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Smith v. Municipality of Lycoming County

August 25, 2006

STEVEN SMITH, PLAINTIFF
v.
THE MUNICIPALITY OF LYCOMING COUNTY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Conner)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court is a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 15) filed on behalf of defendants Keenan, Verzella, Schildt, Heilman, Mowatt and Huang. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts

Plaintiff Steven Smith ("Smith") was committed to the Lycoming County Prison on October 5, 2002, with a history of the following medical conditions: Hepatitis A, B, and C; Herpes Simplex 1 and 2; genital warts; positive test for Tuberculosis; compromised immune system from removal of spleen; and bowel problems resulting from a recent bowel obstruction surgery. (Doc. 1, p. 20). Within a month of his arrival, he complained about a number of ailments, but allegedly was ignored.

On December 12, 2002, he was transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, where he remained until February 25, 2003. Upon his return to Lycoming County Prison, he disagreed with the course of treatment prescribed by the intake physician. Over the next several months, he was seen in the medical department for a myriad of complaints. On June 5, 2003, he was transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill (Doc. 1, p. 24), where he remained until September 15, 2003, when he was transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Albion. (Id.). He was transferred back to the Lycoming County Prison on September 25, 2003. (Doc. 1, p. 25).

Smith alleges that he was denied adequate medical treatment while incarcerated at the Lycoming County Prison during the following time periods: October 5, 2002, to December 12, 2002; February 25, 2003, to June 5, 2003; and September 25, 2003, to May 11, 2004. Defendants seek to dismiss the claims arising prior to August 16, 2003, as being barred by the statute of limitations. This issue has been addressed, albeit in the context of a motion to dismiss filed by certain other defendants (see Doc. 16) and the court has concluded that any claims arising prior to August 16, 2003, are barred by the statute of limitations. (See Doc. 55; see also "Discussion" infra, section "A"). Consequently, from this point forward, the recitation of facts will be limited to the time period of September 25, 2003, through May 11, 2004.

Medical clinics, which are staffed by various local physicians, are held at the Lycoming County Prison twice a week. (Doc. 32-2, p. 29). The physicians do not select which prisoners they treat, "rather, the prison medical staff serves as a triage and creates patient lists based on inmate request slips." (Id.). In addition to the clinics, an "on-call" physician is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to handle emergencies. (Id.). Each of the defendants, pursuant to an agreement with Lycoming County, provided medical services at the prison, either through the clinic or in an "on-call" capacity, during the relevant time period. (Docs. 32-2, pp. 28, 33, 37, 45, 50).

Defendant Keenan indicates that he was indirectly involved in Smith's treatment on three separate occasions. On October 6, 2003, a nurse informed defendant Keenan of Smith's request for medication and his complaints of skin lesions, headaches and dandruff. (Doc. 32-2, pp. 4, 30). Defendant Keenan directed the nurse to place Smith on the list to be seen the next clinic day. (Doc. 46-3, p. 2). Smith was seen and treated for these complaints on October 10, 2003. (Doc. 32-2, pp. 4, 17, 30). On October 28, 2003, Smith requested treatment for his genital herpes and was informed that he was on the list to see the doctor on October 30, 2003. (Doc. 32-3, p. 22, Doc. 44, p. 35). After discussing Smith's symptoms with a nurse, on October 30, 2003, defendant Keenan concluded that his complaints were valid and he prescribed a medication that is used to treat herpes. (Doc. 32-2, pp. 17, 22, 30). Lastly, on March 1, 2004, defendant Keenan countersigned a prescription for Keflex, which was given to Smith by an outside dermatologist to treat folliculitis.

Defendant Huang treated Smith on February 23, 2004, for complaints of bleeding from his penis, and a skin infection on his head and in his groin area. (Doc. 32-2, pp. 9-11, 24, 50). An examination of the genital area revealed no discharge from his penis or tenderness in the penis, scrotum or testicles. Smith declined to take a urinalysis to rule out renal stones. (Doc. 32-2, pp. 51). Upon examination of the skin areas, defendant surmised that Smith was suffering from folliculitis, a superficial skin infection, but he refused to allow defendant to swab the skin areas to confirm the diagnosis. (Id.). Therefore, defendant Huang referred Smith to a dermatologist for a second opinion. (Doc. 32-2, pp. 18, 24). The following day, prison staff scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist for the following week. Smith returned from the dermatologist with a diagnosis of folliculitis to be treated with Keflex. (Doc. 44, p. 33).

On May 11, 2004, defendant Schildt was the "on-call" physician for the prison. On that date, the prison nurse informed defendant Schildt that Smith was complaining of severe right lateral abdominal pain, soft bloody stool and other physical ailments. (Doc. 32-2, pp. 26, 38-39). The prison nurse was ordered to arrange transportation to the emergency room at The Williamsport Hospital via the Lycoming County Sheriff. (Doc. 32-2, pp. 19, 39).

Defendants Verzella, Heilmann, and Mowatt were not involved in Smith's care during the relevant time period. (Doc. 32-2, pp. 34, 42, 46).

II. Standard of Review

"Summary judgment serves as a minimal but important hurdle for litigants to overcome before presenting a claim to a jury." Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 314 (M.D. Pa. 2004). Faced with such a motion, the adverse party must produce affirmative evidence, beyond the disputed allegations of the pleadings, in support of the claim. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Corneal v. Jackson Twp, 313 F. Supp. 2d 457, 464 (M.D. Pa. 2003), aff'd, 94 Fed. Appx. 76 (3d Cir. 2004). "Such affirmative evidence--regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial--must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance." Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989)). Only if ...


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