United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 20, 2005.
NORMAN J. PATTON, Plaintiff
THOMAS DORAN, ET AL., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES MUNLEY, District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Norman J. Patton, a former inmate at the Clinton County Prison,
originally filed this action on October 8, 2004. An amended
complaint was filed on October 13, 2004. (Doc. 2). Presently
pending are the motion to dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P.
12(b) filed on behalf of Defendants Duran, Motter, Harkey, Kyle,
Bossert, Yost, McKnight, Ankney, Edwards and Frederick(Doc. 5)
and motion to dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b) filed on
behalf Defendant Greenburg. (Doc. 23). For the reasons set forth
below, the motion to dismiss filed on behalf of Duran, Motter,
Harkey, Kyle, Bossert, Yost, McKnight, Ankney, Edwards and
Frederick will be granted in part and denied in part and
Defendant Greenburg's motion will be granted.
I. Factual background.
Patton alleges that on October 9, 2002, while he was
incarcerated at the Clinton County Prison he fell from an
unprotected upper bunk bed and broke his left arm. He seeks to
impose liability on Defendants Duran, Motter, and Harkey, and the
prison board members, Kyle, Bossert, Yost, McKnight, Ankney, and
Edwards based upon the absence of safety equipment on upper bunks which would prevent such a fall.
Following his fall from the bunk, Patton was taken to the local
hospital emergency room. He was treated by an orthopedic surgeon,
Dr. Davis, who performed a reduction on the broken arm, and
discharged Patton to the prison with a prescription for pain
medication. Patton alleges that the pain medication was not given
to him by Defendant Frederick, a prison nurse.
On October 17, 2002, he was again seen by Dr. Davis. The doctor
was concerned about a "non-union" of his left arm. He prescribed
a brace, which was to be made at Lock Haven Hospital, and
discharged Patton to the Clinton County Prison. Upon his return
to the prison, Patton alleges that Frederick commented that "Lock
Haven Hospital did not do this work." (Doc. 2, p. 6). There was
then a two-week delay from the time the brace was prescribed to
when the order for the brace was placed. This resulted in a
four-week wait for the brace. Patton alleges that by the time the
brace was received, any healing benefit of the brace was lost. As
a result, Patton was required to have two surgeries to correct
the non-union. The first surgery took place on January 9, 2003,
and the second one occurred on May 9, 2003. Patton alleges that
all Defendants are responsible for the inadequate medical
treatment received while he was at the Clinton County Prison.
II. Motions to Dismiss.
A. Standard of Review.
When evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must accept all
material allegations of the complaint as true and construe all inferences in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes,
416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The court assumes the truth of plaintiff's
allegations, and draws all favorable inferences therefrom. See,
Rocks v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d. 644, 645 (3d. Cir.
1989). A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a
claim unless it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle
him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 44-46 (1957);
Ransom v. Marrazzo, 848 F.2d 398, 401 (3d Cir. 1988). A
complaint that sets out facts which affirmatively demonstrate
that the plaintiff has no right to recover is properly dismissed
without leave to amend. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 107-108
1. Exhaustion of administrative remedies.
Defendants move to dismiss the complaint for failure to exhaust
administrative remedies pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997(e)a.
However, as correctly noted by Patton, the exhaustion requirement
does not apply to Patton as he is a former inmate. See, Ahmed
v. Dragovich, 297 F.3d 201, 210 (3d Cir. 2002). The motions will
be denied on this ground.
2. Conditions of confinement claim.
In order to state an Eighth Amendment claim, Patton must have
alleged facts that, if proven, would show that prison officials
acted with "deliberate indifference" toward conditions at the
prison that created a substantial risk of serious harm. Farmer
v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). This test involves both an
objective and subjective component. The objective component requires an inmate to show that the
alleged deprivation is "sufficiently serious." Farmer,
511 U.S. at 834 (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court explained in
Farmer, "[t]he inmate must show that he is incarcerated under
conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm." Id. To
satisfy the subjective component, an inmate must show that prison
officials had "a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Id.
(citations omitted). "In prison-conditions cases that state of
mind is one of `deliberate indifference' to inmate health or
safety." Id. (citations omitted). Although the deliberate
indifference standard "describes a state of mind more blameworthy
than negligence," this standard is satisfied if "the official
knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or
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 inference." Id. at 835, 837.
Also, it is well established that claims brought under § 1983
cannot be premised on a theory of respondeat superior. Id.
Rather, each named defendant must be shown, via the complaint's
allegations, to have been personally involved in the events or
occurrences which underlie a claim. See Rizzo v. Goode,
423 U.S. 362 (1976); Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials,
546 F.2d 1077 (3d Cir. 1976). As explained in Rode:
A defendant in a civil rights action must have
personal involvement in the alleged wrongs . . .
[P]ersonal involvement can be shown through
allegations of personal direction or of actual
knowledge and acquiescence. Allegations of
participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence,
however, must be made with appropriate particularity.
Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207. There is no question that Patton seeks
to impose liability on Defendants Duran, Harkey and Motter based on their supervisory
roles as he alleges no personal involvement. The conditions of
confinement claim against these Defendants is therefore subject
to dismissal. However, even if the Court were to "infer" personal
involvement, as suggested by Patton, the claim would still be
subject to dismissal. Failing to install safety rails on an upper
bunk of a set of bunk beds that is to be exclusively utilized by
adults does not constitute a condition which would pose an
unreasonable risk of future injury.
As concerns the members of the prison board, Patton fails to
allege, with appropriate particularity, that these Defendants
participated in, or had actual knowledge of the alleged wrong.
The claim against them is also subject to dismissal.
3. Deliberate indifference to medical care claim.
Defendants move to dismiss the second count of the complaint on
the ground that Patton fails to state a claim of deliberate
indifference. "A prison official's `deliberate indifference' to a
substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth
Amendment." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 827 citing Helling v.
McKinney, 509 U.S. 25 (1993); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294
(1991); Estelle, 429 U.S. 97. An inadequate medical care claim,
as is presented here, requires allegations that the prison
official acted with "deliberate indifference to serious medical
needs" of the plaintiff, while a prisoner. Estelle,
429 U.S. at 104; Unterberg v. Correctional Medical Systems, Inc.,
799 F.Supp. 490, 494-95 (E.D. Pa. 1992). The official must know of
and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. "[T]he 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 inference." Id. "The question
. . . is whether prison officials, acting with deliberate
indifference, exposed a prisoner to a sufficiently substantial
`risk of serious damage to his future health.'" Farmer,
511 U.S. at 843. This test "affords considerable latitude to prison
medical authorities in the diagnosis and treatment of the medical
problems of inmate patients. Courts will `disavow any attempt to
second guess the propriety or adequacy of a particular course of
treatment . . . which remains a question of sound professional
judgment.'" Little v. Lycoming County, 912 F.Supp. 809, 815
(M.D. Pa) aff'd, 103 F.3d 691 (1996), citing Inmates of
Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce, 612 F.2d 754, 762 (3d Cir.
1979), quoting Bowring v. Godwin, 551 F.2d 44, 48 (4th Cir.
Furthermore, 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 . . ." Estelle,
429 U.S. at 106. More than a decade ago, the Third Circuit ruled that
"while the distinction between deliberate indifference and
malpractice can be subtle, it is well established that as long as
a physician exercises professional judgment his behavior will not
violate a prisoner's constitutional rights." Brown v. Borough of
Chambersburg, 903 F.2d 274, 278 (3d Cir. 1990). "A medical
decision not to order an X-ray, or like measures, does not
represent cruel and unusual punishment. At most it is medical
malpractice." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 107.
Where an inmate is provided with medical care and the dispute
is over the adequacy of that care, an Eighth Amendment claim does not exist. Nottingham
v. Peoria, 709 F.Supp. 542, 547 (M.D.Pa. 1988). Disagreement
among individuals as to the proper medical treatment does not
support an Eighth Amendment claim. Monmouth County Correctional
Inst. Inmates v. Lensario, 834 F.2d 326, 346 (3d Cir. 1987).
Only flagrantly egregious acts or omissions can violate the
standard. Mere medical malpractice cannot result in an Eighth
Amendment violation, nor can any disagreements over the
professional judgment of a health care provider. White v.
Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 108-10 (1990).
Patton attempts to impose liability on Dr. Greenburg solely on
the ground that he "failed to adequately supervise the Clinton
County Prison Medical Department." (Doc. 2, ¶ 40). As established
above, claims brought under § 1983 cannot be premised on a theory
of respondeat superior. Rather, each defendant must be shown,
via the complaint's allegations, to have been personally
involved in the events or occurrences which underlie the claim.
Patton fails to set forth a single allegation that would lead the
court to conclude that Dr. Greenburg was personally involved in
the alleged wrong.
Conversely, Patton specifically alleges that Defendant
Frederick denied him pain medication. He also alleges that
Defendant Frederick was responsible for the two-week delay in the
ordering of his arm brace, and that the delay negated the
effectiveness of the brace and caused him to undergo two
surgeries. Plaintiff has sufficiently stated an eighth amendment
claim of deliberate indifference to his medical needs against
Defendant Frederick. This claim will proceed as to Defendant
Frederick. As concerns the non-medical defendants, if a prisoner is under
the care of medical experts, a non-medical prison official cannot
be considered deliberately indifferent. The allegations against
the non-medical defendants are that they failed to properly
supervise or make themselves aware of the need to properly
supervise the medical department. When a prisoner is under the
care of medical experts, as is the case here, a non-medical
prison official will generally be justified in believing that the
prisoner is in capable hands. As recently noted by the Third
Circuit, "[t]his follows naturally from the division of labor
within a prison. Inmate health and safety is promoted by dividing
responsibility for various aspects of inmate life among guards,
administrators, physicians, and so on. Holding a non-medical
prison official liable in a case where a prisoner was under a
physician's care would strain this division of labor. Moreover,
under such a regime, non-medical officials could even have a
perverse incentive not to delegate treatment responsibility to
the very physicians most likely to be able to help prisoners, for
fear of vicarious liability." Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218,
236 (3d Cir. 2004). Absent a reason to believe, or actual
knowledge, that prison doctors or their assistants are
mistreating, or not treating a prisoner, a non-medical prison
official will not be chargeable with the Eighth Amendment
scienter requirement of deliberate indifference. Id. Thus,
dismissal of Patton's claim against Duran, Harkey and Motter and
the members of the prison board is appropriate because Patton
bears the burden pleading facts supporting the Defendants' mental
states, see Singletary v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 266 F.3d 186,
192 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2001), and he has failed to so plead with
respect to the non-medical defendants.
Count one of the complaint will be dismissed in its entirety.
Count two will be dismissed against all Defendants except
An appropriate order will issue. ORDER
AND NOW, to with, this 20th day of September 2005, in
accordance with the accompanying memorandum, IT IS HEREBY
1. The motions to dismiss (Docs. 5, 23) are GRANTED as to Count
One. Count One is dismissed in its entirety;
2. The motions are GRANTED as to Count Two with respect to all
Defendants except Defendant Frederick;
3. Count Two of the complaint will proceed solely against
4. Defendant Frederick shall file an answer to Count Two of the
complaint within twenty days of the date of this order.
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