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Connolly v. Oquendo

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 8, 2013

C/O JOSE OQUENDO, ET AL., Defendants.



Before this Court is Defendant Prison Health Service’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 34). The Plaintiff has failed to respond to this Motion. In accordance with Local Rule of Civil Procedure 7.1(c), we will consider whether summary judgment is warranted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum, the Court will grant the Defendant’s Motion.


The claims in this case stem from three separate incidents that occurred while the Plaintiff, Michael Joseph Connolly (“Connolly” or “the Plaintiff”), was incarcerated at the Philadelphia Detention Center (“PDC”) in 2011.[1] The incidents at issue occurred in July and September of that year. The Plaintiff alleges that on those dates, one or more of the Defendant Correctional Officers subjected him to excessive physical force. (Compl., at ¶¶ 40-45, Doc. No. 5).[2]

The Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Prison Health Services (“PHS” or “Defendant”), a private company that the Philadelphia Prison System (“PPS”) contracts to provide medical care to inmates, provided him with inadequate mental health care and allowed him to be tortured in their facility. (Compl., at ¶ 46, Doc. No. 5). In particular, the Plaintiff alleges that PHS: (1) denied him “proper mental health care by not prescribing [Remeron and Xanax] which Plaintiff has been taking since 1997"; (2) enforced “a policy of not prescribing any sleep inducing medication for unexplained reasons” which caused a number of ill effects to his health; and (3) “was responsible for [Plaintiff] being kept in the psych ward handcuffed for a long time and tortured by [correctional officers].” (Compl., at ¶¶ 32-36, Doc. No. 5).

The Plaintiff properly filed his Complaint alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on April 24, 2012. The case proceeded to discovery after Defendant Correctional Officers and Defendant PHS filed separate answers to the Complaint. (Doc. Nos. 7 & 10). On April 17, 2013, counsel for the Defendant Correctional Officers and counsel for PHS deposed the Plaintiff. On May 16, 2013, PHS filed this Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 34). The Plaintiff had time to respond, or to move to extend the time to respond, to the Motion; however, the Plaintiff filed no response.


Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party; a factual dispute is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). In conducting our review, we view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor. Bowers v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 475 F.3d 524, 535 (3d Cir. 2007); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). However, the non-moving party cannot rely on “bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions to show the existence of a genuine issue.” Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Serv., 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005). When the non-moving party is the plaintiff, she must “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [every] element essential to [her] case and on which [she] will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).


Before we turn to evaluate each of the Plaintiff’s claims against PHS, we set forth the legal standards that govern the Plaintiff’s claims.

A. Legal Framework

1. Section 1983

Section 1983 “imposes civil liability upon any person who, acting under the color of state law, deprives another individual of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Schuman ex rel. Shertzer v. Penn Manor Sch. Dist., 422 F.3d 141, 146 (3d Cir. 2005). To establish a claim under Section 1983, “the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendants, while acting under color of state law, deprived him of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States.” Id. Private corporations or individuals that the state contracts to provide medical services to prison inmates are acting under state law for purposes of Section 1983, as such conduct is “fairly attributable to the State.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 54 (1988). Therefore, in providing medical services to prisoners, PHS is acting “under color of state law” for the purposes of Section 1983.

2. Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs The government has an “obligation to provide medical care for those whom it is punishing by incarceration.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976). Accordingly, deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of prisoners is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment for sentenced ...

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