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Jackson v. Corizon Health Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 17, 2018

TYREE JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CORIZON HEALTH, INC. et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GENE E.K. PRATTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Introduction

         Tyree Jackson is a prisoner with chronic intestinal illnesses. For five months in 2015, he was temporarily transferred from federal prison to city custody in Philadelphia. He alleges that the city prison doctors failed to address his dire medical problems because of two customs or policies: (1) requiring new inmates to discard their old medications and await new medications upon arrival at the prison, and (2) delaying treatment when an inmate is about to be transferred out of the prison. Mr. Jackson says that these practices caused him to suffer severe symptoms, lose 60 pounds, and undergo two invasive surgeries.

         Mr. Jackson brought this civil rights claim against the prison medical provider and staff members, and the defendants have moved to dismiss the case. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motion as to the first alleged custom or policy but denies the motion as to the second custom or policy.

         Background

         I. Alleged Facts

         Mr. Jackson suffers from several chronic intestinal illnesses, including Crohn's disease. Compl. ¶ 8. To try to keep his conditions in check, he takes over ten medications per day. He also undergoes monthly chemotherapy because of his increased risk of colon cancer. See Id. ¶¶ 9-12.

         In June 2014, Mr. Jackson was arrested and detained in federal prison. Id. ¶ 10. For the next year, he was transferred between federal prison and Philadelphia city prison several times. During this period, he received all the medical care he needed. See Id. ¶¶ 13-18.

         His recent problems began in June 2015, when he was transferred from federal to city prison “as a detainment until the conclusion of an unrelated criminal trial.” Id. ¶ 19. Medical care in the city prison was provided by Corizon Health Inc., one of the defendants in this case.[1]See Id. ¶ 6. Corizon had a “policy of refusing to allow him to use his previously prescribed medications, ” instead insisting that he “order new medications.” Id. ¶ 21. His new medications did not arrive for a week. This lapse in treatment caused Mr. Jackson to suffer incontinence, constipation, and stomach pain. See Id. ¶¶ 22-24. Corizon's insistence that prisoners order new medications is the first of two policies or customs that Mr. Jackson alleges operated to deny him medical care in this case.

         Even after Mr. Jackson received his new medication, his health continued to deteriorate. From June to August, he complained to Corizon staff of “rectal bleeding, nausea, vomiting and constipation.” Id. ¶ 26. He was examined by several Corizon doctors, including defendants Vivian Gandy and Almeda Frias, the prison's medical director. See id.¶¶ 6-7, 29.[2]

         Yet the Corizon staff failed to address Mr. Jackson's worsening condition. Instead, for nearly three months, Corizon doctors repeatedly asked Mr. Jackson “about his release date back to federal custody.” Id. ¶ 30. They told him that “since he was going to return to federal custody shortly, ” he could wait to “get his care from the Federal government.” Id. ¶ 29; see also Id. ¶ 32 (“Despite presenting with clear evidence of medical attention, [staff] continued to ask about [Mr. Jackson's] return date to federal custody and mentioned him receiving his medical care when he went to the federal government.”). From these statements, Mr. Jackson surmises a second unlawful policy or custom by Corizon: foregoing costly treatment for prisoners who Corizon expects to soon leave the prison.

         Finally, Mr. Jackson's condition became so dire that he was hospitalized at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center for three days in late August 2015. See Id. ¶¶ 34-38. He was discharged with instructions to undergo an MRI to assess his need for intestinal surgery. Id. ¶ 40.

         Corizon never worked to obtain the MRI. Instead, prison doctors once again asked Mr. Jackson “when he was scheduled to return to federal custody so the federal government would pay for the additional medical services.” Id. ¶ 41. As a result, throughout September, Mr. Jackson continued to suffer “abdominal pain, severe rectal bleeding, vomiting, [and] mucus in his stool.” Id. ¶ 42. All told, he lost roughly 60 pounds during his ordeal from June to September. See Id. ¶¶ 35, 42.

         In October 2015, Mr. Jackson underwent two surgeries to remove parts of his large and small intestines and his appendix. Id. ¶¶ 43-44. Even after he returned to the prison, Corizon staff kept asking about “the timeline of [Mr. Jackson] returning to federal custody” and suggested that he wait “to seek additional medical care once under federal custody.” Id. ¶ 47. In November, Mr. Jackson was transferred to federal custody.

         II. Procedural History

         Mr. Jackson brought this case pro se against Corizon and several members of its staff. The case was placed on the Prisoner Civil Rights Panel and eventually taken on by an attorney. The latest iteration of the complaint - Mr. Jackson's first complaint with counsel - brings one Eighth Amendment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Corizon, Dr. Gandy, and Dr. Frias. Corizon and Dr. Frias have moved to dismiss.

         Standard of Review

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint. 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.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). 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).

         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). Also, the Court must accept as true all reasonable inferences emanating from the allegations, and view those facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Revell v. Port Auth., 598 F.3d 128, 134 (3d Cir. 2010).

         That admonition does not demand that the Court ignore or even discount reality. “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. If a claim “is vulnerable to 12(b)(6) dismissal, a district court must permit a curative amendment, ...


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