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Jason Lavance Stewart v. Berks County Prisons Warden George Wagner

January 30, 2012


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


Plaintiff Jason L. Stewart brings the instant action against Defendants Berks County Prison ("BCP") Warden George Wagner, the BCP Health Systems Administrator, the BCP Primary Physician, and several BCP nurses, alleging cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and acts in violation of due process and equal protection rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Stewart also alleges negligence, and acts in violation of the due process protections of the Pennsylvania Constitution. *fn1 Before the Court are Motions to Dismiss filed by BCP Warden George Wagner and BCP Primary Physician Dr. Mary Beth Jackson, and Stewart's response thereto.


Stewart's claims arise out of medical treatment he received while incarcerated at Berks County Prison in Pennsylvania. The facts alleged in the Complaint are assumed to be true for the purposes of the Motion to Dismiss; additionally, the Court accepts as true all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the allegations, and views those facts and inferences in the light most favorable to Stewart, the non-moving party. *fn2

Stewart alleges that, on or about April 1, 2005, he began to experience flu-like symptoms and painful swelling of his leg. He reported to the Prison medical department, where he was examined by "Nurse Paula" and an unidentified male nurse who gave him medication in the form of a shot and pills, which Stewart believes were either Bactrim or Keflex. Stewart's symptoms abated briefly, but then increased. Stewart alleges that he reported his symptoms to Nurse Paula, and told her he no longer wished to take the medication provided earlier. Nurse Paula refused to send him back to the medical department and threatened him with a misconduct charge if he did not take his pills.

Stewart took the pills as ordered, but his symptoms became even worse-he could not eat or get out of bed, could not stand on his swollen leg, vomited, and had diarrhea. The following day, Stewart was seen by another nurse, and he again requested evaluation by a doctor and different medication. Both requests were denied. Stewart claims he became increasingly ill over the next twelve days.

On or about April 12, 2005, Stewart was transported by sheriffs to the Berks County courthouse for a hearing. Because Stewart vomited and complained of abdominal pain at the courthouse, sheriffs contacted the Prison. Stewart maintains that the sheriffs were told by Nurse Paula that he was "faking" and should not be returned to the Prison before his hearing. After returning from his court appearance, Stewart sought out Nurse Paula to explain that he was not feigning illness, and that he believed the medication she had prescribed was making his symptoms worse, not better. Nurse Paula sent Stewart to the medical department, where he was seen by yet another nurse, who changed his medication, but still refused to allow him to see a doctor. Stewart became much sicker that night.

The following morning, Stewart was jaundiced, vomiting, and unable to eat. He was again sent to the medical department, where he was kept in the infirmary on intravenous fluids. On or about April 14, 2005, Stewart was examined by Dr. Jackson (identified by Stewart as BCP's "Primary Physician"). Dr. Jackson was unable to diagnose Stewart, and transferred him to Reading Hospital. After running a number of tests, Reading Hospital doctors told him that he had a severely swollen and inflamed liver as a result of an allergic reaction to a medication administered by the Prison medical staff, and that he had a "50/50 chance to live." Stewart remained at Reading Hospital for approximately two weeks. On or about April 28, 2005, Stewart was discharged from the Hospital, given documentation of his diagnosis and treatment to provide to the Prison medical department, and returned to BCP.

On his return, Stewart submitted several "Inmate Request" forms in an attempt to determine the names and titles of the nurses, doctors and other medical staff who had treated him. He also filed a grievance with the Prison Warden. Stewart did not receive a response to his requests or complaints.

Approximately two days after his return from Reading Hospital, Stewart's leg again became swollen. He returned to the medical department, where he was treated by Nurse Paula. Nurse Paula gave Stewart a pill to which he had another bad reaction. The following morning, Stewart was again scheduled to appear in court, but on arriving at the courthouse, he began to vomit, "cramp up," and sweat with fever. Sheriffs took him directly to the Hospital, where Stewart was again diagnosed with and treated for further liver damage due to an allergic reaction to medication. Stewart claims that Nurse Paula later admitted that she and other medical staff had mistakenly administered the same medication Stewart received before his first hospital admission. Nurse Paula then denied Stewart's request to see a doctor as unnecessary. Thereafter, Stewart refused all further care or medication from the BCP medical staff.

Stewart commenced this action pro se on September 12, 2006, alleging Defendants violated his right to "equal protection under the Amendments . . . against negligence and malice" and right to proper and adequate medical care. *fn3 Shortly thereafter, Warden Wagner moved to dismiss the Complaint. *fn4 Upon review of the case file, the Court referred the case to the Prisoner Civil Rights Panel, and ordered all motions stayed pending appointment of counsel. While the case was stayed, Dr. Jackson filed a motion to dismiss. Counsel was appointed on October 21, 2009, and was granted several extensions of time in which to file amended pleadings or respond to any pending motions. *fn5 By letter to the Court, Stewart's counsel informed the Court that counsel did not intend to amend the original Complaint. Defendants Wagner and Jackson renewed their motions, and Stewart's counsel filed a single response in opposition to the two motions. *fn6


To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged" *fn7 and "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element" of a claim. *fn8

Specifically, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . ." *fn9 The question is not whether the plaintiff ultimately will prevail but whether the complaint is ...

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