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Summers v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 26, 2017

WENDY SUMMERS, Administrator of th Estate of Decedent, Courtney McLeod Plaintiff,


          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Courtney McLeod had just begun serving a two to four-year prison sentence at SCI-Graterford when he committed suicide on January 16, 2015. Wendy Summers, McLeod's mother and administratrix of his estate, sued the City of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and various employees and agents of both entities. She brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Pennsylvania state law. In her federal claim, Summers alleges the Defendants violated McLeod's due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as well as his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Several of the Defendants have filed four motions to dismiss. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motions in part and denies them in part, with leave to amend some of the claims.


         On August 21, 2014, the Philadelphia Police arrested McLeod on burglary-related charges. (Compl. ¶ 77.) Beginning September 5, 2014, following McLeod's guilty plea but before his sentencing, McLeod was alternately housed at three Philadelphia prison facilities: the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the Philadelphia House of Correction and the health services wing of the Philadelphia Detention Center. (Id. ¶¶ 78-79.) After McLeod was sentenced to two to four years of incarceration, he was transferred to SCI-Graterford to serve his sentence. (Id. ¶ 102.)


         During his time at the House of Correction, McLeod “had several aggressive or violent encounters with other inmates.” (Id. ¶ 81.) He also exhibited signs of depression. (Id. ¶ 76.) As a result, on October 25, 2014, McLeod received an emergency referral for a psychiatric evaluation. (Id. ¶ 82.) Then, on November 3, McLeod attempted suicide by drinking bleach. (Id. ¶ 83.) He was treated at Aria Torresdale Hospital and returned to the House of Correction the same day. (Id. ¶ 84.) The next day, he consented to inpatient treatment in the prison health services wing of the Philadelphia Detention Center. (Id. ¶ 85.) McLeod was prescribed a regimen of Haldol, Benadryl and Ativan to stabilize his mood and decrease his aggression and agitation. (Id. ¶ 87.)

         Between November 10 and December 10, 2014, McLeod returned to the House of Correction. (Id. ¶ 88.) He was transferred back to the Detention Center's health services wing on December 11 when he told several Defendants[1] he intended to commit suicide. (Id. ¶ 89.) McLeod remained on suicide watch in the health services wing from December 11 to 14 and was returned to the House of Correction on December 15. (Id. ¶¶ 90-92.)

         On January 7, 2015, McLeod was sentenced to 2 to 4 years of imprisonment. (Id. ¶ 93.) He was re-admitted to the Detention Center's health services wing after several Defendants[2] saw him hitting his head against a wall and telling them he was suicidal. (Id. ¶ 94.) McLeod was again evaluated on January 11 after telling employees of the Defendants that he wanted to commit suicide. (Id. ¶ 99.)


         The City transferred McLeod to SCI-Graterford on January 12, 2015 to serve his sentence. (Id. ¶ 102.) The City did not inform the Commonwealth Defendants[3] that McLeod, as recently as the day before his transfer, said he was suicidal. (Id. ¶ 101(b).) The City also failed to recommend to the Commonwealth Defendants that McLeod be placed on suicide watch. (Id. ¶ 101(c).) The City forwarded McLeod's medical records to SCI-Graterford, but those records indicated only that McLeod had a history of suicide attempts; they did not include McLeod's recent statement that he wanted to commit suicide. (Id. ¶¶ 104-05.)

         Upon his arrival at SCI-Graterford, McLeod was initially placed in a restricted housing unit where inmates are confined to their cells twenty-three hours per day. (Id. ¶¶ 106-07.) He received an “Initial Reception Screening” from Defendant J. Link. (Id. ¶ 109.) J. Link concluded that McLeod was bipolar and also noted McLeod had not attempted suicide, was not taking any psychotropic medications and that he needed neither medical nor psychiatric evaluations. (Id.) J. Link approved McLeod for general population housing in the prison. (Id. ¶ 110.)

         The Complaint alleges that by January 15, 2015, all Defendants knew McLeod was prescribed Haldol, Benadryl and Ativan daily to treat his depression, anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder. (Id. at 113.) Despite this alleged knowledge, the Defendants neither provided McLeod with his prescribed medications nor placed him in SCI-Graterford's mental health unit. (Id. ¶ 115(d)-(e), (j).) And despite J. Link's recommendation, McLeod remained in the restricted housing unit, confined to his cell twenty-three hours per day. (Id. ¶ 115(h).)

         On January 16, 2015, Defendants Hardnett, Robinson, Mascellino, John Does 6- 10 and ABC Corporations 6-10 were responsible for monitoring McLeod. (Id. ¶ 116.) Early that morning, Hardnett discovered McLeod hanging in his cell. (Id. ¶ 117.) McLeod, who was nineteen years old, was pronounced dead at 4:30 a.m. by Dr. Stephen Weiner, SCI-Graterford's medical director. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 66, 125.)


         Summers now sues the City, Philadelphia Detention Center Warden John Delaney, Curran-Fromhold Warden Michele Farrell, former Philadelphia Prison System Commissioner Louis Giorla, House of Correction Warden William Lawton, Roman Pont du Jour, and Valitas Health Services, Corizon Health, Inc., MHM Correctional Services Inc., MHM Services, Inc., which are companies with whom the City and Commonwealth contract to provide health care services in the prisons. She also sues the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel, SCI-Graterford Superintendent Michael Wenerowicz, Pennsylvania Corrections employees Cynthia Link, George Ondrejka, Joseph Korszniak, J. Link, David Mascellino, Stephen Weiner, Matthew Mauriello, “CO” Robinson and Wexford Health Solutions and Correct Care Solutions LLC under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of McLeod's constitutional rights. Several of the Defendants filed four separate motions to dismiss.[4] Inasmuch as the motions raise overlapping legal questions, the Court will address them together.


         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. (citation omitted). While a complaint need not include detailed facts, it must provide “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Twombly and Iqbal require the Court to take three steps to determine whether the second amended complaint will survive Defendants' motion to dismiss. See Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). First, it must “take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Next, it must identify the allegations that are no more than legal conclusions and thus “not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, where the complaint includes well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court “should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         This “presumption of truth attaches only to those allegations for which there is sufficient factual matter to render them plausible on their face.” Schuchardt v. President of the United States, 839 F.3d 336, 347 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal quotation and citation omitted). “Conclusory assertions of fact and legal conclusions are not entitled to the same presumption.” Id. This plausibility determination is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. (quoting Connelly, 809 F.3d at 786-87).

         This plausibility standard, however, “does not impose a heightened pleading requirement” and does not require a plaintiff to plead specific facts. Id. In other words, “courts cannot inject evidentiary issues into the plausibility determination.” Id. The Third Circuit has also made it clear that “at least for purposes of pleading sufficiency, a complaint need not establish a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss” because a “prima facie case is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement and hence is not proper measure of whether a complaint fails to state a claim.” Connelly, 809 F.3d at 789 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff should plead “enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements.” Id. (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)).


         Summers contends that the City Defendants violated McLeod's constitutional rights by transferring him to SCI-Graterford without warning officials there of McLeod's suicidal ideations or recommending that he be placed on suicide watch. See (Compl. ¶¶ 100(a)-(c)). To state a § 1983 claim, Summers must allege facts to show that a person acting under color of law deprived McLeod of a federal right. See Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995). Any violation of McLeod's rights must have been done intentionally or with deliberate indifference to those rights. See, e.g., Brower v. County of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593, 596 (1989) (citing Hill v. California, 401 U.S. 797, 802-05 (1971)); County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 843-44 (1998); see also Berg v. County of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 269 (3d Cir. 2000).


         Summers alleges the City violated McLeod's Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments rights. (Compl.¶¶ 79-80, 148.) The City contends that Summers's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims fail because McLeod was not in the City's custody when he committed suicide. (Defs.' Resp., at 10-11 ECF No. 6.) It also asserts that her Fourteenth Amendment claim is barred because the City took no affirmative act to harm McLeod. (Id. at 4-7.)


         To the extent that Summers raises substantive due process claims, she cannot state a claim against the City Defendants under the Fifth Amendment. “The Fifth Amendment only applies to actions taken by the federal government, not state or local governments.” Duffy v. County of Bucks, 7 F.Supp.2d 569, 576 (E.D. Pa. 1998) (citing Schweiker v. Wilson, 450 U.S. 221, 227 (1981)); see also Washington-Pope v. City of Philadelphia, 979 F.Supp.2d 544, 551 n.1 (E.D. Pa. 2013) (“[T]o the extent [the plaintiff] contends that her Fifth Amendment claim sounds in substantive due process (the only plausible reading of her Complaint based on the facts presented), she must rely instead on the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, which applies to state and local actors, rather than the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause, which applies to federal actors.”). Summers's Fifth Amendment claims against the City and individual City Defendants are dismissed with prejudice.


         Summers's substantive due process claims under the Fourteenth Amendment are barred by the “more-specific-provision rule” and must be dismissed with prejudice because the Eighth Amendment applies to the City Defendants' alleged conduct. The “more-specific-provision rule” directs that “if a constitutional claim is covered by a specific constitutional provision, such as the . . . Eighth Amendment, the claim must be analyzed under the standard appropriate to that specific provision, not under the rubric of substantive due ...

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