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Smith v. Stanish

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 31, 2019

STANLEY STANISH, et al., Defendants


          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Christian Smith (“Smith”) is a former inmate who was housed at all relevant times at the State Correctional Institution, Retreat, in Hunlock Creek, Pennsylvania (“SCI-Retreat”).[1] Smith commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). The matter is proceeding via an amended complaint. (Doc. 18). Smith names two groups of defendants: Dr. Stanley Stanish (“Stanish”) and physician assistant Donald J. O'Brien (“O'Brien”), whom we will refer to as the “medical defendants, ” and Superintendent Vincent Mooney (“Mooney”) and Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel (“Wetzel”), whom we will refer to as the “corrections defendants.” Before the court are two Rule 12(b) motions (Docs. 25, 26) to dismiss filed by the corrections defendants and the medical defendants, respectively.[2] For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant each pending motion.


         Allegations of the Amended Complaint

          Smith alleges that on October 6, 2017, he was exercising in the recreational yard at SCI-Retreat when a stepper bench collapsed and his left leg was caught underneath, causing a 10-centimeter laceration. (Doc. 18 ¶ 9). Smith was transported to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital and received 22 stiches in his leg. (Id. ¶ 10). A doctor at the hospital allegedly opined that Smith may suffer from nerve damage. (Id.)

         Upon returning to SCI-Retreat, defendant Stanish treated Smith and advised that he would recheck the stitches in two weeks. (Id. ¶ 12). At the next visit, Stanish removed some stitches but left others in place because they were not ready for removal. (Id. ¶ 15). Smith alleges that he subsequently removed the remaining stiches on his own because “his skin was concealing the stiches” and Stanish did not answer his sick calls. (Id. ¶ 16). Smith further contends that Stanish failed to order physical therapy in a timely manner; that Smith complained to O'Brien on June 3, 2018, about the delay in receiving physical therapy and was thrown out of O'Brien's office; and that his appointment with physical therapy on July 5, 2018, was inadequate. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 24, 25, 29).

         Smith also alleges that the medical defendants denied him medical treatment because he refused to pay the $5.00 co-payment fee. (Id. ¶ 16). He believes that his leg condition requires chronic care and, therefore, he should not have to pay the co-payment fee. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 20, 24). Smith alleges that the medical defendants' actions constitute deliberate indifference in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18).

         II. Legal Standard

         Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a “genuine issue as to any material fact” and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The burden of proof is on the non-moving party to come forth with “affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings, ” in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F.Supp.2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The court is to view the evidence “in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Thomas v. Cumberland County, 749 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2014). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F.Supp.2d at 315.

         III. Discussion

         All defendants argue that Smith failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing the instant action. (Doc. 27 at 3-15; Doc. 49). The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (the “PLRA”) requires a prisoner to pursue all avenues of relief available within the prison's grievance system before bringing a federal civil rights action concerning prison conditions. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289, 291 (3d Cir. 2000). Section 1997e(a) establishes the requirement of administrative exhaustion:

No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).

         The PLRA “exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). It has been made clear that the exhaustion requirement is mandatory. See Williams v. Beard, 482 F.3d 637, 639 (3d Cir. 2007); see also Boothv. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001) (holding that the exhaustion requirement of the PLRA applies to grievance procedures “regardless of the relief offered through administrative procedures”); Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 67 (3d Cir. 2000) (same). “[I]t is beyond the power of [any] ...

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