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Mason v. PrimeCare Medical, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 18, 2017

SUSAN K. MASON, as Administrator of the Estate of Monique N. Mason, Plaintiff


          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge


         Now pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by PrimeCare Medical, Inc. (“PrimeCare”) and Carl A. Hoffman, Jr., D.O. (collectively, with PrimeCare, the “defendants”). (Doc. 60.) The motion is fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

         The defendants argue that the plaintiff has adduced insufficient evidence to support her remaining claims that either PrimeCare or Dr. Hoffman was deliberately indifferent to Monique Mason's serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The defendants further argue that the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state-law tort survival action and wrongful death claims, and should instead direct the plaintiff to refile these claims in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas.

         For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part. The plaintiff's claims against PrimeCare and Dr. Hoffman have always presented very close questions of law, in light of the particular strictures that govern supervisory constitutional tort claims against a corporate entity like PrimeCare, and its principal, Dr. Hoffman, who appeared to have had little to no direct involvement in Ms. Mason's actual medical care.

         The Court previously found, out of an abundance of caution, and reading the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, that the plaintiff's second amended complaint contained sufficient factual allegations to proceed to discovery. In making this finding, however, the Court expressly noted that this was “a somewhat close issue” and observed that the plaintiff had made “relatively few allegations that point to specific, personal involvement on the part of Dr. Hoffman.” Nevertheless, the Court found that, with respect to Dr. Hoffman, that the plaintiff had “alleged marginally sufficient facts” to survive a motion to dismiss. (Doc. 42, at pp. 3, 18, 20.)

         With respect to the claims against PrimeCare, the Court noted that in her earlier pleadings the plaintiff seemed to misapprehend the requirements developed over years of federal jurisprudence which made clear that “claims for municipal or corporate liability in the [42 U.S.C.] § 1983 context expressly may not be predicated on respondeat superior or vicarious liability.” (Doc. 42, p. 20.) Yet, that was expressly the plaintiff's theory of liability against PrimeCare in both her initial and first amended complaints. In her second amended complaint, we noted that the plaintiff had continued to include allegations about PrimeCare's role as an agent, servant or employee of the Dauphin County Prison - allegations which would not support a claim under § 1983 for the reasons we had explained - but we also found that the plaintiff had alleged that PrimeCare had inadequate protocols, rules or procedures for addressing brain abnormalities like those suffered by Ms. Mason, although these allegations were “somewhat thin and border[ed] on conclusory[.]” (Doc. 42, p. 21.) Nevertheless, reading the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the Court found that

the plaintiff's narrowing of her claims, and the allegations regarding the policies of PrimeCare Medical, and its alleged lack of sufficient protocols and procedures for dealing with Ms. Mason's ultimately fatal condition, are sufficient to allow this Monell claim to proceed past a motion to dismiss so that the parties can undertake discovery focused on PrimeCare's policies and procedures, so that a determination may be made about whether there is sufficient factual support for the plaintiff's claims of corporate liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         With the defendants having moved for summary judgment, the time for testing the sufficiency of the plaintiff's evidentiary showing has arrived. Upon careful consideration of the parties' briefs and the evidence that has been submitted, the Court is unable to find that the plaintiff has developed evidence that would be sufficient to support a claim for Monell liability against PrimeCare or for § 1983 liability against Dr. Hoffman. The record simply does not contain evidence that would show that PrimeCare had a custom or policy that caused the constitutional deprivation alleged.

         Similarly, the record does not contain any evidence that would support the plaintiff's claim that Dr. Hoffman had sufficient personal involvement in Ms. Mason's care that could support a claim for deliberate indifference under § 1983. As the Court has endeavored to explain in its prior written decisions in this case, regardless of the plaintiff's adamant view that Dr. Hoffman's role as a supervisor and principal of PrimeCare should be sufficient to expose him to liability for the deliberate indifference of other medical providers, the law is decidedly to the contrary.

         The plaintiff elected to pursue her remaining deliberate indifference claims only as to Dr. Hoffman and PrimeCare; she did not bring claims against Dr. William Young or the other medical providers who actually had direct personal involvement in Ms. Mason's care, including immediately before she slipped out of consciousness on May 2, 2014. Whether the plaintiff might have had viable Eighth Amendment claims against these other medical providers is not, and never has been, before the Court, and the Court expresses no opinion on that hypothetical issue. What is clear is that the plaintiff was not able to develop evidence that could have shown that Dr. Hoffman had any personal involvement in Ms. Mason's care or treatment decisions. Likewise, the plaintiff did not present evidence that could allow a factfinder to conclude that PrimeCare's policies or protocols caused the alleged constitutional injury. Accordingly, the Court is constrained to find that PrimeCare and Dr. Hoffman are entitled to judgment in their favor with respect to the plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims against them.

         The Court recognizes and appreciates that in the ordinary case, where the Court has dismissed all claims over which the Court had federal subject-matter jurisdiction, it ordinarily must dismiss any additional claims over which it has only supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), subject to certain exceptions over which the Court enjoys substantial discretion in assessing. Because this is a case that has been pending in this Court for a considerable period of time and has been litigated here by the parties, and because the Court intends to act carefully before determining whether the action should or must be dismissed so that the plaintiff may pursue her remaining state-law claims in the Court of Common Pleas, the Court will provisionally retain jurisdiction over the survival and wrongful death claims, and direct the parties to engage in settlement proceedings with the assistance of another Magistrate Judge of this Court. If those settlement proceedings are not successful, the Court will enter a further order directing briefing on the issue of whether the Court should retain supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims.


         This case comes before the Court under tragic circumstances. On May 2, 2013, a Saturday, Monique Mason was found unresponsive on the floor of her cell at the Dauphin County Prison. Prior to this time, she had been housed at the prison for approximately one and a half years on a parole violation. Before falling out of consciousness, Ms. Mason had complained on multiple occasions to nurses about increasing headaches. The nurses provided her with headache medication, including on the Friday immediately before the day she was found unresponsive.

         Mason was transferred to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead on May 5, 2013. Ms. Mason's cause of death was listed as complications from hypoxic encephalopathy and cerebral edema, which were caused by an expanding colloidal cyst on her brain. Ms. Mason was just 31 years old and left behind two children.

         The plaintiff alleges that on April 28, 2011, Ms. Mason was diagnosed with a colloid cyst in the third ventricle of her brain, small lateral ventricles, calcification of the pineal gland and possible Chiari malformation. (Am. Compl., ¶ 19.) The plaintiff alleges that the defendants were aware of this condition once Ms. Mason was admitted to Dauphin County Prison in November 2011, (id., ¶¶ 19-23), but the evidence does not necessarily bear this out, and the defendants have noted that there is a dispute over whether Ms. Mason was actually diagnosed with colloid cyst prior to her incarceration. (Doc. 60, p. 7.) For purposes of this decision, however, the Court interprets the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and will presume that Ms. Mason was, in fact, diagnosed with colloid cyst and that there was evidence in her medical records that showed she had a calcified pineal gland and a small, high density abnormality in the foramen of Monroe where a colloid cyst would reside.[1] (Doc. 64, ¶ 28.)

         On November 21, 2011, Ms. Mason was admitted to the Dauphin County Prison as a pretrial detainee. PrimeCare is contracted to provide medical services to inmates incarcerated at Dauphin County Prison. (Doc. 61 ¶ 20 and Ex. A, Comprehensive Health Services Agreement.) Dr. William Young, who is not named as a defendant in this lawsuit, is the Medical Director of the Dauphin County Prison. He testified that after reviewing the Ms. Mason's medical records, he did not believe that Ms. Mason had a colloid cyst, but only a calcified pineal gland. He further testified that after reviewing these reports, he believed that Ms. Mason had an ophthalmological issue, relying in part on Dr. Stephen Powers's recommendation that she had no neurosurgical issues at the time. (Doc. 61, ¶ 32 and Ex. E, Dep. of Dr. William Young, pp. 60-61.)

         More than a year after she was admitted to Dauphin County Prison, Ms. Mason was involved in an incident involving syncope - a temporary loss of consciousness or fainting - on January 25, 2013. (Am. Compl., ¶ 26; Doc. 61, Ex. F, Dep. of Joseph R. Macut, p. 56:16-18.) According to the Medical Incident/Injury Report dated January 25, 2013, Taihesha Hawkins, LPN, responded to the incident. In her report, Nurse Hawkins noted that no injuries were observed and Ms. Mason was returned to her housing area. (Doc. 61, Ex. G.) Review of the records indicates that Ms. Mason had experienced syncopal episodes periodically, including before and during the time that she was an inmate at Dauphin County Prison.

         During this time, Ms. Mason also reported that she was suffering headaches regularly, which seem to have been of increasing severity. On February 25, 2013, the plaintiff was prescribed Topamax for migraines. (Am. Compl., ¶ 27.) On February 27, 2013, Ms. Mason suffered another syncopal episode, which rendered her unresponsive, though she later was aroused by the time she received medical care. (Am. Compl., ¶ 30.) At that time, Ms. Mason was attended to by Joseph Macut, PA-C. PA Macut evaluated Ms. Mason and found that her vital signs were normal and he diagnosed her with a headache and possible syncopal episode. (Macut Dep. p. 106.) At this time, Ms. Mason was also restricted to the low bunk in her housing unit, and was placed on gym and work restrictions until she could be seen by a doctor. (Doc. 61, Ex. H, Medical Incident/Injury Report dated February 27, 2013.)

         On Friday, March 1, 2013, medical staff was again summoned to assist Ms. Mason, who was found passed out in her cell briefly and complaining of headaches. The notes taken during this time indicate that Ms. Mason had been sitting on the stairs outside the shower area when she blacked out after bending over to wash herself. She reported that fellow inmates helped her to dry herself and get dressed. She reported “unbearable pressure in her frontal lobe where she said a tumor is at.” (Doc. 61, Ex. I, Medical Note dated March 1, 2013, Crystal Keck, LPN.) Nurse Keck checked Ms. Mason's other vital signs and found them to be within normal range. She scheduled an appointment for Ms. Mason to be seen by Joseph Macut, PA-C on March 4, 2013 - the following Monday. (Id.) According to Mr. Macut, this is the first time he would have been able to see her. (Doc. 61, Ex. F, Macut Dep., pp. 112-113.)

         The following day, March 2, 2013, Ms. Mason was found unresponsive on the floor next to her bunk. (Doc. 61, Ex. K, Medical Incident/Injury Report dated March 2, 2013.) She was thereafter transferred to Harrisburg Hospital ...

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