United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 27, 2005.
DANIEL A. HELEVA, Plaintiff
SANDRA KUNKLE, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHRISTOPHER CONNER, District Judge
Presently before the court is a motion for summary judgment by
defendant, Dr. Prakashschandra Shah ("Dr. Shah"), a medical
doctor who provides services to inmates at Monroe County
Correctional Facility ("MCCF") where plaintiff, Daniel A. Heleva
("Heleva"), was incarcerated. Heleva alleges that Dr. Shah was
deliberately indifferent to a serious neck injury sustained as a
result of an incident with another inmate. Dr. Shah counters that
he was not deliberately indifferent in his diagnosis and
treatment of Heleva's neck injury. The court agrees, and will
grant the motion.
I. Statement of Facts*fn1
Heleva alleges that, on July 14, 2002, while incarcerated at
MCCF, he was attacked by another inmate and rendered unconscious.
He allegedly sustained a neck injury during the attack. (Doc. 1
at 3-4.) Shortly after the incident, Heleva was examined by a nurse,*fn2 who observed that his neck was
red and bruised and that the right, back area of his head was
painful to the touch. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 4.) Heleva was monitored
for the remainder of the day by MCCF personnel who kept him under
a fifteen-minute watch to assure that he stayed awake. (Doc. 18,
Ex. A at 4; Doc. 74 ¶ 8.) The following day, Dr. Shah, a medical
doctor who provides services to inmates at MCCF (Doc. 18, Exs. B,
C), examined Heleva. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 5, Ex. C ¶ 4.) After
observing the pain and the slightly limited range of motion in
Heleva's neck, Dr. Shah determined that Heleva had suffered a
sprain. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 5, Ex. C ¶ 4.) Dr. Shah then ordered a
cervical x-ray and prescribed Flexeril, a muscle relaxer. (Doc.
18, Ex. A at 5, Ex. C ¶¶ 5-6.) The x-ray results were negative
for fractures.*fn3 (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 5, 24.)
Dr. Shah examined Heleva again on July 29, 2002. (Doc. 18, Ex.
A at 6, Ex. C ¶ 7.) He reported the findings from the nurse's
July 26 evaluation that Heleva had pain and limited range of
motion in his neck and shoulder. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 6.) Dr. Shah
advised Heleva to continue taking Flexeril and prescribed
Naprosyn, an anti-inflammatory medication. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 6,
Ex. C ¶¶ 8-9.) After noting that Heleva's range of motion was improving, Dr. Shah discussed range
of motion exercises with Heleva.*fn4 (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 6,
Ex. C ¶ 8.)
On October 3, 2002, Heleva requested a second opinion regarding
his neck pain. (Doc. 67, Ex. at 19.) According to Heleva, Dr.
Shah was "visibly upset" by this request and insisted that he
would handle the situation. (Doc. 73 ¶ 11.) Dr. Shah subsequently
ordered another x-ray, which was again negative (Doc. 18, Ex. A
at 25), and advised Heleva to continue taking Naprosyn. (Doc. 18,
Ex. A at 8.) Two weeks later, Heleva had a follow-up visit with
Dr. Shah, where Dr. Shah discussed the x-ray results and
increased the range of motion exercises to Heleva's right
shoulder. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 9.) On November 21, 2002, Dr. Shah
again met with Heleva to discuss his condition and lack of sleep
from the pain. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 9-10.)
Thereafter, Dr. Shah and other medical staff routinely saw
Heleva regarding his neck injury, sometimes only to discuss
changes in medications. (Doc. 18, Ex. A.) Flexeril continued to
be prescribed, along with other medications, including Elavil.
(Doc. 18, Ex. A, Ex. C ¶¶ 12, 14.) On May 5, 2004, Dr. Shah noted
that Heleva had experienced neck pain for approximately two years and had
decreased range of motion in all directions. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at
19.) Subsequently, Dr. Shah ordered an MRI (Doc. 18, Ex. A at
19), which was completed on September 30, 2004 (Doc. 73 ¶
As an alternative to drug therapy, Heleva attempted
unsuccessfully to secure the free chiropractic services of a
Prison Society Member chiropractor, Dr. Melvin J. Rosenthal.
(Doc. 73 ¶ 9; Doc. 67, Ex. at 22.) Heleva sought the services of
Dr. Rosenthal and requested a second opinion by filling out the
"Sick Call Request" and "Inmate Request" forms. In response,
prison officials advised Heleva that he needed a referral from
the facility doctor and that such a referral would not be
forthcoming because his x-rays were negative.*fn6 (Doc. 67,
Ex. at 27, 38-40.) Heleva also pursued over-the-counter treatment
modalities, but these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful or
unavailable.*fn7 Upon Heleva's transfer to another correctional institution in
2005, medical staff examined Heleva's neck, prescribed Motrin,
and ordered an x-ray. (Doc. 73 ¶¶ 20-22.) The radiologist's
report purportedly indicated that Heleva's head leaned to the
right and that the bone structure was misaligned in two
directions and unevenly spaced. (Doc. 73 ¶ 23.)
In July 2004, Heleva commenced the instant action against
officials at MCCF, including Dr. Shah, pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) The complaint raises Eighth Amendment
claims,*fn8 as well as various claims under the Pennsylvania
Constitution.*fn9 It seeks an injunction requiring proper
diagnosis and treatment and prohibiting defendants and their
agents from harassing, threatening, punishing, or retaliating
against plaintiff, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. On October 13, 2004, Dr. Shah filed the instant motion for
summary judgment arguing that his diagnosis and treatment of
Heleva do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.*fn10
(Doc. 17.) Heleva filed a brief in opposition, contending that
Dr. Shah was deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need.
(Doc. 75.) The motion is now ripe for disposition.
II. Standard of Review
Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those
claims that do not present a "genuine issue of material fact,"
and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary
formality. It places the burden on the non-moving party to come
forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the
pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of
Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV.
P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of
law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on
the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P.
56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action
proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 314. III. Discussion
Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers
private citizens a cause of action for violations of federal law
by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides,
in pertinent part, as follows:
Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State
or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects,
or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the
United States or other person within the jurisdiction
thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges,
or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws,
shall be liable to the party injured in an action at
law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for
redress. . . .
Id.; see also Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85
(2002); Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199
, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). To
establish a civil rights claim, the plaintiff must show a
"deprivation" of a constitutional or statutory right by a person
"acting under color of state law."*fn11
Id. (quoting Mark
v. Borough of Hatboro, 51 F.3d 1137
, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995)).
In the matter sub judice, Heleva raises a claim against Dr.
Shah under the Eighth Amendment to the United States
Constitution.*fn12 The Eighth Amendment guarantees that
individuals will not be subjected to "cruel and unusual
punishments." U.S. CONST. amend. VIII. In the context of prison
medical care, a violation of the Eighth Amendment is established
by showing that a prison official acted with "deliberate
indifference" to the prisoner's "serious medical needs." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); see also Spruill
v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 235 (3d Cir. 2004).
A serious medical need is a condition requiring treatment as
diagnosed by a doctor or a condition "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). A prison doctor acts with
deliberate indifference when the doctor: (1) "intentionally
inflict[s] pain" on the inmate, (2) "den[ies] reasonable requests
for medical treatment . . . [which] exposes the inmate to `undue
suffering or the threat of tangible residual injury,'" or (3)
knows of the "need for medical care" and "intentional[ly]
refus[es] to provide that care." Id. Mere negligence is
insufficient to establish an Eighth Amendment violation. Hampton
v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 546 F.2d 1077, 1081 (3d Cir.
1976) ("To establish a constitutional violation, the indifference
must be deliberate and the actions intentional."); see also
Natale v. Camden County Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d
Cir. 2003) (stating that "deliberate indifference" is a standard
consistent with recklessness). Likewise, a difference of opinion
between the inmate and doctor regarding medical treatment does
not support an Eighth Amendment claim. Spruill,
372 F.3d at 235; Monmouth County, 834 F.2d at 346. The key question is
whether the doctor treated the inmate in some way, not whether
the inmate agreed with the treatment. Farmer v. Carlson,
685 F. Supp. 1335, 1339 (M.D. Pa. 1988). In the matter sub judice, Heleva repeatedly alleges that Dr.
Shah acted with "deliberate indifference." This conclusory
allegation is without factual support. Assuming, arguendo, that
Heleva suffered from a serious medical need, nothing in the
record indicates that Dr. Shah acted with deliberate indifference
by (1) intentionally inflicting pain, (2) denying Heleva's
requests for medical treatment and exposing Heleva to undue
suffering, or (3) intentionally refusing to treat Heleva. Indeed,
the overwhelming evidence of record demonstrates that Heleva was
seen numerous times by MCCF medical staff who addressed his
complaints. Heleva received medical care shortly after the July
14, 2002 incident a nurse attended to him at the scene of the
incident and staff monitored him for the remainder of the day.
Dr. Shah saw him the next day, diagnosed a neck sprain, ordered
an x-ray, and prescribed medication. Two weeks later, Dr. Shah
again examined Heleva, prescribed additional medication, and
discussed range of motion exercises. Further, the medical staff
continued to treat Heleva's injury with medications and range of
motion exercises and conducted another x-ray and, eventually, an
MRI. Culled to its essence, Heleva's complaint is a disagreement
with Dr. Shah's diagnosis and treatment. Under these
circumstances, it is clear that Heleva cannot establish an
Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against Dr.
A review of the allegations of the complaint and evidence of
record reveals that, even when considered in the light most
favorable to him, Heleva's claims against Dr. Shah cannot proceed
to trial. The motion for summary judgment will be granted.
An appropriate order will issue. ORDER
AND NOW, this 27th day of September, 2005, upon consideration
of defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 17), and for the
reasons set forth in the accompanying memorandum, it is hereby
1. The motion for summary judgment (Doc. 17) is
2. The Clerk of Court is directed to defer the entry
of judgment until the conclusion of this case.
3. Any appeal from this order is DEEMED frivolous and
not in good faith. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3).
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