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Cedric L. Young v. Dr. Richard Stefanic

August 3, 2011


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


Plaintiff Cedric Young is a prisoner in the custody of the Pennsylvania State Department of Corrections ("DOC"), incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford ("Graterford"). His amended complaint names four defendants: (1) Dr. Richard Stefanic, a physician employed by the DOC to provide medical services at Graterford; (2) Dr. Blatt, another physician employed by the DOC at Graterford; (3) Richard S. Ellers, the Director of the Bureau of Health Care Services at Graterford; and (4) Myron Stanishefski, the Corrections Health Care Administrator at Graterford. See Docket No. 21.*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated his constitutional rights by failing to provide proper medical treatment for his injured knee. Three of the defendants-Dr. Stefanic, Ellers, and Stanishefski-have now moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. See Docket Nos. 34 and 35. For the reasons that follow, the court will grant their motions.

I. Background*fn2

On July 20, 2007, plaintiff injured his left knee while playing basketball at Graterford. He was treated by a nurse after the injury and was provided an ice pack, bandage, and over-the-counter pain relief pills. On July 25, 2007, Dr. Blatt examined plaintiff, prescribed him pain relief medication, and referred him to a physical therapist. According to plaintiff, this course of action was improper because Dr. Blatt should have known that plaintiff needed immediate medical attention and not a physical therapist, "who was not a doctor." See Docket No. 21 at 3. The physical therapy was unsuccessful, and plaintiff was subsequently referred to Dr. Stefanic, who gave plaintiff a cortisone injection, a cloth knee brace, and another prescription of pain medication.

On September 8, 2008, plaintiff was sent to an outside hospital for an MRI, which revealed a torn tendon in his knee. Dr. Stefanic asked plaintiff if he wanted surgery, and plaintiff said he did. On October 23, 2008, plaintiff was sent to an outside doctor, Dr. McHugh, a sports medicine specialist, who advised plaintiff to have the surgery. Plaintiff agreed to have Dr. McHugh perform the surgery, but was told Graterford's medical department needed to set the surgery date.

On January 9, 2009, plaintiff filed a grievance (no. 257190) with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, complaining of constant knee pain and asking for surgery to be performed. On January 13, 2009, defendant Stanishefski denied the grievance, noting that Dr. Stefanic's treatment plan called for plaintiff to wear a knee brace, and stating that "surgery was not indicated at this time." Plaintiff then filed an appeal to Graterford Superintendent David DiGuglielmo, who upheld Stanishefski's decision. Plaintiff then wrote a letter to the Bureau of Health Care Services. Director Ellers responded to plaintiff's letter on March 26, 2009, writing that the medical care being provided to plaintiff by Graterford staff had been reviewed and determined to be "medically appropriate."

On July 20, 2009, Dr. McHugh performed knee surgery on plaintiff. Afterwards, Dr. McHugh told plaintiff that he would bring him back for a post-surgery check up. On December 21, 2009, having not yet been taken out to see Dr. McHugh, plaintiff filed another grievance (No. 300891). Stanishefski denied the grievance, writing that plaintiff was scheduled for a follow-up visit with Dr. Stefanic in April 2010. Plaintiff saw Dr. Stefanic in April 2010, and Dr. Stefanic suggested that plaintiff wait six months to review results from the knee surgery before considering other treatment. According to plaintiff, Dr. Stefanic was not qualified to determine his post-surgery knee treatment because he did not perform the surgery and is not a licensed knee surgeon. On October 15, 2010, plaintiff was sent to Dr. McHugh for a follow-up visit. Dr. McHugh found that the knee was still "loose."

Plaintiff continues to experience pain with his knee. He sues for damages, claiming that Dr. Stefanic was deliberately indifferent to his health in delaying both the knee surgery and post-surgery appointment with Dr. McHugh. He also claims that Stanishefski and Ellers, as supervisors, knew of the inadequate medical care being provided and failed to take proper action. Dr. Stefanic, Stanishefski , and Ellers have all filed motions to dismiss.

II. Standard of Review

As the Supreme Court has recently noted, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. While detailed factual allegations are not required, more is demanded than "an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). When reviewing a motion to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(6), a district court must accept all the factual allegations in a complaint as true. See Revell v. Port Authority of N.Y., N.J., 598 F.3d 128, 134 (3d Cir. 2010). In addition, pro se complaints, like plaintiff's, "must be liberally construed." Merritt v. Fogel, 349 F. App'x 742, 745 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-96 (2007)).

III. Analysis

Plaintiff's complaint alleges that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The defendants have made various attacks on plaintiff's complaint in their motions to dismiss, which the court will address in the following sections.

A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

Defendants argue that plaintiff's claim should be dismissed because his complaint fails to show that he properly exhausted his administrative remedies prior to bringing this suit. See Docket No. 34 at 11; Docket No. 35 at 17. The Prison Litigation Reform Act states that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. ยง 1997e(a). A prisoner must comply with the ...

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