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Stephon M. Bennett v. C/O Washington

August 13, 2012


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


Defendant Transcare ML, Inc. ("Transcare") has moved to dismiss the claims against it in pro se Plaintiff Stephon Bennett's Amended Complaint, which asserts claims arising out of a prison assault on Plaintiff. The Amended Complaint asserts claims against Transcare under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. For the reasons that follow, we grant Transcare's Motion with respect to Plaintiff's § 1983 claim, but deny the Motion with respect to Plaintiff's state law claim.


The Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was a prisoner in Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, when he was left in an unlocked cell and assaulted by several inmates, suffering several stab wounds and a collapsed lung. He did not see a doctor until the next day and prison officials did not call for an ambulance until more than 24 hours after the assault occurred.

Transcare, a private entity that has a contract with the Philadelphia Prison System to provide ambulance service, responded to take Plaintiff to the hospital. En route, the corrections officers riding with Plaintiff told Transcare's ambulance technicians that they were taking Plaintiff to the wrong hospital. The corrections officers stated that Plaintiff was to be taken to the Aria Health Hospital located in northeast Philadelphia, not Aria Health's Frankford campus. Transcare's technicians radioed their dispatch operator to check to which hospital they were to transport Plaintiff, and were told to continue to Aria Health's Frankford campus. When they arrived, Transcare's ambulance technicians learned that they had taken Plaintiff to the wrong hospital. Plaintiff was taken to the correct hospital, Aria Health's northeast campus, four hours later. As a result, Plaintiff's medical treatment was delayed.

The Amended Complaint asserts two claims against Transcare: 1) a § 1983 claim for violation of his 14th Amendment right to be provided with adequate medical care, and 2) a state law negligence claim.*fn1


When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we "consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, [and] matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (cited with approval in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

A plaintiff's pleading obligation is to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), which gives the defendant "'fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "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." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In the end, we will dismiss a complaint if the factual allegations in the complaint are not sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 235-36 (3d ed. 2004)).


A. Section 1983 Claim

Transcare argues that Plaintiff's § 1983 claim fails to state a claim against it upon which relief can be granted because Plaintiff has failed to allege that a policy or custom of Transcare's caused the alleged constitutional violation. We agree.*fn2

It is well settled that a municipal entity cannot be sued under § 1983 for the constitutional torts of its employees. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). This rule has been extended to private corporations. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 822 (7th Cir. 2009) ("It has long been established that there is no respondeat superior liability under section 1983. Although this principle typically surfaces in the context of municipal corporations . . . . The same is true of a private corporation." (footnote omitted)); Rojas v. Alexander's Dep't Store, Inc., 924 F.2d 406, 408 (2d Cir. 1990) (citations omitted); Thomas v. Zinkel, 155 F. Supp. 2d 408, 412 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (citing Miller v. Hoffman, Civ. A. No. 97-7987, 1998 WL 404034, at *4 (E.D. Pa. July 7, 1998)). Accordingly, Plaintiff cannot sue Transcare solely because Transcare's employees violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights.

To sue an entity under ยง 1983, "the plaintiff must identify a policy or custom of the entity that caused the constitutional violation." A.M. ex rel. J.M.K. v. Luzerne Cnty. Juvenile Det. Ctr., 372 F.3d 572, 580 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997)). After identifying a policy of the defendant, a plaintiff "bears the additional burden of proving that the [policy] was the proximate cause of the injuries suffered." Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Losch v. Borough of Parkesburg, 736 F.2d 903, 910 (3d Cir. 1984)). "To establish the necessary causation, a plaintiff must demonstrate a 'plausible nexus' or 'affirmative link' between the [policy] and the specific deprivation of constitutional rights at issue." Id. (citation omitted). Moreover, if "the policy or custom does not facially violate federal law, causation can be established only by 'demonstrat[ing] that the [entity's] action was taken with deliberate indifference as to its known or obvious consequences. A showing of simple or even heightened negligence will not suffice." Berg v. Cnty. of ...

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