United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 1, 2005.
ANGEL R. OCASIO, Plaintiff,
COUNTY OF DAUPHIN, PA, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge
Plaintiff, Angel R. Ocasio, formerly*fn1 an inmate at the
Dauphin County Prison in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, commenced this
pro se civil rights action with a complaint filed pursuant to
the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as Defendants are
Dauphin County, Pennsylvania; Dauphin County Prison ("DCP");
Prime Care, Inc.; and DCP Warden, D. Derose. Plaintiff alleges
that Defendants exposed him to unhealthy prison conditions and
that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious
medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment proscription
of cruel and unusual punishment.
Presently before the Court is the motion of Prime Care, Inc.
(Doc. 16) to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint, and the motion for
summary judgment (Doc. 19) filed by Dauphin County and Warden
DeRose. The motions have been briefed, and they are ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the motions will be
granted, and the complaint will be dismissed under
28 U.S.C. § 1915 as it relates to DCP.
Plaintiff alleges that he suffers from a "chronic skin
condition that [had] not been taken care of appropriately" (Doc.
1 at 2) while he was incarcerated in DCP (December 9, 2003 to
July 27, 2004). He claims that although he was treated for his
condition (acute contact dermatitis (Doc. 18 at ¶ 2)), it was
allowed to "worsen and develop to a painful internal infection
without consulting a specialist." (Id.) He also alleges that
conditions at DCP are "horrendous[:] paint chips and peeling
paint abound, . . . dust & dirt are everywhere, . . . [a]t times
the drinking water comes out yellow and there is a big problem
with mice, roaches & other rodents at [DCP]." (Doc. 1 at 3,
Attachment B). For relief he seeks: (1) cessation of deductions
from his prison account for room and board; (2) monetary damages
in the amount of $250,000.00, together with legal fees and
payment of medical bills; and (3) injunctive relief*fn2 in
the form of "independent analysis of the environmental conditions
at [DCP]. . . ." (Doc. 1 at 4.)
A. Motion to Dismiss Prime Care, Inc.
Defendant, Prime Care, Inc., has filed a motion to dismiss
Plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 16). The motion is based, in part,
upon a contention that there are no specific allegations of wrongdoing by Primecare, Inc., and § 1983
liability may not be premised on a theory of respondeat superior.
The Court agrees.
1. Motion to Dismiss Standard
In rendering a decision on a motion to dismiss, the Court must
accept the Plaintiff's allegations as true. White v. Napoleon,
897 F.2d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 1990). In Nami v. Fauver,
82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996), the United States Court of Appeals for the
Third Circuit added that when considering a motion to dismiss,
based on a Rule 12(b)(6) argument, a court should "not inquire
whether the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail, only whether they
are entitled to offer evidence to support their claims."
Moreover, a motion to dismiss may only be granted if there is no
reasonable reading of the facts that would entitle Plaintiff to
relief. Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 223 (3d Cir.
2004). The Court should consider the allegations in the
complaint, the exhibits attached thereto, matters of public
record, and "undisputedly authentic" documents. See Angstadt v.
Midd-West School Dist., 377 F.3d 338, 342 (3d Cir. 2004). A
complaint that does not establish entitlement to relief under any
reasonable interpretation is properly dismissed without leave to
amend. Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d
Cir. 2002). However, the Court is mindful that pro se
complaints are to be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner,
404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).
2. Deliberate Indifference
In order to state a viable § 1983 claim, a Plaintiff must plead
two essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was
committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2)
that said conduct deprived the Plaintiff of a right, privilege,
or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United
States. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Nicini v.
Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000). The Constitutional
issue implicated in this case is the Eighth Amendment requirement that
prison officials provide adequate medical care to inmates, and
make reasonable efforts to assure prisoner health and safety.
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). That duty is
violated when prison officials know of and disregard an excessive
risk to inmate health or safety. Id. at 837. Not every illness or
injury enjoys constitutional protection; only serious medical
needs or injuries will give rise to constitutional scrutiny.
Gerber v. Sweeney, 292 F.Supp.2d 700, 706 (E.D. Pa. 2003).
In Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), as here, the
prisoner/plaintiff claimed that inadequate medical treatment
violated his Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual
punishment. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the government
has an obligation to provide medical care to its prisoners, but
held that a constitutional violation does not occur unless the
Plaintiff can show Defendants had a "deliberate indifference to
serious medical needs of prisoners" which constitutes
"unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Id. at 104
Plaintiff concedes that he received medical care for his skin
condition, and he avers that prison medical personnel treated his
subsequent infection with an antibiotic. (Doc. 1 at 3, Attachment
B). However, Plaintiff claims that the antibiotic was not
administered as long as Plaintiff deemed necessary. (Id.)
(". . . treating my infection with an antibiotic regimen only to
stop before all the infection had cleared away.") Further, he
contends that he was not allowed to shower as often as he thought
necessary to battle his skin problem. A complaint that a
physician or a medical department "has been negligent in
diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid
claim of medical mistreatment under the Eighth Amendment [as]
medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation
merely because the victim is a prisoner." Estelle,
429 U.S. at 106. If inadequate treatment results simply from an error in medical
judgment, there is no constitutional violation. Id. Although
there is no heightened pleading standard for § 1983 actions,
Plaintiff's complaint has no allegations and there is no
inference that Prime Care, Inc. was deliberately indifferent to
Plaintiff's serious medical needs. At best, Plaintiff's
allegations establish mere negligence, and he does not present
any allegation of a "substantial risk" to a "serious medical
condition" caused by Defendants' treatment.
Moreover, it is well-established that "[A] defendant in a civil
rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged
wrongs; liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of
respondent superior." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195,
1208 (3d Cir. 1988). The personal involvement requirement can be
satisfied by a showing of "personal direction or of actual
knowledge and acquiescence." Id.; Pansy v. Preate,
870 F. Supp. 612, 630 (M.D. Pa. 1994), aff'd mem., 61 F.3d 896 (3d
Cir. 1995). Nevertheless, an official who actually knew of a
substantial risk to inmate health or safety will not be liable
where the official acted reasonably in response, even if the harm
ultimately ensues. Id. at 844. Although the Court recognizes
that Plaintiff's skin condition and his subsequent infection
likely constitute a serious medical condition, there is nothing
in the complaint to indicate that the medical personnel are
responsible for anything other than choosing a different path for
Plaintiff's treatment than he would have preferred. Furthermore,
there is no indication that Prime Care, Inc. had any knowledge of
or acquiescence in any sort of substandard care. Plaintiff's
complaint is devoid of allegations or an inference that Prime
Care, Inc. knew of and disregarded a substantial risk to
Plaintiff's serious medical condition. This does not rise to the
level of an Eighth Amendment claim, and the motion to dismiss
will be granted.
B. Summary Judgment Motion of Dauphin County and Warden
DeRose Also pending is the motion for summary judgment filed by
Dauphin County and Warden DeRose. The motion is based, in part,
upon a contention that Plaintiff has not alleged the elements
necessary to establish liability of these Defendants. The Court
1. Summary Judgment Standard
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment
may be entered only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law." The party moving for summary judgment has
the burden of proving that there is no genuine issue of material
fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
Additionally, on summary judgment, the inferences to be drawn
from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. Mraz v. County of Lehigh,
862 F. Supp. 1344 (E.D. Pa. 1994). "Only disputes over facts that
might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will
properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To preclude
summary judgment, there must be a "genuine" issue of a material
fact, "that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. "If the
evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative,
summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-250 (citations
Moreover, Rule 56 provides that the adverse party may not
simply sit back and rest on the allegations contained in the
pleadings. Rather, the adverse party must show by affidavits,
pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). When addressing a summary judgment motion, our inquiry focuses on "whether the evidence
presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the
jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as
a matter of law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52 (emphasis
2. Deliberate Indifference
As previously noted, "a defendant in a civil rights action must
have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability cannot
be predicated solely on the operation of respondent superior."
Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1208 (3d Cir. 1988).
Although it is clear in the record that Plaintiff filed numerous
inmate requests complaining of improper treatment, there is no
evidence in the record to support a finding of deliberate
indifference or knowing acquiescence by Dauphin County or Warden
DeRose. Defendants have attached thirty (30) inmate request forms
filed by Plaintiff while he was at DCP. (Doc. 20, Ex. C). Most,
but not all, of the inmate requests relate to Plaintiff's
complaints about the medical care. However, the requests also
typically contain a notation that some relief or altered medical
attention was provided promptly in response to these complaints.
The record is devoid of evidence or an inference that Dauphin
County or Warden DeRose knew of and disregarded a substantial
risk to Plaintiff's serious medical condition. Further, a
non-physician defendant will not be liable for deliberate
indifference where the inmate is receiving treatment by the
prison's medical staff. Durmer v. O'Carroll, 991 F.2d 64, 69
(3rd Cir. 1993). Ultimately, Plaintiff has not met his burden
under Rule 56, and the motion for summary judgment will be
C. Dauphin County Prison As it relates to Dauphin County Prison, the case will be
dismissed pursuant to the provisions of
28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). Plaintiff has sought and been granted leave to
proceed in forma pauperis. (See Docs. 2 and 11). The Prison
Litigation Reform Act (the "Act"), Pub.L. No. 104-134,
110 Stat. 1321 (April 26, 1996) established new obligations for prisoners
who file civil rights actions in federal court, and wish to
proceed in forma pauperis. Section 1915 of the Act states that
"the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court
determines that . . . (B) the action or appeal (i) is
frivolous. . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) (emphasis added).
This section applies equally to cases that are factually
frivolous and those that are legally frivolous. Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989). An action is legally
frivolous if it is based upon an indisputably meritless legal
theory, and may be dismissed under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). Wilson v.
Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989). Indisputably
meritless legal theories are those "in which it is . . . readily
apparent that the plaintiff's complaint lacks an arguable basis
in law. . . ." Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir.
1990) (quoting Sultenfuss v. Snow, 894 F.2d 1277, 1278 (11th
Cir. 1990)). "[T]he frivolousness determination is a
discretionary one," and trial courts "are in the best position"
to determine when an indigent litigant's complaint is appropriate
for summary dismissal. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33
As previously noted, the Plaintiff must establish that the
alleged wrongful conduct was committed by a state actor and it
deprived the plaintiff of a right under the Constitution or laws
of the United States. Plaintiff does not identify any conduct of
DCP that has abridged a right or privilege of the Plaintiff. As
with Dauphin County, under the most liberal interpretation,
Plaintiff's allegations merely establish a difference in the
course of treatment pursued by the prison medical staff and the
treatment preferred by Plaintiff. Moreover, a non-physician defendant will not be liable for deliberate
indifference where the inmate is receiving treatment by the
prison's medical staff. Durmer v. O'Carroll, 991 F.2d 64, 69
(3rd Cir. 1993). Thus, "it is . . . readily apparent that the
plaintiff's complaint lacks an arguable basis in law," Roman v.
Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Sultenfuss v.
Snow, 894 F.2d 1277, 1278 (11th Cir. 1990)) and the complaint
will be dismissed as it relates to Dauphin County Prison. An
appropriate order follows. ORDER
AND NOW, THIS 1st DAY OF SEPTEMBER, 2005, in accordance
with the foregoing memorandum, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
1. The motion of Prime Care, Inc. (Doc. 16) to dismiss
Plaintiff's complaint is GRANTED.
2. Dauphin County's and D. DeRose's motion for summary judgment
(Doc.) is GRANTED.
3. The Plaintiff's complaint is DISMISSED as it relates to
Dauphin County Prison, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).
4. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of
Defendants and against Plaintiff, and the Clerk of Court shall
mark this case closed.
5. Any appeal from this Order shall be deemed frivolous,
without probable cause, and not taken in good faith.
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