United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
October 4, 2005.
FREDERICK GEIB, Plaintiff,
JEFF JAMES, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. CAPUTO, District Judge
Plaintiff, Frederick Geib, an inmate at the State Correctional
Institution in Waymart ("Waymart"), Pennsylvania, commenced this
pro se action with a civil rights complaint filed pursuant to
the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as Defendants are the
following Waymart officials: (1) Unit Manager, Jeff James; (2)
prison physician, Dr. Bekele; (3) physician's assistant, Mrs.
Loomis; and (4) health care administrator, Donald Fiske.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have failed to provide adequate
medical treatment for Plaintiff's injured hand. For relief, he
seeks: (1) proper medical treatment; (2) physical therapy; (3)
evaluation by a medical expert; and (4) compensatory damages.
Presently before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss
(Docs. 23 and 34) Plaintiff's complaint. The motions have been
briefed, and they are ripe for disposition. For the following
reasons, the motions of Jeff James, Mrs. Loomis, and Donald Fiske
will be granted, and Dr. Bekele's motion will be denied. II. Background
On October 22, 2002, while proceeding to his prison job,
Plaintiff injured his hand when another prisoner struck it with a
swinging door. Plaintiff was sent to the medical department, and
he was given an ice pack and Motrin pain reliever. The next day,
Plaintiff was again seen by medical staff, an x-ray of the hand
was ordered, and he was given an ace bandage. The following day,
Plaintiff was informed that he had a broken bone in his hand.
Subsequently, Plaintiff returned to sick call with continued
complaints of pain. He was informed that he would see a doctor,
but many days passed without an appointment. Plaintiff complained
to his unit manager, Defendant James, who told Plaintiff "do what
you gotta do, the medical department here sucks." (Doc. 1 at 5.)
On October 31, 2002, Plaintiff was taken to an outside doctor.
After reviewing the x-rays sent from the prison with Plaintiff,
the outside doctor applied a cast to Plaintiff's hand and thumb.
Days later, Plaintiff returned to the outside doctor, and was
informed that the wrong x-rays had been sent for the doctor's
review. The doctor removed the first cast, and applied a new cast
to Plaintiff's hand and thumb. Plaintiff was informed that his
bone had broken in half. The doctor told him that since so many
days had passed and the bone had not received a proper blood
supply, Plaintiff may require surgery. On December 9, 2002,
Plaintiff returned to the outside doctor, and the doctor ordered
surgery. On March 26, 2003, a portion of bone was removed from
Plaintiff's hip and placed in Plaintiff's hand, and his hand was
again placed in a cast. On June 16, 2003, Plaintiff's cast was
removed, and the outside doctor ordered a splint for the hand.
The prison did not have splints in stock, and one was ordered.
While waiting for the splint to arrive, Plaintiff re-injured his
hand. Plaintiff was returned to the outside doctor and received a new cast. Ultimately, the splint
arrived five (5) weeks after it was ordered.
More recently, the outside doctor recommended a specialist, but
informed Plaintiff that the prison would not allow a specialist
consultation for Plaintiff. Upon inquiry, Dr. Bekele informed
Plaintiff that it was the insurance carrier, not the prison, that
would not allow the specialist consultation. Plaintiff claims
that his hand is no better, and Bekele has informed him that his
hand will never improve. Plaintiff also claims that he has
endured unnecessary pain and suffering because he is in prison.
After Plaintiff filed unsuccessful prison grievances, this action
A. Motion to Dismiss Standard
Defendants contend that Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted and should be dismissed
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. 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). 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). Nevertheless, the Court is mindful
that pro se complaints are to be liberally construed. Haines
v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).
B. Deliberate Indifference
To state a viable § 1983 claim, Plaintiff must establish (1)
that the alleged wrongful conduct was committed by a person
acting under color of state law, and (2) that the conduct
deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured
by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Nicini v.
Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000). Both elements must be
present to sustain a § 1983 action.
It is undisputed that Defendants are state actors, and 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). A serious medical need is one that has
been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment, or one that
is so obvious that a layperson would recognize the need for a
doctor's attention. Monmouth County Correctional Institutional
Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987); McCabe
Prison Health Services, 117 F.Supp. 2d 443, 450 (E.D. Pa. 1997).
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 (citation omitted).
C. Jeff James and Donald Fiske
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. 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).
Plaintiff fails to allege any facts that implicate James or
Fiske in acts depriving him of Constitutionally protected rights.
The only allegation against James is that he responded to
Plaintiff's complaints about the medical care by telling
Plaintiff "the medical department . . . sucks." (Doc. 1 at 5.) In
opposition to James' motion to dismiss, Plaintiff claims James
"consciously and intentionally did nothing." (Doc. 32 at 2.)
However, James is a non-medical Defendant, and he was not
authorized to render medical care or take any other action that
Plaintiff seems to believe was lacking. Even if the Court assumes
that James was responsible for sending the wrong x-rays to the
outside doctor, this error does not amount to the wanton infliction of unnecessary pain addressed
in the Estelle line of cases.
Similarly, under the most liberal reading of Plaintiff's
complaint the Court can not conclude that Fiske has been
deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs.
Plaintiff claims that he wrote "several requests to [Fiske, and]
. . . [h]e just kept telling me to put in sick call slips." (Doc.
1 at 5.) Although Plaintiff infers that Fiske is liable in a
supervisory capacity ("Plaintiff also wrote to Mr. Fiske for help
. . . Mr. Fiske still gave no help, despite being directly in
charge of the medical department." (emphasis in original); Doc.
32 at 2), claims brought under § 1983 cannot be premised on a
theory of respondeat superior. Rode v. Dellarciprete,
845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). 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).
Ultimately, the record is devoid of evidence or an inference that
James or Fiske knew of and disregarded a substantial risk to
Plaintiff's serious medical condition, or that they knowingly
acquiesced in any substandard treatment to Plaintiff, and their
motion to dismiss will be granted.
D. Mrs. Loomis
The complaint alleges that physician's assistant Mrs. Loomis is
liable because she misstated facts in response to a grievance
filed by Plaintiff. When the outside doctor removed Plaintiff's
second cast, he ordered a splint for Plaintiff's injured limb.
Plaintiff alleges that the doctor called the prison and was told
by an unidentified person that the prison would apply the splint.
However, when Plaintiff returned to the prison he was informed
that there was no splint on hand, and it had to be ordered. The
splint took five (5) weeks to arrive, and Plaintiff had re-injured his hand in the
meantime. Consequently, Plaintiff filed a grievance and Mrs.
Loomis allegedly misstated the facts in response to that
grievance. (Doc. 1 at 5.)
Viewing these allegations in a light most favorable to
Plaintiff, Mrs. Loomis' actions do not rise to the level of
deliberate indifference proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.
Plaintiff does not claim that Mrs. Loomis had delayed the splint,
that she was in any way responsible for the re-injury, or that
her alleged misstatement in any way impeded or altered his
medical treatment. His only allegation is that she misstated
facts in response to Plaintiff's grievance, and this is
insufficient to establish liability. Thus, Mrs. Loomis' motion to
dismiss will be granted.
E. Dr. Bekele
Although not specifically alleged, Plaintiff infers that his
hand was permanently damaged as a result of mistreatment by Dr.
Bekele, that Dr. Bekele sent the wrong x-rays to the outside
doctor, that Dr. Bekele unduly delayed the availability of a
splint, and Dr. Bekele is resisting the recommendation of the
outside doctor to send Plaintiff to a specialist. 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.
"[A]s 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). Moreover, one doctor's disagreement with the professional
judgment of another doctor is not actionable under the Eighth Amendment. White v. Napolean, 897 F.2d 103, 110 (3d Cir. 1990).
However, viewing the facts in a light most favorable to
Plaintiff, the Court is unable to rule out deliberate
indifference by the doctor, and Plaintiff will be permitted to
proceed to try to submit evidence to support his inferences of
Dr. Bekele's deliberate indifference. Accordingly, Dr. Bekele's
motion to dismiss will be denied. An appropriate Order follows. ORDER
AND NOW, THIS 4th DAY OF OCTOBER, 2005, in accordance
with the foregoing memorandum, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
1. Defendants Fiske and James' motion to dismiss
(Doc. 23) Plaintiff's complaint is GRANTED.
2. Defendants Loomis and Bekele's motion to dismiss
(Doc. 34) Plaintiff's complaint is granted in part.
Janan Loomis' motion to dismiss is GRANTED, and Dr.
Tamrat Bekele's motion is DENIED.
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