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Estien v. Showalter

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 30, 2014

EDWIN ESTIEN, Plaintiff,
MARY LOU SHOWALTER, et al., Defendants.


SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

On September 30, 2013, Plaintiff Edwin Estien, an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Coal Township"), commenced this civil rights action by filing a complaint pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) In the complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, past and present employees ("Corrections Defendants") of his former place of incarceration, the State Correctional Institution in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Huntingdon"), as well as medical staff employed at SCI-Huntingdon ("Medical Defendants"), [1] were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs with respect to care for injuries to his thumb. Plaintiff also raises allegations of retaliation, conspiracy, and related state law claims.

Presently before the court are two motions to dismiss, filed by both sets of Defendants. (Docs. 16 & 20.) For the reasons set forth below, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

A. Facts

In the complaint, Plaintiff provides the following factual background with respect to his claims. For purposes of disposition of the instant motions to dismiss, the factual allegations asserted in the complaint will be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiff.

On April 17, 2012, Plaintiff suffered a broken left thumb and deep cut from a razor blade as a result of altercation with another inmate at his former place of incarceration, SCI-Huntingdon. (Doc. 1 ¶ 1.) After the fight, Plaintiff was escorted to the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU"). ( Id. ) Plaintiff requested medical assistance once there, and Defendant RHU Lieutenant Dunkle took photographs of Plaintiff's swollen and bleeding left thumb. ( Id. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Dunkle stated that he would not call for medical assistance and told Plaintiff to "sit in [his] cell and think about what [he] did because the inmate that [he] was fighting was one of his informants and the pain [he's] in should teach [him] a lesson." ( Id. ) Defendant Dunkle failed to inform the medical department of Plaintiff's need for assistance on that day, April 17, 2012. ( Id. ) As a result, Plaintiff stayed in an RHU cell that night without being seen by medical and suffered pain for three (3) subsequent days before he was seen by the prison's medical staff and then taken to an outside hospital. ( Id. ¶ 2.)

On April 20, 2012, Plaintiff was examined at SCI-Huntingdon's medical department by a woman identified by Plaintiff as Ms. Milisa, who x-rayed Plaintiff's injuries and informed Defendants Parkes and Showalter, both Health Care Administrators at the institution, of Plaintiff's injuries. ( Id. ¶ 3.) Defendant Parkes organized an escort team to take Plaintiff to the Altoona Regional Hospital for treatment. ( Id. ) At the hospital, a physician identified by Plaintiff as Dr. Stauff noted Plaintiff's broken thumb, as well as a piece of razor blade left in it from the fight. ( Id. ¶ 4.) He requested immediate surgery and scheduled two walk-in appointments, including one in particular scheduled for April 23, 2012. ( Id. ) Both Defendants Parkes and Showalter were informed of Plaintiff's appointments and need for immediate surgery. ( Id. ¶¶ 5, 6.) However, Defendant Parkes did not make the arrangements to have Plaintiff escorted to Altoona Hospital on April 23, 2012. ( Id. ¶ 5.)

On April 30, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a request slip to Defendant Showalter, requesting pain medication for his injuries. ( Id. ¶ 7.) Defendant Showalter responded on the same day, informing Plaintiff that "she'd do nothing for [him] until [he] returned to the outside hospital and [was] seen by an orthopedic specialist." ( Id. ) As a result, Defendant Showalter took no immediate steps to schedule Plaintiff for an appointment with a nurse or physician's assistant, to contact Dr. Stauff about surgery, or to give Plaintiff medication. ( Id. )

Plaintiff alleges that due to this delay, he remained in severe pain until May 9, 2012, at which time he was seen again by Dr. Stauff. ( Id. ¶ 8.) He alleges that, at the examination, Dr. Stauff stated that Plaintiff's bone had taken on a "V shape" and that he was "scared to touch [Plaintiff's] hand based on his experience." ( Id. ) As a result, Plaintiff was sent to State College Orthopedic Center, where he underwent surgery on his hand performed by Dr. Christopher Lincoskie on May 10, 2012. ( Id. )

On June 15, 2012, Plaintiff requested an emergency medical referral from the nurse he saw on the medical line after his hand got jammed in the food slot of his cell door. ( Id. ¶ 9.) Defendant Dr. Araneda came to Plaintiff's cell that same day, looked at Plaintiff's cast and concluded there was no further damage to his hand. ( Id. ) Defendant Dr. Araneda also noted that Plaintiff was already prescribed Motrin for the pain. ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Dr. Araneda told Plaintiff he should "[bear] the pain because he's not doing nothing else for [him]." ( Id. )

Plaintiff's cast was removed on June 18, 2012. ( Id. ¶ 10.) On June 21, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a sick call slip to address his pain. ( Id. ) Resultantly, Defendant Dr. Araneda examined Plaintiff on June 22, 2012 for the pain and Plaintiff's difficulties flexing his fingers. ( Id. ) Plaintiff asked Defendant Dr. Araneda about a brace and six (6) weeks of physical therapy ordered by the doctor who performed the surgery. ( Id. ) Defendant Dr. Araneda responded that Plaintiff would not be receiving the brace and that physical therapy was not necessary. ( Id. )

On July 2, 2012, Plaintiff encountered Defendant Captain Harris in the RHU's recreation yard. ( Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff reminded Defendant Harris that he had sent him a request slip pertaining to the brace for his arm, but Defendant Harris had denied that request. ( Id. ) Defendant Harris confirmed that he was not granting the request, stating, according to Plaintiff, "you should have thought about that when you got into that fight." ( Id. ¶ 15.) He also stated that he knew Plaintiff possessed a weapon during the fight, which may have been gang-related, but understood that Plaintiff had to defend himself because "the odds were against" Plaintiff. ( Id. )

On July 16, 2012, Plaintiff wrote two request slips to Defendant Nurse Price, inquiring about physical therapy and the brace for his arm. ( Id. ¶ 12.) Defendant Price responded the following day, indicating that Plaintiff would start physical therapy in August and, at that time, he would be evaluated for a brace. ( Id. ) Plaintiff asserts that he never started physical therapy or received a brace. ( Id. )

On July 17, 2012, Plaintiff was seen by Defendant Dr. Araneda and Nurse Lench for the continued pain and stiffness in his left wrist and thumb. ( Id. ¶ 11.) When Plaintiff asked about physical therapy, Defendant Dr. Araneda told Plaintiff to try gripping a tennis ball in his cell, but Nurse Lench stated that he could use a wash rag and Plaintiff "should stop being a big baby." ( Id. )

On July 24, 2012, Defendants Price and Dr. Araneda visited Plaintiff at his cell. ( Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff claims this visit was in response to his filing a grievance against Defendant Price for her "nefarious atrosity [sic] and scheme to cover up Ms. Mary Lou Showalter downfalls." ( Id. ) Plaintiff asked again about receiving physical therapy, and, according to Plaintiff, Defendant Price responded, "Do you think filing any grievances is going to help you, you got another thing coming Mr., you will rot in this RHU before you get any help from any one of us." ( Id. ) In addition to this encounter, Plaintiff also received a response from Defendant Showalter to a grievance he previously filed, with reference to an earlier response to another grievance. ( Id. )

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff initiated this action with a complaint filed on September 30, 2013. (Doc. 1.) By order dated October 7, 2013, the court directed service of the complaint on all Defendants named therein. (Doc. 7.) On December 9, 2013, Corrections Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and supporting brief. (Docs. 16 & 17.) On December 16, 2013, Medical Defendants also filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and supporting brief. (Docs. 20 & 21.) Pursuant to M.D. Pa. Local Rule 7.6, Plaintiff had fourteen (14) days from the service of each set of motions to dismiss and briefs to file briefs in opposition to the motions. Since the filings of the motions to dismiss, the court granted Plaintiff five extensions of time to file one all-inclusive brief in opposition. ( See Docs. 23, 28, 31, 34, 39.) In the latest of the orders granting Plaintiff's requests for an extension, the court directed Plaintiff to file one all-inclusive brief in opposition by June 23, 2014. (Doc. 39.) In addition, per Plaintiff's request, the court informed Plaintiff that, at the time he files his brief in opposition to the motions to dismiss, he may file a proposed amended complaint, which would be screened by the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. ( Id. ) Because Plaintiff neither filed an opposition to either motion to dismiss nor filed a proposed amended complaint, the court again extended the deadline for Plaintiff's response by order dated July 2, 2014. (Doc. 40.) After subsequently granting two additional motions for extensions of time, ( see Docs. 44, 46), the court received Plaintiff's briefs in opposition (Docs. 48, 49) and proposed amended complaint (Doc. 47) on August 8, 2014. Corrections Defendants filed a reply brief on August 22, 2014. (Doc. 50.) 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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Fair notice" in the context of Rule 8(a)(2) "depends on the type of case - 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. A plaintiff must provide more than "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" to show entitlement to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (recognizing that Rule 8 pleading standard "does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation"); accord, e.g., Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (stating that the court is not "compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation" (quotations and citations omitted)).

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, 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. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 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 Coll. 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 ...

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