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Ali v. Dupont

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 27, 2019

MUSTAFA ALI, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH H. DUPONT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION ECF NOS. 37, 42, 49

          LISA PUPO LENIHAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Presently before the Court in this § 1983 civil rights action are Motions to Dismiss filed by the following Defendants: Dr. Cairns, Joseph H. Dupont, Jamie Ferdarko, Renee Foulds, I Gustafson, Anthony Miorelli, Keri Moore, Derrick Oberlander, Michael Overmyer, Gary Prinkey, J. Sawtelle, Cheryl Scott, Joseph Silva, Dr. Bruce Simons, Kim Smith, Tracey Smith, Trevor Wingard (ECF No. 37); Dawn Ducote, Dr. Eisenberg, Richard Ellers, Lisa Lamoreaux, Heather McKeel (ECF No. 42); and Dr. Hasper (ECF No. 49).

         For the reasons discussed below the Motions will be disposed of as follows: The Motion to Dismiss filed by Dr. Hasper (ECF No. 49) will be granted in part and denied in part. The Motion will be granted as it relates to Plaintiff's claim for delay/denial of medical care, and denied as it relates to Plaintiff's claim for retaliation.

         The Motion to Dismiss filed by Dawn Ducote, Dr. Eisenberg, Richard Ellers, Lisa Lamoreaux, Heather McKeel (ECF No. 42) will be granted.

         The Motion to Dismiss filed by Dr. Cairns, Joseph H. Dupont, Jamie Ferdarko, Renee Foulds, I Gustafson, Anthony Miorelli, Keri Moore, Derrick Oberlander, Michael Overmyer, Gary Prinkey, J. Sawtelle, Cheryl Scott, Joseph Silva, Dr. Bruce Simons, Kim Smith, Tracey Smith, Trevor Wingard (ECF No. 37) will be granted in part and denied in part. It will be granted as to the following claims: All official capacity claims and claims for declaratory and injunctive relief; claims against Defendants Silva, Cairns, I. Gustafson, K. Smith, Fedarko, Prinkey and Dr. Simons, Overmyer, Moore; Foulds, Miorelli and Scott for lack of personal involvement relating to the grievance process; claims against T. Smith and Wingard relating to Plaintiff's religious diet accommodation claim; and the retaliation claim as it relates to the delay/denial of medical care against Defendants Prinkey, K. Smith, Ferdarko, Overmyer and Moore. It will be denied as to the following claims: The claim against Overmyer and Dupont with respect to their involvement in reviewing Plaintiff's appeals from an administrative custody placement; the cell illumination claim, the due process claim relating to Plaintiff's confinement in administrative custody; and the retaliation claims relating to the removal of Plaintiff's Z-code status and confinement in administrative custody.

         Plaintiff, Mustafa Ali (“Plaintiff”) is currently in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) at the State Correctional Institution at Retreat (“SCI-Retreat”). In summary[1], the Complaint names several DOC officials and employees assigned to his place of prior confinement, the State Correctional Institution at Forest (“SCI-Forest”). Plaintiff also names DOC-contracted medical providers and alleges that he suffered from foot pain and was not provided with appropriate medical care. Plaintiff also raises issues with respect to the handling of inmate grievances and other written complaints. In addition, Plaintiff asserts claims of illegal confinement concerning his placement in the Restrict Housing Unit (“RHU”); denial of religious diet accommodation; Z-Code relating to the removal of his single cell status; cell illumination and noise; retaliation in the form of falsified misconducts; and retaliation for filing a PREA [Prison Rape Elimination Act] complaint against a staff member.

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, along with compensatory and punitive damages.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         12(b)(6) Legal Standard

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit summarized the standard to be applied in deciding motions to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6):

Under the “notice pleading” standard embodied in Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must come forward with “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” As explicated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), a claimant must state a “plausible” claim for relief, and “[a] claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Although “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), a plaintiff “need only put forth allegations that raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.” Fowler, 578 F.3d at 213 (quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Covington v. Int'l Ass'n of Approved Basketball Officials, 710 F.3d 114, 117-18 (3d Cir. 2013).

Thompson v. Real Estate Mortg. Network, 748 F.3d 142, 147 (3d Cir. 2014).

         Pro Se Legal Standard

         When considering pro se pleadings, a court must employ less stringent standards than when judging the work product of an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). 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). In a § 1983 action, the court must “apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether the pro se litigant has mentioned it by name.” Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Holley v. Dep't of Veteran Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999)). See also Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) (“Since this is a § 1983 action, the [pro se] plaintiffs are entitled to relief if their complaint sufficiently alleges deprivation of any right secured by the Constitution.”). Notwithstanding this liberality, pro se litigants are not relieved of their obligation to allege sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal claim. See, e.g., Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002); Riddle v. Mondragon, 83 F.3d 1197, 1202 (10th Cir. 1996).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or any other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim for relief under this provision, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the conduct in the complaint was committed by a person or entity acting under color of state law and that such conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States. Piecknick v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d Cir. 1994). Section 1983 does not create rights; it simply provides a remedy for violations of those rights created by the United States Constitution or federal law. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996).

         A. MOTION TO DISMISS FILED BY DR. HASPER

         Plaintiff's allegations relating to his Eighth Amendment claim are limited. He identifies Dr. Hasper as a psychiatrist at SCI-Forest. (Complaint, ECF No. 3 at ¶ 9.) He alleges that on April 17, 2017, he covered his body in feces to “camouflage himself from the demons” which resulted in him being “again staffed for a Z-code.” (ECF No. 3 at ¶ 100.) Plaintiff alleges that on this date he was seen by a nurse who contacted a physician and advised Plaintiff that he would be seen by Dr. Hasper the next morning. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that “Dr. Hasper didn't call for Plaintiff until after 1:00 p.m., some 10 hours later.” (Id.)

         The Eighth Amendment protects individuals against the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” U.S. Const. amend. VIII. This protection, enforced against the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees incarcerated persons humane conditions of confinement. In this regard, 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)).

         In the context of medical treatment, an inmate must prove two elements: (1) that he was suffering from a “serious medical need, ” and (2) that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to the serious medical need. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976).

         The first showing requires the court to objectively determine whether the medical need was “sufficiently serious.” A medical need is “serious” if it is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment, or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention. Monmouth Cnty. Corr. Inst. Inmates v. Lanzara, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987). Dr. Hasper does not appear to dispute that Plaintiff's medical needs were serious. (Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 50 at 7.)

         The second prong requires a court subjectively to determine whether the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Deliberate indifference may be manifested by an intentional refusal to provide care, delayed medical treatment for non-medical reasons, a denial of prescribed medical treatment, or a denial of reasonable requests for treatment that results in suffering or risk of injury. Durmer v. O'Carroll, 991 F.2d 64, 68 (3d Cir. 1993). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has acknowledged that “‘if necessary medical treatment [i]s . . . delayed for non-medical reasons, a case of deliberate indifference has been made out.'” Monmouth Cnty. Corr. Inst. Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 346 (3d Cir. 1987) (quoting Ancata v. Prison Health Serv., Inc., 769 F.2d 700, 704 (11th Cir. 1985), and citing Archer v. Dutcher, 733 F.2d 14 (2d Cir. 1984) (“allegation that emergency medical care to pregnant inmate was delayed in order to make her suffer states a claim of deliberate indifference under Estelle”)). See Brooks v. Kyler, 204 F.3d 102, 105 n.4 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Lanzaro, 834 F.2d at 346) (delay of medical care will state an Eighth Amendment claim where the temporary denial exposes inmate “to undue suffering or the threat of tangible residual injury.”).

         A prisoner must demonstrate that the official acted with more than mere negligence. Estelle, 419 U.S. at 105. To act with deliberate indifference, a prison official must both know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. It is a “well-established rule that mere disagreements over medical judgment do not state Eighth Amendment claims.” White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103 (3d Cir. 1990). Moreover, “[a] court may not substitute its own judgment for diagnosis and treatment decisions made by prison medical staff members.” Inmates of Allegheny Cnty. Jail v. Pierce, 612 F.2d 754, 762 (3d Cir. 1979).

         Here, liberally construing Plaintiff's Complaint and affording him every favorable inference from the facts alleged, Plaintiff is unable to state a claim for deliberate indifference to medical needs. In his responsive brief, Plaintiff directs the Court to the fact that Dr. Hasper is a ranking member of the Psyshological Review Team. (ECF No. 71 at 6.) His complaints focus on Dr. Hasper's alleged involvement with Plaintiff's Z-Code status rather than his alleged delay in treating Plaintiff's mental health issues. Plaintiff does not allege or suggest that he was somehow injured or made to suffer as a result of the alleged delay in seeing Dr. Hasper. He was seen by a nurse and subsequently by Dr. Hasper. Instead, Plaintiff's allegations suggest that Plaintiff disagrees with the conclusions of Dr. Hasper as they related to the ultimate determination as to his Z-Code status. Disagreement with a physician's conclusions does not establish an Eighth Amendment violation. White, 897 F.2d at 110.

         Therefore, Dr. Hasper's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim for delay of medical treatment will be granted. Any attempt to amend would be futile.[2]

         Plaintiff's Responsive Brief also suggests that he is making a claim for retaliation relating to the denial of his Z-Code status. He states that Dr. Hasper's actions in “sabotaging” Plaintiff's efforts for placement in the Special Assessment Unit and Special Management Unit “were in retaliation for filing numerous complaints against [him] with the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs” as related to Dr. Hasper's professional license. (Plaintiff's Responsive Brief, ECF No. 71 at 6.) Plaintiff alleges no facts in his Complaint to state a retaliation claim against Dr. Hasper, and as a consequence, Dr. Hasper does not move to dismiss on this issue. In light of Plaintiff's pro se status, the Court will consider a claim for retaliation against Dr. Hasper.

         In order to state a claim for retaliation, Plaintiff must aver the following: 1) the conduct leading to the alleged retaliation was constitutionally protected; 2) that he suffered an adverse action sufficient to deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his constitutional rights; and 3) that his protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor in the decision to discipline him. Rauser v. Horn, 241 F.3d 330, 333 (3d Cir. 2001).

         Here, assuming that filing a complaint with the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs as related to Dr. Hasper's professional license is a constitutionally protected activity, Plaintiff has alleged a prima facie case of retaliation.

         Because the Court is mandated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to construe pro se pleadings liberally, the Court will allow this claim for retaliation to move forward. Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim for delay/denial of medical care against Dr. Hasper will be dismissed ...


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