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Angel Luis Garcia v. Primecare Medical

August 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gene E.K. Pratter, J.,



Litigation often prompts the saying that "justice delayed is justice denied." This case, however, concerns delayed medical care for an inmate in the county prison facility and the question of who may be responsible for subsequent claims.

Plaintiff Angel Luis Garcia brings this action against Defendants Berks County Prison Correctional Officers Michael R. Buffington, Miguel A. Castro, Seth A. Jefferson, Ryan C. Kern, and Larry V. Schell (collectively, the "Berks Officers"), and PrimeCare Medical, Inc. ("PrimeCare"), PrimeCare Medical, Inc. Healthcare Providers John Does 1-10,*fn1 and John Doe, Berks County Prison PrimeCare Medical Supervisor Administrator. Mr. Garcia asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all of the defendants for their allegedly deliberately indifferent refusal or failure to provide him with adequate medical care in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights. He also asserts a variety of state law negligence claims against PrimeCare.

The Berks Officers and PrimeCare filed separate motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the Berks Officers' motion, and denies PrimeCare's motion.


A. Mr. Garcia's Head Injury, Treatment, and Suture Removal

In the early morning hours of August 6, 2006, a crowd gathered at the site of a disturbance near 8th and Walnut Streets in Reading, Pennsylvania. See Pl.'s Counterstatement of Material Facts in Resp. to Def. Berks S.J. Mot. ("PCMF-B") ¶ 1. Amid the commotion, a man named Cletus Rivera (who is not a party to this lawsuit) shot and killed Reading Police Officer Scott Wertz, the officer who responded to the initial disturbance. See id. ¶ 2. After Officer Wertz was shot, various members of the Reading Police Department attempted to disperse the crowd. See id. ¶ 3. While attempting to control the crowd, the police officers arrested Mr. Garcia. See id. ¶ 4. In an effort to subdue Mr. Garcia and effectuate his arrest, one of the officers cut Mr. Garcia on the back of his head after striking him with a flashlight. See id. ¶ 5; Garcia Dep. 36-37. The police took Mr. Garcia to Reading Hospital, where doctors treated his head wound with sutures. See PCMF-B ¶¶ 6-8.

The treating physicians at Reading Hospital issued written instructions that Mr. Garcia would need to have his sutures removed within 10 days, i.e., by August 16, 2006. See PCMF-B ¶¶ 10-11, Exs. D, E, I. Reading Hospital also completed an "injured or sick prisoner report," including the same instruction for suture removal. See id.*fn2 Upon Mr. Garcia's arrival at Berks County Prison on the morning of August 6, 2006, Reading Hospital's instructions for suture removal were received by both Berks County Prison and PrimeCare. See id. ¶ 12. The instructions were then incorporated into Mr. Garcia's medical records and prison file. See id.

Despite these instructions, the sutures remained in Mr. Garcia's head four more months, until December 5, 2006, when a PrimeCare certified physician's assistant named Jesse Kirsch removed them. See id. ¶ 22. Due to the delay in removing the sutures, Mr. Garcia alleges that he has suffered headaches and an infection,*fn3 and that he was left with an approximately one-half inch area of exacerbated scarring around the sutures site. See id. ¶¶ 24-25; Garcia Dep. 95, 97-98, 101-02, 105, 131-33, 152-53.

B. The Berks Officers' Treatment of Mr. Garcia

Generally, in the Berks County penal facility, all inmate medical concerns must be submitted to PrimeCare on a written sick call form. See Castro Dep. 29-30. Although inmates can seek medical attention through a variety of ways, sick call forms are the primary means through which inmates schedule medical appointments with PrimeCare. See id.

Berks County Prison Correctional Officer Miguel Castro testified that throughout Mr. Garcia's various cell assignments, sick call forms were located at the officer's station. See id. To retrieve a sick call form from the officer's station, an inmate must request the form from the Correctional Officers on duty. See id. After completing a sick call form, the inmate must either request that a Correctional Officer collect the form or place the form in a collection bin during recreation when inmates are allowed outside of their cells. See id. Outside of the sick call procedure, Officer Castro testified that Correctional Officers are not required to report medical complaints to PrimeCare, with the exception of "medical emergenc[ies]." See id.

Five of the Berks Officers testified at their depositions that they could recall nothing about Mr. Garcia or his verbal requests for medical attention, with only one officer remembering having seen Mr. Garcia in the medical quarantine unit upon his arrival. Def. Berks Mem. of Law in Supp. of S.J. Mot. at 10.*fn4 Mr. Garcia alone testified to the following conduct in support of his claim that Berks denied him access to medical care:*fn5

* Mr. Garcia testified that Correctional Officer Buffington interacted with him while he was in the holding area prior to entering the general prison population: "[I] kept asking [Buffington] to call the nurse." See PCMF-B ¶ 16; Garcia Dep. 93. Officer Buffington allegedly responded that "he'll get to it." Id. Mr. Garcia testified that a nurse never arrived. See id.

* Mr. Garcia testified that Lieutenant Castro also interacted with Mr. Garcia while he was in the holding area: "[I] actually complained to [Lieutenant Castro] more than six times." See PCMF-B ¶ 17; Garcia Dep. 92-93. Lieutenant Castro allegedly responded that "[he's] got nothing to do with that." See id.

* Mr. Garcia testified that Correctional Officer Hitchens interacted with him when he was in the holding area: "[I] said to [Hitchens] that I need medical attention . . . . I told [Hitchens] that I have headaches." See PCMF-B ¶ 18; Garcia Dep. at 95-97. Officer Hitchens allegedly responded by saying "the nurse is out." Id. At his deposition, Mr. Garcia stated that he "guess[ed Hitchens] got agitated after I kept asking him to call the nurse for my head injury because it was starting to hurt. I was getting headaches. He came up and yelled at me, told me to shut the [expletive] up . . . I kept yelling for a lieutenant . . . ." See id.

* Mr. Garcia testified that Correctional Officer Jefferson interacted with him while he was in the protective custody area: "[J]efferson came, and they cell-searched my cell . . . . I went asking him to help me . . . [and he] didn't say nothing. He just stood there like I wasn't even there." See PCMF-B ¶ 19; Garcia Dep. 97-99.

* Mr. Garcia testified that Correctional Officer Kern interacted with him after he received his stitches: "[I] went asking him for medical help" on two separate occasions, and "showed him my stitches." See PCMF-B ¶ 20; Garcia Dep. 100-

03. Mr. Garcia testified that Officer Kern replied he would call a nurse, but no nurse ever came. See PCMF-B ¶ 20; Garcia Dep. 101-103. Mr. Garcia also alleges that Officer Kern is a "racist" who wore a shirt which stated "Fry Cletus."*fn6 Garcia Dep. 102-03.

* Mr. Garcia testified that Correctional Officer Schell interacted with him after he received his stitches: when opening the cell doors for dinner, Mr. Garcia "went straight to pill line to talk to the nurse about [his] injuries." See PCMF-B ¶ 21; Garcia Dep. 103-05. He stated, "[A]s I went to show [the nurse] my stitches, Schell jumped out of his seat and started screaming at me . . . ." Id.

In the event that a prisoner believes that his medical treatment was inadequate, or objects to an aspect of his imprisonment, the Berks County Prison Inmate Handbook lays out a multi-tier system whereby the inmate may seek formal review of his complaint. This handbook is provided to every inmate upon his arrival. The written policy indicates that, "most routine housing unit and treatment matters or questions can be handled by speaking with the housing unit officer or treatment staff." Pl. Ex. M at 31. An inmate can also "submit a written request (using an Inmate Communication Form) to staff other than those assigned to work directly in your housing unit. A "Request Box" is provided for this purpose on each housing unit." Id. In the event that "a significant complaint has not been resolved by this process," an inmate may file a grievance. Id. Grievance forms may be requested from ...

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