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James Walters v. Berks County Prison

March 9, 2012

JAMES WALTERS
v.
BERKS COUNTY PRISON



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

MEMORANDUM

The plaintiff, who has since been released from custody, filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that his constitutional rights were violated as a result of the conditions he experienced and the treatment he received while confined at the Berks County Jail System ("BCJS"). The defendant has moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim or plead facts that give rise to municipal liability. The Court will grant the defendant's motion.

I. Facts

The plaintiff alleges that the physical conditions of

his cell were unsanitary to the point of violating his constitutional rights. The plaintiff was "housed in an area where [he was] being forced to eat and sleep directly next to a toilet . . . emitting unpleasant odors" and was not permitted to eat elsewhere, despite the presence of mice and insects. His cell had cracks in the concrete floors and walls, which also contained plaster debris and were painted with lead. Compl. 4; Tr. Hr'g 1/25/12 at 8.

As a result of those conditions and the presence of mice and ants, he was at a high risk for infection. In addition, the overhead light in the plaintiff's cell was not turned off at nighttime, making it difficult to sleep. The plaintiff claims that these conditions violated his "rights to a safe and clean environment." Compl. 4.

The plaintiff also suffered an infection approximately the size of a silver dollar on his left leg from July to December 2010. Medical staff treated the infection with an antibiotic, wrapped his wound with a bandage, and told him that his dressing would be changed daily. Despite requesting assistance, the plaintiff did not receive additional treatment and he treated the wound himself. As a result, the plaintiff developed a scar, lost muscle mass, and experienced severe pain. Compl. 5. The plaintiff alleges that the unsanitary conditions at the BCJS caused the infection in his leg, as evidenced by posters at the prison warning of a bacterial infection the Court understands may have been methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or "MRSA." Tr. Hr'g 1/25/12 at 5-6. At other times, the plaintiff suggested that the infection might be something other than MRSA. Id. at 10-11. The plaintiff argues that the negligent and neglectful behavior of individual members of medical staff working at the prison resulted in his infection. At oral argument the defendant clarified that this staffer was likely a physician's assistant for Prime Care Medical, the BCJS's medical contractor. Id. at 7, 9.

The plaintiff is no longer confined in the BCJS. The complaint seeks an order directing the BCJS to fix the problems in the prison and money damages for the time he spent incarcerated under such conditions in 2010-2011.

II. Discussion

The defendant has moved to dismiss the complaint,

asserting that the plaintiff fails to state a claim and fails to allege facts sufficient to support a claim of municipal liability. The Court agrees, finding that the facts alleged by the plaintiff do not give rise to a constitutional violation and are insufficient to impose municipal liability on BCJS.

A. Eighth Amendment Violations

The Eighth Amendment is violated by the conditions of

an inmate's confinement when there is an "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" by prison officials, "whether that conduct occurs in connection with establishing conditions of confinement [or] supplying medical needs." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986). The conditions of imprisonment may violate the Eighth Amendment if they, "alone or in combination, . . . deprive inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). ...


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