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Dennis Mckeithan v. Nelson Iannuzzi

December 21, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge


I. Introduction and Procedural History

The pro se plaintiff, Dennis McKeithan, an inmate at SCI-Mahanoy, Frackville, Pennsylvania, filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, as a state-law petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition set forth several complaints Plaintiff had about his medical care at the prison. Nelson Iannuzzi, a nurse practitioner; John Lisiak, M.D., a physician; Marva Cerullo, the prison's Chief Health Care Administrator; and Alice Chipriano, a nurse supervisor, were named as respondents.

Because the petition invoked federal constitutional law, respondents Iannuzzi and Dr. Lisiak removed the action to this court. The respondents filed two motions to dismiss, one by Iannuzzi and Dr. Lisiak, and the other by Cerullo and Chipriano. Treating the action as a civil-rights complaint, the magistrate judge recommended that it be dismissed because Plaintiff had sought only injunctive relief, and he was not entitled to such relief under the applicable standard.

Plaintiff filed objections, contending that he had filed a habeas petition seeking injunctive relief in state court only so he could obtain a hearing on his medical complaints. Since the respondent-defendants had removed the action to federal court, he requested an opportunity to file a civil-rights complaint seeking damages. We granted that request, and Plaintiff filed an amended complaint which took the place of his habeas petition. The amended complaint added another defendant, Amy Albertson, a blood lab technician at the prison. The amended complaint sets forth three Eighth Amendment medical claims: (1) failure to treat an ingrown toenail; (2) failure to draw periodic blood samples in an hygienic and safe way; and (3) failure to treat eczema.

We are considering the two motions to dismiss the amended complaint, one filed by Iannuzzi and Dr. Lisiak, and the other by Cerullo, Chipriano, and Albertson.

II. Standard of Review

In considering a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), "[w]e 'accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010)(quoted case omitted).

A complaint has to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Detailed factual allegations are not required, id. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964; Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 564 (3d Cir. 2002), only a "short and plain statement" showing the right to relief. Pryor, 288 F.3d at 564 (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002) and quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). "[M]ore than labels and conclusions" are required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964--65.

III. Background

A. The Ingrown Toenail Claim

Plaintiff makes an Eighth Amendment claim against Iannuzzi and Cerullo for failure to treat an ingrown toenail on his left big toe. On this claim, he alleges as follows. On some unspecified date, Dr. Lesiak examined Plaintiff's big toe at sick call. The toe was infected and the nail was ingrown and stabbing into his skin. The nail was half-filled with blood and disfigured. Dr. Lisiak told him he would have him seen by the foot doctor. (Doc. 46, Am. Compl., p. 3).

On May 20, 2010, McKeithan went to the RHU Medical Triage, supposedly to be seen by "the foot doctor podiatrist." Instead, defendant Iannuzzi, the nurse practitioner was there, sitting on a stool with goggles on and pretending to be the podiatrist. (Id.). Iannuzzi did not have the qualifications or the tools to treat Plaintiff's toe. (Id.). When Plaintiff stated he was there to see the podiatrist, Iannuzzi responded that he was "the foot doctor" and that he was going to clip McKeithan's toe nails.

McKeithan said he didn't need to have his toe nails clipped; he needed to have the blood drained out of the ingrown toenail and the nail "lefted (sic) or taken off." Iannuzzi arrogantly asked Plaintiff if he wanted the toenail clipped or not. If not, he could leave. (Id.). McKeithan allowed Iannuzzi to clip his toe nail. (Id.). This did nothing to relieve the condition. (Id.). Iannuzzi then made false entries in Plaintiff's medical file indicating he was fine. (Id.). Plaintiff has still not been treated for his ingrown toenail, which is painful, disfigured and full of blood. (Id.).

Defendant Cerullo, the Chief Health Care Administrator, and Iannuzzi came up with the idea of calling Iannuzzi a foot doctor and noting in inmates' files they had been seen by a foot doctor. "This fraudulent foot clinic was created in order to save money for the agency" because the inmates were not being seen by a real podiatrist. (Id., p. 4).

B. The Failure to Draw Blood in an Hygienic and Safe Way

Plaintiff makes an Eighth Amendment claim against Cerullo, Chipriano, and Albertson for failure to draw blood to monitor his hypertension and angina. On this claim, he alleges as follows. Before his transfer to SCI-Mahanoy on November 2, 2009, Plaintiff had his blood tested every six months to monitor his hypertension and angina. (Id., p. 5). After his transfer, he has not had his blood tested because he has refused to submit to the unsanitary and painful conditions defendant Albertson, along with Chipriano and Cerullo, have attempted to impose on him. (Id.).

More specifically, on November 13, 2009, Albertson and a correctional officer came to his cell in the RHU for the purpose of drawing blood. To obtain the blood sample from Plaintiff, Albertson "ordered him to get down on the floor, crawl up to the cell door, stick his arms through the door wicke[t], twist his body in a contorted fashion, smash his face up against the door and allow the [correctional officer] to cuff his wrist and stretch his arm out with the rope attached to the cuffs . . . ." (Id.).

Plaintiff has refused to give blood by putting his arms through the wicket for two reasons. First, conditions in the RHU are unsanitary. Inmates have urinated and spread feces in the cells, on the floor, on the doors and the wickets. Dirty shoes are placed on the wickets after yard. Cells are only allowed to be cleaned once a week on Saturday morning. (Id.). Second, Plaintiff has various medical conditions, including a degenerative knee disease for which he needs braces. (Id.). "Asking him to twist his body in [a] distorted fashion and suffer the pain of squatting and bending" to have his blood sample taken in unsanitary conditions constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. (Id., p. 6).

Plaintiff finally had a blood sample taken on March 8, 2011, when Dr. Lesiak ordered that Albertson take the sample at the RHU Medical Triage. (Id.). RHU Medical Triages were put in place for this very purpose as a result of the class action in Austin v. Pa. DOC. The fact that blood samples can be taken in the triage unit defeats any claim that security requires that blood be taken from a prisoner while he is confined in his cell. (Id.).

After she drew the blood as Dr. Lisiak ordered, Albertson angrily told Plaintiff that she was not going to draw his blood in the triage unit again. She has been ...

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