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Harper v. Tritt

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 19, 2017

B. TRITT, et al., Defendants


          William J. Nealon United States District Judge

         I. Background

         On August 9, 2016, Plaintiff, Maurice Harper, an inmate confined in the State Correctional Institution, Frackville, ("SCI-Frackville"), Pennsylvania, filed the above civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The named Defendants are the Dr. Haresh Pandya; Nelson ("Tony") Iannuzzi, CRNP; Superintendent Tritt; Deputy Superintendent Meintel; Stanishefski, CHCA; Food Service Manager Johnson; Karen Holly, CHCA; and Chad Yordy.

         On August 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. (Doc. 7). By Order dated September 22, 2016, Plaintiffs motion to amend was granted, and Plaintiff was directed to file an amended complaint, which was to "be a new pleading which stands by itself as an adequate complaint without reference to the complaint already filed." (See Doc. 8, Order).

         On September 30, 2016, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint (Doc. 10), and an affidavit of fact in support of his complaint (Doc. 11) which were served on the Defendants by Order dated October 4, 2016. (Doc. 12).

         Presently before the court and ripe for disposition are Defendants' motions to dismiss the Plaintiffs amended complaint. (Docs. 27, 30). The parties have fully briefed the issues and the motions are now ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motions to dismiss will be granted.

         II. Motion to Dismiss

         Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Under Rule 12(b)(6), we must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside. 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir.2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny. 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir.2008)). While a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly. 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quoting Twombly. 550 U.S. at 556). "[L]abels and conclusions" are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and a court "'is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Id. (quoted case omitted). Thus, "a judicial conspiracy claim must include at least a discernible factual basis to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal." Capogrosso v. The Supreme Court of New Jersey. 588 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir.2009) (per curiam).

         In resolving the motion to dismiss, we thus "conduct a two-part analysis." Fowler, supra. 578 F.3d at 210. First, we separate the factual elements from the legal elements and disregard the legal conclusions. Id. at 210-11. Second, we "determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a " 'plausible claim for relief.' " Id. at 211 (quoted case omitted).

         In addition, because Plaintiff complains about "prison conditions, " the screening provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e apply, as do the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), given that he was granted in forma pauperis status to pursue this suit. The court's obligation to dismiss a complaint under the PLRA screening provisions for complaints that fail to state a claim is not excused even after defendants have filed a motion to dismiss. See, e.g.. Lopez v. Smith. 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 n. 6 (9th Cir.2000). Hence, if there is a ground for dismissal which was not relied upon by a defendant in a motion to dismiss, the court may nonetheless sua sponte rest its dismissal upon such ground pursuant to the screening provisions of the PLRA. See Lopez: Dare v. U.S.. Civil No. 06-115E, 2007 WL1811198, at*4 (W.D.Pa. June 21, 2007), aff d, 264 Fed.Appx. 183 (3d Cir.2008).

         III. Allegations in Complaint

         Plaintiff states that he "used the prisoner procedure available at SCI-Frackville requesting pain relief medication for extreme back pains which hindered Plaintiffs ability to carry out normal activities." (Doc. 10, amended complaint).

         On April 11, 2016, Plaintiff states that his "request for pain relief medication and back brace was denied." Id. Specifically, on April 11, 2016, Defendant, Karen Holly, CHCA, denied Plaintiffs Grievance No. 617928 as follows:

Mr. Harper, I reviewed your grievance # 617928 and your medical record. You saw Dr. Pandya on 3-17-3016, not on 3-18-2016. In your grievance you state, "I have complained about chronic back pain for months to the Medical Department and every time was denied treatment until my condition worsened and I request help again..." I researched back to your initial intake on 4/8/2016 and there is no documentation supporting any related complaints. The 3/17/2016 sick call visit is the first.
You complained of a painful lump located on your lower back. After an assessment/examination Dr. Pandya informed you of a subcutaneous fascia/fat herniation near the mid line of your back, or an abnormal protrusion of the connective tissue. Dr. Pandya provided you with verbal and paper education material of exercises that can help with the discomfort. There is no documentation supporting a discussion of a back brace or injections. There is no medical intervention required at this time.
You cannot compare your fatty hernia located on your back to other patients with hernias located in different areas of the body. Nor can you compare treatments.
This grievance is denied based on the above information above. You were provided medical care and there is no evidence of chronic back pain.

(Doc. 11 at 4, Initial Review Response). On April 17, 2016, Plaintiff filed an appeal to the Facility Manager "requesting help with his pain and suffering and on May 1, 2016 Plaintiffs request for pain relief medication and back brace were denied." (Doc. 10, amended complaint).

         On May 18, 2016, Plaintiff "was transported to the medical department on a wheelchair due to extreme back pains with muscle spasms that caused Plaintiff to be paralyze on his cell floor suffering from extreme pain leaving him unable to move." Id. Plaintiff states that he was "told by medical staff while he was paralyze on the floor that he would not receive treatment for his chronic back pains if he did not fill out a sick call request slip authorizing the medical department to charge him for treatment for his chronic back pains." Id. Plaintiff complains that "the Defendant unrelenting medical co-payments for Plaintiff sick call services for his chronic medical conditions and Plaintiff being fired from his prison job has resulted in a pay decrease and placed Plaintiff is financial destitute." Id.

         On May 27, 2016, Plaintiff filed Grievance No. 622710, complaining about being removed from his job. (Doc. 36-1 at 37). By response dated June 21, 2016, Plaintiffs grievance was denied as follows:

Inmate Harper you indicate in your grievance that FSS Pocono fired you due to the Medical Restrictions. You indicate that you have lost your pay grade and your light duty job assignment.
Per DC-ADM 816: "Removal of an inmate from a work assignment for reasons other than misconduct or medical necessity must be handled by a Unit ...

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