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Reilly v. York County

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 22, 2019

RICHARD R. REILLY, as Administrator of the Estate of VERONIQUE A. HENRY, deceased, Plaintiff
v.
YORK COUNTY, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          KANE, JUDGE

         Before the Court are: Defendants PrimeCare Medical, Inc., Amanda Spahr, and Sonya Frey's (collectively, the “PrimeCare Defendants”) motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment, as to Counts I and II of Plaintiff Richard Reilly (“Plaintiff”)'s complaint (Doc. No. 16); Defendants York County, Warden Mary Sabol, Lynette Moore, and Maria Stremmel's (collectively, the “York County Defendants”) motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 22); and Plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint (Doc. No. 32). For the reasons provided herein, the Court will deny the PrimeCare Defendants' motion (Doc. No. 16), deny the York County Defendants' motion (Doc. No. 22), and grant Plaintiff's motion (Doc. No. 32).

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff is the administrator of the estate of Veronique A. Henry (“Ms. Henry”). (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 1.) Defendant York County is a municipality of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the owner and operator of the York County Prison (“YCP”), and the employer of Defendant Mary Sabol, the Warden of YCP (“Defendant Sabol”), Defendant Lynette Moore, a correctional officer at YCP (“Defendant Moore”), and Defendant Maria Stremmel, a correctional officer at YCP (“Defendant Stremmel”). (Id. ¶¶ 2-6.) Defendant PrimeCare Medical, Inc. (“Defendant PrimeCare”), a Pennsylvania corporation with a principal place of business of 3940 Locust Lane, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was responsible for providing staff and overseeing medical treatment of inmates at YCP, and is the employer of Defendant Sonya Frey, a nurse at YCP (“Defendant Frey”), and Defendant Amanda Spahr, a medical assistant at YCP (“Defendant Spahr”). (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) Defendants John Does I-V are medical providers practicing at YCP or correctional officers or other prison personnel at YCP (the “John Doe Defendants”). (Id. ¶ 12.)

         On September 14, 2016, at approximately 10:30 P.M., Ms. Henry was admitted to YCP. (Id. ¶ 15.) Upon admission, Defendant Moore and Defendant Stremmel moved Ms. Henry to the “medical holding tank” because they were concerned that she might commit suicide. (Id. ¶ 16.) Defendant Moore knew Ms. Henry from previous instances where she was incarcerated and “specifically noted that on this occasion Ms. Henry appeared to be acting very solemn[ly] and differently, in a manner that made [D]efendant Moore concerned Ms. Henry might hurt herself.” (Id. ¶ 17.) According to Plaintiff, because Ms. Henry had previously been incarcerated at YCP, all Defendants knew that Ms. Henry had an existing mental health condition and that she had been on medication to treat her mental health conditions, which included depression. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff avers that during Ms. Henry's previous incarcerations, she asked to speak with a psychiatrist or other mental health provider and that she had contemplated suicide. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         Plaintiff alleges that upon Ms. Henry's admission to YCP, concern about Ms. Henry's suicide risk was so great that Defendant Moore, in consultation with Defendant Stremmel and/or other John Doe correctional officers, called the YCP medical staff and requested that a nurse speak with Ms. Henry to evaluate her for “suicide precautions.” (Id. ¶ 20.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Frey conducted that evaluation at approximately 11:15 P.M. on September 14, 2016, and questioned Ms. Henry in the medical holding tank in the presence of Defendant Moore and Defendant Stremmel. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff alleges that during that evaluation, Ms. Henry conveyed that she took Paxil for anxiety, and that she had a husband and two children and that her husband was physically and mentally abusive toward her. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Moore and Defendant Stremmel told Defendant Frey that, based on their knowledge of Ms. Henry, they believed that she should be placed on suicide watch because they were concerned that she would attempt to commit suicide. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) Plaintiff states that, despite this fact, Ms. Henry was neither placed on suicide watch nor seen by a psychiatric specialist or other medical health provider. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Frey was not qualified to perform a mental health assessment, and that Defendant PrimeCare knew that Defendant Frey was not qualified to perform a mental health assessment. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 29.)

         Plaintiff avers that less than an hour later, at approximately 11:50 P.M., Ms. Henry underwent “the standard intake medical screen” performed by Defendant Spahr. (Id. ¶ 30.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Spahr noted that Ms. Henry's prior incarcerations included problems related to “psychological/mental health segregation” and “psychological/medication-assessment substance abuse.” (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff alleges that during the screen, Ms. Henry told Defendant Spahr: (1) that she had experienced a significant loss within the last six months; (2) that she was very worried about major problems other than her legal situation; (3) that she had a mental health treatment history as well as a history of drug or alcohol abuse; (4) that she was addicted to several medications including Xanax and Percocet; (5) that she felt she needed to see a mental health provider; and (6) that she had suffered a head injury that day resulting from a motor vehicle collision. (Id. ¶¶ 33-39.) Plaintiff further alleges that, despite these warning signs, Ms. Henry was not placed on suicide watch or seen by a mental health professional, and that no limitations or restrictions were placed on her. (Id. ¶ 41.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Spahr was not qualified to perform a mental health assessment, and that Defendant PrimeCare knew that Defendant Spahr was not qualified to perform a mental health assessment. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.)

         Plaintiff states that Ms. Henry was then transferred to cell #4B on September 15, 2016 at approximately 12:14 A.M. Plaintiff further states that the next morning, at approximately 10:11 A.M. on September 15, 2016, Ms. Henry was found hanging from a white bed sheet in her cell and pronounced dead on the same date. (Id. ¶ 43.) Plaintiff's complaint alleges that additional inmates from YCP have recently committed suicide. (Id. ¶ 45.)

         On September 13, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant complaint asserting the following five counts: violations of Ms. Henry's “right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and/or Ms. Henry's right to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution” against Defendants Moore, Stremmel, Frey and Spahr (Count I); violations of Ms. Henry's “right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and/or Ms. Henry's right to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution” against Defendants York County, PrimeCare, Sabol, and the John Doe Defendants (Count II); state law negligence claims against Defendants Frey, Spahr, PrimeCare, and York County (Count III); a wrongful death claim against all Defendants (Count IV); and a survival claim against all Defendants (Count V). (Id. at 11-17.)

         On November 16, 2018, the PrimeCare Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 16), and a brief in support thereof (Doc. No. 17), as well as a Statement of Facts (Doc. No. 18), addressing Counts I and II of Plaintiff's complaint. The York County Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 22), and a brief in support thereof (Doc. No. 23), as well as a Statement of Facts (Doc. No. 19), on the same date. On January 24, 2019, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to PrimeCare Defendants' motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 24), with an Answer to Statement of Facts (Doc. No. 25), and a brief in opposition to York County Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 26). The York County Defendants and the PrimeCare Defendants both filed briefs in reply. (Doc. Nos. 28, 31.) On February 15, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint (Doc. No. 32), and a brief in support thereof (Doc. No. 35). The York County Defendants and the PrimeCare Defendants both filed briefs in opposition to Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. Nos. 33, 37.) Plaintiff has not replied and the time in which to do so has elapsed. Accordingly, the motions are ripe for disposition.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. PrimeCare Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment and York County Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide the defendant notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d. Cir. 2008). The plaintiff must present facts that, accepted as true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires “only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” a complaint may nevertheless be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for its “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). The Court's inquiry is guided by the standards of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Under Twombly and Iqbal, pleading requirements have shifted to a “more heightened form of pleading.” See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must set out “sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. See id. The plausibility standard requires more than a mere possibility that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Accordingly, to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has identified the following steps a district court must take when determining the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6): (1) identify the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify any conclusory allegations contained in the complaint “not entitled” to the assumption of truth; and (3) determine whether any “well-pleaded factual allegations” contained in the complaint “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” See Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). A court may also consider “any ‘matters incorporated by reference of integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, [and] items appearing in the record of the case.'” See Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting 5B Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1357 (3d ed. 2004)).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs motions for summary judgment. Parties may move for summary judgment on particular claims or defenses, or on a part of each claim or defense. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is warranted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” See id. A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law, and it is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for allowing a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). At summary judgment, the relevant inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. See id. at 251-52. In making this determination, a court must “consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” See A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Schs., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).

         The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas. Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2007). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's claims, “the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument.” See Berckeley Inv. Grp. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the non-moving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial, ” summary judgment is warranted. See Celotex, 477 US. at 322. With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence that the non-moving party must provide, a court should grant a motion for summary judgment when the non-movant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. See id. at 252; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Mem'l Hosp., 192 F.3d 378, 387 (3d Cir. 1999).

         B. Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) governs Plaintiff's request for amendment and provides, in pertinent part, that after amending a complaint once as a matter of right, “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). As the Supreme Court has stated, “the grant or denial of an opportunity to amend is within the discretion of the District Court . . . outright refusal to grant the leave without any justifying reason appearing for the denial is not an exercise of discretion, it is merely an abuse of discretion and inconsistent with the spirit of the Federal Rules.” See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         Grounds potentially justifying denial of leave to amend are “undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, prejudice, and futility.” See id.; In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997). “Futility” means that the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See In re NAHC, Inc. Sec. Litig., 306 F.3d 1314, 1332 (3d Cir. 2002); In re Burlington, 114 F.3d at 1434. In assessing “futility, ” a district court applies the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See In re Burlington, 114 F.3d at 1434; 3 Moore's Federal Practice, § 15.15[3] at 15-55 to 15-61 (3d ed. 2013). Accordingly, in assessing the potential futility of a proposed amended complaint, the Court must accept as true the allegations in the proposed amended complaint and construe those allegations in the light most favorable to the party seeking leave to amend. See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010).

         The issue of “prejudice” focuses on hardship to the defendant if the amendment were permitted, specifically, whether amendment “would result in additional discovery, cost, and preparation to defend against new facts or new theories.” See Cureton v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 252 F.3d 267, 273 (3d Cir. 2001). With regard to “undue delay, ” the Third Circuit has held that the mere passage of time does not require that a motion to amend a pleading be denied; “however, at some point, the [movant's] delay will become ‘undue,' placing an unwarranted burden on the court, or will become ‘prejudicial,' placing an unfair burden on the opposing party.” See ...


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