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Anderson v. Diguglielmo

March 23, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Edmund V. Ludwig, J.


Ludwig, J.

This is a prisoner civil rights case, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; jurisdiction is federal question, 28 U.S.C.§ 1331. According to the complaint,*fn1 defendants*fn2 violated plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights by not responding to his complaints of severe headache more promptly, by transporting him to the medical department in an unnecessarily rough manner, and by delaying his transfer to a hospital. The Commonwealth defendants and medical defendants separately moved for summary judgment. Both motions will be granted for the following reasons.*fn3

The summary judgment record*fn4 evinces these facts. Plaintiff has been incarcerated at SCIGraterford since 1982. Anderson N.T., at 6-7. On May 10, 2005, at about 11 p.m., plaintiff developed a headache while sitting in his cell. His door was locked at the time while staff conducted an inmate count.*fn5 Id., at 16-19. Plaintiff did not immediately request medical attention because he knew that an officer would soon come by his cell. About ten minutes after the headache began, when Corrections Officer Randall arrived at plaintiff's cell, plaintiff reported having a severe headache. Randall immediately relayed this information to a nurse in the prison medical department, Anderson N.T., at 19; Findley N.T., at 35, who advised the officer to bring plaintiff to the dispensary. Findley N.T., at 22.

Randall's superior, Sergeant Paulin, instructed Randall to continue with the inmate count while Paulin would escort plaintiff to the dispensary. Paulin N.T., at 12, 30. This plan was approved by Captain Strickland, the shift commander. Id., at 13, 30; Strickland N.T., at 23-25. Randall checked on plaintiff twice more during the count, and the second time, plaintiff told her he could not wait. Anderson N.T., at 21-29. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff began to vomit and, not receiving an immediate response to his call for help, smashed the windows on his cell door with a shoe. Id., at 29-31. He then began to drift in and out of consciousness. Id., at 36.

Paulin ordered a wheelchair from the dispensary and, with Officer Hannibal, went to plaintiff's cell. Paulin N.T., at 31; Hannibal N.T., at 24; Strickland N.T., at 25-26. As they arrived plaintiff smashed another window, spraying broken glass.*fn6 Paulin N.T., at 32, 34; Hannibal N.T., at 25. The officers ordered plaintiff to lie on the floor as they entered his cell. Paulin N.T., at 32-33. They handcuffed him, cleaned him off, and carried him down a nearby stairway and placed him in a wheeled cart. Hannibal N.T., at 26-30. A nurse was waiting on the far side of the cell block and up another flight of stairs with a wheelchair. Plaintiff was placed in the wheelchair,*fn7 id., at 30-31; Paulin N.T., at 34-36, and taken to the medical department, where he arrived at about 12:05 a.m. Findley, N.T., at 38.*fn8

The on-call doctor, Dr. Arias, prescribed Phenergan for the nausea, Tylenol 3 for plaintiff's pain, and Catapres for his elevated blood pressure. Findley N.T., 25-27. The nurse gave plaintiff the medicine and called Arias twice more - at 12:20 a.m. and 12:40 a.m. He told her to continue the treatment plan and admit plaintiff to the Infirmary, which occurred at 1:30 a.m. Findley N.T., At 8:30 a.m. when Arias arrived, he observed signs of neurological deficit and ordered plaintiff transferred to a hospital. Plaintiff was transferred to Temple University Hospital, and was treated for a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Arias N.T., at 37-39. On May 16, 2006, plaintiff was discharged and returned to SCI-Graterford. Anderson N.T., at 57.*fn9

1. Commonwealth Defendants

Plaintiff asserts that the prison officers violated his Eighth Amendment rights to adequate medical care by ignoring his serious medical need - specifically, by delaying his transfer to the medical department.

In order to establish a deprivation of a prisoner's constitutional right to adequate medical care, the "evidence must show (i) a serious medical need, and (ii) acts or omissions by prison officials that indicate deliberate indifference to that need." Natale v. Camden Cty Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2003). "A medical need is 'serious' if it is 'one that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment or one that is so obvious that a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention." Small v. Gillis, 2006 WL 1737501, at *3 (E.D. Pa., June 22, 2006), quoting Monmouth Cty. Corr. Inst. Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987). Here, plaintiff reported that he had a headache - and shortly thereafter, he began vomiting. Viewing these facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, this constitutes a serious medical need for Eighth Amendment purposes.

Nevertheless, as to deliberate indifference, the record does not present a triable issue. Deliberate indifference "can be found where prison officials 'ignored . . . evidence' of a serious need for medical care or where 'necessary medical treatment is delayed for non-medical reasons." Small, supra, at *3, quoting Natale, 318 F.3d at 582. This record shows that Randall, a corrections officer, shortly after learning of plaintiff's headache, immediately contacted the medical department and spoke to a nurse. Thereafter, two other officers transported plaintiff in a cart part way and a nurse then took him in a wheelchair to the medical department - within less than an hour of his initial complaint.

As to plaintiff's assertion that medical attention was delayed because of the inmate count, this is unsupported by the record. The nurse who was contacted by the corrections officer did not advise that plaintiff's headache was an emergency requiring attention before the completion of count.*fn10 The officers were entitled to rely on the nurse's professional judgment in this regard. Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 236 (3d Cir. 2004) ("absent a reason to believe (or actual knowledge) that prison doctors or their assistants are mistreating (or not treating) a prisoner, a non-medical official . . . will not be chargeable with the Eighth Amendment scienter requirement of deliberate indifference"). Once he vomited and broke the windows, the officers, despite the inmate count, had him taken to the medical department.

Plaintiff's contention that defendants DiGuglielmo (the prison superintendent) and Strickland implemented a policy that did not permit movement of prisoners during an inmate count is similarly unsupported. Instead, the deposition testimony of the Commonwealth defendants was the prison policy allowed movement of prisoners during an inmate count in an emergency. No evidence was to the contrary. DiGuglielmo N.T., 29-32; Strickland N.T., 20-21; Paulin N.T., at 18; Hannibal N.T., at 14.

There appears to be no evidence of deliberate indifference in responding to plaintiff's complaints or in taking him to the medical department - and, therefore, no ground for an ...

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