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Christopher v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 5, 2014

CLARA CHRISTOPHER, as Administratix Ad Prosequendum For The Estate Of Myrtle Denean Marshall Deceased, and On Behalf Of Decedent's Heirs At Law And Next Of Kin, Plaintiff,
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al. Defendants.


WILLIAM H. YOHN, Jr., District Judge.

This action arises out of the death of Myrtle Denean Marshall while she was a pre-trial detainee held at the Philadelphia Prison System's Riverside Correctional Facility ("Riverside"). The plaintiff, Clara Christopher, is the administratrix of Marshall's estate; she brings suit in that capacity and on behalf of Marshall's heirs and kin. The defendants are the City of Philadelphia, the private contractor that provides medical services to its pre-trial detainees and their correctional and medical employees. Among the individual defendants are Dr. Caleb Nwosu and Dr. Eke Kalu, who are alleged to have been responsible for the medical care of pre-trial detainees at Riverside. Nwosu and Kalu now move to dismiss Christopher's claims against them. For the following reasons, I will grant the motion as to Christopher's § 1983 claims against them, but deny the motion as to Christopher's state law claims against them.

I. Background[1]

On August 18, 2011, Marshall was admitted to Riverside as a pre-trial detainee after having been arrested the previous day on outstanding bench warrants. Three days later, on August 21, 2011, Marshall was found naked and unresponsive in her cell, and she was pronounced dead at 10:08 a.m. According to the complaint, no medical personnel were present at Riverside at the time Marshall was found in her cell.

Plaintiff alleges that Marshall suffered from hypertensive heart disease, and she expressed on a Riverside intake questionnaire that she had life threatening medical conditions and took heart medication. Over her four day detention, however, Riverside medical personnel were allegedly unresponsive to Marshall's stated medical needs and subsequent requests for proper medical treatment made by Marshall and members of her family.[2] Marshall allegedly complained to her cellmate on August 20, 2011 that she did not receive heart medication at the beginning of her stay in Riverside, that she thereafter received incorrect doses of heart medication, and that correctional officers were unresponsive when she raised related concerns.

As to the moving defendants, the complaint alleges Nwosu was a medical doctor working in the Philadelphia Prison System and in the Riverside facility, and that she was responsible for providing medical services to inmates and pre-trial detainees, including Marshall. The complaint also alleges Marshall had previously been detained at Riverside, and Nwosu personally provided Marshall with medical care during that detention. The complaint further alleges Kalu is the regional medical director for Corizon, Inc., the private contractor responsible for all inmate and pre-trial detainee medical care in the Philadelphia Prison System. The complaint alleges Kalu had supervisory duties as to the Riverside facility, and that he was responsible for supervising the medical staff directing Marshall's care.

Christopher alleges Marshall's death resulted from the deliberate indifference of the defendants, who allegedly knew, should have known, or with deliberate indifference failed to determine Marshall urgently needed proper medical care. Further, she alleges the failure to provide proper and necessary medical care is a practice and custom of the Philadelphia Prison System.

On August 16, 2013, Christopher brought the instant action. In it, she brings § 1983 claims against all defendants for violation of Marshall's rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. She also claims negligence and wrongful death against the defendant medical professionals, including Nwosu and Kalu. She seeks punitive damages.

On October 29, 2013, Nwosu and Kalu filed the instant motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Nwosu and Kalu raise six issues in support of their motion: (1) Christopher fails to allege either Nwosu or Kalu was involved in Marshall's medical care as required to state a claim against them under § 1983; (2) Christopher's allegations do not support an Eighth Amendment claim against Nwosu and Kalu; (3) Christopher's allegations do not support a Fourteenth Amendment claim against Nwosu and Kalu; (4) Christopher's state law medical liability claims must fail because she did not file a certificate of merit; (5) the court should decline to take supplemental jurisdiction of the state law claims if Christopher has not stated any federal claims; and (6) Christopher does not plead sufficient facts to form a basis for punitive damages. In the alternative, Nwosu and Kalu seek a more definite statement of Christopher's claims under Rule 12(e).

II. Legal Standards

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In determining whether a complaint is sufficient, a court takes note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim, and accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true, determine whether the plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief. Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)). While a short and simple statement of entitlement to relief is all that is required to state a claim under Rule 8(a), vague or conclusory statements will not suffice: a claim is only plausible where the complaint pleads sufficient factual content to raise the right to relief above the speculative level. Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007). Any reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the complaint must be drawn in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006).

III. Discussion

A. § 1983 Claims

Nwosu and Kalu contend Christopher's § 1983 claims must fail because the complaint does not allege their direct involvement in Marshall's medical care. According to Nwosu and Kalu, while supervisory failures may be a basis for a negligence action, they are not a basis for a claim ...

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