United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
May 24, 2004.
LUKE J. DEVERN, et al. Plaintiffs,
GRATERFORD STATE CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION, et al., Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: BERLE M. SCHILLER, District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiffs Luke and Betty Devern bring this action both in their own
right and on behalf of the estate of John Devern, Luke's father and
Betty's husband, for claims related to the medical treatment John Devern
received while incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution at
Graterford ("Graterford"). Defendants Graterford and Warden Donald Vaughn
now move to dismiss Plaintiffs' suit for failure to state a claim on
which relief could be granted.1 For the reasons set out below,
Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.
The following facts are set out in the light most favorable to
Plaintiffs. John Devern was incarcerated at Graterford beginning on
February 16, 2003. (Compl. ¶*fn1 (General Allegations)).*fn2 On April 14, he developed abdominal pain and constipation. (Id.
¶ 2.) On April 15, he informed prison personnel of his worsening
pain, as well as vomiting, constipation, and lack of appetite.
(Id. If 3.) The prison staff performed a blood test which
showed abnormalities (Id. ¶ 5), but provided Devern with
no treatment other than an over-the-counter acid blocker (Id.
¶¶ 4-5). Despite his worsening condition, the prison staff
"effectively ignored" his complaints for three days. (Id. ¶
6.) Finally, on April 18, he was taken to a hospital, where doctors
determined that he required surgery due to a bowel obstruction and
related conditions. (Id. ¶¶ 6-8.) This surgery was
unsuccessful, and Devern died of sepsis on April 19. (Id. ¶
Plaintiffs assert a four-count Complaint. Count I alleges claims
pursuant to the Eighth Amendment*fn3 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and
Counts II through IV allege state-law claims for negligence,
survivorship, and wrongful death, respectively.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), the court may look only to the facts alleged in the
complaint and its attachments. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d
Cir. 1994). The court must accept as true all of the factual allegations
pleaded in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of
the non-moving party. See Bd. of Trs. of Bricklayers & Allied
Craftsmen Local 6 of N.J. Welfare Fund v. Wettlin Assocs., Inc.,
237 F.3d 270, 272 (3d Cir. 2001). A motion to dismiss will only be granted if
it is clear that relief cannot be granted to the plaintiff under any set
of facts that could be proven consistent with the complaint's
allegations. See Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73
(1984) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).
Defendants move to dismiss all four Counts of the Complaint. Plaintiffs
do not contest the dismissal of Counts II, III, and IV, and they concede
that dismissal of Count I is appropriate as to Defendant Vaughn in his
official capacity and as to Graterford.*fn4 Thus, the only remaining
claim at issue is the § 1983 claim against Vaughn in his individual
In order to make out a case of liability pursuant to § 1983,
Plaintiffs must demonstrate that Devern's constitutional rights were
violated by persons acting under color of state law.
42 U.S.C. § 1983. As Defendants do not contest that the state action
requirement is satisfied, the question at issue is whether Plaintiffs have
properly alleged a violation of Devern's Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care while incarcerated. Estelle v. Gamble,
429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (holding that plaintiff's allegation that prison
doctors should have performed certain diagnostic tests instead of tests
actually performed did not state claim under § 1983). "In order to
establish a violation of [a prisoner's] constitutional right to adequate
medical care, evidence must show (i) a serious medical need, and (ii)
acts or omissions by prison officials that indicate deliberate
indifference to that need." Natale v. Camden County Corr.
Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2003). The inquiry into
whether the prisoner had a serious medical need is objective; the
deliberate indifference inquiry is subjective. Montgomery v.
Pinchak, 294 F.3d 492, 499 (3d Cir. 2002). A serious medical need
is one that "has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment
or . . . is so obvious that a lay person would easily recognize the
necessity for a doctor's attention." Monmouth County Corr. Inst.
Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987) (collecting
cases). In order to make out a case of deliberate indifference, the
plaintiff is required to show that the defendant "kn[ew] of and
disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety."
Natale, 318 F.3d at 582 (citing Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)). While neither "an inadvertent failure to provide
adequate medical care" nor "negligen[ce] in diagnosing or treating a
medical condition" satisfy the deliberate indifference standard,
Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06, the Third Circuit has found
deliberate indifference "in situations where `necessary medical
treatment is delayed for non-medical reasons.'" Natale, 318
F.3d at 582 (quoting Monmouth County, 834 F.2d at 347).
Furthermore, in order to state a cause of action against Vaughn in his
individual capacity, Plaintiffs must allege that Vaughn either directed
the constitutional violation to occur or knew that it was occurring and
acquiesced thereto. Baker v. Monroe Township, 50 F.3d 1186,
1200 (3d Cir. 1995) (setting out Third Circuit's "well established
standard for individual liability" under § 1983). Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim alleges that Vaughn violated the Eighth
Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment by ignoring John
Devern's patent and dire need for medical treatment. Accepting
Plaintiffs' allegations as true and drawing all factual inferences
therefrom in their favor, the Complaint properly alleges an Eighth
Amendment violation. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Devern
repeatedly informed prison officials of his "severe" and "excruciating"
abdominal pain, vomiting, and lack of bowel movements, yet he was refused
any treatment beyond over-the-counter antacids. (Compl. ¶¶ 3-4, 6.)
From these allegations, a reasonable factfinder could infer both an
objectively serious medical condition and deliberate indifference to that
condition on the part of prison officials, thus meeting the Third
Circuit's standard for pleading Eighth Amendment medical violations.
See, e.g., Natale, 318 F.3d at 582-83 (holding that standard was
satisfied where diabetic prisoner informed nurse of his need for insulin
but was not given it for 21 hours); Montgomery, 294 F.3d at
500-01 (reversing magistrate judge's determination that HIV-positive
prisoner's allegation that prison staff failed to give him proper tests
and treatment was without merit). In addition, Plaintiff has alleged that
Defendants acted "with knowledge of [John Devern's] medical needs,"
which, if true and construed favorably, could be interpreted to mean that
Vaughn acquiesced to the lack of treatment which constitutes the alleged
underlying violation, thus subjecting him to individual liability. In
total, therefore, the Complaint states a claim upon which relief might be
granted against Vaughn in his individual capacity,*fn5 and the motion to
dismiss the § 1983 claim is therefore denied in this respect. IV. CONCLUSION
For the foregoing reasons, all claims are dismissed as to Defendant
Graterford, all claims are dismissed as to Defendant Vaughn in his
official capacity, and all claims except Count I are dismissed as to
Defendant Vaughn in his individual capacity. An appropriate Order
AND NOW, this 24th day of May, 2004, upon consideration
of Defendant State Correctional Institution at Graterford and Defendant
Donald Vaughn's Motion to Dismiss (Document No. 4) and Plaintiffs'
response thereto, it is hereby ORDERED that:
1. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in
part, as follows:
a. Counts II, III, and IV of the Complaint are
DISMISSED with regard to Defendants
Graterford and Vaughn.
b. Count I of the Complaint is DISMISSED
as to Defendant Graterford and as to Defendant
Vaughn in his official capacity,
c. In all other respects, Defendants' Motion is