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Zheng v. Palakovich

April 13, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia Rambo


Before the court is Defendants MHM Correctional Services, Inc. ("MHM"), Dr. Eugene Polmueller, Dr. Robert Mellon, and Dr. Franz Bauer's motion to dismiss, (Doc. 48), Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


A. Parties

Plaintiff, Angelina Zheng, is the Administratrix of the estate and sister of decedent Joseph Holguin. (Compl. ¶ 1.) At all times relevant, Holguin was an inmate at the State Correctional Institute at Smithfield ("SCI- Smithfield"). (Id. ¶ 17.)

Defendants who brought this motion are MHM, Dr. Eugene Polmueller, and Dr. Franz Bauer.*fn2 MHM is a private company providing mental health services to SCI-Smithfield. Dr. Polmueller is the director of psychiatry at SCI-Smithfield, and it employed by MHM. (Id. ¶ 10.) Dr. Bauer is also employed by MHM, and is a psychiatrist at SCI-Smithfield. (Id. ¶ 9.)

B. Factual History

At 11:42p.m. on October 29, 2007, Holguin was pronounced dead after hanging himself from his desk with a bed sheet. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 37.) Prior to his death, Holguin had made multiple attempts to contact a psychiatrist and be placed on medication. Before being transferred to SCI-Smithfield, Holguin had been an inmate at SCI-Montgomery, where, on March 7, 2006, he was involuntarily committed*fn3 for depression and suicidal tendencies. (Id. ¶ 63.) It was determined at this time that Holguin was severally mentally disabled, and in need of both continued treatment and a transfer so he could be closer to his family. (Id.)

On or about August 10, 2006, Holguin was transferred to SCI- Smithfield. (Id. ¶ 64.) On August 15, 2006, Holguin requested to see a psychiatrist and was told that he would receive a mental health evaluation on September 5, 2006,*fn4. (Id. ¶ 65.) However, on September 5, 2006, when the mental health care professional arrived at the cell block, Holguin was told he was not on her list of patients to see. (Id.) On this same date, Holguin completed a form requesting that he be placed on medication. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 65.) On September 10, 2006, Holguin, still not having been seen by Dr. Franz Bauer, refused to take his medication due to his clinical depression, despite the fact that he had been taking this medication for years. (Id. ¶ 66.) On October 2, 2006, after repeatedly sending requests to see a doctor, Holguin was told that the psychological unit would be informed that Holguin wished to see a mental health care specialist. (Id. ¶¶ 66, 67.) On October 5, 2006, Holguin filled out another request slip to be placed on medication because he was depressed and "did not want to end up hurting himself." (Id. ¶ 19.)

On October 20, 2006, Holguin was finally evaluated by Dr. Bauer. (Id. ¶ 68.) He was told by Dr. Bauer that he would be placed back on all of his medications. (Id.) However, when the nurse returned on October 23, 2006, she informed Holguin that the only medication he would be getting was for sleep. (Id.) Plaintiff believes that Dr. Bauer reduced Holguin's prescription for psychotropic medications. (Id.)

On December 4, 2006, Holguin filled out an Inmate Request directed to the health care administrator, George Weaver, asking to be placed back on his medication stating, "I have been getting real depressed and I do not want to hurt myself. So could you please help me... " (Id. ¶¶ 20, 69.) Subsequently, on December 18, 2006, Holguin filled out another request to be placed back on his medication. (Id. ¶ 18.)

Sometime in the first few days of January 2007, Dr. Bauer had his monthly meeting with Holguin. (Id. ¶ 70.) Holguin was non-responsive during this evaluation and as such, Dr. Bauer reduced Holguin's Elavil prescription from 150 milligrams to 100 milligrams. (Id.) Following this meeting, on January 8, 2007, Holguin filed an Official Inmate Grievance form with the facility grievance coordinator, Lisa Hollibaugh, asking to be placed back on his medication because he was a diagnosed schizophrenic with a history of attempted suicide. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 70.) Holguin filed four more inmate request forms on February 6, 2007, to Defendants Dr. Bauer,*fn5 Smeal, Weaver and Palakovich.*fn6 (Id. ¶ 23.) In each form he stated he was depressed and needed to be placed back on his medication. (Id.) A response from staff dated February 2, 2007 stated that they would check with the psychiatric department to see why Holguin had been taken off his medication. (Id. ¶ 74.)

On February 16, 2007, Holguin was charged with misconduct for refusing to take a cell mate. (Id. ¶ 24.) Another inmate on Holguin's cell block filed a grievance on Holguin's behalf explaining that because of Holguin's mental illness taking on a cell mate would be far too stressful. (Id. ¶ 25.) On May 4, 2007, Holguin was again written up for refusing a cell mate. (Id. ¶ 27.)

On April 9, 2007, a search of Holguin's cell revealed that his bed sheet had been torn into strips. (Id. ¶ 26.) A hearing was held regarding the incident on April 13, 2007. (Id.) Despite knowing that torn bed sheets are commonly used in prison suicide attempts and being aware of Holguin's mental illness, instead of sending him for psychiatric treatment, he was instead charged $8.50 for the damaged property. (Id.)

On June 6, 2007, a Lieutenant Grove insisted that Holguin accept a cell mate and told him the extraction team would be used if he again refused. (Id. ¶ 28.) Several hours later, Holguin was found slicing his arm with a piece of razor and was put on twenty-four observation. (Id.) A psychiatric evaluation was scheduled for June 21, 2007. (Id. ¶ 75.) In the meantime, Holguin was told by Defendant Palakovich that if he returned to the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU)*fn7 and accepted a cell mate, he would be able to return to the general population. (Id. ¶ 29.) On June 14, 2007, Holguin was placed back in the general population. (Id. ¶ 30.) Just four days later, on June 18, 2007, Holguin was found in his cell with blood on his shirt and a razor in his hand cutting his left wrist. (Id. ¶ 31.) Holguin informed the officer who found him that he was depressed. (Id.) Due to this incident, Holguin was again placed in the RHU. (Id.)

On July 16, 2007, presumably while still in the RHU, Holguin filed a request to A. Shope, another psychiatrist at the prison, asking for a summary of his mental diagnosis. (Id. ¶ 76.) Holguin was told that he had previously been diagnosed with either Bi-Polar disease or major depression but that this had been changed to personality disorder. (Id.) However, Holguin was also informed "that it does not appear that they have settled on a particular diagnosis but that Borderline personality and anti-social personality seem to apply." (Id.)

On August 14, 2007, Holguin filed another inmate request asking that he be put back on his medication because he was thinking about "getting depressed and acting out." (Id. ΒΆ 77.) He was told by a staff member he would see a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Dominguez. (Id.) On September 10, 2007, Holguin again expressed his desire to be placed back on medication and was told by Shope ...

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