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Caterbone v. Lancaster County Prison

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 2, 2019

LANCASTER COUNTY PRISON, et al., Defendants.


          JEFFREY L. SCHMEHL, J.

         In a prior Memorandum and Order entered on June 11, 2019, the Court dismissed the Complaint filed by pro se Plaintiff Stan J. Caterbone in part with prejudice and in part without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Caterbone, a pretrial detainee confined at Lancaster County Prison (“LCP”), was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and granted leave to file an Amended Complaint (“AC”), which he did on June 24, 2019. Named as Defendants in the AC are Cheryl Steeberger, Warden of LCP, in her official and individual capacity; Alexandria Miller, identified as a counselor at LCP, in her individual capacity; James Vollrath, a sergeant at LCP in his individual and official capacity; and Prime Care, Inc. For the following reasons, the AC will be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         I. FACTS

         Caterbone asserts in the AC that in August 2009 he was awarded disability benefits by the United States Department of Health and Human Services “for symptoms and illnesses as an unwitting victim of U.S. sponsored mind control weapons and technologies.” (ECF No. 10 at 5.) Upon being incarcerated at LCP in January 2019, he had a medical intake interview and informed authorities he needed the use of a cane and anti-inflammatory medication. (Id. at 7.) A nurse employed by Defendant Prime Care Inc. denied his requests and instead prescribed a “small dose of Naproxen in the morning and night.” (Id.) He alleges the medical staff has intermittently taken him off the medication at will to inflict pain and suffering. (Id.) He filed complaints and grievance with Defendant Steeberger, Prime Care and prison staff. (Id.) He was provided a cane on May 2, 2019. (Id.) He claims that his mobility has degraded since his incarceration and that “walking will become almost impossible over the span of months if effective medical treatment is not provided.” (Id.)

         Caterbone also asserts that prison officials have interfered with his ability to access the courts. He has requested copy service, carbon paper, use of the law library, mail service and counselor services, but officials “provided such sporadic availability of the menu of services that a reasonable person might conceive that prison staff was engaged in some sort of harassment or psyops campaign.” (Id. at 8.) He claims he received two visits to the law library after making 15 requests, but, he contends, the “computer databases were no where near functioning properly.” (Id.) He claims the grievances he filed with Defendant Vollrath about legal access were not answered on a consistent basis. He alleges harm because he “does appear pro se in some of his criminal proceedings.” (Id. at 9.) Specifically, he asserts that he has alleged his public defender is ineffective and a judge granted him a continuance to interview private counsel. He claims he has elected to represent himself in a trial scheduled for August 19, 2019. (Id. at 9-10.) He has also filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board about the judge presiding over his probation violation proceeding and a pro se appeal of that judge's decision deferring sentence therein until his new charges are resolved. (Id. at 10.)


         As Caterbone has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) requires the Court to dismiss the AC if, among other things, it is frivolous or fails to state a claim. A complaint is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact, ” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989), and is legally baseless if it is “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory.” Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1085 (3d Cir. 1995). Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted). Conclusory allegations do not suffice. Id. As Caterbone is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         The vehicle by which a person may bring suit for a violation of the civil rights is Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code. The Section provides in part:

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 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 under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and 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, 48 (1988).

         A. Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs Claims

         To state a claim based on the failure to provide medical treatment, a prisoner must allege facts indicating that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835 (1994). A prison official is not deliberately indifferent “unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id. at 837. “A medical need is serious, . . . if it is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment or one that is so obvious that a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Monmouth Cty. Corr. Institutional Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987) (internal quotations omitted). Deliberate indifference has been found “where the prison official (1) knows of a prisoner's need for medical treatment but intentionally refuses to provide it; (2) delays necessary medical treatment based on a non-medical reason; or (3) prevents a prisoner from receiving needed or recommended medical treatment.” Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1999). Allegations of medical malpractice and mere disagreement regarding proper medical treatment are insufficient to establish a constitutional violation. See Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 235 (3d Cir. 2004). Furthermore, “[a] defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs” to be liable. See Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988).

         Caterbone has not stated a claim based on deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. He asserts, inconsistently, that his request for pain medication was denied but concedes that he received Naproxen twice daily as needed. He also received use of an assistive cane, albeit not as quickly as he would have liked. While Caterbone may disagree with decisions about the extent or frequency of treatment he desired, other than his insufficient conclusory allegation that the medical staff intermittently took him off the medication at will to inflict pain and suffering, he has not alleged any facts from which one could plausibly infer that his medical needs were regarded with deliberate indifference. This allegation is also insufficient since Caterbone does not allege the personal involvement of any named Defendant, does not explain how non-medical staff were responsible for the harm he allegedly suffered, and he ...

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