United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
November 22, 2005.
DAVID W. TRIPP, Plaintiff,
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SYLVIA RAMBO, Senior District Judge
Plaintiff, David W. Tripp, an inmate at the State Correctional
Institution-Forest in Marienville, Pennsylvania, commenced this
action pro se with a civil rights complaint filed pursuant to
the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants are: (1)
Pennsylvania State Correctional Institutions at Camp Hill
("SCI-Camp Hill"), Chester ("SCI-Chester"), and Dallas
("SCI-Dallas"); (2) Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; (3)
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; and (4) SCI-Camp Hill
dentist, Dr. Philps. Plaintiff claims that Defendants have been
deliberately indifferent to his dental needs (provision of
dentures and related dental care) in contravention of the Eighth
Amendment proscription of cruel and unusual punishment.
Specifically, he claims that in 2001, Dr. Philps, in his official
capacity as prison dentist at SCI-Camp Hill, pulled some of
Plaintiff's top teeth, and since that procedure Plaintiff has not
received requested dentures, and he is suffering from chronic
bleeding gums. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, directing
Defendants to provide dentures and dental work, as well as
monetary damages for "(2) two years of pain and suffering." (Doc.
1 at 4.) Presently pending is Defendants' motion to dismiss
Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. 12.) The motion has been briefed and
it is ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth,
Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint will be
granted in part and denied in part.
II. 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 Am., 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
Sch. Dist., 377 F.3d 338, 342 (3d Cir. 2004); Pension Guar.
Corp. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.
1993). A complaint that does not establish entitlement to relief
under any reasonable interpretation is properly dismissed without
leave to amend. Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp, 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).
A. Statute of Limitations
Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the
applicable statute of limitations. In reviewing the applicability
of the statute of limitations to an action filed pursuant to §
1983, a federal court must apply the appropriate state statute of
limitations that governs personal injury actions. North Star
Steel Co. v. Thomas, 515 U.S. 29, 34 (1995); Kingvision
Pay-Per-View, Corp., Ltd. v. 898 Belmont, Inc., 366 F.3d 217,
220 (3d Cir. 2004). Pennsylvania's applicable personal injury
statute of limitations is two years. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §
5524(7); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 190 (3d Cir. 1993).
The statute of limitations "begins to run from the time when the
plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the
basis of the Section 1983 action." Gentry v. Resolution Trust
Corp., 937 F.2d 899, 919 (3d Cir. 1991) (citations omitted).
Plaintiff's allegations of mistreatment by Defendants begin
with his incarceration at SCI-Camp Hill in 2001. Nevertheless,
Plaintiff's claims of neglect continue to the present time. "Till
this day my food is still [tasting] like blood . . . from my top
gums when eating." (Doc. 1 at 4.) "[W]hile eating, pain and
bleeding caused by simple foods can be unbearable and this pain
is caused by the [neglect] of the Dental Department." (Doc. 14 at
1.) "In most federal causes of action, when a defendant's conduct
is part of a continuing practice, an action is timely so long as
the last act evidencing the continuing practice falls within the
limitations period. . . ." Brenner v. Local 514, United Bhd. of
Carpenters and Joinders of Am., 927 F.2d 1283, 1295 (3d Cir.
1991). Therefore, since Plaintiff alleges a continuing violation
of his Eighth Amendment rights, Defendants' argument that
Plaintiff's claims are time-barred will be denied.
B. Eleventh Amendment Immunity
As the Complaint relates to Plaintiff's claim for monetary
damages, Defendants argue that they are entitled to Eleventh
Amendment immunity. 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
well-settled that neither a state nor its agencies are considered
a "person" as that term is defined under § 1983 and, therefore,
are not subject to § 1983 suit. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21,
25-27 (1991). In Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police,
491 U.S. 58 (1989), the United States Supreme Court reiterated its
position that state agencies are not "persons" subject to
financial liability in § 1983 actions brought in federal court.
The Court noted that a § 1983 suit against a state official's
office was "no different from a suit against the State itself."
Id. at 71. "Will establishes that the State and arms of the
State, which have traditionally enjoyed Eleventh Amendment
immunity, are not subject to suit under § 1983 in either federal
or state court." Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 365 (1990).
After Will, the Third Circuit held that in determining
whether a state agency is entitled to Eleventh Amendment
immunity, a federal court should consider: (1) whether the state
would be responsible for the payment of any judgment rendered
against the agency; (2) the source of the agency's funding; and
(3) the degree of autonomy enjoyed by the agency, as well as
other similar factors. Bolden v. Southeastern Pa. Transp.
Auth., 953 F.2d 807, 818 (3d Cir. 1991).
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania specifically enjoys the
insulation of Eleventh Amendment immunity. Moreover, payment of
any monetary judgment rendered against the Department of
Corrections, an agency of the Commonwealth, and three state
prisons, institutions within a the state agency (See 71 Pa.
Cons. Stat. § 310-0) as well as the dentist in his official
capacity, would have to be paid out of the Pennsylvania state
treasury. Furthermore, these Defendants receive all of their
funding from the state, and do not enjoy any measure of autonomy.
Therefore, under Will and Bolden, Defendants are immune from
Plaintiff's claims under the Eleventh Amendment.*fn1
C. Plaintiff's Claim For Injunctive Relief
Plaintiff also seeks injunctive relief in this action, to
receive dentures and appropriate dental care. While Defendants
are insulated against Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages,
there is an exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity for purposes
of injunctive relief. Pa. Fed'n of Sportsmen's Clubs, Inc. v.
Hess, 297 F.3d 310, 323 (3d Cir. 2002) (stating that "suits
against individual state officers for prospective injunctive and
declaratory relief to end an ongoing violation of federal law"
constitute an exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity). Dr.
Philps is a individual state actor; thus, he is not shielded by
Eleventh Amendment immunity for purposes of injunctive relief.
However, the remaining Defendants are not individual state actors
and still retain Eleventh Amendment immunity.
As noted previously, to state a viable § 1983 claim,
Plaintiff must establish that: (1) the alleged wrongful conduct
was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and
(2) the conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or
immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United
States. Nicini, 212 F.3d at 806. 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 Corr. Inst. 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
Plaintiff alleges that when he was incarcerated at SCI-Camp
Hill in 2001, x-rays were taken of his mouth, and it was
determined that "all the teeth were bad." (Doc. 1 at 3.)
Consequently, Dr. Philps removed the top teeth, and Plaintiff was
subsequently transferred to SCI-Chester. Plaintiff does not
allege that there was anything improper about the removal of his
teeth or the treatment provided by Dr. Philps. Instead, Plaintiff
seeks appropriate treatment to prevent his continual bleeding
gums, and dentures to replace the extracted teeth. Viewing
Plaintiff's complaint liberally in the context of a motion to
dismiss, the court cannot conclude that Plaintiff is receiving
appropriate care for a serious medical need. Consequently,
Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claim for injunctive
relief against Dr. Philps will be denied.
Since Plaintiff implies that he has been denied proper dental
treatment from Dr. Philps, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be
denied as it relates to Plaintiff's claims against Dr. Philps for
injunctive relief. However, since the remaining Defendants enjoy
the insulation of Eleventh Amendment immunity their motion to
dismiss will be granted. Additionally, Plaintiff's claims for
monetary damages against Dr. Philps will also be dismissed under
the principle of Eleventh Amendment immunity.
In accordance with the foregoing memorandum, IT IS HEREBY
1) Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 12) Plaintiff's claims
for injunctive relief against Dr. Philps is DENIED. Defendants'
motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against
Dr. Philps is GRANTED. Defendants' motion to dismiss the
remaining Defendants (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, SCI-Camp
Hill, SCI-Chester, SCI-Dallas, and Pennsylvania Department of
Corrections) is GRANTED.
2) Dr. Philps is directed to answer the allegations in
Plaintiff's Complaint with respect to his claims for injunctive
relief within twenty (20) days from the date of this order.
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