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Richard W. Illes, Sr., M.D. v. Dr. Barry Beaven et al

July 10, 2012


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


I. Introduction

This matter involves the medical treatment Plaintiff, Richard Illes, Sr., M.D., received while temporarily housed at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill ("SCI-Camp Hill"). Presently before the court are motions to dismiss and for summary judgment filed by Defendant, Dr. Christian Kcomt, and Plaintiff.

II. Background

In a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), we must take all factual allegations in the complaint as true. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). Plaintiff sets out the following facts in his complaint. Plaintiff, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Albion ("SCI-Albion"), was temporarily housed at SCI- Camp Hill from August 5, 2010 through August 31, 2010. (Doc. 1-2, ¶¶ 1, 7). Plaintiff had a history of severe degenerative joint disease and had been diagnosed with chronic pain syndrome, neuropathic pain, and chronic radiculopathy. (Id. at ¶ 8). The doctors at SCI-Albion treated these conditions with Celebrex, an anti-inflammatory agent, and Ultram, a pain medication. (Id. at ¶ 8). Plaintiff alleges he also suffered from lower back pain caused by a ruptured disc, peptic ulcer disease, gastritis, and gastro-esophageal reflux disease. (Id. at ¶¶ 11, 14). Plaintiff was diagnosed with depression prior to his transfer to SCI-Camp Hill, which was being treated with Lexapro, an anti-depressant. (Id. at ¶ 9).

On August 6, 2010, Plaintiff was seen by Defendant Sheila McGinnis, a physician's assistant on staff at SCI-Camp Hill. (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 17). McGinnis discontinued the Ultram and Celebrex and did not order any substitute pain medication. (Id. at ¶¶ 17, 20). Plaintiff asserts that McGinnis did not perform any physical examination, review his medical records, or consult any of Plaintiff's regular treating physicians at SCI-Albion. (Id. at ¶ 19). Dr. Underwood supervised McGinnis and co-signed her orders to discontinue the Ultram and Celebrex without performing any exams or reviewing Plaintiff's medical records. (Id. at ¶ 22). As a result of the discontinuation of the pain medications, Plaintiff had increased pain in his back, leg, and shoulders, was unable to sleep, and suffered a recurrence of his gastritis and peptic ulcer disease. (Id. at ¶¶23, 26, 27, 28).

Though Plaintiff does not give an exact date, at some point during his stay at SCI-Camp Hill, Defendant Kcomt discontinued Plaintiff's anti-depressant medication, Lexapro. Prior to the discontinuation, Dr. Kcomt did not examine or interview Plaintiff or review Plaintiff's psychiatric records. (Id. at ¶¶46-48). Later, Plaintiff informed Dr. Kcomt of his history of severe refractory depression and a suicide attempt. (Id. at ¶ 49). As a result of the discontinuation of Lexapro, Plaintiff suffered increased depression, anxiety, headaches, lethargy, insomnia, and increased degenerative joint disease and neuropathic pain. (Id. at ¶¶46-48).

Plaintiff also alleges that during his stay at SCI-Camp Hill, Dr. Kcomt violated his duty of confidentiality by requiring Plaintiff to discuss at his cell door his history of depression, his suicide attempt, and his need for anti-depressant medication. (Id. at ¶ 49).

On January 9, 2010, Plaintiff filed the instant action in the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County, alleging medical malpractice, breach of confidentiality, and violation of the Eighth Amendment. Defendants removed the action on March 1, 2012. On March 8, 2012, Defendant Kcomt filed a motion to dismiss and for summary judgment. On May 7, 2012, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment for his claims against Dr. Underwood.

III. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Under Rule 12(b)(6), we must "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." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). While a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim," FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d. 929 (2007), a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955 at 1974. "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, 566 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965.) "[L]abels and conclusions" are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65, and a court "'is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Id., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (quoted case omitted).

In resolving the motion to dismiss, we thus "conduct a two-part analysis." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. First, we separate the factual elements from the legal elements and disregard the legal conclusions. Id. at 210-11. Second, we "determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at 211 (quoted case omitted).

We will examine the motions for summary judgment under the well-established standard. Lawrence v. City of Philadelphia, 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d. Cir. 2008) ("Summary judgment is only appropriate if there are no genuine issues of material fact."). We "must view all evidence and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party" and we will only grant the motion "if no reasonable juror could find for the non-movant." Id."Material facts are those 'that could affect the outcome' of the proceeding, and 'a dispute about a material fact is genuine if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Roth v. Norfalco, 651 F.3d 367, 373 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Lamont v. New Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011).

B. Medical Malpractice Claim Against Defendant Kcomt

Defendant Kcomt argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's medical malpractice claim. To establish a medical malpractice claim in Pennsylvania, a plaintiff must present an expert witness who will testify "to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the acts of the physician deviated from accepted medical standards, and that such deviation was the proximate cause of the harm suffered." Hakeem v. Salaam, 260 Fed. App'x 432, 434 (3d Cir. 2008) (nonprecedential) (citing Mitzelfelt v. Kamrin, 526 Pa. 54, 584 A.2d 888, 891 (Pa. 1990)). An expert witness is not required "when the matter is so simple or the lack of care so obvious as to be within the range of experience and comprehension of non-professional persons." Id. (citing Hightower-Warren v. Silk, 548 Pa. 459, 698 A.2d 52, 54 n. 1 (Pa. 1997)).

Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1042.3 requires a medical malpractice complainant to file a certificate of merit within sixty days of filing the complaint. See PA. R. CIV. P. 1042.3; Liggon-Redding v. Sugarman, 659 F.3d 258, 259 (3d Cir. 2011). The certificate requires the plaintiff to attest to one of the following:

(1) an appropriate licensed professional has supplied a written statement that there exists a reasonable probability that the care, skill or knowledge exercised or exhibited in the treatment, practice or work that is the subject of the complaint, fell outside acceptable professional standards and that such conduct was a cause in bringing about the harm, or

(2) the claim that the defendant deviated from an acceptable professional standard is based solely on allegations that other licensed professionals for whom this defendant is responsible ...

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