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Carl A. Blackwell v. Pennsylvania Department of

January 9, 2013


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


This § 1983 suit is brought pro se by a former inmate of the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy ("SCI Mahanoy") who alleges that various prison officials ignored his requests for medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment while he was incarcerated at that facility. The plaintiff, Carl A. Blackwell, has named as defendants John Wetzel, Secretary of Corrections;*fn1 Richard Ellers, Director of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") Bureau of Health Care Services; John Kerestes, SCI Mahanoy Superintendent; Brenda Tritt, SCI Mahanoy Deputy Superintendent for Centralized Services; Marva Cerullo, Corrections Health Care Administrator at SCI Mahanoy (collectively, the "Commonwealth Defendants"); Dr. John Lisiak, Medical Director at SCI Mahanoy; and Prison Health Service ("PHS"), Dr. Lisiak's employer.*fn2 The Commonwealth Defendants have moved to dismiss the claims against them in their official capacities under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the claims alleged against them personally for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). PHS has also moved for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Dr. Lisiak has moved for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), similarly arguing that the complaint fails to state a claim against him.

The Court will grant all three of the defendants' motions. The Court dismisses the claims against the Commonwealth Defendants and PHS without prejudice, and grants judgment in favor of Dr. Lisiak on the Eighth Amendment claim against him.

I. Factual Allegations*fn3

The events at issue in this suit all took place while Blackwell was an inmate at SCI Mahanoy in 2011 and 2012. Since initiating this action, Blackwell has been released from prison.

Beginning in January 2011, Blackwell sought treatment from medical staff at SCI Mahanoy for sleep apnea. Over the next thirteen months, Blackwell went to sick call "numerous times" asking for treatment related to the condition but received none. According to the complaint, sleep apnea is a "silent killer," and Blackwell's lack of treatment has caused him to suffer, among other things, tiredness, "morning headaches," delusion, hallucinations, anxiety, nightmares, "tra[n]sient paranoia," and "minor brain damage." Compl. II.D, V.

At various points during 2011, Blackwell complained to SCI Mahanoy officials about his lack of treatment. His first complaint was to Brenda Tritt, a deputy superintendent at the prison. On August 29, 2011, Blackwell submitted an inmate request form to Tritt, stating that he had yet to receive medical care for his sleep apnea and asking Tritt to look into the matter. Blackwell informed Tritt that the prison's medical staff had told him they would not treat his sleep apnea until they received his pre-incarceration medical records. Blackwell further stated in his request form that his sleep apnea was marked by "long periods at night where [his] breathing stops for 60 sec[onds] or more" and resulted in tiredness during the day, as well as "minor brain damage." On September 6, 2011, Tritt responded that Grievance Officer Alice Chipriano would check Blackwell's file, although outside records requested by the prison had not yet been received, that the doctor was being advised of the situation, and that Blackwell should "[e]xpect testing." 8/29/11 Inmate's Request to Staff Member.

Approximately two weeks later, Blackwell filed an internal prison grievance regarding the lack of treatment for his sleep apnea.*fn4 Grievance Officer Chipriano denied that grievance. In her response, she stated that a prison physician assistant was attempting to obtain records from a Temple University sleep study in which Blackwell claimed to have participated. The physician assistant was having difficulty, however, given that Blackwell could not provide the precise dates of the sleep study. Chipriano also reported that the physician assistant would "call Temple's sleep study center in an attempt to get the necessary information to confirm the need for a CPAP machine or a diagnosis of sleep apnea."*fn5 9/21/11 Initial Review Resp.

At some point, Blackwell's complaints reached Richard S. Ellers, Director of the DOC Bureau of Health Care Services. On December 1, 2011, Ellers sent a letter to Blackwell addressing his concern that he was receiving inadequate medical treatment for his sleep apnea. Ellers informed Blackwell that the Bureau of Health Care Services had reviewed the matter and had determined that the care being provided by SCI Mahanoy staff was "medically appropriate." The letter stated that DOC inmate medical services are "consistent with community standards," and that the SCI Mahanoy medical team would continue to monitor Blackwell's condition and provide any necessary treatment. In closing, the letter directed Blackwell to address any further questions or concerns to Dr. John Lisiak, Medical Director at SCI Mahanoy, or Marva Cerullo, SCI Mahanoy's Corrections Health Care Administrator. Ellers copied Tritt, Cerullo, and Superintendent John Kerestes on the letter. 12/1/11 Letter.

Five days later, on December 6, 2011, Superintendent Kerestes received a letter from Blackwell, in which Blackwell sought to appeal Chipriano's September 21, 2011 grievance denial.*fn6 Blackwell maintained that he should not be denied testing or treatment for sleep apnea due to SCI Mahanoy's inability to locate his outside medical records. The letter went on to say that Blackwell was suffering various medical problems due to his untreated sleep apnea. 12/6/11 Letter. The next day, Kerestes denied Blackwell's grievance appeal, finding that Chipriano had properly researched and responded to Blackwell's grievance.*fn7 12/7/11 Facility Mgr.'s Appeal Resp.

During 2011, Blackwell also sought medical treatment for a "knee injury," and received an x-ray of his knee and Acetaminophen. He claims the Acetaminophen was "no good for [his] liver" and that "they" were aware of his liver condition. Compl. II.C., III.

II. Analysis

Blackwell claims that the defendants' failure to

provide him with adequate medical treatment for sleep apnea and a knee injury constitutes "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" in violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976). To succeed on such a claim, Blackwell must demonstrate that the defendants (1) acted or failed to act in a manner exhibiting deliberate indifference (2) ...

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