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Lewal v. Ali

June 5, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rambo


I. Background

Plaintiff, Akram Lewal, an inmate at the Allenwood Low Security Correctional Institution ("LSCI-Allenwood") in White Deer, Pennsylvania, commenced this action pro se by filing a Bivens*fn1 civil rights complaint (Doc. 1). Defendants are the following LSCI-Allenwood officials: Warden, Troy Williamson; Asst. Healthcare Admin., James Patope; Chief Medical Supervisor, Dr. J. Brady; and Health Care Provider, R. Ali. Plaintiff claims that Defendants have been deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, in contravention of the Eighth Amendment proscription of cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically, he claims that Defendants have been indifferent to his recurrent headaches, a rash on his leg, numbness in portions of his body, and bleeding from his feet. (Doc. 1 at 3.) Defendants demonstrated "deliberate indifference when three times health service staff failed to act on my request for a[n] MRI . . . when I have been complaining about having pain, bleeding foot and my body feeling numb." (Doc. 11 at 10.) Plaintiff seeks "judgment of Defendants for the deprivation of, and for conspiracy to deprive him of, his [Constitutional rights]." (Doc. 1 at 8.)

Plaintiff arrived at LSCI-Allenwood on August 13, 2002. His medical records from his previous place of incarceration indicated that he "has a history of post traumatic stress disorder secondary to being 'tortured in Afghanistan,' psychosis with possible somatization disorder,*fn2 and muscle contraction headaches. (Doc. 9 Ex. 1 ¶ 9.) His records show that because of his complaints of headaches, he had been sent to an outside neurologist and had received an MRI in an attempt to determine their cause. (Id. ¶¶ 9-13.) The headaches were not caused by neurological factors, nor did the MRI show any abnormalities in Lewal's brain or brain stem that would lead to headaches. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 13.) Since his arrival at LSCI-Allenwood, Lewal has been examined numerous times for complaints of headaches and a foot rash. (Id. ¶ 14.)

On August 16, 2004, Plaintiff was discovered on the ground at the food service building. He complained of back pain on his left side, radiating down his left leg, and he complained of a headache in his left temple. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff was examined, and no abnormalities were noted. (Id.) He was told that a follow-up exam would be scheduled within a week and to make sick-call as necessary. (Id.) Upon release from health services after observation, he was in "good spirits and smiling." (Id. ¶ 17; Doc. 11 at 3-4) On August 23, 2004, Plaintiff reported to health services complaining of lower back pain he claimed was "secondary to a 'stroke' he had in 1990." (Doc. 9 Ex. 1 ¶ 18.) Medical personnel noted that Plaintiff was alert and oriented and walking without any difficulty. (Id.) During the visit, Plaintiff's requests for a liver function test, an MRI, and a CT scan from his "personal doctor" were denied. (Id.)

On August 27, 2004, Plaintiff reported to health services because he had fallen and developed a sudden headache. He was examined by the Clinical Director, Dr. Brady, who reported normal findings. (Id. ¶ 19.) The doctor found no evidence of a stroke or other malady requiring further testing, thus Plaintiff's request for an MRI was denied. (Id.) Although Dr. Brady tried to discuss alternative treatment with Plaintiff, Plaintiff refused and insisted on an MRI. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff was seen again for his complaints of headache on December 23, 2004, and a neurological examination revealed normal findings. (Id. ¶ 23.)

Plaintiff has also complained of a foot and leg rash. He has received examination and treatment for these complaints by prison health services on October 5, 2004, November 1 and 15, 2004, December 23, 2004, December 30, 2004, February 15, 2005, and January 7, 11, and 24, 2006. (Id. ¶¶ 21-27.) Plaintiff was evaluated by a dermatologist on January 18, 2005, for complaints of pain in his foot. (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with plantar fascitis*fn3 and chronic stasis dermatitis.*fn4 (Id.) He was instructed to apply ice, to continue his previously prescribed ibuprofen, and to follow up with his primary care provider. (Id.)

Defendants' motion to dismiss and for summary judgment (Doc. 7) is before the court. The motion has been briefed and it is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted.

II. Discussion

Defendants' motion to dismiss and for summary judgment raises a number of arguments. Because they are dispositive, the court will address two issues, subject matter jurisdiction and qualified immunity. Defendants' other arguments will not be discussed.

A. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

When a challenge is posed to the court's subject matter jurisdiction to hear a matter under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), that question must be addressed before any others. Here, Defendants argue that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims against them in their official capacities because the United States -- and, by extension, its officials and agents -- is entitled to sovereign immunity. The United States has not consented to be sued for money damages such as those claimed by Plaintiff. The court agrees.

"It is a fundamental principle of sovereign immunity that federal courts do not have jurisdiction over suits against the United States [and its agencies] unless Congress, via a statute, expressly and unequivocally waives the United States' immunity to suit." United States v. Bein, 214 F.3d 408, 412 (3d Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted); see 7FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 486 (1994). Absent a waiver, claims against the United States and its agencies that seek monetary damages for constitutional violations must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Bein, 214 F.3d at 412. Similarly, sovereign immunity bars damages claims against government agents in their official capacities. Chinchello v. Fenton, 805 F.2d 126, 130 n.4 (3d Cir. 1986). While the government may waive immunity, such a waiver "must be unequivocally expressed in statutory text . . . and will not be implied." Lane v. Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996) (internal citations omitted); accord Cudjoe ex rel. Cudjoe v. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, 426 F.3d 241, 246 (3d Cir. 2005).

The United States has not waived sovereign immunity for damages claims against government agents in their official capacities. Accordingly, this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate such claims. However, because a liberal reading of Plaintiff's pro se complaint could lead to the conclusion that Defendants were sued in their individual capacities, the court will address Defendants' motion for ...

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