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Eliason v. County of Lehigh

August 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Slomsky, J.


I. Introduction

Before the Court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff James S. Eliason's Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On December 12, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against the County of Lehigh, Warden Dale A. Meisel, Lieutenant Brian Dugan, Correctional Officer Gulliver, Correctional Officer Schaeffer, and Correctional Officers John Doe 1 and 2 (Doc. No. 1). On April 28, 2009, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint that included these Defendants as well as Primecare Medical, Inc. ("Primecare") (Doc. No. 9).

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges: (a) violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants (Counts I and II); (b) a Monell action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the County of Lehigh (Count III); (c) a violation of his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under Article I, § 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Count IV); and (d) a supplemental state law claim for corporate negligence against Primecare (Count V). On June 30, 2009, Primecare filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 12). On July 3, 2009, the remaining Defendants collectively filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 14). On July 28, 2009, Plaintiff filed responses to both motions (Doc Nos. 15, 16).

For reasons that follow, the Court grants Warden Meisel's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint on all Counts. Plaintiff will have thirty (30) days to amend his Complaint only with respect to Warden Meisel. The Court denies the Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint of Lieutenant Dugan, Correctional Officers Gulliver and Schaeffer, and the County of Lehigh on all Counts. Finally, the Court grants Primecare's Motion to Dismiss with regard to Counts I, II, and IV and transfers Count V to the Court of Common Pleas for Lehigh County for disposition.*fn1

II. General Background

On December 16, 2006, while incarcerated at Lehigh County Prison, Plaintiff was violently assaulted by fellow inmate Anthony Jordan.*fn2 (First Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 13, 20). The attack occurred on Floor 4B of the Lehigh County Prison, a minimum supervision unit, where two correctional officers are typically stationed for 8 hour shifts. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 27). Most inmates housed on Floor 4B are non-violent, first time offenders over the age of forty. (Id. at ¶ 18). At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was forty-three years old. (Id. at ¶ 19).

On December 15, 2006, the day prior to the assault, Plaintiff and Jordan had engaged in an argument over a cup of soup. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-24). On December 16, 2006, Jordan attempted to take Plaintiff's shoes. Plaintiff grabbed his shoes and turned to place them under his bed. (Id. at ¶¶ 25, 26). When Plaintiff turned, Jordan assaulted him from behind. (Id. at ¶ 27). Plaintiff's chin struck the floor and he lost consciousness. After two and a half hours, Plaintiff regained consciousness and was in his bed. He later learned that he had been placed in his bed by Jordan and another inmate. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-30). Plaintiff was covered with blood and urine; felt extreme pain in the back of his head; had a mouth full of blood, contusions to his shoulder, and a fractured jaw. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Officers Gulliver and Shaeffer, the two officers on duty at the time of the attack, were watching a Philadelphia Eagles playoff game instead of supervising inmates.*fn3 (Id. at ¶ 31).

After awakening, Plaintiff was taken by wheelchair to the prison infirmary. At all relevant times, Defendant Primecare, Inc. was the contractual provider of medical care to inmates of Lehigh County Prison. (Id. ¶ 95). At the prison infirmary, Plaintiff was provided only an ice pack for the pain in his head. His blood pressure was abnormally high at 150 over 100. (Id. at ¶¶ 32, 33). On December 18, 2006, two days after the incident, Plaintiff was taken to a private firm for an x-ray. In the interim, Plaintiff was not afforded any medication for his pain. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-36). The x-ray verified that Plaintiff suffered a fractured jaw, concussion, and injured spine. (Id.).

After returning from the private firm, Plaintiff was taken to see Lieutenant Brian Dugan. (Id. at ¶ 37). Lieutenant Dugan asked Plaintiff to admit that he had been fighting. Plaintiff had no memory of the incident and told Lieutenant Dugan that he had suffered a seizure. Lieutenant Dugan informed Plaintiff that he did not believe his account and placed Plaintiff in isolation in a room known as "the hole." Plaintiff remained in the hole for three days, the first two of which he was given only solid foods. Plaintiff could not eat solid food because of his fractured jaw. He did not eat for two days. (Id. at ¶¶ 38-45).

On December 20, 2006, Plaintiff was questioned by Dugan for a second time. He told Dugan that he could not remember the events that led to his injuries. Plaintiff also requested medication and liquid food because he could not eat solid food. Lieutenant Dugan informed Plaintiff that he would need to fill out a sick call slip. Dugan stated that he did not have any available. Later that day, Lieutenant Dugan provided Plaintiff with pain medication (600 mg of Motrin twice a day) after hearing from other inmates that Jordan had attacked Plaintiff without provocation.*fn4 (Id. at ¶¶ 45-61).

On December 21, 2006, Plaintiff was taken to St. Luke's Hospital where he remained as an in-patient until December 23, 2006. Plaintiff was administered several diagnostic tests and was given morphine injections four times a day for his pain. (Id. at ¶¶ 61-65). On December 22, 2006, six days after the initial incident, Plaintiff underwent surgery on his left mandible that involved the insertion of a titanium plate. (Id. at ¶ 67).

On December 12, 2008, Dr. John J. Shane, who was asked to review Plaintiff's file and issue a certificate of merit for Plaintiff's state law malpractice claim, conducted a review of (a) Plaintiff's complaint; (b) Primecare's medical records; (c) Lehigh County Department of Corrections' records; and (d) St. Luke's Hospital's medical records. (Doc. No. 16-2, Medical Report of Dr. John J. Shane). Dr. Shane concluded that Plaintiff suffered a grade three concussion that caused his loss of consciousness, amnesia, and permanent cognitive disabilities. (Id.). Dr. Shane found that "[t]here is no doubt Mr. Eliason suffers from these post-concussive symptoms and is precluded from pursuing his occupation as a mason." (Id.).

Dr. Shane also found that the medication that Dugan provided Plaintiff, 600 mg of Motrin twice a day, was "totally and completely inadequate pain control/analgesia management for a patient with severe pain." Dr. Shane also concluded that a failure to proscribe antibiotics and a six-day delay in corrective surgery for Plaintiff's jaw strongly contributed to ...

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