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Pearson v. Philadelphia Prison System

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 6, 2017

RODNEY PEARSON, Plaintiff,
v.
PHILADELPHIA PRISON SYSTEM, CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, MAYOR JIM KINNEY, Individually and in his capacity as Mayor, City of Philadelphia, Superintendent Douglas Giorla, Individually and in his capacity as Prison Commissioner, Philadelphia Prison System, WARDEN WILLIAM LAWTON, Individually and in his capacity as Warden, House of Correction, MAJOR EDWARD MIRANDA, Individually and in his capacity as Major, House of Correction, SERGEANT GANGEMI, Individually and in her capacity as Sergeant, House of Correction, CORIZON HEALTH CARE, INC., and QUAN BANG, RN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          EDWARD G. SMITH, J.

         The pro se plaintiff commenced this action for alleged damages after he received an infection that he believes resulted from two haircuts he received while incarcerated in the Philadelphia Prison System. Previously, the court dismissed the plaintiff's claims against all of the named defendants except for one. Recently, the court received notice from the remaining defendant that the plaintiff failed to appear for his scheduled deposition and failed to respond to this defendant's written discovery requests. As these failures are emblematic of the plaintiff's failure to comply with the court's deadlines and to otherwise prosecute this matter, the court provided the plaintiff with a period of time to indicate whether he intended to prosecute this matter or whether the court should dismiss the case for lack of prosecution. Predictably, the plaintiff failed to file a response.

         As discussed in more detail below, the court has considered the factors set forth in Poulis v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 747 F.2d 863 (3d Cir. 1984) and finds that they weigh in favor of dismissing this action for lack of prosecution under Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY [1]

         The pro se plaintiff, Rodney Pearson, commenced this action by filing an application to proceed in forma pauperis and a complaint against the Philadelphia Prison System on January 8, 2016.[2] Doc. No. 1. At the time of the filing of these documents, the plaintiff was apparently incarcerated in the House of Correction in Philadelphia.

         After reviewing the application and the proposed complaint as required under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the court entered an order on February 4, 2016, which (1) granted the application to proceed in forma pauperis, and (2) dismissed the complaint without prejudice to the plaintiff filing an amended complaint within 30 days of the date of the order. Order, Doc. No. 3. The plaintiff responded to this order by filing another complaint that the Clerk of Court docketed as a new action at Civil Action No. 16-770. As the additional complaint pertained to the same subject matter as the complaint in this action and its exhibits contained handwritten notes referencing Civil Action No. 16-240, the court entered an order on February 22, 2016, which consolidated the actions and directed the Clerk of Court to file the complaint at Civil Action No. 16-770 as an amended complaint in this case. Order, Doc. No. 5. On that same date, the Clerk of Court docketed the amended complaint. Doc. No. 6.

         With the amended complaint, the plaintiff now asserts 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against the originally-named defendant, the Philadelphia Prison System, and numerous newly-named defendants, including the City of Philadelphia (the “City”), Mayor Jim Kenney (in his official and individual capacities), Superintendent Douglas Giorla (in his official and individual capacities), Warden William Lawton (in his official and individual capacities), Major Edward Miranda (in his official and individual capacities), and Sergeant Gangemi (in his official and individual capacities), Corizon Health Care, Inc. (“Corizon”), and Quan Bang, R.N. (“Bang”).[3]Amended Compl. at 1. Regarding the substance of his claims, the plaintiff claims that while housed in the Philadelphia Prison System as a pretrial detainee in November 2015, he received two haircuts from individuals using unsanitary hair-cutting equipment. Id. at 2-3. By December 2015, the plaintiff noticed an infection on his head in the nature of “a ‘bubble' measuring 2 cm in diameter.” Id. at 3. The plaintiff claims that despite his repeated written requests for medical attention, he was not seen until two or three weeks after his requests. Id.

         The plaintiff alleges that during this medical inspection Bang evaluated the infection and his head, informed him that he would be fine, and recommended treatment by draining the infected area. Id. Although Bang recommended draining the infected area, Corizon denied treatment because it was too expensive and informed the plaintiff that unless it became an open wound, he would have to wait until his release to have the procedure completed. Id.

         Because he was still in pain, the plaintiff continued to submit sick calls to prison personnel. Id. In response to multiple sick calls, Sergeant Gangemi pursued disciplinary action against the plaintiff and issued a written infraction.[4] Id. The plaintiff's condition remained untreated. Id.

         After reviewing these allegations in the amended complaint under section 1915, the court entered an order on May 26, 2016, which, inter alia, dismissed with prejudice the plaintiff's claims against the Philadelphia Prison System because it is not a person subject to suit under section 1983. Order at 1, Doc. No. 7. The court also specially appointed the Clerk of Court to serve written waiver of service requests upon the defendants and, if the defendants did not execute and return waivers of service, the court directed the Clerk of Court to transmit the summonses and a copy of the amended complaint to the United States Marshal's Service for immediate service under Rule 4(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Id. at 2.

         The docket entries in this case show that the Clerk of Court sent waivers of service to the defendants on May 26, 2016, provided the plaintiff with a notice of this mailing, and advised him that if the defendants did not waive service by June 27, 2016, the Clerk would forward the amended complaint to the Marshal's Service to effect service. Doc. Nos. 8, 9. None of the defendants waived service and on June 28, 2016, the Clerk of Court issued summonses for the defendants and forwarded them to the Marshal's Service. See Third Unnumbered Docket Entry After Doc. No. 12.

         During the period that the Clerk of Court awaited the possible execution of the waivers of service, the plaintiff filed a motion to appoint counsel and a notice of change of address that the Clerk of Court docketed on June 2, 2016. Doc. Nos. 11, 12. The notice of change of address indicated that prison officials had transferred the plaintiff from the Philadelphia Prison System to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility.

         The court granted the motion seeking the appointment of counsel and referred the case to the Prisoner Civil Rights Panel for a period of 60 days on June 8, 2016. Doc. No. 12. Despite the prior notice of change of address, personnel at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility returned mail containing the June 8, 2016 order sent to the plaintiff there because it was “unable to forward.” See Second Unnumbered Docket Entry After Doc. No. 12.

         On July 13, 2016, Corizon filed a motion for an extension of time to respond to the amended complaint. Doc. No. 14. The court granted the motion on July 14, 2016, and Corizon filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint on July 17, 2016. Doc. Nos. 15, 16.

         While the court was attempting to discern why the Montgomery County Correctional Facility was returning mail sent to the plaintiff there, the court was also administrating another action filed by the plaintiff against various members of the City of Philadelphia Police Department and docketed at Civil Action No. 16-530.[5] In that action, the court had scheduled a Rule 16 initial pretrial conference via telephone to occur on July 7, 2016. During the telephone conference, defense counsel for the defendant police officers informed the court that she was unable to get the plaintiff on the telephone conference because he was apparently released from prison in June. Shortly after the conference, defense counsel acquired the plaintiff's new address and phone number.

         With this additional information, the court entered an order in this case on July 20, 2016, which (1) noted that the plaintiff failed to comply with his obligation under Local Civil Rule 5.1(b) to file a change of address with the Clerk of Court, (2) ordered the plaintiff to file a notice of change of address with the Clerk of Court within 21 days of the date of the order, and (3) directed the Clerk of Court to send a copy of the order to the address acquired by defense counsel in Civil Action No. 16-530. Doc. No. 17. During this 21-day period, the City and Mayor Kenney jointly filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint on July 29, 2016. Doc. No. 18. On that same date, Sergeant Gangemi separately filed an answer with affirmative defenses to the amended complaint. Doc. No. 19.

         The plaintiff never filed a change of address as ordered by the court. In addition, 60 days passed without any member of the Prisoner Civil Rights Panel having agreed to represent the plaintiff in this matter. As such, the court entered an order on August 15, 2016, which (1) again required the plaintiff to file a notice of change of address with the Clerk of Court by no later than August 24, 2016, (2) required the plaintiff to inform the court no later than August 24, 2016, whether he intended to continue to prosecute this matter in a pro se capacity despite no member of the Prisoner Civil Rights Panel having agreed to take his case, (3) directed Corizon to serve a copy of its motion to dismiss on the plaintiff at his apparent new address, and (4) informed the plaintiff that if he did not comply with the requirements of the order, the court may dismiss the action without further notice.[6] Doc. No. 21.

         Once again, the plaintiff never filed a notice of change of address or informed the court as to whether he was going to proceed pro se. Corizon filed a document on September 13, 2016, suggesting that the court follow-through on the warning to the plaintiff and dismiss the action due to these failures. Doc. No. 24. Instead of dismissing the case, the court scheduled an initial pretrial conference for October 4, 2016. Doc. No. 25.

         On October 4, 2016, the court held an initial pretrial conference during which the plaintiff and counsel for the responding (and served) parties appeared. During the conference, the plaintiff expressed concerns about his ability to understand the litigation process and the documents he received, and he acknowledged that he had not filed responses to some of the documents he received. Nonetheless, the plaintiff indicated a desire to continue prosecuting the case in his pro se capacity. The court also informed the plaintiff that he needed to respond to the pending motions to dismiss (since any responses were well overdue), that he needed to timely respond to court-ordered deadlines, motions and other requests, and that his apparent failure to provide the Marshal's Service with completed USM-285 forms precluded it from serving the four then-unserved defendants, Superintendent Douglas Giorla, Warden William Lawton, Major Edward Miranda, and Quan Bang, RN.

         The court then entered an order on October 5, 2016, which required the plaintiff to fully complete the USM-285 forms and return them to the Marshal's Service. Order, Doc. No. 27. In the order, the court referenced some of the discussion that occurred during the initial pretrial conference, including the court receiving representations from the Marshal's Service that it had notified the plaintiff on three occasions (July 8, 2016, August 10, 2016, and September 26, 2016) about his failure to provide the completed USM-285 forms; yet, the plaintiff failed to complete and return them. Id. at n.1. The court also provided the plaintiff with the addresses for the Marshal's Service and the Clerk of ...


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