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Powell v. Symons

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 6, 2013

DR. JOHN SYMONS, Defendant


YVETTE KANE, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 189), Magistrate Judge Schwab's Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 228), and Plaintiff's objections thereto (Doc. No. 231). For the reasons that follow, the Court will decline to adopt Magistrate Judge Schwab's Report and Recommendation, and will deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment.


Plaintiff Kevin Powell began his term of incarceration at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview (SCI-Rockview) in 2000. (Doc. No. 191 ¶ 1, Doc. No. 218 ¶ 1.) Plaintiff's mental disabilities include borderline intelligence, with his I.Q. testing at 70. (Doc. No. 218 ¶ 13.) Defendant Dr. John Symons, a physician on staff at SCI-Rockview, treated Plaintiff between June 8, 2006 and August 25, 2008 for his chronic medical ailments, including hypertension, Hepatitis C, and gastroesophageal reflux disease. (Doc. No. 191 ¶ 4.) During Plaintiff's treatment, Defendant regularly met with Plaintiff, recorded his symptoms, and took blood pressure readings. ( Id. ¶¶ 14-21.) Defendant consistently noted that Plaintiff failed to take his medications as ordered. ( Id. ¶¶ 26, 31, 36; Doc. No. 218 ¶ 23.) Plaintiff alleges that during this time, Defendant recorded dangerously high blood pressure readings for Plaintiff, including levels "commonly associated" with end-organ damage. (Doc. No. 218 ¶ 3.) Plaintiff alleges that he also exhibited symptoms of mental illness "besides his non-compliance" with Defendant's medical instructions, including his belief that he had been injected with the wrong medicine or with pathogens by prison medical personnel. ( Id. ¶ 12.) Defendant did not treat Plaintiff for mental illness or traumatic brain injury, nor did Defendant refer Plaintiff to a specialist for assessment or treatment of those conditions. ( Id. ¶ 24.)

On October 10, 2007, Plaintiff filed a grievance with SCI-Rockview in which he complained that Defendant had failed to address the "burning feelings in my chest, stomach, liver, kidney areas and my back for some time." (Doc. No. 199 at 4.) Plaintiff complained that "all they [Defendant] have done is check my blood pressure and provide me with blood pressure medication." (Id.) SCI-Rockview denied that Plaintiff had been refused healthcare, listing the dates and outcomes of Plaintiff's visits with Defendant in their reply to his grievance. ( Id. at 3.) Plaintiff then filed an appeal, reiterating that "I was not seen about chest pains. All they do is check my high blood pressure." ( Id. at 2.) Plaintiff's appeal was again denied. ( Id. at 1.)

On December 7, 2007, Plaintiff filed the above-captioned civil rights action, alleging that Defendant's medical treatment of Plaintiff violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. (Doc. No. 1.) On March 6, 2008, Defendant moved the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint on the grounds that it failed to state an Eighth Amendment claim as a matter of law. (Doc. No. 15.) On October 27, 2008, the Court adopted Magistrate Judge Smyser's Report and Recommendation, and denied Defendant's motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 57.) Defendant then moved the Court to grant summary judgment in his favor on Plaintiff's complaint. (Doc. No. 64.) Although the Court granted Plaintiff several extensions of time, he failed to file a brief in opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment, and therefore it was deemed unopposed pursuant to M.D.Pa. Local Rule 7.4. Thus, on March 12, 2010, the Honorable James F. McClure entered an order adopting Magistrate Judge Smyser's Report and Recommendation, granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment, and closed the case. (Doc. No. 149.)

On April 19, 2010, Plaintiff filed a notice of appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. (Doc. No. 150.) On January 12, 2012, the case was reassigned to the undersigned. The Third Circuit subsequently reversed Judge McClure's order granting summary judgment, remanded the above-captioned action, and instructed the Court to appoint a representative or counsel for Plaintiff to proceed in this case, given Plaintiff's limited mental capacity. (Doc. No. 160-1 at 12, Doc. No. 160.) On December 5, 2012, Defendant refiled his motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's complaint. (Doc. No. 189.) On January 25, 2013, Attorney Marianne Sawicki agreed to serve as pro bono counsel for Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 208.) Following the completion of briefing on Defendant's motion for summary judgment, Magistrate Judge Schwab issued a Report and Recommendation on August 28, 2013, recommending that Defendant's motion be granted in full. (Doc. No. 228.) Plaintiff filed objections on September 25, 2013. (Doc. No. 231.) The matter is now ripe for disposition.[1]


Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is warranted "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). A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law, and it is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyvle & Scott Ltd. , 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009). At summary judgment, the inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Id. at 251-52. In making this determination, the Court must "consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Sch. , 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).

The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co. , 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's claims, "the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Grp. Ltd. v. Colkitt , 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006). If the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial, " summary judgment is warranted. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).


Plaintiff objects that the Report and Recommendation takes the majority of Defendant's statement of material facts as true, even though Plaintiff contests some of Defendant's material facts. Plaintiff also objects that Magistrate Judge Schwab failed to view the record in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. The Court will review each objection in turn.[2]

A. Statement of material facts

The Court begins with Plaintiff's objection that the Report and Recommendation ignored a large portion of Plaintiff's Counter Statement of Material Facts. (Doc. No. 231 at 3.) The Report and Recommendation contains two factual portions; the first relies exclusively on Defendant's Statement of Material Facts and is presented as the "Undisputed Facts" portion, and the second portion presents Plaintiff's Counter Statement of Material Facts as "Powell's Disputed Facts." (Doc. No. 228.) Plaintiff objects that this presentation makes it appear that the Report and ...

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