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Chruby v. Dep't of Corrections of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

August 19, 2010

WALTER C. CHRUBY
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AND PRISON HEALTH SERVICES, INC.
APPEAL OF: PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
WALTER C. CHRUBY
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AND PRISON HEALTH SERVICES, INC.
APPEAL OF: PRISON HEALTH SERVICES, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Simpson

Submitted: July 9, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE JIM FLAHERTY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

In these consolidated appeals, the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Prison Health Services, Inc. (PHS) ask whether the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County (common pleas) erred in granting Walter C. Chruby's (Chruby) request for an ex parte preliminary injunction requiring DOC and PHS to transport Chruby to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) -- Shadyside for treatment of an acute condition related to his recurring kidney infection.

For the reasons stated below, we agree with all parties that this matter is technically moot because Chruby already received the treatment he sought pursuant to common pleas' decree and that decree dissolved by operation of law. Nevertheless, we believe this case falls within an exception to the mootness doctrine. Thus, we do not dismiss as moot the appeals filed by DOC and PHS. Ultimately, we conclude original jurisdiction over this case lies with this Court rather than common pleas, because DOC is an indispensable party. Therefore, we vacate the common pleas' decree and direct transfer of this appeal to our original jurisdiction.

I. Background

By way of brief background, in late February 2010, Chruby, an inmate at SCI -- Laurel Highlands, filed a complaint against DOC and PHS*fn1 in common pleas. Through his complaint, Chruby sought preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against DOC and PHS based on their alleged failure to comply with the terms of a settlement agreement executed by the parties in 2007.

More specifically, Chruby averred that a "Settlement Agreement and General Release," (Settlement Agreement) which he attached to his complaint, resolved a civil suit he filed against DOC and PHS in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. He alleged that, under the terms of the Settlement Agreement, DOC and PHS agreed to transport him to UPMC --

Shadyside, a tertiary care facility, each time he presented with an acute kidney stone episode or pyelonephritis. Chruby further averred that DOC and PHS breached the Settlement Agreement almost immediately and began repeatedly withholding or intentionally delaying adequate medical care and failing to promptly transport him to UPMC -- Shadyside.

On the same day as Chruby filed his complaint, Chruby also filed a Motion for Ex Parte Temporary Restraining Order and for Preliminary and Permanent Injunction (Motion). In that motion, Chruby averred that he was "presently suffering from sepsis, a serious, life threatening infection," and DOC and PHS were denying him proper medical care and treatment "placing [his] life in imminent danger." Pl.'s Mot. for Ex Parte TRO and for Prelim. and Permanent Inj. at ¶27.

Chruby presented his Motion to an "emergency" judge of the common pleas court in the late afternoon of February 22, 2010. Based on the averments in the motion, the judge issued a decree granting temporary relief and requiring DOC and PHS to immediately transport Chruby to UPMC -- Shadyside by the most expeditious means possible for medical treatment in accordance with the terms of the Settlement Agreement. The decree further indicated the common pleas court would schedule a hearing on a preliminary and/or permanent injunction.

The common pleas judge then forwarded the case to the Delaware County Court Administrator for assignment of a judge to conduct a hearing pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. No. 1531. Three days after common pleas entered its decree granting Chruby's Motion, DOC filed a notice of appeal.

On the same day as DOC filed its appeal, PHS filed a "Motion to Dissolve Pursuant to Delaware County Local Rule 1531 and Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for 'Ex Parte Temporary Restraining Order and for Preliminary and Permanent Injunction.[']" Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 56a-69a. Shortly thereafter, PHS filed its notice of appeal.

Common pleas then ordered DOC and PHS to file Statements of Matters Complained of on Appeal pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 1925(b). DOC and PHS complied with this order.

Shortly thereafter, common pleas court issued an opinion pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 1925(a) in which it explained that, in granting Chruby's request for a temporary ex parte injunction, it acted upon the averment in Chruby's Motion that he suffered a life-threatening sepsis infection and was in imminent danger of death. The court stated that the fact that the level of care necessary to treat Chruby's condition was the subject of prior litigation culminating in the Settlement Agreement, lent credence to Chruby's allegation that he was gravely ill. The court stated it accepted the allegation that Chruby's medical condition was severely compromised for the limited purpose of issuing the temporary decree. Common pleas also stated that, "but for" the appeals filed by DOC and PHS, it would have scheduled a hearing on PHS's motion to dissolve, after notice to all parties, or the temporary injunction would have dissolved after five days by operation of law.

See Pa. R.C.P. No. 1531(d). Ultimately, common pleas asked that this Court remand this case for assignment and ultimate disposition of the underlying matter. The appeals of DOC and PHS are now before us for disposition.

II. Issues

On appeal,*fn2 DOC acknowledges this case is technically moot because Chruby already received the medical care he sought. However, it contends this case falls within an exception to the mootness doctrine because it is capable of repetition yet evading review and it also concerns a public policy question of great public importance. DOC further argues a court of common pleas lacks jurisdiction to grant mandamus or injunctive relief against DOC and its Secretary because jurisdiction over those parties is vested exclusively in this Court. As a final point, DOC asserts it is against public policy to permit an inmate to direct his own medical care through ex parte proceedings.

In its appeal, PHS argues Chruby did not establish a clear right to relief before common pleas because DOC and PHS transported him to Conemaugh Hospital, a tertiary care facility, the day before he filed his Motion as well as the day he filed his Motion, but Chruby refused treatment at any facility other than UPMC -- Shadyside. Also, PHS asserts the doctrine of lis pendens should bar Chruby from obtaining relief here based on the pendency of a prior action Chruby filed seeking injunctive relief in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Chruby v. Department of Corrections, et al., Dkt. No. 09-CV-01641. PHS further contends, ...


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