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David Lee Robinson v. Temple University Health Services

April 23, 2012


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


Plaintiff David Lee Robinson brought this pro se action alleging that Temple University Health Services, Temple University Physician, Inc., Temple Professional Associates, Temple University Physicians and Temple University Hospital (collectively, "defendants") denied him proper medical care while he was a patient of Temple University Hospital in August, 2004. Although he filed his action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the cause of action stated in his complaint is for professional malpractice under state law.

The defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). They argue that Robinson's failure to file a certificate of merit from a licenced physician, as required by Pennsylvania law in professional negligence actions, is fatal to his claim. Before we reach the issue of whether the complaint survives the defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we must determine if we have subject matter jurisdiction.

After reviewing Robinson's complaint, we conclude that there is no federal question presented. In the absence of federal question jurisdiction, diversity jurisdiction is the only basis for jurisdiction. Because the complaint does not allege that the parties are diverse, we must dismiss the action for lack of jurisdiction.


Robinson's complaint, read liberally in light of his pro se status, alleges that he was treated at Temple University Hospital on August 18, 2004, after he fell from the roof of a three-story building. His injuries included fractures to his ankle and hip. His ankle was placed in a cast. He remained at Temple University Hospital until his release on August 31, 2004.

About five-years later, medical staff at the United States Penitentiary-Canaan took X-ray images of Robinson's ankle. Those images revealed the presence of an os trigonum, a condition characterized by the growth of an extra bone behind the ankle bone. Os trigonum syndrome is commonly caused by an ankle injury. One of the symptoms is pain while walking.*fn1

Robinson filed his complaint on July 25, 2011, attaching medical records and information describing his condition. He alleges that had hospital staff diagnosed and properly treated his os trigonum in 2004, he would not now suffer pain and inflammation. He complains that he can stand for only short periods and cannot engage in extended physical activities. He contends that his physical condition, coupled with his status as a convicted felon, will make it difficult for him to find employment. Consequently, he requests monetary damages.

Robinson, using this district's form Section 1983 civil rights complaint, impliedly alleges that we have subject matter jurisdiction over this action based upon federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. He does not assert diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Nevertheless, given his pro se status, we shall consider whether there is diversity of citizenship.


Federal courts are obliged to address subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte. Meritcare, Inc. v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co., 166 F.3d 214, 217 (3d Cir. 1999), abrogated on other grounds by Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546 (2005). If the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, it must dismiss the complaint because it lacks the power to hear the case. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1); Constitutional Guided Walking Tours, LLC v. Independence Visitor Ctr. Corp., 804 F. Supp. 2d 320, 326 (E.D. Pa. 2011) (citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). Therefore, though no party has raised the issue of subject matter jurisdiction, we must, as a threshold matter, determine if the exercise of jurisdiction is proper before reaching the merits of the dispute. Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006) (holding that federal courts "have an independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a challenge from any party"); accord Tristani ex rel. Karnes v. Richman, 652 F.3d 360, 364 (3d Cir. 2011).

Federal Question Jurisdiction

By purporting to bring a § 1983 claim against the defendants, Robinson invokes federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. To state a § 1983 claim,*fn2 a plaintiff must allege facts, which if proven, would establish: (1) the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States; and (2) that the person depriving plaintiff of the right acted under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citations omitted); Miller v. Mitchell, 598 F.3d 139, 147 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

To the extent that Robinson alleges a constitutional injury, his claim fails. Rather than alleging a constitutional injury, Robinson asserts a medical malpractice claim that sounds in negligence. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 and n. 14 (1976) (holding that medical malpractice is not a cognizable constitutional violation); see also Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 546 F.2d 1077, 1081 (3d Cir. 1976) ...

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