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Green v. Fisher

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 8, 2014

CLYDE GREEN, Plaintiff,
WARDEN JON FISHER, et al., Defendants.


SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

Plaintiff Clyde Green, an inmate currently confined at the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield ("SCI-Smithfield") in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by filing a pro se complaint on May 24, 2012, followed by an amended complaint on May 1, 2013. (Doc. 44.) In addition to his Section 1983 claims, Plaintiff has asserted pendant state law claims of negligence. Named as Defendants are Corizon, Inc., and two medical providers at SCI-Smithfield ("Medical Defendants"), and a number of Department of Corrections ("DOC") employees located at SCI-Smithfield ("DOC Defendants").[1] In the amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he sustained injuries on two separate occasions at SCI-Smithfield and has since been denied adequate medical care. As relief, he seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Presently before the court are two motions to dismiss, filed by both sets of Defendants. (Docs. 45 & 48.) For the reasons set forth below, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

For purposes of disposition of the instant motions to dismiss, the factual allegations asserted in the amended complaint will be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiff.

A. Facts

In the amended complaint, Plaintiff provides the following factual background with respect to his claims. Plaintiff alleges that the dining hall tables, seating, and flooring at SCI-Smithfield are old, deteriorating, and unsafe (Doc. 44 ¶¶ 13, 14), alleging that "The tables in question are the original tables that have been in service more than twenty (20) years and now accommodate during feeding thirteen (1300) hundred inmates three (3) times a day" ( Id . ¶ 14). On several occasions prior to September 30, 2011, Plaintiff expressed concern about these conditions to DOC Defendants Fisher, Fouse, Felton, and Rohrer. ( Id . ¶ 13.) However, Plaintiff's "complaints and grievances regarding instances of unstable tables, seating breakage, and flooring seeping foul smelling puddles of water underneath the tables foundation, were ignored and/or denied" by DOC Defendants. ( Id . ¶ 14.) On September 30, 2011, Plaintiff entered the dining hall to eat, picked up his food tray, and was directed to sit "at what was obviously an unstable stable." ( Id . ¶ 15.) When Plaintiff sat down at the table, it snapped from its floor foundation, and Plaintiff fell to the floor. ( Id .) In an attempt to break his fall, Plaintiff injured his wrist and left hand, and struck the back of his head. ( Id . ¶ 16.) He also felt immediate pain in his lower back and buttocks. ( Id .)

Plaintiff was transported to the medical department and examined by a physician's assistant. ( Id .) He was told that he had no swelling or lumps to the back of his head, although it was tender. ( Id .) He was also told that he had suffered a muscle strain to his lower back. ( Id .) He was given valium and ibuprofen, his wrist was wrapped, and he was sent to his housing unit. ( Id .)

In the early morning hours of October 1, 2011, Plaintiff was removed from his cell by a stretcher and eventually taken to Blair County Hospital for lower back pain and left leg numbness and pain. ( Id . ¶ 17.) X-rays revealed no broken bones, but the doctor stated nerve and/or ligament damage could not be ruled out. ( Id .)

Upon his return to SCI-Smithfield, Plaintiff was informed that Drs. Doll and Long had been contacted, and he was then placed in an observation cell in the intake housing unit which was being used as a temporary infirmary. ( Id . ¶ 18.) Dr. Long prescribed valium and vicodin. ( Id .) The observation cell was not equipped to meet Plaintiff's needs, as it did not have a "help call" button or support rails. ( Id .) On October 3, 2011, Plaintiff lost consciousness and fell in this cell while attempting to use the bathroom after he suffered "a paralyzing lower back and leg pain." ( Id .) Plaintiff was discovered by an officer making his rounds and was taken again to Blair County Hospital for x-rays and a CT scan. ( Id .)

When Plaintiff returned to SCI-Smithfield, he was placed in a psychological observation cell with 24-hour surveillance and prescribed Tylenol and ibuprofen. ( Id . ¶ 19.) On October 5, 2011, Plaintiff was informed that the x-rays and CT scan revealed no abnormalities. ( Id .) Despite his continued complaints of pain in his lower back and pain and numbness in his leg, which he alleges were ignored by Defendants Doll and Long, Plaintiff was released from the infirmary. ( Id .) However, Plaintiff acknowledges that he was given a cane to assist him with walking. ( Id .)

In the following days, medical department staff visited Plaintiff's cell, his meals were delivered, but he was forced to walk 1, 200 feet to retrieve his medication. ( Id . ¶ 20.) His complaints and grievances regarding his medical condition were ignored by Defendant Driebelbis. ( Id . ¶ 21.) His condition worsened, and by January 6, 2012, an MRI revealed a herniated disk. ( Id .) Further, the medical department accused him of "theatrics, " and began to charge him for "generated complaints of continued pain." ( Id . ¶ 22.)

On April 11, 2012, Plaintiff was referred to a neurologist, who recommended EGG and EMG testing, as well as cortisone shots for pain relief. ( Id . ¶ 23.) The medical department, including Defendants Driebelbis, Long, Doll, and Corizon, denied the cortisone treatment. ( Id .) Also, his complaints and grievances regarding the denial of treatment were rejected by Defendant Fisher. ( Id .)

Plaintiff alleges that due to his injuries from the fall from the table, he is permanently disabled, no longer able to exercise, and must use a cane to walk, wear a neck brace, and take medications daily for pain. ( Id .)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed his original complaint and motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis on May 24, 2012. (Docs. 1 & 3.) By order dated June 7, 2012, the court granted the motion to proceed in forma pauperis and directed service of the complaint on the Defendants named therein. (Doc. 10.)

DOC Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and brief in support on July 11, 2012. (Docs. 20 & 21.) Medical Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and supporting brief on July 16, 2012. (Docs. 23 & 24.) Plaintiff filed briefs in opposition to these motions on July 25, 2012, and August 1, 2012, respectively. (Docs. 26 & 28.) Medical Defendants filed a reply brief on August 8, 2012. (Doc. 30.) Further, after being granted an extension of time, ( see Doc. 27), Plaintiff filed a certificate of merit on August 8, 2012, as to Defendants Doll and Long declaring that expert testimony was unnecessary to support his medical negligence claim, (Doc. 29). Thereafter, on February 22, 2013, the court granted the motions to dismiss with prejudice in part and without prejudice in part. (Doc. 37.) In addition, Plaintiff was permitted to amend his complaint as to those claims that were dismissed without prejudice. ( Id .)

Plaintiff filed his amended complaint on May 1, 2013. (Doc. 44.) On May 7, 2013, Medical Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. (Doc. 45.) On May 13, 2013, DOC Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. (Doc. 48.) Plaintiff filed his opposition on May 31, 2013. (Doc. 53 & 54.) Medical Defendants filed a reply on June 10, 2013. (Doc. 56.) Thus, the motions to dismiss are now ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Among other requirements, a sound complaint must set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Fair notice" in Rule 8(a)(2) "depends on the type of case[, because] some complaints will require at least some factual allegations to make out a showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted). "[A] situation may arise where, at some point, the factual detail in a complaint is so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Id . In such a case, a defendant may attack a complaint by a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint, Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007), and all reasonable inferences permitted by the factual allegations contained therein, Watson v. Abington Twp. , 478 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2007), and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Kanter v. Barella , 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007). If the facts alleged are sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" such that the plaintiff's claim is "plausible on its face, " a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss. Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570) (explaining a claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged"); see also Phillips , 515 F.3d at 234; Victaulic Co. v. Tieman , 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007); Stevenson v. Carroll , 495 F.3d 62, 66 (3d Cir. 2007). Further, when a complaint contains well-pleaded factual allegations, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id . at 664. However, a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Id . at 678 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Id .

"To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc. , 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted); see also Sands v. McCormick , 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Pension Benefit , 998 F.2d at 1196. Additionally, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n , 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002) (citation omitted); see also U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins , 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) ("Although a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be considered without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment" (internal quotation omitted)). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in making its decision. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel , 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

When presented with a pro se complaint, the court should construe the complaint liberally and draw fair inferences from what is not alleged as well as from what is alleged. Dluhos v. Strasberg , 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003); Youse v. Carlucci , 867 F.Supp. 317, 318 (E.D. Pa. 1994). Such a complaint "must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings ...

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