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Santiago v. Ey

April 10, 2009

MARCOS SANTIAGO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ASSISTANT WARDEN EY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure

MEMORANDUM

April 10, 2009

Plaintiff Marcos Santiago ("Plaintiff" or "Santiago"), an inmate confined at the United States Penitentiary at Allenwood ("USP Allenwood") in White Deer, Pennsylvania, initiated this pro se civil rights action pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss and for summary judgment. (Record document no. 28.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied.

BACKGROUND

On January 16, 2008, Santiago filed his Complaint alleging that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. (See Record document no. 1.) Named as Defendants are the following employees of USP Allenwood: William Ey, Jr., Assistant Warden; Dr. Calvin Vermeire, former medical officer; Kelley DeWald, Assistant Health Administrator; Jennifer Holtzapple, Physician Assistant ("PA"); and John Doe, medical department employee. In the Complaint, Santiago alleges that, beginning in August 2006, he started having episodes of severe head pain and pressure, particularly in the back of his head, and he eventually was diagnosed with sinusitis. He alleges that from September 2006 through January 2008, Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs when they failed to properly diagnose him. He claims that, despite his numerous requests, Defendants Vermeire and Holtzapple failed to obtain the results of his April 18, 2007 MRI until approximately June 27, 2007, thus delaying his diagnosis of sinusitis based on those results. (See Record document no. 1 ¶¶ 48-62.) Santiago further alleges that Defendants Holtzapple, DeWald, and Ey were deliberately indifferent when they ignored him after he informed them that he was unable to purchase the medication that Holtzapple had directed him to take from the commissary to treat his sinusitis because his inmate account was frozen. (See id. ¶¶ 62-66.)

Service of the Complaint was directed by Order dated February 4, 2008. (Record document no. 9.) Following a motion for an extension of time to file an answer to the complaint, which was granted, on May 22, 2008, Defendants filed the instant motion. (See Record document nos. 20, 22, 28.) On May 30, 2008, Defendants filed a supporting brief (Record document no. 32), statement of facts (Record document no. 33), and supporting declarations and exhibits (Record document nos. 33-2, 33-3.) On July 14, 2008, Plaintiff filed his brief in opposition (Record document no. 40) and affidavit (Record document no. 39) responding to the declarations submitted by Defendants. Defendants filed a reply brief on July 25, 2008. (Record document no. 41). Accordingly, the motion is ripe for consideration.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

It is appropriate for a court to grant a motion for summary judgment "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Material facts" are those which might affect the outcome of the suit. Id.; Justofin v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 517, 521 (3d Cir. 2004).

A party seeking the entry of summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of stating the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. The moving party can discharge that burden by "'showing' . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).

Once the moving party meets its burden of showing an absence of genuine issues of material fact, the nonmoving party must provide some evidence that an issue of material fact remains. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986). However, the nonmoving party cannot do so merely by offering general denials, vague allegations, or conclusory statements; rather, the party must point to specific evidence in the record that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. ex rel. M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the court will draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence in the record in favor of the nonmoving party. Am. Flint Glass Workers Union v. Beaumont Glass Co., 62 F.3d 574, 578 (3d Cir. 1995).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Further, "[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge, whether he is ruling on a motion for summary judgment or for a directed verdict." Id. at 255.

DISCUSSION

In support of their motion, Defendants submitted the declarations of Defendants Holtapple, Vermeire, Ey, and DeWald. (Record document no. 33-2, 33-3.) They argue that Santiago received consistent and appropriate medical care for his complaints and that he merely disagrees with the care he was given. (See Record document no. 32, Defendants' brief, at 11-21.) Defendants also contend that when Santiago informed Defendant DeWald that he could not purchase over-the-counter medications at the commissary due to a disciplinary violation, she told him that he still could buy these medications pursuant to BOP Program Statement 6541.02, Over the Counter Medications. (Id. at 9; Record document no. 33-3, DeWald declaration, at 29, ¶ 11.)

Defendants argue that Defendants Ey and DeWald are entitled to summary judgment because they did not have any direct involvement or acquiescence in the alleged constitutional misconduct. (See id. at 8-11.) Finally, Defendants argue that Defendant Doe should be dismissed as a party to this action because he has not been served with the Complaint, and thus the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over him.

(See Record document no. 32 at 5-7.) In opposing Defendants' motion, Santiago submitted an opposition brief (Record document no. 40) and his own affidavit in opposition to the declarations submitted by Defendants (Record document no. 39). The Court has reviewed all of the submissions by both parties and will address each of Defendants' arguments in turn.

I. Deliberate Indifference Claim

In order to establish an Eighth Amendment claim against a defendant for inadequate medical care under § 1983, a plaintiff must show "(I) a serious medical need, and (ii) acts or omissions . . . that indicate deliberate indifference to that need." Natale v. Camden County Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2003). See also Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1999). 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). In addition, "if 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain' results as a consequence of denial or delay in the provision of adequate medical care, the medical need is of the serious nature contemplated by the eighth amendment." Id. (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976)).

The test for whether a prison official was deliberately indifferent is whether that defendant "acted or failed to act despite his knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 841 (1994). "The official must both be aware of facts from which the inference can be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Id. at 837. Thus, a complaint that a physician "has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid claim of medical mistreatment under the Eighth Amendment . . . ." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106.

The allegations that Santiago makes about the severe and debilitating head pain that he experienced are serious in nature. He alleges that on multiple occasions, the pain was so severe that he was unable to get out of bed to eat meals or was forced to lie on the floor in an attempt to ease the pain. (See Record document no. 1 ¶¶ 16, 22, 25, 26, 28, 30, 32, 45.) The record reveals that Defendants attempted to evaluate the source of this head pain, but there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether they were deliberately indifferent to Santiago's serious medical needs. The relevant facts are as follows:

Santiago arrived at USP Allenwood on June 21, 2005. (Record document no. 33, Defendants' statement of material facts, ¶ 1.) PA Holtzapple evaluated Santiago upon his arrival and noted that he had a history of depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide attempts. (Id. ¶ 2.) He was a Care Level I inmate with no known drug allergies or medications. (Id. ¶ 3.) Therefore, he was assigned to a regular housing unit. (Id. ¶ 4.) On August 31, 2005, Santiago was seen during the mental health chronic care clinic for an initial evaluation. (Id. ¶ 5.) At that time, Santiago informed staff that he did not have any current problems with anxiety or depression. (Id. ¶ 6.) He declined to take antidepressants and therefore was discontinued from the clinic. (Id. ¶ 7.) On November 22, 2005, Santiago was seen by medical staff at which time he complained of dandruff and body aches. (Id. ¶ 8.)

Sometime in the month of August 2006, while Santiago was eating a plate of food in his friend's cell, he "suddenly experienced an intense rush beginning in his neck and quickly making its way up to [his] brain." (Record document no. 1 ¶ 13.) He immediately put the bowl down and leaned back in his chair. (Id.) His friend gave him water, which he drank. (Id.) After about fifteen (15) minutes, Santiago walked slowly back to his cell. (Id.) He felt the pressure in his head rise the longer he was standing. (Id.) After he opened his cell door, he clumsily collapsed onto his chair, and the cup he was holding collapsed to the ground. (Id.) Upon realizing that something was wrong with him, Santiago's cell mate, Darryl Smith, immediately left the cell and called the guards. (Id.) When the guards arrived at the cell and asked Santiago if he wanted them to call for medical help, he believed he would be alright and politely declined. (Id.) Santiago then went to bed. (Id.)

For the next few weeks after the above incident, Santiago began experiencing pain in his chest area which caused him to have to walk "very slow." (Id. ¶ 14.) He also experienced "pain in his head, like pressure, especially in the back of his head." (Id.) He brought these symptoms to the attention of the psychologist, Mrs. Turgovac, and she responded that she believed that he was suffering from anxiety and was "not about to have a heart attack." (Id. ¶ 15.) Santiago took her word for it and went about his business.

On September 8, 2006, while Santiago was typing in the law library, he began to experience "a rush to his head again and stiffness in his neck, which caused [him] to have to lie down on the floor in order to relieve the mounting pressure in his head." (Id. ¶ 16.) At approximately 7:40 p.m. on that date, he was seen by a paramedic as an "emergency visit" in the Health Services Unit ("HSU"). (Record document no. 33 ¶ 9.) Santiago reported that he had experienced a "'rush' feeling in his head and neck." (Id. ¶ 10.) He stated that these episode occurred after he ate foods with a lot of sodium in them, except for that night's episode. (Id. ¶ 11) He denied nausea, shortness of breath, chest pain, weakness, and abdominal pain. (Id. ¶ 12.) Upon examination, Santiago was ambulatory; his skin was pink, warm, and dry; his pupils were equal, round, and reactive to light; his lungs were clear; and his abdomen was soft and no-tender and without masses. (Id. ¶ 13.) He had equal pulses, sensation, and movement; equal hand grasps; no facial droop; no arm drift or drop; and his blood sugar, level of oxygen in his blood, heart rate, and respiration all were normal. (Id. ¶ 14.) However, his blood pressure was slightly elevated. (Id.) nothing significant was observed regarding Santiago's heart rate. ...


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