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Dunyan v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 16, 2017

JAMES M. DUNYAN, Plaintiff


          Kane Judge.

         Presently before the Court for disposition are two motions to dismiss Plaintiff James M. Dunyan's complaint, one filed by Defendants Correct Care Solutions, LLC, (“CCS”), Dr. Andrew Dancha, Carol Hines, and Dr. Vernon Preston (collectively referred to herein as the “CCS Defendants”), on December 21, 2016 (Doc. No. 32), and one filed by Defendant Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (“Wexford”), on January 10, 2017. (Doc. No. 35.) For the reasons provided herein, the Court will grant the CCS Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 32), and will grant Defendant Wexford's motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 35).[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         This civil rights action was initiated upon the filing of a twenty-page complaint by pro se prisoner-Plaintiff James M. Dunyan on October 19, 2016. (Doc. No. 1.)[2]

         On October 21, 2016, the Court issued an Order referring the case to the Prison Litigation Settlement Program, serving the complaint on Defendants to facilitate settlement negotiations, and staying this matter pending resolution of settlement negotiations. (Doc. No. 5.) On December 15, 2016, the Court vacated its referral Order upon receipt of a declaration from Defendants opposing referral on the basis that mediation would ultimately prove unsuccessful. (Doc. Nos. 8 and 13.)

         The allegations forming the basis of Plaintiff's complaint are as follows. Plaintiff is currently housed at the State Correctional Institution at Benner, located in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff alleges he was first diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes in 2014 by Dr. Sandards, an optometrist employed by the Department of Corrections (“DOC”). (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 42.) In March of 2015, Plaintiff was evaluated by an independent ophthalmologist, Dr. Adam Marcovitch, who recommended that Plaintiff undergo cataract surgery in both eyes. (Id. at ¶ 43.) Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Marcovitch advised the DOC, and specifically, CCS Defendant Dr. Dancha, that Plaintiff required cataract surgery in both eyes. (Id.) However, Plaintiff received cataract surgery only to his left eye. (Id. at ¶ 44.) Plaintiff alleges that despite the serious medical need for cataract surgery to his right eye, the DOC has refused to authorize this surgery pursuant to the “One Good Eye” policy.[3] (Id. at ¶¶ 45, 51.)

         Plaintiff complains that he has a hypermature cataract in the right eye, and that the cataract is preventing further detection of retinal and optic nerve disease, for which he is especially at risk. (Id. at ¶¶ 36, 52.) He further complains that his left eye is deteriorating due to the stress caused by the loss of sight in his right eye, and that he experiences difficulty in reading and writing, has extreme headaches, and is substantially limited in his ability to perform manual tasks. (Id. at ¶¶ 53, 55, 56.) Plaintiff alleges that this administrative policy denies necessary surgical treatment to inmates with a severe eye disease in one eye so long as it is determined that the other eye provides some level of adequate vision. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 24.)

         Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the decision not to perform surgery to his right eye. (Id. at ¶45). On May 8, 2015, Plaintiff received a response to his grievance, which provided that he was “not eligible for cataract surgery on his right eye, [as] [Plaintiff's] vision is now considered fair because of the removal of the cataract in [his] left eye.” (Id. at ¶ 47.) Plaintiff avers that he has been advised many times by the medical staff that their refusal to permit surgery to his right eye is due to the “One Good Eye” policy. (Id. at ¶ 51.)

         Plaintiff argues that as the medical service provider for the DOC, Correct Care Solutions was under a duty to provide Plaintiff with appropriate care. However, under the One Good Eye policy, they have denied him that care; namely, the cataract surgery to his right eye. (Id. at ¶ 45.) Plaintiff asserts claims under the Eighth Amendment against Defendants in their official and individual capacities (Counts III and V); and a claim under the Pennsylvania Constitution (Count IV).[4]

         On December 21, 2016, the CCS Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint, together with a brief in support thereto. (Doc. Nos. 32, 33.) On January 10, 2017, Defendant Wexford filed a motion to dismiss with a supporting brief. (Doc. Nos. 35, 36.) On February 26, 2017, Plaintiff filed a counseled brief in opposition to the CCS Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 42.). The next day, Plaintiff, through counsel, filed a brief in opposition to Defendant Wexford's motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 44.) No reply brief has been filed. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for disposition.


         A. Motion to Dismiss

         A sound complaint must set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This statement must “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “Fair notice” in the context of Rule 8 “depends on the type of case - some complaints will require at least some factual allegations to make out a showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted). “[A] situation may arise where . . . the factual detail in a complaint is so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8.” Id. A plaintiff must provide more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” to show entitlement to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (recognizing that Rule 8 pleading standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation”); see also Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (stating that the court is not “compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.”) (quotations omitted).

         A defendant may attack a complaint by a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007), and all reasonable inferences permitted by the factual allegations, Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2007), and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007). If the facts alleged are sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level” such that the plaintiff's claim is “plausible on its face, ” a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570) (explaining 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”); see also Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234; Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007); Stevenson v. Carroll, 495 F.3d 62, 66 (3d Cir. 2007). When a complaint contains well-pleaded factual allegations, “a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 664. However, a court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice.” Id.

         When presented with a pro se complaint, the court should construe the complaint liberally and draw fair inferences from what is not alleged as well as from what is alleged. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003); Youse v. Carlucci, 867 F.Supp. 317, 318 (E.D. Pa. 1994). Such a complaint “must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings ...

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