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Cornish v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 26, 2015



Bartle, J.

Plaintiff John Cornish (“Cornish”), a state prisoner, alleges that he was denied adequate medical care for a serious eye ailment and has suffered permanent damage to his vision while first incarcerated in correctional facilities operated by the City of Philadelphia (the “City”) and later in state prisons operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”).He has sued: the City; DOC and three of its employees; several corporations which contracted with the City and DOC to provide medical services; five “John Doe” corporations “doing business within the Philadelphia prison system and for correctional facilities operated by DOC”; and a number of “John Doe” physicians, nurses, and physician assistants employed by the defendant corporations. The First Amended Complaint notes that its allegations related to DOC include DOC’s three employees who have been sued.

This action was initially filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and then timely removed to this court. Plaintiff pleads liability against all defendants under: the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.; 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(3), and 1986; the Pennsylvania Constitution; and theories of negligence and corporate negligence.[1]

Before the court are the motions of the City and DOC to dismiss the First Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim.


When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008); Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Servs., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). We must then determine whether the pleading at issue “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim must do more than raise a “‘mere possibility of misconduct.’” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

Under this standard, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 578. Instead, the complaint must contain factual matter sufficient to state a claim that is facially plausible, meaning that “the plaintiff [has] plead[ed] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). This plausibility standard “is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. A complaint which “pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability . . . ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility.’” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).


The facts set forth in the First Amended Complaint, taken in the light most favorable to plaintiff, are as follows. Both the City and DOC, in operating their correctional facilities, contract with private healthcare corporations in order to provide medical care to inmates. Among the corporations with which the City and DOC contract are defendants Wexford, Corizon, and CCSCH. The healthcare corporations, in turn, employ the practitioners who administer health care services. These corporations sometimes refer prisoners to outside specialists pursuant to their contracts with the City and DOC.

Cornish alleges that this structure leads to “unnecessary delays and lack of continuity in . . . treatment” and that officials are aware of these lapses. Cornish further avers that “the medical vendors and the prison systems understand and agree that serious illness . . . is expensive to treat, and will be handled by outside providers only when the condition can no longer be ignored.” He notes that the records of outside providers frequently contain notations that the City and DOC have failed to pay for necessary care. He also states that despite repeated lawsuits alleging substandard medical care within the City and Commonwealth prison systems, neither movant has taken steps to modify its practices.

Cornish has been in the custody of the City or DOC since at least 2010. From 2010 until 2013, he was housed at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Center and then at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, both of which are operated by the City. He was transferred to DOC custody in spring 2013. Since that time has been confined at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill or at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford.

At some point during his time in City custody, Cornish began to experience problems with his eyes, particularly his left eye. His early symptoms included blurred vision, sensitivity to bright light, difficulty seeing at night, and headaches, as well as significant pain in the eye itself. Cornish was diagnosed with keratoconus[2] and ultimately required a type of eye surgery known as penetrating keratoplasty.[3] At one point he also suffered from a hordeolum, which is a painful infection afflicting the eyelid.[4]

Throughout his time in the custody of the two moving defendants, Cornish has repeatedly sought care for his condition. The care he has received, according to Cornish, has been sporadic and inadequate. Specifically, he recounts that he experienced significant delays when attempting to obtain necessary care from outside specialists. When he was seen by those specialists, the City and DOC frequently rendered him unable to schedule follow-up appointments, even when his doctors recommended them. At one point, despite a warning from his doctor that “it is CRITICAL you see your ophthalmologist at Wills Eye” within a week, he was not scheduled to see the ophthalmologist for more than two months. On another occasion, a second recommendation by Cornish’s doctor that he be seen for a follow-up visit went unheeded by DOC. During the relevant time period he was transferred several times between detention facilities, but his medical records were not transferred with him.

Cornish also experienced striking delays in access to the eye medications and contact lenses which his doctors prescribed to him. Cornish notes that the staff at Wills Eye, the hospital at which his specialist was located, contacted DOC on several occasions about the insurance payments needed in order for the rigid contact lens to be provided. Due to lack of proper medication, his left eye ultimately rejected the cornea which had been transplanted during the surgery.

Meanwhile, Cornish’s condition has worsened significantly. He describes persistent facial swelling, vision loss, weakness, and “burning throbbing headaches.” The vision in his right eye has deteriorated significantly as a result of that eye having to compensate for the left-eye vision loss. Cornish pleads that this damage to his right eye could have been avoided or mitigated had he been provided with the recommended rigid contact lens. Cornish’s left eye is now permanently damaged, and he will have to use eye drops for the rest of his life. His right eye also remains impaired.


We turn to the claims brought by Cornish against the City and DOC pursuant to the ADA in Count One of his First Amended Complaint. Cornish pleads that he was denied the benefits of medical service while in City and DOC custody and that such denial “was by reason of his disability.” It is his position that the City and DOC denied him the benefits of medical service ...

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