United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
ALTON D. BROWN, also known as POLITICAL PRISONER, Plaintiff,
WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, INC., et al, Defendants.
BISSOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are the following four Motions to Dismiss.
For the reasons that follow, the DOC Defendants' Motion
to Dismiss (Doc. 82) will be granted in part and denied in
part; Corizon Health, Inc.'s, Dr. Blatt's, Dr.
Stefanic's and P. Hallworth's Motion to Dismiss (Doc.
100) will be granted; the Medical Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss (Doc. 104) will be granted in part and denied in
part; and Dr. McDonald's Motion to Dismiss will be
granted (Doc. 143).
instant case was commenced in this Court on November 4, 2016,
when Defendants, Correct Care Solutions LLC and Wexford
Health Sources, Inc., removed the case from the Court of
Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1). The
genesis of the case, however, actually began six months
earlier on May 17, 2016, when Plaintiff Alton D. Brown
(“Plaintiff”), a Pennsylvania state prisoner
currently confined at SCI-Fayette, initiated a separate civil
rights lawsuit in this Court at Civil Action No. 16-0627,
with the filing of a request to proceed in forma
pauperis accompanied by a complaint under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. (“Brown I”). Brown
I was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Cynthia
Reed Eddy for pretrial proceedings in accordance with the
Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(A) and (B),
and Local Rule of Civil Procedure 72.
Brown I, Plaintiff alleged that, since medical
officials diagnosed him with Hepatitis C in 2000, Defendants
have refused to provide appropriate medical care for his
liver disease, including providing an adequate diet, and have
refused his requests for a new drug treatment, which
eliminates Interferon as part of the Hepatitis C treatment
regimen. The Magistrate Judge recommended that
Plaintiff's request for in forma pauperis in
Brown I be denied and the case closed as Plaintiff
had not shown that he was in imminent danger of serious
physical injury. On August 18, 2016, three days after the
report and recommendation was filed, Plaintiff filed a nearly
identical complaint to the complaint in Brown I in
the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (“the
state court case”).
October 14, 2016, this Court adopted the report and
recommendation as the opinion of the Court, and the case was
dismissed without prejudice to Plaintiff reopening it by
paying the full statutory and administrative filing fees,
totaling $400.00. (Brown I, Doc. 7). Thereafter,
Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal of that Order to the
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Doc.
8), which was docketed at Court of Appeals No. 16-4136.
the appeal in Brown I was pending, Defendants,
Correct Care Solutions LLC and Wexford Health Sources, Inc.,
had the state court case removed to this Court. In response
to motions to dismiss, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint
on April 27, 2017 (Doc. 42), which remains his operative
pleading. In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff added
approximately twenty-eight (28) additional defendants and
eight new claims. The Amended Complaint is comprised of
forty-one (41) handwritten pages, names a total of sixty-two
(62) defendants, and alleges a variety of federal and state
claims: violations of the Eighth Amendment right to medical
care (Counts I - V), violation of First Amendment right of
the petition clause (Count VI), violation of the Eighth
Amendment right from excessive punishment (Count VII),
violations of the Fourteenth Amendment right to access to the
courts (Counts VIII and IX), medical malpractice, negligence,
and vicarious liability (Counts X, XI, XII, XV, and XVII),
breach of contract (Count XIII), intentional infliction of
emotional distress (Count XIV), equitable estoppel (Count
XVI), and assault and battery (Count XVIII).
August 29, 2017, the court of appeals remanded Brown
I to this Court and on September 1, 2017, Brown
I and the instant case were consolidated under Civil
Action No. 16-1680. (Doc. 66).
to the Amended Complaint, in 2000, while confined at
SCI-Pittsburgh, Plaintiff was informed by the medical staff
that he tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus (also
referred to as “Hepatitis C” or
“HCV”). (Doc. 42, ¶ 80). He acknowledges
that “from 2004 - 2009, [he] was repeatedly advised by
Corizon staff that he needed treatment for his HCV, ”
id. ¶¶ 80, 89, but that he refused any
treatment until 2011 after experiencing “numerous HCV
related symptoms and complications” over the years.
Id. ¶ 90. Plaintiff claims new drugs to treat
Hepatitis C came on the market in 2011, 2013, and 2014, and
the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) changed its
protocol on Hepatitis C treatment in 2015. Id.
¶¶ 36-39, 46. Specifically, he alleges that
“his requests for medical treatment for his HCV during
the past 5/6 years while confined at SCI-Graterford,
Smithfield, and Greene, have been completely ignored by
Defendants ..... ” Id. ¶ 90. Plaintiff
contends that his requests for a new drug treatment, one
which eliminates the use of Interferon, have been denied
because of cost cutting measures. Id. ¶¶
70-76, 89, 91, 146, 152, 153. He also alleges that due to
cost cutting measures and retaliation, Defendants, inter
alia, make partial diagnoses, do not follow
physicians' orders, and deviate from standard treatment
procedures. Id. ¶ 149. Along those same lines,
Plaintiff contends that he has been denied meals catered to
his special dietary needs and nutritional therapy for
non-medical reasons. Id. ¶¶ 56 - 78.
Plaintiff contends that he learned of Defendants'
“illegal scheme” to provide sub-standard medical
care due to Defendants' cost-saving and retaliation
policies after reading articles published in the Prison
Litigation News Magazine. Id. ¶ 152.
multi-faceted Amended Complaint has, in turn, inspired
multi-faceted Motions to Dismiss. Each of the Motions
challenges Plaintiff's claims on a host of grounds. The
Motions will be addressed seriatim.
beginning its analysis, the Court notes that throughout the
Amended Complaint, Plaintiff predominantly makes generalized
references to “Defendants, ” without
differentiating them. See, e.g., ¶ 50
(“Defendants have denied numerous requests by Plaintiff
for the appropriate and medical necessary DAAD treatment for his
HCV infections”); ¶ 98 (“The Defendants'
has simply generally refused to provide the basic protections
for plaintiff's infected liver . . .”); ¶ 105
(“Defendants' have also intentionally caused harm
to Plaintiff over the years covering the period between 2011
to present . . .”); ¶ 149 (“Defendants'
tactics employed against Plaintiff and others under their
care in support of their cost-saving and retaliation policies
and scheme include . . .”). In the few instances where
Plaintiff does identify certain Defendants by name, he
recites a long list of Defendants and then makes general,
vague and conclusory allegations regarding their conduct as a
whole. See, e.g., ¶ 150
(“Plaintiff has been intentionally subject to the
tactics mentioned in paragraph No. 149 by Defendants Jin,
Mwaura, Dascani, Salamen, Mattes, Robinson, Gillman, Doll,
Long, Price, Cutshall, Arias, Knauer, Stanikeski, McDonald,
Blatt, Stefanic, Capone, Gonzalez, Park, Beaubout, Lightburn,
Zimmerly, DeFrangesco, Machak, Agra, Kaminsky, Kephart,
Austin, Santos, Valley, Literatore, Hice, Noel, Oppman,
Gordan, Silva, Alpert, Malhi, Vihlidal, Guth and Nicholson,
on many occasions . . . .”). The Court, and counsel,
have endeavored, where possible, to identify specific
allegations against specific defendants. Motion to
Dismiss filed by the DOC Defendants.
Motion filed by the DOC Defendants was filed on October 6,
2017. (Doc. 82). Plaintiff was granted an extension until
December 15, 2017 to respond. (Doc. 115). Plaintiff has not
responded to the Motion, and the time for responding has now
passed. Therefore, in the absence of any timely response by
Plaintiff, the Court will deem the Motion to Dismiss ripe for
resolution. The issues raised by the DOC Defendants will be
Lack of Personal Involvement with Respect to Defendants
Wolf, Wetzel, and Beard / Deliberate Indifference Claims
against Defendants Wolf, Wetzel, Beard, Gordon, Guth,
Vihlidal and Knauer
to its essence, the Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff
has attempted to obtain medical treatment for Hepatitis C and
that Defendants have systemically denied his requests based
on non-medical reasons.
the claims against Governor Wolf, the Court finds that
Plaintiff's contention of personal involvement is not
“plausible on its face.” See Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The
Court finds it implausible, without more, that the Chief
Executive of the Commonwealth would have known of or had
personal involvement with Plaintiff or with his requests (or
denials) for medical treatment. Accordingly, Plaintiff's
Amended Complaint insofar as it alleges § 1983 liability
against Governor Wolf will be dismissed.
the Court does not find it plausible that either Beard or
Wetzel, as the former and current Secretaries of the
Department of Corrections, had personal involvement in any
denial of medical care to Plaintiff.
the issue is not so clear with respect to Defendants Gordon,
Guth, Vihlidal and Knauer. It is plausible that each of these
defendants would play a role in the administration of medical
and dietary services in the various facilities where
Plaintiff was housed and that each would have some control
over the extent to which those services were made available
these reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiff has
sufficiently alleged that he was subjected to certain
constitutional deprivations and that Defendants Gordon, Guth,
Vihlidal and Knauer, acting in supervisory roles, knew of and
acquiesced in these deprivations, and that the denials at
issue amount to “policies” and
“customs.” See Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207.
The Court finds that Plaintiff has pleaded sufficient facts
to withstand the DOC Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as to
his claims against Gordon, Guth, Vihlidal and Knauer.
Claims Against The Bureau of Health Care Services
Assistant Medical Director and The Bureau of Health Care
Services Infection Control Coordinator
Defendants contend these two unidentified defendants should
be dismissed as nothing in the Amended Complaint indicates
that these two individuals were involved in any alleged
unconstitutional conduct. Rather, the only allegation against
them is generally that they were members of the Hepatitis C
request will be denied without prejudice. The Amended
Complaint states that the members of the Hepatitis C
Treatment Committee reviewed prisoners' clinical status
and prioritization for treatment with DAAD medications. (Doc.
42 at ¶ 45(xvii)). Throughout the Amended Complaint,
Plaintiff alleges that individual defendants knowingly
acquiescence in the systemic denial of his medical care for
cost-saving reasons. The Court finds that Plaintiff has
pleaded sufficient facts to withstand the DOC Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss. Through discovery, the identity of the
individuals on the Hepatitis C Treatment Committee will be
made known. (“According to the interim protocol, the
HCV Treatment Committee consist of at least four people . . .
.” Doc. 42 at ¶ 45(xvi)).
Claims Against the “PA DOC Hepatitis C Treatment
Defendants' request to have the “PA DOC Hepatitis C
Treatment Committee” dismissed will be granted. To
state a prima facie claim under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights secured
by the United States Constitution and the laws of the United
States and must show that the alleged deprivation was
committed by a “person” acting under color of
state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988).
“PA DOC Hepatitis C Treatment Committee” is not a
“person” for purposes of a § 1983 claim.
Therefore, Defendant “PA DOC Hepatitis C Treatment
Committee” will be dismissed.
Official Capacity Claims
Defendants seek to have all claims against Defendants in
their official capacities dismissed. In Kentucky v.
Graham, 473 U.S. 159 (1985), the Supreme Court of the
United States discussed the differences between a suit
against a public official in his personal capacity and in his
official capacity. See id. at 166. The Court noted
that personal capacity actions seek to impose liability on
government officials for actions taken under color of state
law, while official capacity actions represent another way to
sue the municipality of which an officer is an agent. See
id. Although an action brought against both the entity
and the public official in his or her official capacity is
redundant, the Court ultimately has discretion in deciding
whether to dismiss the claims against the individual
defendants. See Satterfield v. Borough of Schuylkill
Haven, 12 F.Supp.2d 423, 432 (E.D. Pa. 1998).
Furthermore, a claim that is redundant is not necessarily
invalid under Rule 12(b)(6). See id. Given the
nature of Plaintiff's claims and the early stage of this
litigation, the Motion to Dismiss the claims against the DOC
Defendants in their official capacities will be denied
Deliberate Indifference to Plaintiff's Dietary Needs
minimum, “prison officials must ensure that inmates
receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care,
and must ‘take reasonable measures to guarantee the
safety of the inmates.'” Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Hudson v.
Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). Count II of the
Amended Complaint alleges generally that Defendants have been
deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's “dietary
needs.” (Doc. 42 ¶177).
alleges that Defendants have refused to provide him with the
“adequate and sanitary diet” he requires as a
result of his Hepatitis C diagnosis and that the diet he
receives is “high in fat content and short on
protein.” (Id. ¶ 137). Plaintiff alleges
that this prolonged “deficient” diet has had a
deleterious impact on his health.
early stage of the litigation, and accepting Plaintiff's
allegations as true, it cannot be determined whether
Defendants have deliberately disregarded an excessive risk to
Plaintiff's health or safety. Therefore, the request to
dismiss Count II will be denied.
State Tort Law Tort Claims (Counts XI, XII, XIII, ...