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Norris v. County of Lycoming

July 24, 2008


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


Plaintiff Leon Norris, an inmate confined at the Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institution ("FCI-Fort Dix") in Fort Dix, New Jersey, commenced this action pro se by filing a civil rights complaint pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff names the following Defendants: The County of Lycoming; David Desmond, Warden of Lycoming County Prison ("LCP"); Catherine Lynch, a nurse employed by LCP; Medical Staff Member Doe, a nurse employed by LCP; and William Keenan, M.D., a physician employed by LCP. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs while he was incarcerated at LCP.

Presently pending before the court is a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) filed on behalf of Defendants the County of Lycoming, David Desmond, Catherine Lynch, and Medical Staff Member Doe (Doc. 19) and a motion to appoint counsel (Doc. 39) filed by Plaintiff. Defendant Keenan also has filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment (Doc. 25) that is not yet ripe for disposition.

For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss filed on behalf of Defendants the County of Lycoming, Desmond, Lynch, and Doe will be granted in part and denied in part; the motion to appoint counsel will be granted provided that pro bono counsel can be located to assist Plaintiff; and the deadline for Plaintiff to submit his opposition to the motion filed by Defendant Keenan will be stayed pending the search for pro bono counsel.

I. Motion to Dismiss by Defendants the County of Lycoming, Desmond, Lynch, and Doe

A. Background

1. Allegations of Complaint

All of the following facts are stated in the complaint and are taken as true for purposes of disposing of the instant motion.

Norris was incarcerated at LCP between January 2005 and June 2005 while he was awaiting a hearing on federal charges. (Doc. 1 ¶ 9.) Norris suffers from Crohn's disease. (Id.) On or about March 2005, Norris began to experience some initial signs that his Crohn's disease was recurring. (Id. ¶ 10.) At that time, one of the medical staff at LCP noted these symptoms and prescribed Metamucil. (Id. ¶ 11.) This staff member also made a notation on Norris's medical chart that, if Norris's condition did not improve, a consultation with a gastrointestinal specialist should be considered. (Id.)

On April 4, 2005, a medical staff member made a notation on Norris's chart that, although his symptoms continued, the Metamucil was providing some relief. (Id. ¶ 12.) However, this staff member also noted that Mr. Norris was referred to "GI for eval." (Id.) Norris was scheduled for an evaluation with Susquehanna Gastrointestinal Specialists for April 20, 2005. (Id. ¶ 13.) Norris also was scheduled for a small bowel series on April 24, 2005. (Id.) However, no mention as to the results of these tests was made on Norris's medical chart until they were requested three weeks later, on May 17, when Norris's condition was so severe that he was taken to Williamsport Hospital for treatment. (Id. ¶ 14.)

Notations on Norris's medical chart made on May 9 and May 10, 2005 state that he had "folliculitis," sinus congestion, pharyngitis and mouth ulcers. (Id. ¶ 15.)

On May 15, 2005, Defendant Lynch examined Norris and noted that he exhibited the following symptoms: fever; dizziness; chills; and canker sores in his mouth that were "no better." (Id. ¶ 16.) Defendant Lynch also noted that Norris had lost sixteen pounds in two weeks. (Id.) Lynch made a notation that Norris should be seen by an "MD." (Id.) However, Norris was not seen by any medical personnel other than Defendant Lynch on May 15. (Id. ¶ 17.) There is no indication that Lynch attempted to consult with a doctor that day regarding Norris. (Id. ¶ 18.)

There is no entry in Norris's medical chart on May 16, nor is there any other indication that Norris was seen by a doctor or other medical staff that day or that Defendant Lynch attempted to bring Norris's deteriorating condition to a doctor's attention. (Id. ¶ 19.)

At 8:00 a.m. on May 17, Medical Staff Member Doe saw Norris. (Id. ¶ 20.) Defendant Doe noted that Norris was unable to take his medication due to the numerous painful canker sores in his mouth and that Norris requested that he be admitted to the hospital. (Id. ¶ 21.) Defendant Doe also noted that LCP still had not obtained results of Norris's small bowel series testing that was performed at the radiology department of the Williamsport Hospital. (Id. ¶ 22.) The notation by Defendant Doe was unsigned, and the handwriting is not similar to that of any of the other entries on Norris's medical chart. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Almost twelve hours later, Nurse Oakes examined Norris. (Id. ¶ 24.) Oakes noted that Norris still had chills, severe pain, canker sores, unusual weight loss, and was unable to eat, drink or take his medication. (Id. ¶ 24.) Oakes made a notation that Dr. Schildt was paged immediately. (Id. ¶ 25.) Dr. Schildt ordered that Norris be transported to the emergency room of the Williamsport Hospital at once. (Id. ¶ 26.)

Norris stayed at the Williamsport Hospital for a few hours, where he received intravenous fluids and nutrients, and then was sent back to LCP. (Id. ¶ 27.) Upon discharge from the hospital, "magic mouthwash" was ordered for Norris, but no other discharge orders were given. (Id. ¶ 28.)

Norris's symptoms continued to worsen upon his return to LCP. (Id. ¶ 29.) Despite his trip to the emergency room on May 17, Norris was only checked by prison medical personnel twice on May 18. (Id. ¶ 30.) On May 18, a notation was made on Norris's medical chart that a nurse spoke with Defendant Keenan about Norris. (Id. ¶ 31.) The chart states that Keenan "will address magic mouthwash 5-19-05 on rounds." (Id.)

On May 19, 2005, Defendant Keenan examined Norris, but only Norris's canker sores were addressed. (Id. ¶ 32.) The more serious problems presented by Norris's Crohn's disease symptoms, such as his significant weight loss and abnormal rectal and urinal discharge, were not addressed by Keenan. (Id.)

On May 20, a nurse who examined Norris wrote in his medical chart that she "checked with Dr. Keenan about sending this inmate for flu appt. and GI doctor." (Id. ¶ 33.) There is nothing in the record to suggest that Dr. Keenan took any action. (Id.)

On May 22, Defendant Lynch noted that Norris is "not breathing right, not sleeping, not eating nasal congestion." (Id. ¶ 34.) Lynch noted that Norris had prominent ulcers on lips, inner cheeks, and throat. (Id.) Lynch did not consult with a doctor. (Id.)

Norris did not receive medical care on May 23. (Id. ¶ 35.)

At 10:45 a.m. on May 24, Nurse Oakes noted in Norris's medical chart that medical personnel were called to Norris's cell because he was hyperventilating and having difficulty swallowing. (Id. ¶ 36.)

At 10:50 a.m., Nurse Oakes paged Defendant Keenan. (Id. ΒΆ 37.) Nurse Oakes continued to monitor Norris's vital signs and general condition ...

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