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Jackson v. Beard

November 5, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Donetta W. Ambrose Judge, United States District Court



In this action, Plaintiff brings suit pursuant to state negligence law, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He avers that as an inmate in a state correctional facility, he was injured and, inter alia, was refused appropriate medical treatment and a wheelchair, and was ridiculed by guards and staff. Plaintiff has named as defendants Pennsylvania's Secretary for the Department of Corrections; the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent of the facility at issue; and the medical director of the facility.

The non-medical Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, arguing as follows: 1) because Plaintiff was under the care of medical personnel, he cannot assert a claim against the Commonwealth Defendants for denial of medical care; 2) Plaintiff has not pleaded personal involvement of the Commonwealth Defendants; and 3) Plaintiff has failed to file a certificate of merit in support of his negligence claim, as required by state law. Plaintiff has filed an overlapping Motion seeking to determine the necessity for filing a certificate of merit, and seeking additional time to take action if such a certificate is required.

For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion will be granted, and Plaintiff permitted an opportunity to amend his Complaint. Plaintiff's Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


I. Applicable Standards

In deciding a motion to dismiss, all factual allegations, and all reasonable inferences therefrom, must be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F. 2d 66, 666 (3d Cir. 1988). In ruling a motion for failure to state a claim, I must look to "whether sufficient facts are pleaded to determine that the complaint is not frivolous, and to provide the defendants with adequate notice to frame an answer." Id. at 666. Complaints "need not plead law or match facts to every element of a legal theory." Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F. 3d 420, 429 (3d Cir. 2001). Plaintiff must allege "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements" of his cause of action. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). The factual allegations of the complaint must nudge the "claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed. 2d 929 (2007)).

Further, in order to state a claim for relief, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." "[I]t is not necessarily true...that a plaintiff who pleads with sufficient particularity to meet Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) states a claim upon which relief can be granted as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Chinniah v. E. Pennsboro Twp., No. 8-1330, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93826 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 18, 2008).

II. Personal Involvement

I first address Defendants' arguments that stem from the principle that Section 1983 does not permit respondeat superior or vicarious liability; instead, a defendant must be directly involved in the violation. Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2037 (1978). First, Defendants argue that because Plaintiff was under medical care, non-medical prison officials cannot be charged with deliberate indifference to his medical care. Second, they argue that Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently plead that they were personally involved in the alleged constitutional violations.

Defendants' initial contention relies on Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218 (3d Cir. 2004), which held that "absent a reason to believe (or actual knowledge) that prison doctors or their assistants are mistreating (or not treating) a prisoner, a non-medical prison official like Gooler will not be chargeable with the Eighth Amendment scienter requirement of deliberate indifference." In Spruill, the Court noted that the complaint was deficient, not because it failed to allege specific facts to support the non-medical defendants' mental states, but "because it [did] not so much as suggest that [the non-medical defendant] was aware of the alleged inadequacies in Spruill's medical treatment." Id. at 236, n. 12. In this Circuit, merely responding to or reviewing an inmate grievance does not rise to the level of personal knowledge, or personal involvement necessary to allege an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim. Whetstone v. Ellers, no. 3:08-CV, 2036, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88388, at **22 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 24, 2009). Here, the only factual allegation suggesting the non-medical Defendants' knowledge is Plaintiff's mention of "several grievances" filed "with the Defendants"; the other allegations that embrace Defendants are both general and conclusory. This, as Defendants suggest, is insufficient to establish their direct personal participation in the alleged Eighth Amendment violation.

Nonetheless, direct personal involvement in the individual violation, of the type contemplated by Spruill, is not the only factual scenario that will sustain a Section 1983 claim against non-medical Defendants:

Personal involvement can be shown through allegations that a defendant directed, had actual knowledge of, or acquiesced in, the deprivation of a plaintiff's constitutional rights....Supervisory liability may attach if the supervisor implemented deficient policies and was deliberately indifferent to the resulting risk or the supervisor's ...

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