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Farrington v. County of Bucks, PA

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 17, 2018

MICHAEL FARRINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF BUCKS, PA et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GENE E.K. PRATTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         By December 2015, Michael Farrington, a prisoner in Bucks County, could no longer walk on his own. He had been to the prison doctor seven times complaining of leg pain but was prescribed nothing more than over-the-counter pain medication. On December 10, he wrote the following plea to the prison and medical staff: “Please! I am literally begging you at this point for some help. Been going on for nearly 2 months. No. sign of it getting better, I have tried everything I possibly can and this has to be at least the tenth sick call I have put in and nothing has helped.”

         The doctors' reply: “No further follow-up is needed.”

         One month later, Mr. Farrington was diagnosed with MRSA and nearly lost his leg. All parties agree that Mr. Farrington's complaint states a viable claim under § 1983 for Eighth Amendment violations against the medical professionals who treated, or failed to treat, him during his prison stay. The pending motions question whether allegations of systemic inaction across multiple medical professionals state a plausible claim of supervisory liability under § 1983 against the private hospital and the County. The Court concludes that the complaint states a claim of supervisory and Monell liability and denies the motions to dismiss.

         Factual Background

         In April 2015, while incarcerated in Bucks County, Mr. Farrington developed a MRSA infection, which had abated by the summer. He was an IV drug user and had a history of endocarditis. On October 16, 2015, during a health assessment, Mr. Farrington complained of left knee pain, which ultimately turned out to be a recurrence of the MRSA infection. He was prescribed over-the-counter pain medication. This episode was the first of seven visits over the next six weeks in which he went to the correctional facility's hospital complaining of left knee pain. Each time, the medical professionals noted that he had swelling and decreased range of motion. Each time, the medical team prescribed over-the-counter pain medication or ice and discharged him without any additional tests. During this period, Mr. Farrington developed a limp from the pain.

         On December 1, 2015, Mr. Farrington fell while out on work release. He was taken to a local hospital, where his symptoms prompted the doctors to administer an ultrasound and take x-rays. He was prescribed a knee immobilizer, crutches, and over-the-counter pain medication, and was told to seek out an orthopedic specialist if the pain persisted. From this point until he was released on parole in 2016, Mr. Farrington could no longer walk on his own.

         Three days later, Mr. Farrington told the medical staff at the correctional facility that “something was seriously wrong with his leg” and requested to be taken to orthopedic professionals. The correctional facility declined to refer him. One week later, on December 10, 2015, Mr. Farrington made an inmate request in which he wrote:

I am still in pain. Really just need to figure something out. Went to ER 11 days ago and Dr. said if it doesn't get better in a week to either go back or see Ortho. Please! I am literally begging you at this point for some help. Been going on for nearly 2 months. No. sign of it getting better, I have tried everything I possibly can and this has to be at least the tenth sick call I have put in and nothing has helped. Please call me to dispensary so we can figure something out. Very sorry about all this, but I really just need your help.

         In response to this request, he received a letter from the medical staff that said: “All of your results from the hospital were negative and you are receiving [over-the-counter pain medication.] No further follow-up is needed.”

         Mr. Farrington fell again on December 21, 2015. At this point, the swelling in his leg had spread from his knee to his ankle. The medical professionals noted his worsening symptoms but ordered no new tests. On December 28, after the swelling had spread to his entire left leg and foot, Mr. Farrington again went to the medical office, where the physician assistant examining him ordered an ultrasound and x-ray to be done within 24 hours. It is unclear whether the tests were performed.

         Three days later, on December 31, 2015, Mr. Farrington was sent by a new doctor to a hospital for an MRI. Later that same day, the doctor from the outside hospital recommended a follow-up focused MRI. On January 4, 2016, Mr. Farrington was sent for a follow-up MRI and admitted to the hospital the next day. Ultimately, after a series of tests, Mr. Farrington was diagnosed with MRSA and transferred to Jefferson Hospital, where he underwent multiple surgeries to save his leg from amputation.

         Legal Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Although Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), “to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, '” the plaintiff must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted) (alteration in original).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Specifically, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The question is not whether the claimant “will ultimately prevail . . . but whether his complaint [is] sufficient to cross the federal court's threshold.” Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 530 (2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, assessment of the sufficiency of a complaint is “a context-dependent exercise” because “[s]ome claims require more factual explication than others to state a plausible claim for relief.” W. Pa. Allegheny Health Sys., Inc. v. UPMC, 627 F.3d 85, 98 (3d Cir. 2010).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court adheres to certain well-recognized parameters. For one, the Court “must consider only those facts alleged in the complaint and accept all of the allegations as true.” ALA, Inc. v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (stating that courts must “assum[e] that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)”); Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (“[A] court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.”). Also, the Court must accept as true all reasonable inferences emanating from the ...


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