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Merrion v. Corizon Health, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 19, 2015

CORIZON HEALTH, INC., et al., Defendants.


WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff James Merrion filed this Section 1983 action on June 26, 2013, and amended his complaint on September 16, 2013. Plaintiff claims that Defendants were medically negligent and deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs while he was incarcerated at two Pennsylvania state correctional institutions. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he experienced severe back pain from 2008 through 2012, and that Defendants failed to provide proper medical treatment because they did not order an MRI to determine the cause of his pain. After his release from state custody in 2012, Plaintiff was diagnosed with a large spinal tumor and stage II diffuse large B cell lymphoma. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants' failure to order an MRI constitutes negligence and deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs because it led to his cancer going undetected for an unknown period of time.

Presently, we are considering Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment on the Eighth Amendment claim. (Doc. 82). According to Defendants, the undisputed facts demonstrate that Plaintiff received regular treatment for his back pain-albeit not the treatment Plaintiff believes he should have received-and therefore, his deliberate indifference claim must fail. Because we agree that the record does not support a finding of deliberate indifference on behalf of the individual medical defendants, we will grant the motion. However, we will exercise supplemental jurisdiction and retain the remaining state law negligence claim.

II. Background

Plaintiff was incarcerated at SCI Forest from 2008 through May 2011, and at SCI Mahanoy from May 2011 through March 2012. (Doc. 98, ¶¶ 159-60; Doc. 100, ¶¶ 159-60). Defendants are Dr. Robert Maxa, nurse practitioner Beverly O'Rourke, physician's assistant Rhonda Sherbine, Dr. Renato Diaz, Dr. Dennis Parlavecchio, [1] Dr. Gaye Gustitus, Dr. John Lisiak, and physician's assistant Richard Andreuzzi. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 2-14; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 2-14). Also named as a defendant is Corizon Health, Inc., the medical providers' employer.[2] (Doc. 98, ¶ 166; Doc. 100, ¶ 166).

On April 10, 2008, Plaintiff complained to the nursing staff at SCI Forest that he was experiencing right hip and groin pain. (Doc. 86, ¶ 39; Doc. 98, ¶ 39). Dr. Maxa examined Plaintiff this same day, and ordered antibiotics and a urinalysis. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 40-41; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 40-41). The following day, after additional complaints from Plaintiff, Dr. Maxa ordered a mild narcotic. (Doc. 86, ¶ 42; Doc. 98, ¶ 42). An ultrasound report dated April 15, 2008 indicated Plaintiff had a possible kidney stone. (Doc. 86, ¶ 43; Doc. 98, ¶ 43). On April 17, after continued complaints of pain, Dr. Maxa examined Plaintiff again and found tenderness in his right flank but no "guarding, rebound or rigidity." (Doc. 86, ¶ 45; Doc. 98, ¶ 45). He prescribed a muscle relaxant. (Doc. 86, ¶ 46; Doc. 98, ¶ 46). Dr. Maxa saw Plaintiff one more time on April 25, and noted tenderness in his right flank and a muscle spasm in his lower back. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 47-48; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 47-48).

On May 2, 2008, Plaintiff was seen by physician's assistant ("P.A.") Sherbine for complaints of pain in his right flank and lower right abdomen. (Doc. 86, ¶ 51; Doc. 98, ¶ 51). Plaintiff reported that lying down and walking aggravated the pain, and that he could not sleep at night. (Id.) After a physical exam, P.A. Sherbine discontinued the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication that Plaintiff had been taking for toe pain, and ordered Motrin, Bentyl (an antispasmodic medication for bowel troubles), and a urinalysis-which was normal. (Doc. 86, ¶ 53; Doc. 98, ¶ 53). These orders were approved by Dr. Maxa. (Doc. 86, ¶ 54; Doc. 98, ¶ 54). P.A. Sherbine saw Plaintiff again on May 8; he reported that the muscle relaxant helped, but that he continued to experience hip and side pain. (Doc. 86, ¶ 56; Doc. 98, ¶ 56). Sherbine discontinued Motrin and ordered another muscle relaxant, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, x-rays of Plaintiff's right hip and pelvis (which were normal), and ordered Plaintiff to discontinue work and activities until May 16, 2008. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 57-59; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 57-59). The following day, Sherbine saw Plaintiff for a Hepatitis C treatment follow-up; she noted a decreased range of motion due to pain, as well as tenderness in his right back and abdomen. (Doc. 86, ¶ 63; Doc. 98, ¶ 63). She ordered a follow-up in one week, a prescription for Medrol (a steroidal anti-inflammatory), x-rays of his lumbosacral spine (which showed no abnormalities), and restricted his work and activities through May 23, 2008. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 64-66; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 64-66). These orders were approved by Dr. Maxa. (Id.) When the Medrol prescription expired, Sherbine ordered a regimen of Prednisone, another steroidal anti-inflammatory. (Doc. 86, ¶ 67; Doc. 98, ¶ 67). Plaintiff was seen for a follow-up on May 21, during which he noted improvement in his back pain and abdominal pain, and good range of motion in his right hip. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 69-70; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 69-70). A week later, Plaintiff was seen for another Hepatitis C follow-up; he reported improved right side pain but continued tenderness in his abdomen. (Doc. 86, ¶ 71; Doc. 98, ¶ 71). On June 10, Sherbine ordered a continuation of muscle relaxants and Motrin, which Dr. Maxa approved. (Doc. 86, ¶ 72; Doc. 98, ¶ 72). Plaintiff was seen again on June 27 for a Hepatitis follow-up, but did not complain about his back. (Doc. 86, ¶ 74; Doc. 98, ¶ 74).

From mid-July 2008, through November 2010, Plaintiff was seen by medical providers almost monthly-sometimes weekly-to treat various ailments including burns, Hepatitis follow-ups, and skin rashes. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 76-99; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 76-99). During this time, Plaintiff continued taking the muscle relaxant and Motrin.[3] (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 83, 93; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 83, 93). On November 19, 2010, Plaintiff's muscle relaxant was reduced to once a day, but ten days later it was returned to three times a day, at Plaintiff's request. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 99, 101; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 99, 101).

On May 12, 2011, Plaintiff was transferred to SCI Mahanoy. (Doc. 86, ¶ 106; Doc. 98, ¶ 106). Dr. Diaz reviewed Plaintiff's chart and ordered that his medications from SCI Forest be continued. (Doc. 86, ¶ 108; Doc. 98, ¶ 108). On May 16, Plaintiff had a visit with P.A. Andreuzzi, who discontinued the muscle relaxant and renewed the Motrin prescription. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 110-11; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 110-11). On August 19, 2011 and November 14, 2011, Plaintiff was seen again by Andreuzzi in response to his request to renew his Motrin prescription. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 119, 124; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 119, 124). On the latter occasion, Plaintiff refused to sign a sign-in sheet, so no prescriptions were ordered for him. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 125-28; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 125-28).

Several weeks later, on January 6, 2012, Plaintiff complained to Andreuzzi of low back pain and tightness that had persisted for several days. (Doc. 86, ¶ 130; Doc. 98, ¶ 130). He denied having numbness or tingling, loss of range of motion, or loss of strength/sensation. (Doc. 86, ¶ 131; Doc. 98, ¶ 131). Andreuzzi ordered Motrin for fourteen days, a topical pain reliever, a tapered dosage of Prednisone, gave Plaintiff a muscle rub, and restricted his work and activities through January 10, 2012. (Doc. 86, ¶ 133; Doc. 98, ¶ 133). Dr. Gustitus co-signed these orders. (Doc. 86, ¶ 134; Doc. 98, ¶ 134).

On January 17, 2012, Dr. Gustitus saw Plaintiff for a sick call; he reported that he suffered from chronic midback pain for three years and it was currently exacerbated. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 135-36; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 135-36). Dr. Gustitis conducted a physical exam but noted nothing abnormal. (Doc. 86, ¶ 138; Doc. 98, ¶ 138). She ordered a urinalysis, blood work, and Motrin, and told him to return if he had more trouble. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 139-140; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 139-140).

On February 22, 2012, Plaintiff was seen by Andreuzzi for a regularly scheduled physical exam which yielded no abnormal findings.[4] (Doc. 86, ¶ 144; Doc. 98, ¶ 144). On March 12, 2012, Plaintiff was seen a final time by Dr. Gustitus in preparation for his transfer to county jail; she advised him to follow up with the providers in the county jail and with a family doctor after his release. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 146, 148; Doc. 98, ¶¶ 146, 148). Plaintiff was then transferred to Columbia County Correctional Facility, where he remained until his release on August 7, 2012. (Doc. 98, ¶ 161; Doc. ...

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