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Law v. Correctional Care, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 10, 2014

RICHARD LAW, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECTIONAL CARE, INC., DR. EDWARD ZALOGA, and ANTHONY IANNUZZI, Defendants

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARTIN C. CARLSON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiff, Richard Law, brought this action against medical providers who he claims violated his rights under the United States Constitution and Pennsylvania law by badly misdiagnosing and failing adequately to treat a serious eye condition while the plaintiff was housed as an inmate at the Lackawanna County Correctional Facility ("LCCF"). In the complaint, the plaintiff has brought the following causes of action: (1) a claim alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) a claim under Pennsylvania state law for professional negligence or gross negligence on the part of Dr. Edward Zaloga and Anthony Iannuzzi, and vicariously, against their employer, Correctional Care, Inc.; and (3) a claim against Correctional Care for corporate liability for its own breaches of duty relating to allegedly inadequate, grossly negligent, and deliberately indifferent policies that permitted physicians and staff to violate inmate's rights.

The defendants have moved to dismiss the plaintiff's state law claims alleging gross negligence, punitive damages, and corporate negligence. (Doc. 7.) Essentially, the defendants maintain that accepting all facts in the complaint as true, they nevertheless do not support a claim for these kinds of tort claims under Pennsylvania law. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, we find that the plaintiff has adequately pleaded these claims, and that the claims cannot be disposed of on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6). Accordingly, it will be recommended that the defendants' motion to dismiss be denied.

II. BACKGROUND

The background to this report is taken from the well pleaded allegations in the amended complaint, filed on November 5, 2013, which are accepted as true for purposes of considering the defendants' motion to dismiss.

Inmates at the LCCF receive medical care provided by Correctional Care and its medical staff. Defendant Zaloga owns Correctional Care and is the company's highest official, although in practice Dr. Zaloga and Correctional Care operate as a single entity. (Doc. 6, Am. Compl., ¶¶ 6, 37.) Dr. Zaloga is Correctional Care's medical director and LCCF's medical director. (Id.) Dr. Zaloga is Anthony Iannuzzi's supervisor. (Id.)

On or around September 30, 2011, the plaintiff was incarcerated at LCCF. On March 15, 2012, the plaintiff, while housed at LCCF, submitted a sick call request in which he reported "right eye is blurrie [sic]. Hearing is bad." (Doc. 6 ¶ 10.) Four days after submitting this slip, the plaintiff was seen by Anthony Iannuzzi, a certified nurse practitioner. Iannuzzi examined the plaintiff and noted that the plaintiff had a hazy film on his right eye that had been present for approximately two weeks, but that the plaintiff had denied any trauma, foreign body, pain, headache, confusion, flu-like symptoms or coughing, and otherwise did not complain of any other symptoms. (Id. ¶ 12.) The plaintiff explained that it felt like he was looking through black soot or smoke. (Id. ¶ 13.) Iannuzzi noted that he was "unable to visualize retina" in the right eye, found the left eye positive for pappiledema, and assessed the left eye as "20/30" whereas the right eye vision was "20/100". (Id. ¶ 14.) Iannuzzi referred the plaintiff for an ophthalmology followup, and described the condition as "urgent" but not "emergent". (Id. ¶ 15.) Iannuzzi believed that the plaintiff's condition was likely caused by irregular blood pressure, and the plaintiff was accordingly placed on blood pressure medication. (Id. ¶ 16.) On March 20, 2012, Correctional Care sought to obtain the plaintiff's prior ophthalmology records, but otherwise did nothing to treat the plaintiff's ocular condition. (Id. ¶ 16.) According to the amended complaint, prior to this incident, the plaintiff had never had medical problems with his eyes, and only wore glasses for reading and fine print. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.)

In early April 2012, the plaintiff developed blindness in his right eye. (Id. ¶ 19.) Nevertheless, neither Iannuzzi nor Dr. Zaloga made arrangements for the plaintiff to be seen by an ophthalmologist until sometime in May 2012. Indeed, the plaintiff alleges that this outside consultation was only scheduled after the plaintiff's lawyer "intervened" and had an appointment scheduled for June 4, 2012. (Id. ¶ 20.) During the appointment, an ophthalmologist diagnosed the plaintiff with a right eye rhegmatogenous retinal detachment involving the macula, which had been present for a few months. (Id. ¶ 21.) The plaintiff was recommended for surgical repair of the scleral buckle that remained, and on June 6, 2012, the plaintiff underwent surgery to repair his detached retina in his right eye. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.)

Although the plaintiff had surgery, he has not recovered his visual acuity in his right eye, and his vision in his right eye remains distorted. (Id. ¶ 24.) The plaintiff's right eye continues to be sensitive to light, and he now wears an eye patch over the eye. (Id.) Prior to this incident, the plaintiff possessed a commercial driver's license, which he has since allowed to expire because he cannot drive long distances. (Id.)

The plaintiff has alleged that when he saw Nurse Iannuzzi on March 19, 2012, four days after complaining about vision problems, his condition should have been found to present an ophthalmologic emergency and should have been treated promptly. (Id. ¶¶ 25-28.) The plaintiff claims that the conditions he described to Iannuzzi presented "classic signs of a detached retina requiring ophthalmologic consultation as soon as possible, " but instead Iannuzzi chose to send out for medical records and put the plaintiff on blood pressure medication. (Id. ¶ 29.)

During this time, Nurse Iannuzzi's supervising medical provider, Dr. Zaloga, never saw the plaintiff, did not follow up in any meaningful way regarding Mr. Law's condition, and did nothing to ensure that Mr. Law was seen by an ophthamologist for almost two months after he first complained about his eye, and nearly a month after he began experiencing blindness in the eye. (Id. ¶¶ 30-32.)

The plaintiff avers that Dr. Zaloga's and Nurse Iannuzzi's treatment of his condition reflected deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, and deviated from the professional standard of care in failing to properly evaluate the plaintiff's sudden monocular reduction in visual acuity as an ophthalmologic emergency requiring immediate consultation. (Id. ¶¶ 33-34.) Further, the plaintiff criticizes the defendants for failing to obtain an ophthalmologic appointment for him in a timely fashion so that his retina would not detach, and so the harm to his right eye might be mitigated. ...


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