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Williams v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 20, 2017



          Gerald Austin McHugh United States District Judge

         In this Eighth Amendment case, Jermaine Williams, a Pennsylvania state prisoner at SCI Graterford and an epileptic, claims Defendants Wexford Health Sources, Inc., and Correct Care Solutions, LLC, the medical providers at Graterford, repeatedly denied him necessary anti-seizure medication. Because Williams did not exhaust administrative remedies on that claim, however, I dismissed it on an earlier motion and it is no longer directly at issue here. On the same motion, I also dismissed other claims involving Correct Care's[1] failure to provide Williams physical therapy or surgery to address injuries he suffered at Graterford. Since those claims had been exhausted and were just insufficiently pled, I gave Williams leave to amend. Williams did, and Correct Care now moves to dismiss again. This time, I will deny Correct Care's motion.

         I. Background

         My earlier opinion has a more detailed background. See 2016 WL 7156395, at *1-2. To briefly recap, the earliest events in this case stem from the most troubling allegation: that when Williams, a known epileptic, was first sent to Graterford, Defendants denied him his prescribed anti-seizure medication. That unjustified denial caused Williams to suffer needless seizures, one of which caused Williams to fall down the stairs, aggravating preexisting (and creating new) back and neck injuries. To top it off, Williams claims, the physical therapy Defendants gave him after that fall was inadequate.

         But because Williams failed to navigate the complex and unforgiving world of administrative exhaustion, none of that remains directly at issue now. See Williams Br. *8.[2]Instead, both of Williams's surviving claims flow from a January 2015 vehicle accident that occurred while being taken from another prison back to Graterford. In a grievance filed that day, Williams claimed he was violently thrown inside the vehicle, causing whiplash and a concussion-and injuring his back and neck even more. Correct Care examined him then, but in the first instance gave him only a neckbrace and painkillers. In his grievance, Williams wrote: “I don't believe I am receiving proper medical care, and my injuries are being minimized in a way that amounts to medical neglect.” Dkt. 23-6 at *4-5.

         Over the next five months, it appears (the record at this stage is admittedly hazy) that Williams received some physical therapy-but not much. On February 12, three weeks after the accident, he had an on-site consultation. The treating physician, after noting in her records that Williams had pain and a decreased range of motion in his neck, wrote that he “needs to begin rehab, ” and so referred him to physical therapy. Dkt. 23-4 at *6. Sometime in late February Williams indeed saw a physical therapist, and the two agreed to a regimen of weekly sessions. But that only lasted a few weeks: soon after, Williams claims, his therapist “accused [him] of being litigious” and made him a “target of ha[r]assment.” Dkt. 23-7 at *4. The sessions stopped.

         In early April, Williams had another consultation, where he reiterated his complaint of neck pain and a “very” limited range of motion. Dkt. 23-4 at *7. He was referred for an MRI of his cervical spine, which took place at the end of April. Id. Shortly after the MRI, he had a third consultation, and this time was referred to an offsite neurosurgeon. The referring doctor noted that Williams had a “known seizure disorder, ” had been injured both falling down the stairs and in the accident, and, by this point, had “lumbar back pain radiating into his left leg and difficulty walking.” Dkt. 23-4 at *8.

         Nearly a month and a half later, on June 17, Williams finally saw the neurosurgeon. Dkt. 23-5 at *2. The neurosurgeon discussed the MRI with Williams and told him he did not recommend surgery for his lumbar spine. Id. “However, ” he noted, “due to [Williams's] failure with physical therapy, ” as well as the notable degree of neck pain and related weaknesses, he recommended surgery for his cervical spine. Id. This surgery, as with others, presented risks of bleeding and to the nervous system; it would also involve “plates and screws.” Id. Ultimately, Williams rejected the surgery, noting in a subsequent grievance that it was “extremely intrusive” and provided only a “50/50 chance of effective recovery.” Dkt. 18-5 at *11. Instead, Williams proposed a less intrusive alternative surgery; Correct Care rejected his suggestion. Id.

         Williams now claims Correct Care violated the Eighth Amendment by failing to provide him with adequate physical therapy and by denying him timely and adequate surgery. These violations, he claims, flowed from Correct Care's policy or custom of generally disregarding prisoners' needs for physical therapy and surgery, whether because of considerations of cost or some other nonmedical reason. Correct Care now moves to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

         II. Standard of Review

         On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, my task is merely to decide whether the plaintiff has stated a “plausible” claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). In doing this, I must “draw on [my] judicial experience and common sense, ” id., and “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, ” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). It does not matter whether the complaint is “as rich with detail as some prefer”-the only question is whether, “under any reasonable reading” of it, there are “sufficient facts to support [a] plausible claim[].” Id. at 210-12.

         III. Discussion

         Applying that standard of review, I conclude that Correct Care's motion will be denied.

         A. ...

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