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Bonner v. Sipple

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 1, 2019

MS. MANDY SIPPLE, et al., Defendants.


          CYNTHIA M. RUFE, J.

         Plaintiff Eugene Thye Bonner, a prisoner incarcerated at SCI Phoenix, brings this pro se civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against prison officials and medical staff employed at the prison. He seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Bonner leave to proceed in forma pauperis, dismiss his claims against four Defendants, and permit him to proceed on his claims against the remaining four Defendants for deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.

         I. FACTS

         Bonner's Complaint raises Eighth Amendment claims based primarily on allegations that the Defendants delayed proper medical care for a broken jaw he sustained after being attacked by another inmate. He named as Defendants: (1) Mandy Sipple, identified as Deputy Superintendent for Centralized Services; (2) Correctional Officer D. Harris; (3) Sgt. Worth; (4) Nurse Ms. Jenny; (5) Sgt. Fondi; (6) Mr. Burkholder, who is identified as a dentist; (7) Superintendent Tammy Ferguson; and (8) Jeanne Welsh, identified as a correctional healthcare administrator.[1] Bonner seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         Bonner alleges that on August 7, 2018, another inmate hit him in the face from behind, injuring his jaw. Bonner faults Defendant Harris for allowing the assault to occur. (Compl. at 8 & 9.)[2] Bonner was taken for medical treatment after the attack and saw Nurse Jenny. He alleges that Nurse Jenny saw that his mouth was full of blood and that he could not talk, but only gave him a cotton ball. (Id. at 9.) She did not provide him an x-ray or any other medical treatment. Bonner was then "put in the hole." (Id. at 11.)

         Between August 7 and August 9, Bonner informed Defendants Worth and Fondi that he was throwing up blood, was not able to eat, and required medical attention. Bonner alleges that Worth refused to take him to the medical department and that Fondi also denied him access to medical care. Fondi did, however, provide Bonner with a dental sick call slip. It appears that Bonner was scheduled to see the dentist on August 8, but that he was not brought to the appointment; although unclear, the Complaint implies that this may have been a result of the change in his housing. Dr. Burkholder marked Bonner as a "no show" for his appointment even though Dr. Burkholder's supervisors knew Bonner was being housed in the restricted housing unit. (Id. at 12.) Rather, on August 8, Bonner saw Sipple, the Supervisor of the Medical Department, apparently in connection with a review of his housing, and reported to her that he was not able to eat, was throwing up blood, and required medical attention. (Id. at 14.) Bonner alleges that Sipple "failed to investigate enough to make an informed judgment" about his need for medical care. (Id.)

         On August 9, Bonner was taken for a dental visit with Dr. Burkholder and Dr. Kolber, another dentist. Bonner received an x-ray at that point, although it is unclear whether Dr. Burkholder or Dr. Kolber administered the x-ray. (Compare Id. at 11 with Id. at 14.) Bonner alleges that Dr. Burkholder threw Bonner's dental sick slip in the air, reviewed his prison housing file, and "started yelling at everybody in the dentist office and on the phone." (Id. at 11; see also Id. at 15.) Bonner alleges that Dr. Burkholder "knew [his] medical need was serious and fail[ed] to report." (Id. at 11.) However, on the same day, August 9, Bonner was rushed to the hospital.

         At the hospital, Bonner received surgery for a fractured lower jaw. His jaw was wired shut for thirty-four days. He required a second surgery to remove the wire. Bonner's jaw now cracks, he has difficulty biting hard food, and he requires therapy to learn how to move his jaw to properly speak and chew. Bonner alleges that he is being denied those therapy services, (id. at 10), and appears to fault Sipple and Welsh for that failure. (Id. at 12 & 16.) He also claims that Welsh failed to investigate his claims, train her staff, or properly respond to his grievances, (id. at 16), and that Ferguson "fail[ed] to correct the wrong and unconstitutional conduct by defendants in this claim." (Id. at 12.) Bonner attached to his Complaint copies of grievances he filed related to the events of August 7 through August 9.


         The Court grants Bonner leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action.[3] Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which requires the Court to dismiss the Complaint if it fails to state a claim. 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 Bonner is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         "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). For the following reasons, Bonner has failed to state a claim against Harris, Dr. Burkholder, Ferguson and Welsh. However, he will be permitted to proceed on his claims against the remaining Defendants for deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs during the time period from August 7 through August 9.

         A. Claims Against Harris

         The Court understands Bonner's claims against Harris to be based on a theory that Harris failed to protect him from the assault by another inmate. To state an Eighth Amendment claim for failure to protect, a plaintiff must sufficiently allege that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his health or safety.[4]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 ...

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