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Runkle v. Commonwealth, Department of Corrections

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 10, 2013

JASON E. RUNKLE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; JOHN E. WETZEL; RICHARD S. ELLIS; NICOLAS SCHARFF BRIAN THOMPSON; SCOTT MORGAN; KIMBERLY BOAL; EDWARD HORNEMAN; MICHAEL MAHLMEISTER; KEITH McCOY; DEBORAH GOSNELL, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

MAUREEN P. KELLY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Jason E. Runkle ("Plaintiff"), is an inmate in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("the DOC"), and is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution ("SCI") at Mercer. Plaintiff brings this civil rights action alleging that Defendants have been deliberately indifferent to his medical needs by failing to provide him with treatment for Hepatitis C in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution while he has been housed at SCI Mercer. Plaintiff also purports to proceed as a class representative of all prisoners within the DOC who, like Plaintiff, have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and have been denied treatment based on the length of their sentences.

Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint, ECF No. 16, submitted on behalf of Defendants Scott Morgan ("Morgan"), Edward Horneman ("Horneman") and Deborah Gosnell ("Gosnell") (collectively "the Medical Defendants"), and a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil procedure 12(b)(6), ECF No. 18, submitted on behalf of Defendants the DOC, John E. Wetzel ("Wetzel"), Richard S. Ellers ("Ellers"), [1] Nicholas Scharff ("Scharff"), Brian Thompson ("Thompson"), Kimberly Boal ("Boal"), Keith McCoy ("McCoy"), and Michael Mahlmeister ("Mahlmeister") (collectively, "the DOC Defendants"). For the reasons that follow, both Motions will be granted.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

According to the Complaint, Plaintiff was sentenced on July 2, 2010, to a period of confinement of one year and six months to five years, less 187 days for time served. ECF No. 1, at ¶ 48. Plaintiff therefore had less than one year remaining on his minimum sentence when he became a ward of the DOC. Id. at ¶¶ 48, 65, 78. On October 28, 2010, following a period of incarceration at SCI Camp Hill for testing and classification, Plaintiff was transferred to his "home facility" at SCI Mercer. Upon his arrival at SCI Mercer, Plaintiff was screened for Hepatitis C and found to be positive. Id. at ¶¶ 49-52. At that time, Plaintiff had approximately 8 months of his minimum sentence left to serve. See id. at ¶¶ 48, 52.

It also appears from the Complaint that the DOC has in place a Hepatitis C Protocol ("the Protocol"), for screening, diagnosing and treating inmates with Hepatitis C. Id. at ¶ 42. According to the Protocol, once an inmate is screened and diagnosed, the length of his or her sentence is reviewed by the Correctional Health Care Administrator ("CHCA") and the Parole Office to determine whether or not the sentence is long enough to complete treatment. Id. at ¶ 44-47. See ECF No. 1-2. Inmates who have fewer than twelve months remaining on their minimum sentence are deemed ineligible for treatment. Id.

Accordingly, on November 8, 2010, when Plaintiff met with Defendant Horneman to discuss his test results, Horneman noted that Plaintiff's minimum sentence was "through June 2011, " and referred him to the Chronic Care Clinic so that Plaintiff's blood work and vital signs could be regularly monitored. Id. at ¶¶ 53, 54. The treatment plan was approved by Defendant Morgan on November 9, 2010. Id. at ¶ 57.

On December 15, 2010, Plaintiff had blood work done again. Id. at ¶ 60. On January 28, 2011, Plaintiff went to the prison infirmary complaining of right side abdominal pain. Defendant Gosnell examined Plaintiff and discovered that Plaintiff had a slight liver enlargement. Gosnell ordered repeat liver function tests in one month, which occurred on February 28, 2011. Id. at ¶¶ 67, 68. Defendant Horneman saw Plaintiff again on March 4, 2011 to review the most recent lab work. Id. at ¶ 69. Plaintiff apparently complained of fatigue at the time and again at an appointment with Horneman on April 25, 2011. Id. at ¶¶ 69, 71. Additional blood work was ordered and performed on April 26, 2011, and again on May 5, 2011, when Plaintiff reiterated his complaints of fatigue. Id. at ¶¶ 72, 76. Plaintiff had blood work done again on June 3, 2011, and saw Defendant Horneman on July 5, 2011, complaining of pain. Id. at ¶¶ 79, 81.

In the interim, it appears that Plaintiff submitted various Inmate Requests to Staff Members, grievances and appeals inquiring about, and/or requesting, treatment for Hepatitis C. Id. at ¶¶ 61, 63, 65, 70, 73, 80, 86, 88, 91, 93. In response to each of Plaintiff's inquiries and/or grievances, he was informed that he was ineligible for treatment because his minimum sentence was less than that allowed to complete treatment, that he therefore did not meet the Protocol criteria, and that appropriate lab work was being done and he was being evaluated according to policy. Plaintiff was also told that he should contact the Medical Department if his release date changed. Id. at ¶¶ 61, 62, 64, 66, 74, 75, 78, 83, 87, 90, 92, 94. See ECF No. 1-2.

Plaintiff was subsequently denied parole on October 24, 2011. Id. at ¶ 84. Plaintiff alleges that he was told at the time that he would have to serve the entirety of his maximum sentence which would have made him eligible for treatment, but that no further Hepatitis C testing or treatment has been offered to him. Id. at ¶ 85.[2]

Plaintiff, through counsel, filed the instant Complaint on January 28, 2013, bringing claims for "Deliberate Indifference" against Defendants Thompson, Morgan, Mahlmeister, McCoy, Boal, Horneman and Gosnell (Count I); "Deliberate Indifference (Class Action)" against Defendants Wetzel, Ellis and Scharff (Count II); "Declaratory Relief (Class Action)" against Defendants the DOC and Wetzel (Count III); and "Injunctive Relief (Class Action)" against the DOC and Wetzel (Count IV). The Medical Defendant's filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint, ECF No. 16, on April 8, 3013, and the DOC Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil procedure 12(b)(6), ECF No. 18, on April 9, 2013. ECF No. 18. Plaintiff filed a Consolidated Response to Motions to Dismiss in which he addresses both the Medical Defendants' Motion and that filed by the DOC Defendants. ECF No. 27. The Medical Defendants and the DOC Defendants filed reply briefs on June 5, 2013, ECF Nos. 28, 29, respectively. As such, both Motions are ripe for review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In assessing the sufficiency of the complaint pursuant to a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all material allegations in the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Odd v. Malone , 538 F.3d 202, 205 (3d Cir. 2008). The Court, however, need not accept bald assertions or inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. See California Public Employees' Retirement System v. The Chubb Corp. , 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004), citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the Court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id., citing Papasan v. Allain , 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has held that a complaint is properly dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) where it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " id. at 570, or where the factual content does not allow the court "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). See Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (finding that, under Twombly, "labels, conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" do not suffice but, rather, the complaint "must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct" and that are sufficient "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s] of his claim").

III. DISCUSSION

The Medical Defendants and the DOC Defendants have presented largely the same arguments in their respective Motions to Dismiss and each has incorporated the arguments advances by the other in their briefs. Given the overlap of ...


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