United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
DEBRA L. ALEXANDER, adoptive parent and Administratrix of the Estate of Scott Alonzo Alexander Plaintiff,
MONROE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
the Court are objections by Plaintiff to a Report and
Recommendation (“R&R”) issued by United
States Magistrate Judge Joseph F. Saporito, Jr. For the
reasons which follow, the Court will adopt, in part, and
deny, in part, the R&R.
25, 2013, Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a
Complaint, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and
Pennsylvania state law. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff filed an Amended
Complaint on September 13, 2013 (Doc. 17), and then
subsequently filed a Second Amended Complaint, which is the
operative complaint, on November 5, 2013 (Doc. 37).
Plaintiff's claims stem from circumstances surrounding
the suicide of decedent, Scott Alonzo Alexander, on July 21,
2011, while incarcerated at the Monroe County Correctional
25, 2014, the Court dismissed all but Plaintiff's Eighth
Amendment and state-law claims. (Docs. 65 and 66). After the
parties had an opportunity to conduct discovery, Defendants
filed motions for summary judgment on the remaining claims.
(Docs. 99, 106, 109, and 112). Magistrate Judge Joseph F.
Saporito, Jr. issued a R&R (Doc. 126), recommending
granting Defendants' motions for summary judgment.
Plaintiff has filed objections to the R&R (Doc. 127).
Defendants have filed briefs in opposition to Plaintiff's
objections. (Docs. 130, 131, 132, and 133).
Standard of Review
judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is “genuine” if
there is sufficient evidence with which a reasonable jury
could find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Childers v.
Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 693-94 (3d Cir. 1988) (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). A factual dispute is
“material” if it might affect the outcome of the
case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In determining
whether an issue of material fact exists, the court must
consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Skerski v. Time Warner Cable Co.,
257 F.3d 273, 278 (3d Cir. 2001); White v. Westinghouse
Elec, Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988).
seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of
informing the court of the basis of its motion and
identifying those portions of the record that it believes
demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
“If the moving party carries this initial burden,
” then the nonmoving party “must come forward
with specific facts, ” rather than “some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” that
counter the moving party's arguments and show “that
there is a genuine issue for trial.” United States
v. Donovan, 661 F.3d 174, 185 (3d Cir. 2011); see
also Deitrick v. Costa, 2015 WL 1605700, at *4 (M.D. Pa.
Apr. 9, 2015) (“More simply put a party moving for
summary judgment who does not bear the burden of persuasion
at trial is not required to negate the nonmovant's claim,
but only point out a lack of evidence sufficient to support
the nonmovant's claim.”). The non-moving party has
the burden to “come forth with ‘affirmative
evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings, ' in
support of its right to relief.” U.S. Bank,
Nat'l Ass'n v. Greenfield, Civ. No.
1:12-CV-2125, 2014 WL 3908127, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2014)
(quoting Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F.Supp.2d
311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004)). “If a party fails to
properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly
address another party's assertion of fact as required by
Rule 56(c), ” a court may grant summary judgment or
consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.
when objections are filed to a R&R of a Magistrate Judge,
we must make a de novo determination of those
portions of the report to which objections are made. 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Sample v. Diecks,
885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989). In doing so, we may
accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings
or recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.31. Although our review is
de novo, we are permitted to rely upon the
Magistrate Judge's proposed recommendations to the extent
we, in the exercise of sound discretion, deem proper. See
United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980);
see also Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir.
1984). For the portions not objected to, the usual practice
of the district court is to give “reasoned
consideration” to a magistrate judge's report prior
to adopting it. Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874,
878 (3d Cir. 1987).
R&R, the Magistrate Judge recommended that
Defendants' motions for summary judgment be granted.
Specifically, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the
following claims be dismissed: (1) claims against Deborah
Wilson, D.O. and Wendy Johnson, L.P.N., for waiver of claims
against these two Defendants; (2) § 1983 claims against
Dr. Thomas and Doctor Dedania because no reasonable jury
could find that either doctors' treatment decisions were
recklessly indifferent to Scott Alexander's vulnerability
to suicide; (3) § 1983 claim against Officer Landon
because Plaintiff failed to satisfy her burden of citing
particular potential admissible evidence in the record to
demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of material
fact; (4) § 1983 claims against Monroe County because
there was insufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury
to find that the County and its governing officials had
actual or constructive knowledge of the purported policy
deficiencies and that Plaintiff failed to establish an
underlying deprivation of a constitutionally protected right
with respect to Officer Landon and the medical defendants;
(5) § 1983 claims against Warden Asure because Plaintiff
failed to identify any evidence to suggest that the Warden
personally participated in any of the purported misconduct or
evidence that the existing suicide-prevention policy created
an unreasonable risk of the Eighth Amendment injury; (6)
§ 1983 claims against PrimeCare for the same reasons set
forth in the claims against the County; and (7) state law
negligence claims against Dr. Dedania, Dr. Thomas, and
PrimeCare for Plaintiff's failure to support her
state-law medical negligence claims by a qualified physician
to opine to the standard-of-care under the Medical Care
Availability and Reduction of Error Act
(“MCARE”), 2002 Pa. Laws. 13 (codified in
relevant part at 40 P.S. § 1303.512).
initial matter, the Court notes that Plaintiff does not raise
any objections to the R&R dismissing Defendants Deborah
Wilson, D.O. and Wendy Johnson, L.P.N. As such, we have given
reasoned consideration to this portion of the Magistrate
Judge's R&R and will adopt his recommendation and
grant summary judgment in favor of Defendants Deborah Wilson,
D.O. and Wendy Johnson, L.P.N.
makes several objections to the Magistrate Judge's
R&R as it relates to the remaining Defendants based upon
§ 1983 / Eighth Amendment claims. Section 1983 of Title
42 of the United States Code offers private citizens a cause
of action for violations of federal law by state officials.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Gonzaga Univ. v.
Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002). To state a claim under
§ 1983, a plaintiff must allege “the violation of
a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United
States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was
committed by a person acting under color of state law.”
West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Section 1983
“provides a remedy for deprivations of rights
established elsewhere in the Constitution or federal laws,
” and is not an independent source of substantive
rights. Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 318 F.3d 497,
505 (3d Cir. 2003).
Indifference to a Medical Need / Reckless Indifference to
Risk of Suicide
contends that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to
Scott Alexander's vulnerability to suicide and that the
Magistrate Judge misapplied the standard for granting summary
judgment and invaded the province of the jury. Specifically,
Plaintiff contends that Defendants violated Scott
Alexander's constitutional rights by failing to provide
adequate suicide prevention measures, and in particular,
failing to place him on suicide watch. Deliberate
indifference is analyzed under a two prong test. Estelle
v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976). “First,
plaintiff must make an ‘objective' showing that the
deprivation was ‘sufficiently serious, ' or that
the result of defendant's denial was sufficiently
serious. Additionally, the plaintiff must make a
‘subjective' showing that defendant acted with
‘a sufficiently culpable state of mind.' ”
Montgomery v. Pinchak, 294 F.3d 492, 499 (3d Cir.
2002) (citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298
the first prong of the deliberate indifference test, a
medical need is “serious” if it is “one
that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment
or one that is so obvious that a lay person would easily
recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.”
Atkinson v. Taylor, 316 F.3d 257, 272-73 (3d Cir.
2003). The Third Circuit has recognized that a
“particular vulnerability to suicide” could
represent a “serious medical need.” See
Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F.2d 663, 669 (3d Cir.
1988). Thus, the contours of the right and action in prison
suicide cases have established the burden upon the plaintiff
to prove the following three elements: (1) the detainee had a
particular vulnerability to suicide, (2) the custodial
officer or officers knew ... of that vulnerability, and (3)
those officers acted with reckless indifference to the
detainee's particular vulnerability.” Colburn
v. Upper Darby Twp., 946 F.2d 1017, 1023 (3d Cir. 1991)
(internal quotations omitted); see Farmer, 511 U.S.
825 (clarifying the culpability requirement to require actual
awareness of the risk).
create liability, “the risk of self-inflicted injury
must not only be great, but also sufficiently apparent that a
lay custodian's failure to appreciate it evidences an
absence of any concern for the welfare of his or her
charges.” Woloszyn v. Cnty. of Lawrence, 396
F.3d 314, 320 (3d Cir. 2005). “Liability cannot lie for
negligence; the risk of self-inflicted harm must be obvious.
The burden for proving liability in a prison suicide case is
a difficult one to meet, since ‘a prison custodian is
not the guarantor of a prisoner's safety. We cannot infer
from the prisoner's act of suicide itself that the prison
officials were recklessly indifferent in their obligation to
... take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of
prisoners entrusted in their care.” Wargo v.
Schuylkill Cnty., Civ. No. 06-2156, 2008 WL 4922471, at
*5 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 14, 2008) (citing Freedman v. City of
Allentown, 853 F.2d 1111, 1115 (3d Cir. 1988)).
because a culpable state of mind is required to find
deliberate indifference, “mere medical malpractice
cannot give rise to a violation of the Eighth
Amendment.” White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103,
108-09 (3d Cir. 1990); see also United States ex rel.
Walker v. Fayette Cnty., 599 F.2d 573, 575 n. 2 (3d Cir.
1979) (“Where a prisoner has received some medical
attention and the dispute is over the adequacy of the
treatment, federal courts are generally reluctant to second
guess medical judgments and to constitutionalize claims which
sound in state tort law.”). Thus, “as long as a
physician exercises professional judgment his behavior will
not violate a prisoner's constitutional rights.”
Brown v. Borough of Chambersburg, 903 F.2d 274, 278
(3d Cir. 1990).
the above tenants in mind, we now turn to each of
Plaintiff's objections to the Magistrate Judge's
R&R as they relate to each remaining defendant.