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Shifflett v. Korszniak

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

August 12, 2019

MR. KORSZNIAK, Correctional Health Administrator, State Correctional Institution ("SCI") Graterford, Collegeville, Pennsylvania; DR. CHRISTIAN, Doctor, Correct Care Solution, et al; DR. GOLSORKHI, Doctor, Correct Care Solution; DR. BUKHOLDER, Dentist, Correct Care Solution; DR. BIANCO, Dentist, Correct Care Solution; DR. PAMELA ROEHM, Doctor; DR. JOSEPH P. MULLIGAN, Doctor, Temple Hospital, Philadelphia Pennsylvania

          Argued May 23, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 2-16-cv-06537) District Judge: Honorable Nitza I. Quinones Alejandro

          Elana Bildner Quinnipiac University School of Law, Sebastian Brady Elise M. Wander (Argued), Benjamin M. Daniels (Supervising Attorney) Tadhg Dooley Wiggin & Dana Counsel for Appellant.

          Denise J. Smyler General Counsel, Theron Perez Chief Counsel Chase M. Defelice (Argued) Raymond W. Dorian Assistant Counsel Timothy A. Holmes, I Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Counsel for Appellee Joseph Korszniak, Dr. Bianco, Dr. Burkholder.

          Caitlin J. Goodrich Kenneth D. Powell, Jr. Emily B. Ryan-Fiore (Argued) Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton First & Newby Counsel for Appellee Dr. Muhammad Golsorkhi.

          Teresa F. Sachs Carol A. VanderWoude (Argued) Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin Counsel for Appellee Dr. Pamela Roehm.

          Sarah M. Baker Ava M. Plakins (Argued) Bonner Kiernan Trebach & Crociata Counsel for Appellee Dr. Joseph P. Mulligan.

          Before: AMBRO, GREENAWAY, JR., and SCIRICA, Circuit Judges



         Paul Shifflett was an inmate in the Pennsylvania prison system when he was set upon by fellow inmates who broke his jaw. This was only the beginning of his troubles: the surgery on his jaw went badly, causing him intense pain for the better part of a year. His efforts to seek treatment from the prison medical system bore only the most frustrating of fruit: he alleges he was denied adequate pain medication and given the run-around by different providers, each saying it was someone else's responsibility. Shifflett claims he had still not received fully adequate corrective surgery over eight months later when he filed this complaint in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, naming seven prison officials and outside doctors as defendants and asserting causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deliberate indifference to severe medical need in violation of the Eighth Amendment and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment.

         The District Court dismissed all of Shifflett's claims, principally because it found he had not exhausted his administrative remedies within the prison system as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The Court also found the substance of Shifflett's allegations insufficient and denied him leave to amend, concluding that amendment could not cure his failure to exhaust.

         We disagree. In Robinson v. Superintendent Rockview SCI, 831 F.3d 148, 153-55 (3d Cir. 2016), we strongly implied, though we did not hold outright, that a prisoner exhausts his administrative remedies as soon as the prison fails to respond to a properly submitted grievance in a timely fashion. Today we finish what Robinson started and adopt this as a rule. Shifflett exhausted his remedies and acquired the right to come into federal court when the prison did not decide the initial appeal of his grievances within the time limits specified by the grievance policy. Thus we reverse the District Court and remand with instructions to appoint counsel under Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147 (3d Cir. 1993), and to allow Shifflett to file an amended complaint with the assistance of counsel.

         I. Background

         The following facts are taken largely from the complaint, as well as certain attached documents. They are lengthy, but necessary.

         Shifflett was an inmate at SCI Graterford in Skippack, Pennsylvania when he was attacked by fellow inmates on April 6, 2016. The attack broke his jaw, and the next day he was taken to Temple University Hospital for treatment. On April 8, Dr. Pamela Roehm-an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Temple-operated on Shifflett's jaw, and he was placed on Norco (hydrocodone and acetaminophen) for ten days. Two weeks later he returned to Temple for a follow-up appointment with Dr. Roehm, during which she removed the stitches from the outside of his face and told him that those on the inside of his mouth would dissolve on their own. Shifflett complained of intense pain in his jaw, but Dr. Roehm did not put him on any further pain medication.

         On May 4, 2016, Shifflett filed Grievance No. 625021 through the prison grievance system ("Grievance No. 1"). It asserted chiefly that he was not being treated for the pain in his jaw and that his numerous "sick call" request slips had been ignored. It also stated that a contract doctor at SCI Graterford, Dr. Ferdinand Christian, had told him that there was no other option but to deal with the pain, and that Shifflett was receiving his medication only twice a day rather than three times a day as prescribed.

         Shifflett filed a second grievance against Dr. Christian, No. 626028, on May 11, 2016 ("Grievance No. 2"). This one alleged that Shifflett had submitted several additional "sick call" request forms since his previous grievance, and that Dr. Christian eventually came to visit him on the 11th but said there was nothing he could do to help. Eventually Dr. Christian agreed to send Shifflett to the hospital for another follow-up appointment, but he left before Shifflett could discuss his other medical concerns, which included his pain medication and his need for allergy medication. The same day, Shifflett submitted a dental request form stating that he continued to be in extreme pain and requesting another examination of his jaw.

         The following day, Shifflett was taken back to the hospital for another appointment with Dr. Roehm. In response to Shifflett's statement that he was in excruciating pain, that there was swelling in his face, and that his teeth felt misaligned, Dr. Roehm increased his dose of Motrin (ibuprofen).

         On May 24, 2016, Shifflett saw Dr. Muhammad Golsorkhi, a medical doctor at SCI Graterford. He requested an increase in his pain medicine, which Dr. Golsorkhi refused because a higher dose of Motrin could cause long-term harm. Shifflett asked for a stronger pain medicine instead, but was refused. Dr. Golsorkhi suggested that Shifflett speak to "dental" ...

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