintiff has filed a
Motion to Amend. Plaintiff's Motion seeks to amend the Complaint to
reflect that Plaintiff's claims against DiGuglielmo are brought against
him in his individual capacity. Because Defendants indicate no opposition
to this Motion, and because courts freely grant leave to amend, we will
grant Plaintiff's Motion to Amend. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a).
II. Dispositive Motions
A. Legal Standards
When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must view all facts, and
inferences drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the
non-movant. See, e.g., Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103
(3d Cir. 1990). Dismissal is appropriate only "if it is clear that no
relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved
consistent with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69,
73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984).
In contrast, when deciding a motion for summary judgment under Rule
56(c), a court must determine "whether there is a genuine issue of
material fact and, if not, whether the moving party is entitled to
judgment as matter of law." Medical Protective Co. v. Watkins,
198 F.3d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1999). Although a court should view all facts
in the light most favorable to the non-movant, the non-movant must,
through affidavits, admissions, depositions, or other evidence
demonstrate that a genuine issue exists for trial. See Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the
non-movant fails to create "sufficient disagreement to require submission
[of the evidence] to a jury," the movant is entitled to summary
judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct.
2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
B. Medical Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment
1. Section 1983 Claims
To make out a successful claim under § 1983, a prisoner must
demonstrate that prison authorities were deliberately indifferent to his
serious medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06, 97 S.Ct.
285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976). As the Supreme Court further clarified:
a prison official cannot be found liable under the
Eighth Amendment . . . unless the official knows of
and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health and
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
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811
In cases involving medical care, a prisoner's claims of negligent
diagnosis or treatment do not rise to the level of deliberate
indifference. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106 ("[m]edical malpractice does not
become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a
prisoner."); Parham v. Johnson, 126 F.3d 454, 458 n. 7 (3d Cir. 1997)
(recognizing "well-established law in this and virtually every circuit
that actions characterizable as medical malpractice do not rise to the
level of `deliberate indifference'"). In addition, physicians' decisions
not to perform particular tests or diagnostic measures on a prisoner will
not support a § 1983 claim because these decisions are considered
medical judgments that are non-actionable. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 107;
Boring v. Kozakiewics, 833 F.2d 468, 473 (3d Cir. 1987) (inmate's
complaints about medical care "merely reflect a disagreement with doctors
over the proper means of treat[ment]."); United States ex rel. Walker v.
Fayette County, Pennsylvania, 599 F.2d 573, 575 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1979)
(noting that "where dispute is over adequacy of the treatment, federal
courts are generally reluctant to second guess a medical judgment and to
constitutionalize claims which sound in state tort law."). Consequently,
for an Eighth Amendment claim to succeed based on improper medical
treatment, the prisoner must show that treatment consisted of "act[s]
which were either intentionally injurious, callous, grossly negligent,
shocking to the conscience, unconscionable,
intolerable to the
fundamental fairness or barbarous." Miller v. Hoffman, No. CIV.A.
97-7987, 1999 WL 415397, at *5 (E.D.Pa. June 22, 1999) (quoting Norris
v. Frame, 585 F.2d 1183, 1186 (3d Cir. 1978)).
Here, Plaintiff takes issue with the type and extent of care he
received for his injuries. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that he was
denied a barium study and a sigmoidoscopy examination, and that the other
treatments he did receive were administered in an untimely manner. Even
accepting all of Plaintiff's allegations as true, it is clear from the
Complaint and Plaintiff's own admissions that he received prompt initial
treatment for his injury and consistent continuing care thereafter. While
Plaintiff may have disagreed with aspects of his medical care, he makes
no allegation of intentionally injurious conduct or any sort of
unconscionable acts. As a result, we will grant the Motion with respect
to Beken and Botto. See, e.g., Estelle, 429 U.S. at 107; Boring, 833 F.2d
Next, we examine Plaintiff's § 1983 claims against CPS. CPS is a
private corporation "under contract with the Pennsylvania Department of
Corrections to provide ongoing medical services to the inmates
incarcerated at [SCI-Graterford]." (Compl. at ¶ 7). The Supreme
Court has determined a local governmental entity may be a "person" for
purposes of § 1983 liability. Monell v. Department of Soc. Servs.,
436 U.S. 658, 690, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Liability of
such entities may not rest on respondeat superior, but rather must be
based upon a governmental policy, practice, or custom that caused the
injury. Id. at 690-94. The same standard applies to a private
corporation, like CPS, that is acting under color of state law. See
Miller v. Hoffman, No. CIV.A. 97-7987, 1998 WL 404034, at *4 (E.D.Pa.
July 7, 1998) (analyzing defendant CPS under Monell standard).
Plaintiff has failed to identify a CPS policy, practice or custom that
caused an injury. In his Complaint, Plaintiff states that his injuries
were the "proximate result of negligence of [CPS] acting through its
agents, or employees in failing to adequately examine and provide
treatment for this Plaintiff." (Compl. at ¶ 29). As we have noted, a
plaintiff may not proceed on a theory of respondeat superior. Moreover,
Plaintiff does not suggest any deliberate indifference on the part of CPS
or any of its employees toward Plaintiff's medical needs. As a result, we
will grant Medical Defendants' Motion with respect to CPS.
2. State claims
Because we will dismiss all of the federal claims against CPS, Beken
and Botto, we must decide whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction
over Plaintiff's state law claims. A court "may decline to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction [over state law claims] if . . . the district
court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction."
28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). We decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over Plaintiff's potential state law claims against Medical
Defendants. If he so chooses, Plaintiff may refile those state claims in
the appropriate state court.
C. Prison Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
1. Failure to Exhaust
Prison Defendants first argue that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust
his administrative remedies. We disagree.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act provides, in pertinent part, that:
No action shall be brought with respect to prison
conditions under section 1983 of this title or any
other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any
jail, prison or other correctional facility until such
administrative remedies as are available are
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Before filing a federal action, a
plaintiff-prisoner must exhaust his administrative remedies, even if the
relief sought is not available through the administrative process. See
Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289, 300 (3d Cir. 2000). Section 1997e(a)
"specifically mandates that inmate-plaintiffs exhaust their available
administrative remedies." Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 73 (3d Cir.
2000). As a result, the Third Circuit has concluded that "it is beyond
the power of this court . . . to excuse compliance with the exhaustion
requirement." Id. (internal quotations omitted). However, notwithstanding
the bright-line rule requiring administrative exhaustion, "compliance
with the administrative remedy scheme will be satisfactory if it is
substantial." Id. at 77-78. See also Ahmed v. Sromovski,
103 F. Supp.2d 838, 842-43 (E.D.Pa. 2000) (discussing exhaustion
In this case, we find that Plaintiff has substantially complied with
the administrative remedy scheme. On February 25, 2000, Plaintiff filed
Grievance No. GRA-0232-2000 and thereafter appealed the denials of that
grievance at the second and third stages of the administrative scheme.
Prison Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiff properly exhausted his
administrative remedies for the claims in this grievance. They contend,
however, that Plaintiff only addressed his medical claims in this
grievance and failed to exhaust with respect to his dangerous working
conditions claim. The text of Plaintiff's initial grievance specifically
refers to the water leak in the typing area, the alleged danger the leak
posed, and the injury Plaintiff suffered when attempting to repair the
leak. (Compl. at Ex. C). Plaintiff also refers in his grievance to his
previous written requests to have the leak fixed. (Id.). Likewise, at each
appeal stage, Plaintiff again refers to the failure of prison officials to
remedy the unsafe working conditions in the typing area, despite their
acknowledgment of a problem. (Id. at Ex. F & H). While Plaintiff's
grievance may have been more specific regarding his medical claims, it is
evident that he was also grieving the dangerous conditions in the typing
area. Based on that finding, we conclude that Plaintiff has substantially
complied with the administrative scheme available to him. Accordingly, we
reject Prison Defendants failure to exhaust argument.
2. Medical Care Claims against Vaughn and Knauer
Next, Prison Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot maintain his
medical care claims against Vaughn and Knauer because neither official
was a medical doctor or involved in Plaintiff's medical care. We agree.
Prison authorities "who are not physicians cannot be considered
deliberately indifferent simply because they failed to respond directly
to the medical complaints of a prisoner who was already being treated by
the prison doctor." Miller, No. CIV.A. 97-7987, 1999 WL 415397, at *11
(citing Durmer v. O'Carroll, 991 F.2d 64, 69 n. 14 (3d Cir. 1993)).
Similarly, health care administrators cannot be found deliberately
indifferent when an inmate is receiving care from a doctor. See, e.g.,
id.; Hull v. Dotter, No. CIV.A. 96-3087, 1997 WL 327551, at *4 (E.D.Pa.
June 12, 1997); Freed v. Horn, No. CIV.A. 95-2824, 1995
WL 710529, at *3-*4 (E.D.Pa. Dec. 1, 1995).
Vaughn is the Warden for SCI-Graterford, and Knauer is the
Administrator for CPS. Under the clear precedent of Durmer and its
progeny in this circuit, we conclude that neither Vaughn, nor Knauer can
be found liable under § 1983 for Plaintiff's medical care claims
simply by virtue of their supervisory roles. See Durmer, 991 F.2d at 69;
Miller, 1999 WL 415397, at *11-*12.
3. Dangerous Working Conditions Claims
Prison Defendants also move to dismiss Plaintiff's § 1983 claim
based upon the dangerous working conditions in the typing area. In Count
I of his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that "Zinkel maintained operating
the Typewriter service open to the general population even after
receiving clear knowledge of the dangerous condition. . . ." (Compl. at
¶ 24). Plaintiff later alleges more generally that "all defendants
herein this complaint knew that the work area was unsafe . . . but did
chose [sic] to deliberately breach their supervising capacity by not
compelling defendant Swartz and/or defendant Zinkel to provide repairs.
. . ." (Id. at ¶ 26). Finally, Plaintiff concludes Count I by
alleging that all Defendants knew that they were placing Plaintiff "in
danger of harm and injury, chose to ignore official policy on the matter
and acted with `deliberate indifference' and `callous disregard' to
Plaintiff's rights. . . ." (Id. at ¶ 27).
Even under the more lenient standard with which we evaluate a pro se
litigant's pleadings, Plaintiff has failed to state a cognizable §
1983 claim. Essentially, Plaintiff alleges that the various Defendants
knew of the unsafe condition and should have rectified it with certain
repairs. Although Plaintiff uses the constitutional code words
"deliberate indifference," he fails to allege that any of the Prison
Defendants subjectively knew and appreciated a substantial risk. At
most, Plaintiff has alleged a negligence claim. It is, however,
well-established that negligence does not transform into a constitutional
claim solely because it is committed under color of state law. See,
e.g., Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06. Because we conclude that there is no
set of facts under which Plaintiff could prove a violation of his
constitutional rights, we will grant Prison Defendants' Motion with
respect to the § 1983 dangerous condition claim.
4. State Claims
For the same reasons articulated above in Part II.B.2 supra, we
will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state
law claims against the Prison Defendants.*fn1
An appropriate Order follows.
AND NOW, this day of July, 2001, upon consideration of Defendants Frank
Botto, Emre Beken, MD, and Correctional Physicians Services, Inc.'s
Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment (Document No. 20);
Defendants William Zinkel, David DiGuglielmo, Donald T. Vaughn, Terrance
Swartz, and Julie Knauer's Motion to Dismiss (Document No. 13); and
Plaintiff's Motion to Amend (Document No. 22), it is hereby ORDERED that
Motions are GRANTED. Accordingly, all federal claims against the
aforementioned Defendants are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE, while all state
law claims against those Defendants are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.