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Agostini v. Lowe

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 2, 2015

CRAIG LOWE, et al., Defendants.


SUSAN E. SCHWAB, Magistrate Judge.

In this civil action, proceeding via an amended complaint, the pro se plaintiff, Mario A. Agostini ("Agostini"), currently a pre-trial detainee at Pike County Correctional Facility ("PCCF"), raises 42 U.S.C. § 1983 federal constitutional claims against PCCF; PCCF employees and medical staff; Pike County; and Prime Care Medical, which is PCCF's medical provider. Agostini's claims primarily stem from incidents that occurred at PCCF. Pending are two motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As set forth below, we recommend that the motions to dismiss be granted. We also, however, recommend that Agostini be granted leave to file a second amended complaint.

I. Relevant Procedural History.

On November 24, 2014, Agostini initiated this lawsuit by filing a complaint. Doc. 1. Along with the complaint, Agostini filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, which the Court granted. Docs. 2 & 12. On January 29, 2015, Agostini filed an amended complaint and named the following defendants: (1) Pike County; (2) Pike County Correctional Facility ("PCCF"); (3) Prime Care Medical, Inc. ("Prime Care"), an entity responsible for providing medical services to the inmates at PCCF; (4) Craig Lowe ("Lowe"), Warden of PCCF; (5) Lieutenant Todd Schweyer ("Schweyer"), Second Shift Lieutenant at PCCF; (6) Mary Keller ("Keller"), Classifications Counselor at PCCF; (7) Terry Mooney ("Mooney"), Programs Counselor at PCCF; (8) Officer Tarkett ("Tarkett"), Correctional Officer at PCCF; (9) Linda Monaghan ("Monaghan"), Nurse for Prime Care; (10) Patty Bunting ("Bunting"), Nurse Practitioner for Prime Care; and (11) Tina Goodwin ("Goodwin"), Nurse Administrator for Prime Care. Doc. 23. According to Agostini, he sues Pike County, PCCF, and Prime Care in their official capacities, while he sues the other defendants solely in their individual capacities. In his amended complaint, Agostini asserts Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Agostini also generally alleges negligence and malpractice against Prime Care Medical employees, but he does not appear to list these as separate causes of action. In this matter, two motions to dismiss Agostini's amended complaint have been filed. The first motion to dismiss ( Doc. 26 ) was filed by defendants Keller, Lowe, Mooney, Pike County, PCCF, Schweyer, and Tarkett on January 30, 2015. A separate motion to dismiss ( Doc. 45 ) was filed by defendants Bunting, Goodwin, Monaghan, and Prime Care on March 30, 2015. These motions to dismiss are both ripe for this Court's disposition.

II. Legal Standard.

Defendants' motions to dismiss are brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Under Rule 12(b)(6), we 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." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). While a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "[L]abels and conclusions" are not enough, and a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoted case omitted).

In resolving a motion to dismiss, we thus "conduct a two-part analysis." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. First, we separate the factual elements from the legal elements and disregard the legal conclusions. Id. at 210-11. Second, we "determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at 211 (quoted case omitted). While traditionally focused upon the allegations contained in a complaint, a court may also consider exhibits attached to a complaint, matters of public record, and "an undisputedly authentic document" relied upon by the plaintiff and attached as an exhibit to a defendant's motion to dismiss. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, in a case such as this, a complaint filed by a pro se litigant is to be liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard than formal complaints drafted by a lawyer. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). Nevertheless, " pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim." Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013).

III. Agostini's Amended Complaint.[1]

Agostini's claims stem from a fall he sustained while attempting to climb onto the upper tier bunk bed assigned to him at PCCF and the medical treatment he received after that fall. The material facts alleged in Agostini's amended complaint are as follows.

A. Agostini's Fall and Subsequent Medical Treatment.

According to Agostini, because no ladders were provided by the prison, he had devised a technique to access his top tier bunk bed, in which he stepped upon a stool that was attached to a desk in his cell. See Doc. 23 at ¶¶ 21, 27. Allegedly, on September 13, 2014 at 10:50 a.m., when Agostini was attempting to access his top bunk via this technique, the desk stool slipped out from underneath his feet and caused him to fall onto the cell floor where he landed on his back. Id. at ¶ 27. Various prison officials and medical staff were immediately informed of Agostini's fall, and multiple prison workers, including Monaghan, came to the housing unit and removed Agostini from the unit on a stretcher without using a neck brace. Id. at ¶ 28. Monaghan then assessed Agostini, who told her that he was "experiencing severe pain in [his] lower back region." Id. Monaghan, after her assessment, told Agostini that he could stand up and walk back to his housing unit, "Unit C, " and Officer Tully escorted Agostini back to the unit. Id. at ¶ 29. Agostini expressed concern to Tully that despite his complaints of severe lower back pain, Monaghan had elected not to send him to a hospital for X-rays and/or an MRI.[2] Id. Because Agostini took issue with Monaghan's failure to order any further testing on the day of the fall, he ultimately filed a grievance against Prime Care Medical, Monaghan's employer, in this matter. Id. at ¶ 32.

Upon Agostini's return to his housing unit at 11:05 a.m., Officer Riemer, who was in charge of the unit, was given an order by medical staff to reassign Agostini to a bottom tier bunk bed. But before Officer Riemer could do so, he was relieved for his lunch break and Agostini was placed back into the old cell in which he had fallen. Id. at ¶ 30. While Riemer was at lunch, Agostini was placed under the supervision of Tarkett who refused to move Agostini to a cell with a lower bunk, stating that he did not feel like dealing with it and telling Agostini he would have to wait until Riemer returned from lunch. Id. Because a lower tier bunk was unavailable in the cell, Agostini chose to lie on the floor while waiting for Riemer to return. Id. Agostini subsequently filed a grievance against Tarkett, but it was allegedly denied because he filed it after the expiration of the 10-day deadline for filing grievances. Id. at ¶ 31.

When Officer Riemer returned from his lunch, a meal cart was brought to the unit, but Agostini was allegedly unable to get himself up because his pain was so severe. Id. At around 12:05 p.m., Agostini was taken in a wheelchair to a different area of the prison to be placed on "Administrative Segregation" for observation until he could be seen by Prime Care Nurse Practitioner Patty Bunting three days later. Id. Three days after the fall, on September 16, 2014, Bunting examined Agostini, diagnosed him with "soreness of muscles" from his fall, and prescribed Tylenol and muscle relaxers. Id. at ¶ 32. Bunting also advised Agostini that he should start walking, but because he was still experiencing a shooting pain from his lower back to his heel as well as numbness in his thigh, he expressed to Bunting that he wished not to do any walking until an X-ray or MRI was ordered. Id. Bunting agreed to order an X-ray, but refused to order an MRI, as Prime Care Medical would not cover the expense. Id. X-rays were taken on September 18, 2014, and the day after they were taken, Agostini was informed that the X-rays showed no broken bones or other injuries. Id. at ¶ 33.

According to Agostini, the Tylenol and muscle relaxers prescribed by Bunting were not alleviating his pain at all. Id. When he complained of this, Prime Care Medical Nurse Administrator Tina Goodwin informed him that he would have to wait until his follow-up appointment with Physician's Assistant (PA) Jenn Mroz on September 23. Id. Agostini continued to experience pain, including an alleged incident on September 22 in which his leg pain became so severe that it caused him to black out, fall, and sustain a bump on his head. Id. at ¶ 34. After this incident, Goodwin assessed Agostini and ordered that he be placed on intake for observation. Id. Agostini was of the opinion that by now he should have been sent out to a hospital for evaluation. Id.

On September 23, Agostini had a follow-up appointment with PA Mroz, at which Mroz diagnosed him with sciatica. Id. at ¶ 35. Agostini was taken off the Tylenol and muscle relaxers, and Mroz, instead, prescribed both a nerve pain reliever and an anti-inflammatory medication. Id. In addition, on September 27, "LPN Kim" assigned Agostini a list of stretching exercises to perform. Id. Mroz informed Agostini that this was all that could be done at this point and that it would take some time for Agostini to experience relief. Id. Mroz's diagnosis of sciatica led Agostini to believe that Nurse Bunting had earlier misdiagnosed him and that Bunting "was not concerned" with the pain he described when she assessed him earlier. Id.

On October 14, 2014, Agostini's prescription nerve pain reliever and anti-inflammatory medication ran out, and he had to "wait in severe pain for two days" until a follow-up appointment with Debra Wilson, M.D. on October 16, which had been rescheduled from October 14, due to Wilson's unavailability. Id. at ¶ 36. At the follow-up appointment on October 16, Doctor Wilson confirmed PA Mroz's earlier diagnosis of sciatica and renewed Agostini's prescriptions for the nerve pain reliever and anti-inflammatory. Id. Several days after the appointment with Doctor Wilson, Agostini requested a dosage increase for his medications, complaining that the pain relief from the current dosages was too "short-lived." Id. Allegedly, the request was granted, and a prescription was issued for an increased dosage of the nerve pain reliever. Id. Since his request for an increased dosage was granted at this time, Agostini believed that Nurse Administator Tina Goodwin acted wrongfully in September when she said nothing could be done in response to Agostini's complaint that the Tylenol and muscle relaxers were not alleviating his pain at all. Id.

B. Agostini's Filing of Grievances with PCCF.

On September 25, 2014, after his fall, Agostini allegedly questioned Lieutenant Todd Schweyer regarding PCCF's failure to provide ladders[3] as well as its failure to post instructions informing inmates how to access their upper tier bunk beds without the use of a ladder. Id. at ¶ 38. Schweyer allegedly had no answer for this question, but he approved Agostini's request for a grievance against the prison with respect to this matter. Id. When Agostini filed a grievance, he allegedly received the same response from each of three named defendants, Counselor Mary Keller, Counselor Terry Mooney, and Warden Craig Lowe, all who denied Agostini's grievance. Id. at ¶ 39. The most recent denial of his grievance came on October 20, 2014 from Warden Craig Lowe. Id. at ¶ 41. In essence, the alleged response by Keller, Mooney, and Lowe was that neither the lack of ladders nor the lack of instructions on how to access top tier bunk beds should be a concern to Agostini anymore considering he had been transferred to a lower tier bunk bed. Agostini also filed a Level II medical grievance on September 29, 2014, inquiring as to why more testing had not been done from the outset to diagnose his injuries on the day he fell. Id. at ¶ 42. Agostini complains that the reply he received to this particular grievance was "still not to [his] satisfaction." Id.

C. The Legal Claims in Agostini's Amended Complaint.

Agostini argues that the unsafe lack of bunk bed ladders, the allegedly inadequate medical treatment and deliberate indifference he suffered, and the rejection of his grievances amount to violations of the Constitution. Id. at ¶ 44. Specifically, he raises Eighth Amendment Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause claims and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause claims. Id. Agostini seeks both injunctive relief and monetary damages. See id. at ¶¶ 48-50. As injunctive relief, he seeks a permanent injunction ordering the following: 1) that ladders be installed on the bunk beds of every housing unit at PCCF; 2) that instructions on how to use the ladders be put in place and added to the inmate handbook or an instructional video; 3) that Officer Tarkett be reprimanded for his alleged unprofessionalism and be retrained on all of his duties as a corrections officer; and 4) that the defendants "make a greater effort to clarify matters involving negligence before reaching this level without stonewalling ...

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