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Capozzi v. Northampton County


September 3, 2009


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


Before the Court are two Motions to Dismiss the Complaint filed by Plaintiff Frank J. Capozzi: one motion filed by Defendants PrimeCare Medical, Inc. ("PrimeCare"), Todd Haskins and Amelia Caputo (jointly "Medical Defendants") (Docket No. 12); and a second motion filed by Defendants Todd Buskirk and Northampton County Department of Corrections (jointly "Prison Defendants") (Docket No. 18). All events relevant to this action occurred while Plaintiff was an inmate at Northhampton Department of Corrections (Northampton DOC). Northhampton DOC employs Defendant PrimeCare to render medical care to inmates. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6.) Defendant Todd Haskins is Director of Healthcare Solutions for Northampton DOC. (Id.) Defendant Amelia Caputo handles medical grievances as an administrator at the Northampton DOC. (Id.) Defendant Todd Buskirk is Director of Corrections at Northampton DOC. (Id.)

Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and did not file a response to the Motion to Dismiss. Nevertheless, the Court will evaluate the allegations set forth in Plaintiff's Complaint. Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated his constitutional rights and that he is entitled to relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because Defendants (1) failed to evaluate for violent tendencies the cellmate who attacked Plaintiff and (2) were negligent in treating Plaintiff's injuries.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant the Motions to Dismiss filed by the Medical and Prison Defendants.*fn2


A. The Attack and Subsequent Medical Treatment

The facts contained in Plaintiff's complaint are sparse. On February 2, 2006, inmate Karl Kreidler attacked Plaintiff, his cellmate, at Northampton County Department of Corrections ("Northampton DOC"). (Am. Compl. at ¶ 9.) The attack arose from a dispute over Plaintiff's television. (Id.) Plaintiff sustained injuries to his face as a result of the attack. (Id.) Dr. Sprague treated Plaintiff's nose, facial bone and eye. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Plaintiff filed grievances with the Office of the Secretary for Grievances in Harrisburg, Pa. to receive further medical care for his nose.*fn4 (Id. at ¶ 5.) Defendant PrimeCare did not provide any additional treatment. (Id.) Before this incident, prison officials, not identified by Plaintiff, conducted a psychological evaluation of Kreidler and cleared him for work release. (Id. at ¶ 9.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed his Complaint against the above Defendants on February 5, 2008 in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. On March 18, 2008, the action was transferred to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.*fn5 Former Chief Judge James Giles, to whom this case was previously assigned, issued an Order on April 18, 2008 granting Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed in forma pauperis and affording Plaintiff thirty days to file an Amended Complaint in compliance with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 15. (Docket No. 2.) Plaintiff did not respond to the Order to file an Amended Complaint for almost a year. On February 22, 2009, this Court, to whom this case was transferred, entered an Order to Show Cause as to why the case should not be dismissed. (Docket No. 5.) On March 3, 2009, Plaintiff filed a response to the Show Cause Order stating that he had not received any of the Court's Orders because he had not provided his new address. (Docket No. 6.) The Court found that there was cause to allow Plaintiff to continue the suit (Docket No. 7). Plaintiff then filed his Amended Complaint (Docket No. 8). Both sets of Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss to which Plaintiff has not responded.


A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Medical and Prison Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12 (b)(6). The motion to dismiss standard has undergone recent transformation, culminating with the Supreme Court's Opinion in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). After Iqbal, it is clear that "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice" in defeating a motion to dismiss. Id. at 1949; see also Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Applying this principle of Iqbal, the Third Circuit in Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, No. 07-4285, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 18626, (3d Cir. Aug. 18, 2009), articulated a two part analysis that District Courts in this Circuit must conduct in evaluating whether allegations in a complaint survive a motion to dismiss. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated, meaning "a District Court must accept all of the complaints well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions." Id. at *17. Second, the Court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint demonstrate that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. In other words, a complaint must do more than allege a plaintiff's entitlement to relief; it must "show" such an entitlement with its facts. Id. (citing Phillips v. County of Allegheny 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008). "Where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged--but it has not 'shown'-- 'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 129 S Ct. at 1950. This "plausibility" determination under step two of the analysis is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

In conducting this two step analysis, the Court, in addition to reviewing the Complaint, may also review documents attached to the Complaint and matters of public record. Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 221 n. 3 (3d Cir. 2004). The Court may also take judicial notice of a prior judicial opinion. McTernan v. City of York Pennsylvania, No. 07-2670, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 18942, at *8 (3d Cir Aug. 24, 2009).

B. Failure to Protect

The Court will first evaluate Plaintiff's § 1983 claim to the extent it alleges Defendants failed to protect Plaintiff from a known risk in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. The risk that Plaintiff alleges is the risk he faced because his cellmate had a history of violent tendencies.

The Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to take reasonable measures "to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994)). To prove a failure to protect claim asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, an inmate must show:

(1) he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm; and (2) the official knows or disregards an excessive risk to inmate health and safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.

Pearson v. Vaughn, 102 F. Supp. 2d 282, 290 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. Consequently, a plaintiff must produce sufficient evidence of (1) a substantial risk of serious harm; (2) the defendants' deliberate indifference to that risk; and (3) causation. Hamilton v. Leavy, 117 F.3d 742 (3d Cir. 1997).

First, Plaintiff does not allege in his Complaint any facts to show that he was incarcerated under conditions that posed a substantial risk of harm. See Ogden v. Mifflin County, No. 1:06-CV-2999, 2008 WL 4601931, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 15 2008) (finding "some palpable threat of actual physical violence is generally required by the case law in order to establish an objectively substantial risk of harm"). Plaintiff does not allege any specific facts that his cellmate had violent tendencies. No facts are alleged that his cellmate made previous threats to him or to any other prisoners. Most importantly, the prison performed an evaluation of Kreidler before clearing him for work outside of the prison. Prison officials believed that Kreidler did not pose a substantial risk to the general prison community. Plaintiff only alleges in a conclusory statement that his cellmate was violent. This generalization, even if accepted as a well pleaded fact, does not "show" a palpable threat of actual violence which would entitle Plaintiff to relief. This generalization, therefore, fails to comply with step two of the motion to dismiss analysis under Fowler, supra, which requires a Complaint to show entitlement to relief.

Second, the evaluation of Kreidler by prison authorities before allowing him to work outside of the prison shows that Defendants did not act with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's safety. Deliberate indifference exists when "a prison official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. Circumstantial evidence may prove such subjective knowledge. Id. at 842; Hamilton, 117 F.3d at 747. Because prison officials believed that Kreidler was capable of working outside of the prison and re-entering the general prison population, Defendants were not deliberately indifferent to a potential risk that might arise by placing him in a cell with Plaintiff.

Finally, Plaintiff must also allege that each Defendant's actions or inactions caused the substantial risk to reach fruition. Hamilton, 117 F.3d at 747. Plaintiff does not allege causation in the Complaint. In fact, Plaintiff does not allege that any Medical or Prison Defendants knew of Defendant Kreidler's violent history, were directly involved in the evaluation of Kreidler or the decision to allow him re-entry into the general prison population. See Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1208 (3d Cir. 1998) (holding that prison official must have created or have direct knowledge of substantial risk to be held liable for violation of inmate's constitutional rights). Moreover, Plaintiff cannot rely on the doctrine of respondeat superior or any other theory of vicarious liability to hold Defendants liable. City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 824 n. 8 (1985) (noting that respondeat superior does not apply to § 1983 claims).*fn6 Consequently, Plaintiff cannot prevail under the failure to protect claim and the Complaint will be dismissed as to both sets of Defendants with prejudice.*fn7

C. Inadequate Medical Care

Plaintiff also asserts that Defendants are liable under § 1983 because they denied him proper medical care. (Am. Comp. ¶ 9.) The Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment requires that prison officials provide inmates with adequate medical care. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). Similar to the failure to protect claim, to succeed on a § 1983 claim for failure to administer proper medical care, Plaintiff must allege facts that show Defendants were (1) deliberately indifferent (2) to a serious medical need. Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 32 (1993). Plaintiff fails to allege facts that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

To prove deliberate indifference, Plaintiff must demonstrate that Defendants (1) knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to inmate health or safety or (2) were aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of harm existed and that Defendants "drew that inference." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 825. "Deliberate indifference... requires obduracy and wantonness which has been likened to conduct that includes recklessness or a conscious disregard of a serious risk." Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1999).

Plaintiff has not established at the motion to dismiss stage that Prison and Medical Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his injury.*fn8 Plaintiff did receive medical attention for his injuries which was administered by a PrimeCare physician. Although Plaintiff claims that Defendant PrimeCare failed to reset his broken nose, he admits that medical staff examined him after the attack by "stitching and repairing [his] damaged nose, facial bone, and laceration of the eye."*fn9 (Am. Comp. ¶ 6.) The crux of Plaintiff's argument is that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs because he believe the treatment rendered was inadequate. While Plaintiff may be dissatisfied with his medical treatment, it is well established that "an inmate's disagreement with medical treatment is insufficient to establish deliberate indifference." Burton v. Gillis, 2008 WL 443367, *12 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 30, 2008). § 1983 "does not require that a prisoner receive every medical treatment that he requests or that is available elsewhere." Id. At most, Plaintiff's claim amounts to negligence in assessing the seriousness of or in treating Plaintiff's injury. This does not amount to deliberate indifference. Such negligence cannot form the basis for an Eighth Amendment claim.*fn10 See Brown v. Chambersburg, 903 F.2d 274, 278 (3d Cir. 1990). Plaintiff, unable to show an entitlement to relief as to the medical treatment portion of his Complaint, has failed to satisfy the "plausibility" prong of Fowler's two step analysis. Consequently, the Motions to Dismiss also will be granted as they pertain to the medical treatment aspects of Plaintiff's Complaint.

Accordingly, Plaintiff fails to adequately allege any claims against the either set of Defendants. The Plaintiff has already filed two Amended Complaints in this action. The Court has afforded Plaintiff ample opportunity to present his claims. Based on the allegations Plaintiff has already raised, any further amendments to the Complaint would be futile.*fn11 See also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997) ("Among the grounds that could justify a denial of leave to amend are undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, prejudice and futility.") Accordingly, the Motion to Dismiss the Medical Defendants is granted in its entirety and the case against them is dismissed with prejudice. An appropriate Order follows.

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