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Painter v. Prison Health Services

June 12, 2009


Magistrate Judge Amy Reynolds Hay

Re: Dkt. Nos. [5] & [10]


Ronald Painter ("Plaintiff") is a recently released state prisoner who, while yet incarcerated, filed a civil rights complaint against, according to the Court's count, fifteen Defendants. Eleven of those Defendants are Department of Corrections ("DOC") employees, (hereinafter collectively, "the DOC Defendants"), all of whom are represented by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office. The remaining four defendants are Prison Health Services, Inc., (hereinafter, "PHS"), the private health care provider at Plaintiff's prison and, at least two of its employees/subcontractors, namely, Dr. Scott Morgan, and Physician Assistant Edward Horneman, (collectively, "the Moving Medical Defendants"), and a third individual named Theresa Warner, identified in the complaint as the "Medical Director." Dkt. [1-2] at 3, ¶ 18. The DOC Defendants represent in their motion to dismiss that Defendant Warner is an employee of PHS. Dkt. [6] at 2. However, when the attorney who represents the Moving Medical Defendants entered his appearance in this Court, he did not enter his appearance for Defendant Warner. Dkt. [2].

This case was originally filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Mercer County, but was removed to this Court by the DOC Defendants' attorney.*fn1

Plaintiff's pro se complaint essentially alleged an Eighth Amendment claim against all of the Defendants, in addition to State law claims of violations of the Pennsylvania State Constitution. Dkt. [1-2] at 3 ("the Defendants have violated his Pennsylvania Constitutional Rights, United States Constitutional Rights, and Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights, which gives rise to the denial of his 'Medical Care and Needs,' and gives rise to 'Cruel and Unusual Punishment' of his 'Conditions of Confinement' and 'Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs' as a result of a fall.").

The Court understands Plaintiff's invocation of the Fourteenth Amendment merely to be a shorthand way of saying that he is making a claim of a violation of the Eighth Amendment standards as these are incorporated against the states via the substantive due process provision of the Fourteenth Amendment. This is because technically, the Eighth Amendment applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 101-02 (1976) (citing Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660 (1962)). The standards of the Eighth Amendment barring the federal government from inflicting cruel and unusual punishments are the standards applicable to the States through incorporation by the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause. See Sistrunk v. Lyons, 646 F.2d 64, 66-67 (3d Cir. 1981)(citing Robinson v. California). The standards under the Eighth Amendment and the standards under the Fourteenth Amendment are fundamentally identical. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 422 n.4 (1972)(Blackmun, J., dissenting) ("the tests for applying these two provisions are fundamentally identical."). In the discussion, the Court simply refers to the Eighth Amendment for simplicity's sake. This is exactly how the DOC defendants understood Plaintiff's reference to the Fourteenth Amendment, as they explained in their motion to dismiss. Dkt. [6] at 2, n.1. Plaintiff, in his response to the DOC Defendants' motion to dismiss, did not contradict or otherwise object to the DOC Defendants' characterization of Plaintiff's reference to the Fourteenth Amendment.

The gravamen of Plaintiff's complaint is that on October 11, 2006, Plaintiff slipped and fell due to water being on the floor and, as a consequence of this, Plaintiff sustained injuries to both of his eyes and his teeth. Plaintiff complains that "[a]t that time, Plaintiff did not receive proper medical treatment (NO CAT-SCAN OR MRI WAS EVER GIVEN)." Dkt. [1-2] at 4, ¶ 20. In his complaint, immediately following the quoted passage, Plaintiff then goes on to recount how he was sent to be examined by a Dr. Lindberg on November 2, 2006, who diagnosed Plaintiff with blood clots in the rear of the left eye and advised Defendant Dr. Morgan to make an appointment for Plaintiff to see a cornea specialist in Pittsburgh. Id., at ¶ 21. On November 21, 2006, Plaintiff was sent to Allegheny General Hospital for an appointment with a Dr. Lunden, who allegedly informed Plaintiff that he needed a cornea transplant "due to a scar on the cornea and cataract of the right eye." Id., at ¶ 22. Many of the remaining paragraphs in the complaint recount Plaintiff's history of treatment by various physicians. Dkt. [1-2] at 4 to 5, ¶¶ 23 to 32.

Immediately after recounting the history of his treatment in the complaint, Plaintiff recounts the history of his administrative remedies/grievances. Dkt. [1-2] at 5 to 8, ¶¶ 33 to 86.

The DOC Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, Dkt.[5] and a brief in support. Dkt. [6]. The Moving Medical Defendants also filed a motion to dismiss, Dkt. [10] and a brief in support. Dkt. [11]. Plaintiff was directed to file responses to both motions to dismiss. Dkt. Nos. [8] and [12]. After being granted an extension of time, Plaintiff filed a single brief response to both motions. Dkt. [18]. It also appears that Plaintiff has been released from prison, as he filed a change of address, which appears to be a private residence. Dkt. [19].

Standard of Review and the PLRA

As the United States Supreme Court recently held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007), a complaint may properly be dismissed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 1974 (rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). Under this standard, the court must, as a general rule, accept as true all factual allegations of the Complaint and all reasonable inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). Nevertheless, under the 12(b)(6) standard, a "court need not . . . accept as true allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice or by exhibit." Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001), amended by, 275 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2001). Nor must the Court accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at __, 127 S.Ct. 1955, at 1965 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

In addition to the complaint, courts may consider matters of public record and other matters of which a court may take judicial notice, court orders, and exhibits attached to the complaint when adjudicating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1385 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994). In addition, the Court of Appeals in Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2004), held that a "defendant may submit an indisputably authentic [document] to the court to be considered on a motion to dismiss[.]"

The question to be resolved is: whether, taking the factual allegations of the complaint, which are not contradicted by the indisputably authentic exhibits and matters of which judicial notice may be had, and taking all reasonable inferences to be drawn from those uncontradicted factual allegations of the complaint, are the "factual allegations . . . enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true even if doubtful in fact[.]" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-1965 (2007). Or put another way, a complaint may be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 1974.

In addition, because Plaintiff was, at the time of the filing of this civil action in the State Court and at the time this case was removed to this Court,*fn2 a prisoner and because he named governmental entities or employees thereof as defendants, the screening provisions of the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") found at 28 U.S.C. § 1915A apply herein. In addition, because he complains about "prison conditions," the screening provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e apply. The Court's obligation to dismiss a complaint under the PLRA screening provisions for complaints that fail to state a claim is not excused even after defendants have filed a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 n.6 (9th Cir. 2000). Hence, if there is a ground for dismissal which was not relied upon by a defendant in a motion to dismiss, the Court may nonetheless ...

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