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Eckstrom v. Community Education Centers, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 12, 2019



          BAYLSON, J.

         I. Introduction

         This action arises from injuries that Plaintiff, Curt Eckstrom, allegedly suffered while serving a state sentence at Luzerne Treatment Center (“Luzerne”). Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF 1, “Compl.”) alleges six Counts against Defendants Community Education Centers, Inc. (“CEC”), doing business as Luzerne; The GEO Group, Inc. (“GEO”); Diversified Health Associates, Inc. (“DHA”), also doing business as Luzerne; Viviam Agostini, the Director of Luzerne; Tanya Moore, Plaintiff's counselor at Luzerne; the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”); ABC Companies I-X[1]; and John Does I-V[2]:

         1. Count I: Disability discrimination under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 (“ADA”);

         2. Count II: Discrimination under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a);

         3. Count III: Violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983;

         4. Count IV: Disability discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. (“PHRA”);

         5. Count V: Reckless disregard of safety in violation of state law; and

         6. Count VI: State law negligence.

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys' fees and costs. Presently before this Court is the Motion to Dismiss Counts I, II, III, and IV of the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by Defendants CEC, DHA, GEO, Agostini, and Moore (together, “Moving Defendants.”).[3] For the reasons discussed below, Moving Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.

         II. Factual Background

         Taking Plaintiff's allegations as true, the factual background is as follows. Plaintiff resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 1.) Defendant CEC is a corporation incorporated in Delaware with its principal place of business in New Jersey. (Id. ¶ 2.) Defendant GEO, a successor corporation of CEC, is both incorporated in and has its principal place of business in Florida. (Id. ¶ 3.) Defendant DHA is incorporated in and has its principal place of business in Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 4.) Defendant Agostini, an agent of CEC, GEO, and DHA, was the Director of Luzerne. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 11.) Defendant Moore, who was also an agent of CEC, GEO, and DHA, was employed as a counselor at Luzerne. (Id. ¶ 6.)

         Plaintiff, whose right leg was amputated in 1994, served a state sentence in Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 14.) As a condition of his sentence, Plaintiff was confined as a resident at Luzerne beginning on or about February 21, 2017. (Id. ¶ 17.) On that date, Plaintiff was required to use a non-handicapped-accessible shower. (Id. ¶ 20.) The shower contained “extremely slippery” tile flooring and was not equipped with a flexible, removable shower head; grab bars; or a shower chair. (Id.) Afterward, Plaintiff told Moore that the available showers were not sufficient to accommodate his disability and were unsafe. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff requested a handicapped-accessible shower, but Defendants refused his request. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 25.) Though Luzerne did have a handicapped-accessible shower, the shower did not have running water or a shower head, and it was used to store chairs. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         As a result, on February 23, 2017, Plaintiff was again forced to shower in a non-handicapped-accessible shower. (Id. ¶ 26.) The shower was too small for Plaintiff to use his crutches, so he had to stand on one leg with nothing to hold onto while he showered. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff slipped and fell, sustaining injuries to his left shoulder, knee, and lower extremity. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff remained on the shower floor for approximately fifteen minutes before another inmate saw him and summoned a nurse. (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff was immediately taken to the Emergency Department at Hahnemann University Hospital, where an MRI revealed a complete tear and retraction of Plaintiff's left rotator cuff tendon. (Id. ¶ 30.)

         Four days later, on February 27, Plaintiff was discharged from the hospital with instructions to follow up with an orthopedic surgeon. (Id. ¶ 31.) Due to the nature of Plaintiff's injuries, which include complete tear and retraction of his supraspinatus tendon, muscle atrophy, partial tear of the subscapularis tendon, and tendonitis, Plaintiff must undergo shoulder replacement surgery. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 39.)

         III. Procedural History

         On February 22, 2019, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this case against Defendants CEC, GEO, DHA, Agostini, Moore, the DOC, ABC Companies I-X, and John Does I-V (ECF 1). This action was originally also filed under Civil Action No. 19-1998. Upon a Motion filed by Moving Defendants, the Court consolidated the cases and ordered the parties to submit all further filings under Civil Action No. 19-782 (ECF 21, 22).

         On May 14, 2019, Moving Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's federal claims and state disability discrimination claim-Counts I, II, III, and IV of the Complaint (ECF 9, “Mot.”). Plaintiff filed a Response in opposition on June 17, 2019 (ECF 15, “Resp.”).

         Defendant DOC filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss Counts III, IV, V, and VI against it on May 31, 2019 (ECF 12), which the Court granted as unopposed on July 22, 2019 (ECF 20, 23). As a result, the only claims remaining against the DOC are the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims-Counts I and II of the Complaint. The DOC subsequently filed an Answer to the Complaint on August 5, 2019 (ECF 25).

         IV. Legal Standard

         In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “accept[s] all factual allegations as true [and] construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen, Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal quotations marks and citations omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         The Court in Iqbal explained that, although a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that requirement does not apply to legal conclusions; therefore, pleadings must include factual allegations to support the legal claims asserted. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 684. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3) (“We caution that without some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she will provide not only ‘fair notice,' but also the ‘grounds' on which the claim rests.”). Accordingly, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         V. Discussion

         A. Parties' Contentions

         i. Moving Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         Moving Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act (Counts I and II) must be dismissed because Moving Defendants are individuals and private corporations, not “public entities” subject to liability under these statutes. (Mot. at 5-6.) As to Plaintiff's § 1983 claim (Count III), Moving Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to allege a policy or custom that caused a constitutional violation, as required to demonstrate municipal liability. (Id. at 7-9.) Rather, Moving Defendants contend that the Complaint contains conclusory allegations that Moving Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Id.) To the extent that Plaintiff alleges ...

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