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Gioffre v. County of Bucks

November 2, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gene E.K. Pratter, District Judge


Ginger Gioffre, as administrator for the estate of Jay Gioffre, Sr. and on behalf of his heirs, filed suit in September 2008 alleging that Mr. Gioffre was denied medical care at the Bucks County Correctional Facility and, as a result, died from complications from MSRA and withdrawal from narcotic drugs. Plaintiff has had the opportunity to amend her complaint several times. In previous motions to dismiss, there have been defense arguments that the complaint was weighted down by too much detail. Now, in response to the Fourth Amended Complaint ("Complaint"), which asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Mr. Gioffre's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, a claim under the Pennsylvania Survival Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8301, and a state law claim for medical negligence, Defendants Harris Gubernick and Terrance Moore argue that the Complaint lacks sufficient detail.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Dismiss is denied.


Charged with parole violations, Jay Gioffre was committed to the Bucks County Correctional Facility ("BCCF") on September 21, 2006. Upon his arrival at BCCF, Mr. Gioffre already suffered from two serious conditions: a MSRA skin infection and withdrawal from narcotic drugs. From the date of Mr. Gioffre's admission to BCCF until his hospitalization nine days later, the Plaintiff claims that medical providers at the facility, "as a result of contact with Mr. Gioffre and/or information provided by other inmates and correctional officers, knew or should have known of [his] need for immediate medical care, but with deliberate indifference these defendants failed to provide necessary medical care." Compl. at ¶ 15.

The Complaint asserts that the failure to examine Mr. Gioffre or treat his medical conditions continued from September 21 through September 26. By September 26, Mr. Gioffre "was shaking, shivering, vomiting, and lying on the floor of his cell." Compl. ¶ at 19. From September 26 through September 29, Mr. Gioffre's conditions worsened. "By September 28-29, 2006, Mr. Gioffre was in a highly compromised and weakened state, unable to respond to questions, and suffering from severe headaches and dehydration, but defendant Davis and the defendant nurses . . . failed to provide necessary and proper treatment, notwithstanding that these defendants knew or should have known that Mr. Gioffre was unable to ingest necessary food and liquids and was becoming even more seriously ill." Compl. at ¶ 25.

On October 1, 2006, Mr. Gioffre was transferred to Doylestown Hospital "where he was admitted in critical condition with a diagnosis of MRSA endocarditis, dehydration, spontaneous bleeding and other complications." Compl. at ¶ 26. He died on October 6, 2006.

During the relevant time period, Defendant Gubernick was the Director of Corrections for BCCF, and Defendant Moore was the Warden for BCCF. Plaintiff asserts that the non-medical prison officials named in the suit had "established, tolerated or ratified a practice, policy or custom of failing to provide necessary medical care to inmates at BCCF . . . to avoid costs of necessary medication, treatment and hospitalization." Compl. at ¶ 29. Thus, the Complaint claims that Messrs. Defendants Gubernick and Moore "were on notice (by virtue of inmate complaints, court rulings, reports and other information) that medical services at BCCF failed to satisfy constitutional and professional standards." Id. at ¶ 30.


A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Although Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests," Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47), the plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (citations omitted). Specifically, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . ." Id.

To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil complaint must allege "factual content [that] allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (confirming that Twombly applies to all civil cases).

The Court "must only consider those facts alleged in the complaint and accept all of those allegations as true." ALA, Inc. v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994) (citing Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (stating that courts must assume that "all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)"). The Court must also accept as true all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the allegations, and view those facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Rocks v. Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989). The Court, however, need not accept as true "unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences," Doug Grant, Inc. v. Greate Bay Casino Corp., 232 F.3d 173, 183-84 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing City of Pittsburgh v. West Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 n.13 (3d Cir. 1998)), or the plaintiff's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions," Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d. 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).


A. An Inmate's Constitutional Right to Medical Care

The Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments entitle a sentenced inmate in a correctional facility to receive necessary medical care for serious medical conditions. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). In order to make out a violation of the Eighth Amendment, Estelle requires a showing of "acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. Conditions that are life threatening or are so obvious that even a layperson would recognize the need for medical care are sufficiently serious. Monmouth County. Corr. Inst. Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987). Mere misdiagnosis or negligent treatment is not actionable as an Eighth Amendment claim because medical malpractice is not a constitutional ...

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