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Simonds v. Delaware County

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 30, 2015

BRIDGET SIMONDS
v.
DELAWARE COUNTY, et al.

MEMORANDUM

THOMAS O. O'NEILL, District Judge.

On February 2, 2015, plaintiff Bridget Simonds filed a third amended complaint against defendants Delaware County, Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC), Dr. Ron Phillips, Kelly Mullan, H. Craig and medical staff employee John/Jane Doe. See Dkt. No. 30. Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated her Eighth Amendment right to necessary medical treatment while she was incarcerated at George Hill Correctional Facility (GHCF). Now before me are defendants Dr. Phillips, CEC and Delaware County's partial motion to dismiss plaintiff's third amended complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Dkt. No. 31), plaintiff's response (Dkt. No. 32) and defendants' reply (Dkt. No. 33). For the following reasons I will deny defendants' motion in part and grant it in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that around December 28, 2011, she suffered an injury while on work release from her incarceration at Delaware County Prison. See Dkt. No. 30 at ¶ 20. Plaintiff was taken to Riddle Hospital and diagnosed with a "comminuted distal radial fracture with extension into the inta-articular space." Id. at ¶ 21. Plaintiff alleges she was discharged from Riddle Hospital with orders that "she must undergo an orthopedic evaluation in three days to determine the extent of her injuries." Id. at ¶ 22. She alleges that at GHCF she came under the care of Dr. Phillips, CEC and medical staff members Mullan, Craig and Doe and that all of her medical providers know that she was required to have an orthopedic evaluation within three days of her discharge from Riddle Hospital. Id. at ¶ 23.

First, plaintiff contends that defendants failed to provide her with any medical treatment for her broken wrist for two months including denying her a cast and pain medication despite plaintiff allegedly filing two grievances requesting urgent medical care. Id. at ¶ 25-27. Second, plaintiff alleges that defendants failed to refer her to an orthopedic specialist within three days. Id. at ¶ 25. She contends that she was not provided access to an orthopedic specialist because of defendants' failure to have a policy or procedure in place to follow up on outside doctors' orders and also that defendants intentionally denied her access to an orthopedic specialist. Compare id. at ¶ 33 with ¶ 29. Third, plaintiff alleges that defendants denied her medical care pursuant to a policy of denying prisoners access to medical care near their release dates in order to save money. Id. at ¶ 32.

Plaintiff alleges that as a result of these actions, she was forced to suffer extreme pain for two months while she served the remainder of her sentence and that by the time she was released from custody on February 22, 2012 her bones had improperly set, causing her permanent nerve damage and paralysis in her right long finger and requiring her to undergo an operation on March 7, 2012. Id. at ¶¶ 40-41.

In plaintiff's third amended complaint, she asserts the following claims: (1) that defendants Dr. Phillips, Craig, Mullan and Doe are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deliberate indifference to her serious medical needs (Count I); (2) that defendants Dr. Phillips, Craig, Mullan and Doe are liable under § 1983 for conspiracy to provide inadequate medical care (Count 2); (3) that Dr. Phillips, with final decision making authority, CEC and Delaware County are liable under § 1983 for failure to provide her medical care, for failure to adopt policies regarding follow-up on outside doctors' orders and for maintaining a custom or policy of denying medical treatment to prisoners near their release dates in order to save costs (Count III) and (4) for negligence under Pennsylvania law against CEC and Dr. Phillips (Count IV). Moving defendants ask that I dismiss plaintiff's claims under § 1983 against Dr. Phillips in his official capacity, CEC and Delaware County (Count III) for failure to state a claim. See Dkt. No. 31.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to dismiss all or part of an action for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Typically, "a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, " though plaintiff's obligation to state the grounds of entitlement to relief "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level... on the assumption that all of the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id . (citations omitted). This "simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" the necessary element. Id. at 556. The Court of Appeals has made clear that after Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), "conclusory or bare-bones' allegations will no longer survive a motion to dismiss: threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.' To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must now set out sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009), quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court also set forth a two-part analysis for reviewing motions to dismiss in light of Twombly and Iqbal:

First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief."

Id. at 210-11, quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The Court explained, "a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to show' such an entitlement with its facts." Id., citing Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

DISCUSSION

The only question before me is whether plaintiff has stated a claim of municipal liability, a Monell claim, under § 1983 against Dr. Phillips, CEC and Delaware County. Generally, municipal entities "cannot be held responsible for the acts of its employees under a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability." Natale v. Camden Cnty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 583 (3d Cir. 2003), citing Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). Instead, to establish municipal liability plaintiffs must generally allege there is a municipal "policy or custom, and that the policy caused the constitutional violation they allege." Id . The acts of a government employee, however, may be considered to trigger Monell liability as the result of policy or custom of a governmental entity in three circumstances: (1) where an "officer or entity promulgates a generally applicable statement of policy and the subsequent act complained of is an implementation of the policy, " (2) no policy is announced but "federal law has been violated by an act of the policymaker itself" and (3) "the policymaker has failed to act affirmatively at all, though the need to take some action to control the agents of the government is so obvious and the inadequacy of existing practice so likely to result in the violation of constitutional ...


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