United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
MICHAEL A. RIVERA
CHESTER COUNTY, et al.
present action involves a pro se complaint filed against more
than sixty defendants by plaintiff Michael A. Rivera.
Plaintiff's claims arise out of a lengthy string of
events beginning with his initial arrest and continuing
through his subsequent and continuing incarceration. Four
groups, which encompass all of the named defendants, each
filed a motion to dismiss. Upon consideration of these
motions and plaintiff's joint response, I will grant the
motions in part and deny them in part.
initiated this action on February 16, 2016 against multiple
corrections officers, the Chester County Prison warden, the
prison's food and medical director, several random prison
employees, Chester County municipality, PrimeCare Medical,
Inc., prison medical staff, the East Vincent Township Police
Department, New Garden Township Police Department, the
Chester County Detectives Office and individual Chester
County Detectives. His amended complaint sets forth a litany
of constitutional violations under the First, Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendments resulting from events beginning with an
arrest in 2014 and continuing through July 2015 during his
incarceration. The allegations, which consume over 150
paragraphs in the amended complaint and another sixteen pages
of what appears to be a memorandum of support for his claims,
cover a wide variety of subjects including excessive force,
deliberate indifference to a serious medical need,
deprivation of access to the law library, inhumane conditions
of confinement, equal protection violations and denial of
access to the grievance system.
originally dismissed plaintiff's complaint without
prejudice under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A for failure to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted. In doing so, I gave
plaintiff explicit instructions for filing an amended
complaint. Specifically, I directed that:
1. The amended complaint must be filed within thirty days
from the date of this memorandum and order.
2. The amended complaint must recite factual allegations
which are sufficient to raise plaintiff's claimed right
to relief above the level of mere speculation.
3. The amended complaint must contain “a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief” and set forth allegations that are
“simple, concise, and direct.” 4. The amended
complaint must describe plaintiff's causes of action in
separately numbered paragraphs for each incident about which
plaintiff alleges a claim. The allegations must clearly
identify the time, place, conduct and name of the person
responsible for the offending acts.
5. The amended complaint must be a new pleading which stands
by itself as an adequate complaint without reference to any
other pleading already filed.
6. The amended complaint must be legible and should be either
handwritten in blue or black ink with proper margins, or
Mem. & Order, ECF No. 87, Sept. 19, 2016.
November 2, 2016, plaintiff filed a sixteen-page amended
complaint consisting of more than 150 numbered paragraphs.
These paragraphs follow the same general format by listing in
chronological order the type of violation (e.g., Eighth
Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment), the defendant against whom
the violation is stated (e.g., Officer Matthew Williams,
PrimeCare), the date and a cursory basis for the claim (e.g.,
for giving plaintiff involuntary medications, for denying
plaintiff basic hygiene/showers, for using excessive force
without cause). In addition, plaintiff attaches another
document that, like his previous complaint, gives a
sixteen-page, single-spaced, run-on narrative of the various
events underlying his claims. The document, which I shall
refer to as the “complaint memorandum, ” provides
factual allegations to support each cause of action.
November 16, 2016, defendants PrimeCare Medical, Inc., Staci
Suzuki, Psy.D., John P. Fraunces, Ed.D., Karen Murphy, RN,
CCHP, Molly Longare, PA-C., Megan Hughes, PA-C, Briana Culp,
PA-C, Corey Cotton, LPN, Mabel Moiyallah, MA and Nurse Lisa
(collectively, the “medical defendants”) filed a
motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6). Dkt. No. 91. On the same day, a similar motion was
filed by defendants County of Chester, Cpl. Michael Marconi,
Correctional Officer (CO) Troy Daniels, Sgt. Yaroslav Yancik,
CO Wilson, CO Valerie McCormack, CO Joseph Moore, Cpl.
Preston Whitesell, Cpl. Jose Garcia, Lt. P. Steve Sergi, Lt.
David Ham, Lt. Edson Forbes, Capt. Morgan Taylor, Warden D.
Edward McFadden, Capt. Harry Griswold, Lt. Robert Mastnjak,
Sgt. Donald Muller, Sgt. Golden English, CO Randy Little, CO
Kenneth Klinger, CO David Haines, Capt. Ocie Miller, Capt.
Pamela Saunders, Capt. Gene Farina, Major D. Scott Graham, CO
Powers, Deputy Warden Walter Reed, Counselor Jorge Vazquez,
CO Weed, Corporal Ca'role White, Lt. James Brooks, Sgt.
Michael Young, Sgt. Arnold Lynch, CO Raymond Riggins (and/or
Riggens), CO (CEU) Tear, Director of Treatment Services Jack
Healy, Corporal James Svah, CO Jesus Ruiz, CO Domonique
Bemberry, CO Wesley Suydum, CO Weed, Officer Stevenson, Work
Supervisor Robert Francis, Chester County Detectives Office,
Detective Robert Balcunis, Detective David Grandizio and
Detective Ken Beam (collectively, the “Chester County
defendants”). Dkt. No. 90. Defendants New Garden
Township PD and Officer Matthew Jones filed a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss on November 17, 2016, Dkt. No. 92, and
Defendants East Vincent Township PD and Chief Matthew
Williams filed a motion to dismiss on February 7, 2017. Dkt.
No. 95. On February 13, 2017, plaintiff responded to all four
motions. Dkt. No. 98.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a defendant bears
the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has not stated
a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6); see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d
744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). The United States Supreme Court has
recognized that “a plaintiff's obligation to
provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment]
to relief' requires more than labels and
conclusions.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quotations omitted).
“[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice” and “only a complaint that states a
plausible claim for relief survives a motion to
dismiss.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A complaint
does not show an entitlement to relief when the well-pleaded
facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct. Id.
Court of Appeals has detailed a three-step process to
determine whether a complaint meets the pleadings standard.
Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352 (3d Cir. 2014).
First, the court outlines the elements a plaintiff must plead
to state a claim for relief. Id. at 365. Next, the
court must “peel away those allegations that are no
more than conclusions and thus not entitled to the assumption
of truth.” Id. Finally, the court
“look[s] for well-pled factual allegations, assume[s]
their veracity, and then ‘determine[s] whether they
plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'”
Id., quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The
last step is “‘a context-specific task that
requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense.'” Id.,
quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
prisoner's pro se complaint should be “held to less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers.” United States ex rel. Walker v. Fayette
Cnty., Pa., 599 F.2d 573, 575 (3d Cir. 1979), citing
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972). The court
must construe the facts stated in the complaint liberally in
favor of the plaintiff. Haines, 404 U.S. at 520.
“Yet there are limits to our procedural flexibility.
For example, 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). Thus, even a pro se complaint must conform with the
requirements of Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, which “demands more than an unadorned,
the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation” or
“naked assertions” that are devoid of
“factual enhancement.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678 (internal quotations omitted). “A pleading that
offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action' will not do.” Id.
Compliance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915A
noted above, I originally dismissed plaintiff's complaint
without prejudice under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which
requires that I conduct a preliminary review of any pro se
complaint seeking redress against government officials.
Section 1915A provides, in pertinent part:
(a) Screening.-The court shall review, before docketing, if
feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after
docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner
seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or
employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for dismissal.-On review, the court shall
identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any
portion of the complaint, if the complaint-(1) is frivolous,
malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is
immune from such relief.
28 U.S.C. § 1915A. This standard mirrors the standard
for addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Schreane v. Seana, 506 F.
App'x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012).
amended complaint does not fully comply with my previous
instructions. Most notably, the amended complaint does not
stand alone as an adequate pleading, but rather relies on the
attached “complaint memorandum.” Moreover, rather
than dividing his claims into categories, the complaint
memorandum provides a stream-of-consciousness type discussion
of the operative facts. Given these failures, I would be
justified in again dismissing the complaint with or without
prejudice to leave to amend pursuant to § 1915.
I decline to do so for two reasons. First, as plaintiff has
already been given detailed directions on pleading, allowing
leave to amend again would likely not result in a
significantly improved complaint. More importantly,
plaintiff's complaint memorandum, which is similar to his
initial complaint, provides more detailed factual allegations
in support of the causes of action set forth in his amended
complaint. His actual amended complaint then provides
cross-references between each of his separately-numbered
claims and the pertinent section in the complaint memorandum.
Taking these two documents together, I find that plaintiff
can survive § 1915 screening.
have now filed a second round of motions to dismiss that
specifically address the merits of plaintiff's underlying
claims. Plaintiff, in turn, has substantively responded to
defendants' motions. Reading plaintiff's complaint
and response in the most liberal fashion and drawing all
plausible inferences in favor of plaintiff's claims, I
will now address the substance of the claims in the amended
Motion to Dismiss by Defendants New Garden Township Police
Department and Officer Matthew Jones
New Garden Township Police Department and Officer Matthew
Jones seek dismissal of all claims against them. For the
following reasons, I will grant their motion in part and deny
it in part.
New Garden Township Police Department
does not provide any factual allegations or legal claims
against New Garden Police Department. Assuming plaintiff
meant to impose liability against New Garden Police
Department based on the acts of its employees, this claim
must fail for two reasons.
“[i]n Section 1983 actions, police departments cannot
be sued in conjunction with municipalities, because the
police department is merely an administrative arm of the
local municipality, and is not a separate judicial
entity.” DeBellis v. Kulp, 166 F.Supp.2d 255,
265 (E.D. Pa. 2001). Thus, a police department “is not
a ‘person' subject to suit in a § 1983 civil
rights action because it lacks an identity separate from the
municipality of which it is a part.” Draper v.
Darby Twp. Police Dep't., 777 F.Supp.2d 850, 856
(E.D. Pa. 2011); see also Briggs v. Moore, 251 F.
App'x 77, 79 (3d Cir. 2007) (affirming the dismissal of a
Section 1983 suit against the Monmouth County District
Attorney's Office because it “is not a separate
entity that can be sued under § 1983”); Reitz
v. Cnty. of Bucks, 125 F.3d 139, 148 (3d Cir. 1997)
(affirming district court's entry of summary judgment in
favor of the Bucks County District Attorney's Office
because it “is not an entity for purposes of §
1983 liability”). Under this well-established
jurisprudence, New Garden Township Police Department is not a
proper party to this litigation.
even to the extent New Garden Township could be properly
substituted for New Garden Police Department, plaintiff's
claims, which are premised on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, fail to
state cognizable constitutional violations. In the seminal
case of Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436
U.S. 658 (1978), the United States Supreme Court confirmed
that “Congress did intend municipalities and
other local government units to be included among those
persons to whom §1983 applies, ” but emphasized
that, “a municipality cannot be held liable under
§ 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.”
Id. at 690-91 (emphasis in original). Instead,
“[a] local government may be sued under § 1983
only for acts implementing an official policy, practice or
custom.” Losch v. Borough of Parkesburg, Pa.,
736 F.2d 903, 910 (3d Cir. 1984), citing Monell, 436
U.S. at 690-91; see also Mulholland v. Gov't Cnty. of
Berks, Pa., 706 F.3d 227, 237 (3d Cir. 2013), citing
Beck v. City of Pittsburgh, 89 F.3d 966, 971 (3d Cir.
by such principles, the Court of Appeals has explained that
there are three situations where the acts of a government
employee may be deemed to be the result of a policy or custom
of the governmental entity for whom the employee works,
rendering the entity liable under § 1983:
The first is where the appropriate officer or entity
promulgates a generally applicable statement of policy and
the subsequent act complained of is simply an implementation
of that policy. The second occurs where no rule has been
announced as policy but federal law has been violated by an
act of the policymaker itself. Finally, a policy or custom
may also exist where 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 rights, that the policymaker
can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent
to the need.
Natale v. Camden Cnty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575,
584 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citations
amended complaint is devoid of any allegations of any policy,
practice or custom within New Garden Township that caused the
purported constitutional violations. Because a municipality
cannot be held liable simply on a respondeat superior basis
for the acts of its employees, I must dismiss this claim.
Officer Matthew Jones
also sets forth an Eighth Amendment claim of excessive force
against Officer Matthew Jones. Am. Compl. ¶ 2. Plaintiff
asserts that during the course of his arrest on December 23,
2014, Officer Jones slammed him to the floor when he was not
resisting and punched him in the back of the head. Compl.
Mem.,  p.1, lines 2-4. These actions left
plaintiff with bruising, swelling, a cast on his finger, cuts
on his left check and stitches. Id. at p. 1, lines
9-11. Defendants now argue that plaintiff's claim must be
dismissed because (1) the Eighth Amendment is inapplicable to
plaintiff; (2) the claim fails to set forth a constitutional
violation and (3) Officer Jones is protected by qualified
Applicability of the Eighth Amendment
first argument is premised on the fact that plaintiff asserts
his excessive force claim under the Eighth Amendment, which
applies only to convicted prisoners. Natale, 318
F.3d at 581. As plaintiff admits that Officer Jones's
actions occurred during his arrest of plaintiff, not while
plaintiff was incarcerated, the Eighth Amendment provides no
protection. As set forth above, however, I must construe
plaintiff's claims liberally given his status as a pro se
litigant. Haines, 404 U.S. at 520; see also
Wilson v. Sobina, No. 11-298, 2012 WL 6840521, at *2
(W.D. Pa. July 16, 2012) (“If the court can reasonably
read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant
could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper
legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and
sentence construction, or litigant's unfamiliarity with
pleading requirements.”). Doing so, I will assume that
plaintiff meant to plead this claim under the Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendments, which prohibits the use of
unreasonably excessive force when making an arrest.
Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989).
Failure to Plead a Constitutional Violation
reject defendants' second argument-that plaintiff fails
to adequately plead a constitutional violation. The Supreme
Court has stated that the “use of force is contrary to
the Fourth Amendment if it is excessive under objective
standards of reasonableness.” Saucier v. Katz,
533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001). In making this determination, the
court must evaluate the reasonableness of “a particular
use of force . . . from the perspective of a reasonable
officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of
hindsight, ” while recognizing “that police
officers are often forced to make split-second judgments-in
circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly
evolving-about the amount of force that is necessary.”
Graham, 490 U.S. at 396-97. As the United States
Supreme Court has held:
[T]he “reasonableness” inquiry in an excessive
force case is an objective one: the question is whether the
officer['s] actions are “objectively
reasonable” in light of the facts and circumstances
confronting [him], without regard to [his] underlying intent
or motivation . . . . An officer's evil intentions will
not make a Fourth Amendment violation out of an objectively
reasonable use of force; nor will an officer's good
intentions make an objectively unreasonable use of force
Id. at 397 (internal citations omitted). Careful
attention must be given to the facts and circumstances of
each particular case, recognizing that the use of some
coercion necessarily inheres in the officer's right to
make such an investigatory stop or seizure. Id. at
396. These facts and circumstances include “the
severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an
immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and
whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to
evade arrest by flight.” Id. Our Court of
Appeals has included additional factors for consideration,
such as “the duration of the action, whether the action
takes place in the context of effecting an arrest, the
possibility that the suspect may be armed, and the number of
persons with whom the police officers must contend at one
time.” Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 822
(3d Cir. 1997), abrogated on other grounds by Curley v.
Klem, 499 F.3d 199 (3d Cir. 2007).
stated above, plaintiff alleges that during the course of
plaintiff's arrest, Officer Jones slammed him to the
floor and punched him in the back of the head, even though
plaintiff was not resisting. Taken as true, such allegations
could plausibly rise to the level of excessive force
prohibited by the Constitution. Therefore, I will not dismiss
this cause of action for failure to state a
defendants argue that if the excessive force claim survives,
Officer Jones is entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified
immunity provides that government officials are immune from
suits for civil damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
“insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known.” Messerschmidt
v. Millender, 565 U.S. 535, 546 (2012) (quotations
omitted). This doctrine attempts to balance the competing
values of protecting innocent individuals from litigation
while allowing liability for those who abuse their
discretion. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800,
813-14 (1982). The qualified immunity analysis is specific to
each individual defendant and considers the totality of the
circumstances at the time of the defendant's challenged
conduct. Curley v. Klem, 499 F.3d 199, 207 (3d Cir.
immunity is a question of law consisting of two prongs to be
considered in any order. Pearson v. Callahan, 555
U.S. 223, 232 (2009). The first question inquires whether the
facts alleged by a plaintiff make out a violation of a
constitutional right. Id. at 232. The second inquiry
asks “whether the right at issue was ‘clearly
established' at the time of defendant's alleged
misconduct.” Id. A right is clearly
established if “‘it would be clear to a
reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the
situation he confronted.'” Reedy v.
Evanson, 615 F.3d 197, 224 (3d Cir. 2010), quoting
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001). “This
inquiry turns on the objective legal reasonableness of the
action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were
clearly established at the time it was taken.”
Pearson, 555 U.S. at 244 (quotations omitted). The
court must consider “the information within the
officer's possession at that time.” Harvey v.
Plains Twp. Police Dep't, 421 F.3d 185, 194 (3d Cir.
qualified immunity inquiry is premature at this stage of the
litigation. Plaintiff has adequately alleged a violation of
his constitutional right to be free from the use of the
excessive force. The prohibition against excessive force was
clearly established at the time of the events in question
and, at this juncture, I cannot ascertain whether it would
have been clear to Officer Jones that his conduct was
unlawful in the situation he confronted. Therefore, I will
reject the qualified immunity defense without prejudice to
Officer Jones's right to raise it at a later date.
Motion to Dismiss by Defendants East Vincent Township Police
Department and Chief Matthew Williams
East Vincent Township Police Department and Chief Matthew
Williams also seek dismissal of all claims against them. For
the following reasons, I will grant the motion as to East
Vincent Township Police Department and deny it as to Chief
East Vincent Township Police Department
the claims against New Garden Township Police Department,
plaintiff's claim against East Vincent Township Police
Department also fails for two reasons. First, as set forth
above, a police department “is not a ‘person'
subject to suit in a § 1983 civil rights action because
it lacks an identity separate from the municipality of which
it is a part.” Draper v. Darby Twp. Police
Dep't., 777 F.Supp.2d 850, 856 (E.D. Pa. 2011);
see also Briggs v. Moore, 251 F. App'x 77, 79
(3d Cir. 2007) (affirming the dismissal of a Section 1983
suit against the Monmouth County District Attorney's
Office because it “is not a separate entity that can be
sued under § 1983”). Second, even if I were to
assume that plaintiff intended to sue East Vincent Township,
plaintiff has failed to state a claim against it. East
Vincent Township, either as a police department or a
municipality, is not mentioned anywhere in plaintiff's
pleadings. Moreover, plaintiff has not set forth any
allegations of any policy, practice or custom within East
Vincent Township that could be said to have proximately
caused the alleged constitutional violations. Accordingly, I
dismiss this claim with prejudice.
Chief Matthew Williams
claim against Chief Williams is also premised on an
allegation of excessive force. Am. Compl. ¶ 3. He
asserts that, in the course of the arrest at issue, Chief
Williams threw him onto the floor and, while plaintiff was
flat on his stomach, Williams kicked and “knee
dropped” him. Compl. Mem., p.1, lines 3-4. Officer
Williams then tased plaintiff twice, pointed his pistol at
him and threatened to shoot him. Id. at p. 1, lines
6-8. As with Officer Jones, defendants argue that
plaintiff's claim must be dismissed because (1) the
Eighth Amendment is inapplicable to plaintiff; (2) the claim
fails to set forth a constitutional violation and (3)
Williams is protected by qualified immunity.
decline to dismiss the claims against Williams on any of
these grounds. First, consistent with my ruling as to Officer
Jones, I will liberally construe the amended complaint to
allege an excessive force claim under the Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendments. Second, I find that plaintiff's
allegations as to Chief Williams-consisting of kicking,
“knee dropping” and tasing plaintiff without
cause-could give rise to a plausible claim of excessive
force. Finally, defendants' request for qualified
immunity is premature. Although defendants assert that Chief
Williams had a reasonable belief that force was warranted
given plaintiff's arrest for murdering his mother and
burning her apartment complex two days earlier, the facts as
alleged in the amended complaint do not suggest that
plaintiff posed any threat against or resistance to Chief
Williams at the time of the arrest. Therefore, I decline to
dismiss the claim against this defendant and will allow Chief
Williams to re-raise the qualified immunity defense at a
Motion to Dismiss by Defendants PrimeCare Medical, Inc.,
Staci Suzuki, Psy.D., John P. Fraunces
Ed.D., Karen Murphy, RN, Molly Longare, PA-C, Megan Hughes,
PA-C, Brianna Culp, PA-C, Corey Cotton, LPN, Mabel Moiyallay,
MA, and Nurse Lisa
third motion before me seeks dismissal of the claims against
defendants PrimeCare Medical, Inc., Staci Suzuki, Psy.D.,
John P. Fraunces Ed.D., Karen Murphy, RN, Molly Longare,
PA-C, Megan Hughes, PA-C, Brianna Culp, PA-C, Corey Cotton,
LPN, Mabel Moiyallay, MA, and Nurse Lisa (collectively,
“the medical defendants”). The amended
complaint sets forth multiple claims against these defendants
including: (1) medical indifference; (2) Fourteenth Amendment
equal protection violations; (3) Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendment conditions of confinement; and (4) Monell
claims against PrimeCare for constitutionally violative
customs and policies. Based on my review of the amended
complaint, I will dismiss all of these claims.
Claims of Deliberate Medical Indifference
first brings a series of claims against the individual
medical defendants alleging “medical
indifference” under the Eighth Amendment. Defendants now
contend that these claims do not survive Rule 12(b)(6)
scrutiny. I agree.
Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual
punishment requires that prison officials provide inmates
with adequate medical care. Estelle v. Gamble, 429
U.S. 97, 103-105 (1976). In order to set forth a cognizable
claim, an inmate must allege (i) a serious medical need and
(ii) acts or omissions by prison officials that indicate
deliberate indifference to that need. Id. at 104;
see also Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d
Cir. 1999). “Seriousness” is proven if a
plaintiff is able to demonstrate that the need 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.'” Monmouth Cnty. Corr.
Institutional Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d
Cir. 1987), quoting Pace v. Fauver, 479 F.Supp. 456,
458 (D.N.J. 1979), aff'd, 649 F.2d 860 (3d Cir.
1981); see also Pearson v. Prison Health Servs., ___
F.3d___, 2017 WL 892371, at *4 (3d Cir. Mar. 7, 2017) (noting
that a medical need is serious where it has been diagnosed by
a physician as requiring treatment). Moreover, “where
denial or delay causes an inmate to suffer a life-long
handicap or permanent loss, the medical need is considered
serious.” Lanzaro, 834 F.2d at 347.
demonstrate the deliberate indifference prong of
Estelle, a plaintiff must show that the defendants
were more than merely negligent in diagnosing or treating his
serious medical condition. Mere medical malpractice or
disagreement with the proper treatment of an illness cannot
give rise to a violation of the Eighth Amendment. White
v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 1990); see
also Rouse, 182 F.3d at 197; Lanzaro, 834 F.2d
at 346. Rather, a prison official is deliberately indifferent
if he knows that a prisoner faces a substantial risk of
serious harm and fails to take reasonable steps to avoid the
harm. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837811
(1994). The Court of Appeals has found that the deliberate
indifference standard is satisfied
[W]hen prison officials 1) deny reasonable requests for
medical treatment, and the denial exposes the inmate to undue
suffering or the threat of tangible residual injury, 2) delay
necessary medical treatment for non-medical reasons, or 3)
prevent an inmate from receiving recommended treatment for
serious medical needs, or deny access to a physician capable
of evaluating the need for treatment.
Whooten v. Bussanich, 248 F. App'x 324, 326-27
(3d Cir. 2007). Beyond these types of circumstances, a court
will generally not “second-guess the propriety or
adequacy of a particular course of treatment . . . [since
such determinations] remain a question of sound
professional judgment.” Inmates of Allegheny Cnty.
Jail v. Pierce, 612 F.2d 754, 762 (3d Cir. 1979)
(quotations omitted). “[A]s 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.
present case, plaintiff presents fifteen claims of deliberate
indifference as follows:
• A claim against Nurse Cotton for unwrapping and
unsplinting plaintiff's wound and finger contrary to
doctor's orders on December 24, 2014. Am. Compl. ¶
9; Compl. Mem., p.1, line 19.
• A claim against Nurse Moiyallay for not
“intaking my medical issues or addressing them”
on December 24, 2014. Am. Compl. ¶ 11; Compl. Mem., p.
1, lines 19-20.
• A claim against Nurse Moiyallay, Nurse Cotton and Dr.
Suzuki who witnessed plaintiff's stitches injury, but did
not ensure or refer for treatment. Am. Compl. ¶ 30,
Compl. Mem., p. 3, line 18.
• A claim against PA Longare, PA Brianna and PA Hughes
for pre-existing conditions never being addressed despite
reports from plaintiff and repeated complaints. Am. Compl.
¶ 32. These conditions included a herniated disc, disc
bulge and stitches. Compl. Mem., p. 3, line 15.
• A claim against Nurse Cotton and Nurse Moiyallay for
not reporting plaintiff's complaints of pre-existing
conditions during intake on December 24, 2014. Am. Compl.
¶ 33; Compl. Mem., p. 3, lines 14-15.
• A claim against all medical staff after plaintiff
defecated and staff denied him a shower or hygiene supplies
on December 28, 2014. Am. Compl. ¶ 37.
• A claim against all medical staff for not addressing
plaintiff's obvious injuries after the use of physical
force by the guards on January 4, 2015. Am. Compl. ¶ 51.
Specifically, after guards physically assaulted him,
plaintiff was taken to medical, given a band-aid and referred
for an x-ray, despite the fact that he was reporting more
visible injuries such as bleeding in the mouth, wrist pain,
chest pain, bruising of his ribs, swollen knee, painful lumps
on his head, neck pain, a phlegm cough and difficulty
breathing. Compl. Mem., p. 5, lines 19-22.
• A claim against Dr. Fraunces for being informed of a
medical need but not addressing it on January 8, 2015. Am.
Compl. ¶ 62. Plaintiff received no attention until the
following day when he passed out with a fever and profuse
sweating and was hyperventilating. Compl. Mem., p. 6, lines
• A claim against Nurse Lisa for not properly treating
plaintiff's visible injuries on January 9, 2015. Am.
Compl. ¶ 65. On that date, Nurse Lisa asked if plaintiff
was in pain from previous interactions with the correctional
officers and when he said yes, she put him in a room without
further attention. When a nurse later came to check his
temperature and blood pressure, he passed out and fell,
requiring the nurse and a correctional officer to help him.
Compl. Mem., p. 6, lines 23-26.
• A clam against PA Hughes for not addressing or
treating plaintiff's visible injuries on January 9, 2015.
Am. Compl. ¶ 66. Plaintiff showed Hughes his injuries
and explained his problem breathing, but she did not
prescribe anything for pain. Rather, he was given ibuprofen
or Tylenol for the fever and put in a room with a shower.
Compl. Mem., p. 6, lines 26-28.
• A claim against PA Hughes for medical indifference to
plaintiff's medical condition on January 11, 2015. Am.
Compl. ¶ 67. On January 11, 2015, PA Hughes discharged
plaintiff from medical, but still did not prescribe anything
for pain for his obvious physical injuries. Compl. Mem., p.
7, lines 8-10.
• A claim against PA Longare for denying plaintiff
medical attention for his pre-existing medical condition when
informed on January 23, 2015. Am. Compl. ¶ 71. On that
date, after Longare learned that the x-ray of plaintiff's
wrist was within normal limits, Longare prescribed him
Napricin for his wrist pain. He told her about other issues,
but she only addressed his wrist saying that he had
tendonitis. Compl. Mem., p. 7, lines 20-24.
• A claim against PA Culp for not treating
plaintiff's reported injuries or even inquiring into his
condition after being informed. Am. Compl. ¶ 96. On
February 23, 2015, PA Culp told plaintiff he was being
treated, but when he explained that he was still in pain and
pointed out that his knee was swollen, she stated that it
might be lifelong pain and nothing else. Compl. Mem., p. 8
line 27-p. 9 line 1.
• A claim against PA Culp for once again ignoring
plaintiff's request for medical treatment for existing
and pre-existing medical conditions on March 26, 2015. Am.
Compl. ¶ 106. Plaintiff saw PA Culp on that day and she
informed him that he would only be given three more months of
Napricin, but she did not address any other issues even when
plaintiff showed her his swollen knee. Compl. Mem., p. 10,
• A claim against Karen Murphy for not allowing
plaintiff to review medical records after repeated attempts.
Am. Compl. ¶ 126. Specifically, he requested from Karen
Murphy the opportunity to review his medical records, but did
not receive a response from her. Compl. Mem., p. 12, lines
these claims allege facts sufficient to set forth a plausible
claim for relief. Primarily, for most of these claims,
plaintiff has not alleged facts upon which I can infer that
he had a “serious” medical condition that either
has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment or
is so obvious that a lay person would easily recognize the
necessity for a doctor's attention. Lanzaro, 834
F.2d at 347 (quotations omitted). Nor has he alleged that
delay in treatment caused him to suffer a life-long handicap
or permanent loss. Id. at 347. Indeed, the alleged
facts suggest only that plaintiff had a finger that was
splinted, a wound that received stitches, a pre-existing but
non-severe back condition, some non-specific injuries from an
altercation with the guards, an illness with a fever and a
swollen knee. None of these conditions suggests a
“serious” medical condition for purposes of a
importantly, even assuming plaintiff could establish a
serious medical condition, he has failed to plead that any of
the named defendants acted with deliberate indifference.
Plaintiff never disputes that he received medical care for
his various injuries. Rather, he simply disagrees with the
type and extent of the care he received, an allegation that
does not state a valid claim of medical mistreatment under
the Eighth Amendment. Pearson, 2017 WL 892371, at
*7. At no point does plaintiff suggest that he was denied
reasonable requests for medical treatment that exposed him to
undue suffering or the threat of tangible residual injury.
Nor does plaintiff claim that medical treatment was denied
for non-medical reasons or that he was prevented from
receiving recommended treatment for serious medical needs or
denied access to qualified medical professionals. Indeed, the
allegations in plaintiff's pleadings clearly demonstrate
that he was seen, evaluated and provided medication by
medical personnel on multiple occasions. As the amended
complaint does not put forth any facts to allow an inference
of deliberate indifference, I dismiss these claims with
Equal Protection Claim
has also alleged an equal protection claim against PA
Longare, PA Culp and PA Hughes. As I find that plaintiff has
not adequately pled such a claim, I will grant defendants
motion to dismiss.
Equal Protection Clause provides that no state shall
“deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal
protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV §
1. The Court of Appeals has recognized that in order to
establish a viable equal protection violation, a plaintiff
must show intentional or purposeful discrimination. See
Wilson v. Schillinger, 761 F.2d 921, 929 (3d Cir. 1985).
The Equal Protection Clause is not a command that all persons
be treated alike but, rather, “a direction that all
persons similarly situated should be treated alike.”
Artway v. Attorney Gen. of State of N.J.,
81 F.3d 1235, 1267 (3d Cir. 1996), quoting City of
Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439
action does not involve a suspect classification, the
plaintiff may establish an equal protection claim under a
“class of one” theory by showing that he or she
was intentionally treated differently from other similarly
situated individuals without a rational basis for the
difference in treatment. Village of Willowbrook v.
Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000). To allege an equal
protection claim under a class-of-one theory, a plaintiff
must show that “(1) the defendant treated him
differently from others similarly situated, (2) the defendant
did so intentionally, and (3) there was no rational basis for