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Mason v. Dauphin County Prison

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 27, 2015

SUSAN K. MASON, as Administrator of the Estate of Monique N. Mason, Plaintiff,
DAUPHIN COUNTY PRISON, et al., Defendants.


MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.


This is a lawsuit filed by Susan K. Mason, the Administrator of the Estate of Monique N. Mason, a former inmate at the Dauphin County Prison who died while in custody. The Administrator has sued the Prison, the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners, PrimeCare Medical and one of its doctors, and Dominick DeRose, the Warden, alleging that the defendants wrongfully caused Mason's death, and violated her rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. After the defendants moved to dismiss the initial complaint, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint on December 22, 2014. On January 5, 2015, the defendants filed a second motion to dismiss, which is fully briefed.

In the motion, the defendants argue that the plaintiff has failed adequately to plead a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the statutory vehicle used to prosecute civil rights actions. The defendants maintain that the plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to make out a viable claim for deliberate indifference to Ms. Mason's serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The defendants also argue that the plaintiff has improperly attempted to impose liability against the Prison on the basis of supervisory liability, or respondeat superior - something that is unavailable in § 1983 actions. The defendants relatedly argue that the plaintiff has not alleged facts that would be sufficient to establish a Monell[1] claim for municipal or institutional liability.

The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.


The factual background is taken from the well pleaded factual allegations set forth in the amended complaint, which are accepted as true for purposes of considering the motion to dismiss. See Eid v. Thompson, 740 F.3d 118, 122 (3d Cir. 2014) (when evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.").

Between November 21, 2011, and March 5, 2013, Monique Mason was housed as an inmate at the Dauphin County Prison. Prior to her admission as an inmate, in April 28, 2011, Mason was diagnosed with a colloid cyst[2] in the third ventricle of her brain, small lateral ventricles, calcification of her pineal gland, as well as possible Chiari formation. (Am. Compl. ¶ 20.) According to the complaint, the prison and medical defendants were aware of this diagnosis. In addition, according to the complaint, officials at the Prison were aware that on October 12, 2011, Dr. Stephen Powers had performed an MRI and had diagnosed Mason with small lateral ventricles, swollen brain symptoms, and severe headaches, including intermittent episodes of pre-syncope. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22.)

The plaintiff alleges that between November 21, 2011, and March 2, 2013, prison officials and medical staff either were aware, or should have been aware, of the plaintiff's diagnosis, and indeed the plaintiff notes that on that date of her intake at the prison Defendant PrimeCare Medical noted in records that Mason had a cyst in her brain, and anemia.

A month after her arrival at the prison, PrimeCare Medical noted that Mason's headaches were recurring more frequently, she was light-headed when she got out of bed, and again observed that she had a history of a colloid cyst. (Am. Compl. ¶ 25.) Seven months later, Mason presented with a "severe headache, " and noted at the time that she had been diagnosed with a cyst in her brain in 2011. (Am. Compl. ¶ 26.) Early in 2013, the plaintiff avers that Mason had experienced an incident called syncope, which is a symptom of brain swelling, though it was believed that she suffered not injuries from this incident. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27.)

The following month, on February 25, 2013, PrimeCare noted that the plaintiff was again suffering from headaches attributable to migraines, and Mason was prescribed Topomax. The plaintiff alleges that despite knowledge of Mason's condition, PrimeCare Medical had no protocols, rules or procedures in place to assess, refer, or treat neurological problems such as those Mason experienced. (Am. Compl. ¶ 28.)

On February 27, 2013, Mason suffered a syncopal incident, which rendered her nonresponsive; although she was later aroused at the time she received medical care. The plaintiff alleges that PrimeCare Medical knew that Mason had been nonresponsive for a period. (Am. Compl. ¶ 30.) The plaintiff alleges that up to this time, Mason had reported severe and worsening headaches to the Dauphin County Prison medical staff and PrimeCare Medical on numerous occasions, and the response was to prescribe anti-migraine medication and Motrin without referring Mason to a neurologist, despite prison officials and medical providers working for the prison being aware of Mason's brain abnormalities, and despite knowing that Mason's colloidal cyst needed to be followed periodically by neurologists and neurosurgeons, but failed to do so because they lacked any protocols, rules or procedures for such referrals. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 38-40.)

Days later, on March 2, 2013, Mason was found on the floor by her bunk, nonresponsive. Prison records indicate that CPR was administered and that emergency services were summoned. Medical staff attempted to resuscitate Mason, but were unsuccessful and she was transferred by ambulance to Harrisburg Hospital. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 31-33.) On March 5, 2012, Mason was declared brain dead, one day shy of her 32nd birthday. (Am. Compl. ¶ 34.)

An autopsy was performed, which showed pressure, severe brain swelling and brain herniation as a result of hydrocephalus caused by Mason's underlying colloidal cyst and possible Chiari formation. The autopsy listed the cause of death as complications ...

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