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Zakaria Ajlane v. John Kerestes

March 6, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Caldwell)


I. Introduction

On March 23, 2011, Zakaria Ajlane, a state inmate formerly housed at SCI-Mahanoy, in Frackville, Pennsylvania, filed this action alleging defendants failed to protect him from assault by his mentally ill cellmate, and then denied him medical care for his injuries. Named as defendants are the following SCI-Mahanoy prison officials: Superintendent Kerestes; Unit Manager John Muick; Mr. Boyce; Nurse Supervisor Alice Chipriano; Corrections Health Care Administrator (CHCA) Marva J. Cerulio; and John Steinhart, RNS.

On June 7, 2011, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint based on the Eleventh Amendment, Ajlane's failure to allege the personal involvement of many of the defendants, and his failure to state an Eighth Amendment claim. Although Ajlane filed a brief in opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss, it is one paragraph long and does not address the defendants' motion.*fn1 For the following reasons, Defendants' motion will be granted.

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 court may consider documents that are attached to or submitted with the complaint, Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002), and matters of public record. Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania, 446 F.3d 410, 413 n.2 (3d Cir. 2006).

"Pro se complaints are 'liberally construed' and 'held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers[.]'" Jackson v. Div. of Developmental Disabilities, 394 F. App'x 950, 951 n.3 (3d Cir. 2010)(nonprecedential)(quoted case omitted). Nonetheless, the complaint still "must contain allegations permitting 'the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Id. (quoted case omitted). Pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a curative amended complaint even when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend. See Fletcher--Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007). However, leave to amend need not be granted if amendment would be futile. Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 2002).

With these principles in mind, we set forth the background to this litigation, as Plaintiff alleges it.

III. Background

On February 22, 2009, Plaintiff was housed at SCI-Mahanoy and double-celled with inmate Robert House. Doc. 1, Compl. at CM/ECF p. 2.*fn2 At approximately 1:35 a.m. that day, inmate House attacked Plaintiff. Id. House pulled Ajlane out of his top bunk, stabbed him in the head, and assaulted him, all the time repeatedly yelling "you are trying to kill me, and my family." Id. Ajlane received staples for his head wound and suffered injuries to his back and neck. Id. at CM/ECF p. 3.

According to Ajlane, approximately two weeks prior to the assault, his cellmate, Robert House, started experiencing "phsychologically (sic) problems." Id. at CM/ECF p. 2. House sent a request slip to Unit Manager Muick seeking a transfer to another facility because he feared his life was in danger from corrections officers at SCIMahanoy. Id. Unit Manager Muick responded that he would make an appointment for House with a Psychiatrist because he "feared inmate was having a mental breakdown." Id. Psychiatrist Boyce spoke with inmate House and prescribed him medication. Id. at CM/ECF pp. 2-3. "House never took the medication and his mental state became worse." Id. at CM/ECF p. 3.

Inmate House then began writing grievances against block officers CO Smith, CO Hepner and CO John Doe. Id. He also started "making verbal threats to inmate's (sic) on the block". Id. At one point CO Smith asked Plaintiff what was going on with his cellmate. Ajlane responded that he thought House was "going crazy." Id. Psychiatrist Boyce was again contacted and spoke with House. Psychiatrist Boyce tried to persuade House to take the prescribed medication, noting that his "demeanor [had] changed since the first visit, and the guards were saying that he has snapped on several people, and it may be possible that he [was] hearing things." Id. House continued to refuse to take his medications and stated he still believed his life to be in danger. Id.

A week later, House assaulted Plaintiff Ajlane. Id. Ajlane attaches an affidavit from inmate House relating to these events. House affirms that he was "having problems with the guards" at the institution; that Unit Manager Muick made an appointment for him to see a Psychiatrist; that House refused to take medication prescribed to him by the psychiatrist; and that he told the Psychiatrist he was not going to take the medication. Id. at CM/ECF p. 12-14.

After returning from the medical unit following the February 22, 2009, assault, Ajlane learned that Unit Manager Muick and Psychiatrist Boyce "were aware that Inmate House refused to take his medication, and did nothing about it." Id. On March 4, 2009, Ajlan filed grievance number 264533 against Muick and Boyce alleging they were deliberately indifferent to his safety because they failed to remove House from his cell knowing he was experiencing mental health problems and refusing to take prescribed medication. Id. at CM/ECF p. 6. Major Thomas Derfler responded to the grievance noting that the incident was investigated by the prison's security office and that there was "no evidence or information indicating that [Ajlane] [was] having problems with House prior to" the incident and that Ajlane had in fact "requested House as a cellmate." Id. at CM/ECF p. 7.

Following the assault, after his initial visit to the medical unit, Ajlane wrote to Nurse Supervisor Alice Chipriano and Medical Director Marva Cervillo complaining of continued discomfort. Id. at CM/ECF p. 3. Both defendants told him "to return back to sick call." Id. Ajlane returned to sick call but "was not allowed to see a Doctor or receive any other form of medical help, other than more motrin." Id. Ajlane was charged $15.00 for the sick call visit and advised by a nurse that he would be charged the same "everytime [he] returned." Id. at CM/ECF p. 4. He later sent a request slip to Deputy Tritt stating that although he wrote to the medical department complaining of ongoing back pain from his injuries, he was dissatisfied with their response that he return ...

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