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Stevens v. Meisel

May 10, 2010


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


Plaintiff, Troy D. Stevens, brings this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the warden of Lehigh County Prison, Dale A. Meisel, and three nurses on the prison medical staff, Jennifer Nichol, Melissa Fritz, and "Judy (Jane Doe)" (whom defendants identify as Judy Cihylik). Stevens claims that when he was an inmate of the prison in June 2009 the nurses violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to diagnose and treat properly an infection on his leg from methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus ("MRSA"). In addition, Stevens claims that Meisel failed to devise or ensure the application of appropriate policies and procedures for protecting Stevens's Eighth Amendment rights. Defendants have filed motions pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the complaint. They argue that, even accepting Stevens's allegations as true, he has not alleged a constitutional violation because he is only challenging the quality of the medical care he received, not the complete denial of medical treatment. I agree with defendants. I will therefore grant their motions and will dismiss the complaint with prejudice.

I. Factual Background

The allegations of the complaint, which I assume to be true for the purposes of these 12(b)(6) motions, are summarized as follows.*fn1

On June 7, 2009, while incarcerated at Lehigh County Prison, Stevens observed a small lesion-like bump on his leg and, believing he might have MRSA, requested medical treatment. (Complaint 11, 15.) Stevens was "visually" examined by Fritz, who told him he "did not have MRSA" but that he should "wash and keep clean" the affected area. (Id. at 8, 11.) Stevens continued to believe that he might have MRSA and requested to be examined by a dermatologist. (Id. at 11.) He "was informed that there was no dermatologist available" at the prison and was sent back to his cell. (Id.)

A few days later, between June 11 and June 15, 2009, Nichols conducted a "MRSA check" on Stevens in his cell. (Id. at 8, 11.) She identified two lesions on his right leg but told him that they were not the result of a MRSA infection. (Id. at 11.) Stevens again requested, to no avail, that he be examined by a dermatologist or "someone specifically trained in 'skin disease detection.'" (Id.)

On June 16, 2009, Cihiylik examined Stevens, at which time he was prescribed an antibiotic and placed in isolation as a precaution. (Id. at 6, 10.) A culture of his lesions was taken. (Id. at 10.) He was later advised that he was, indeed, suffering from MRSA. (Id.)

II. Standards Under Rule 12(b)(6)

In analyzing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-211 (3d Cir. 2009). "This 'plausibility' determination will be 'a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, __, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. The issue is "'not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.'" Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

In conducting this review, a court must accept all "well-pleaded" facts in the complaint as true. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211. This assumption of truth does not, however, apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. At the same time, the pleadings of pro se plaintiffs must be "liberally construed." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-96 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) ("a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers") (internal quotation marks omitted)).

III. Discussion

Stevens claims that defendants deprived him of his right under the Eighth Amendment to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. (Complaint 3, 5-6, 9-10.) He claims that his nurses lacked proper medical training and should have consulted a dermatologist to diagnose and treat the lesion-like bumps on his leg. (Id. at 8.) He also claims that Meisel failed to "devise or ensure" the application of appropriate policies and procedures at Lehigh County Prison for protecting Stevens's Eighth Amendment rights. (Id. at 10.)

A. Claim Against Nurses

Section 1983 provides for the imposition of liability on any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute is not a source of substantive rights, but merely provides "a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (quotation omitted). In order to establish a deprivation of his Eighth Amendment rights in this case, Stevens must allege: (1) an objective element (that the deprivation was "serious"); and (2) a subjective element (that a prison official acted with a ...

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