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Kuzminski v. Warren County

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 30, 2019

FAWN KUZMINSKI, Administrator of the Estate of JAMES KUZMINSKI, Deceased, Plaintiff,
WARREN COUNTY, et al, Defendants.


          SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER United States District Judge

         This civil action was filed by Plaintiff Fawn Kuzminski ("Plaintiff), the administrator of the estate of James Kuzminski ("Decedent"), as the result of events that transpired while Decedent was incarcerated at the Warren County Jail. The operative pleading is the Second Amended Complaint ("SAC, " ECF No. 54). The named Defendants include: Warren County; Warden Kenneth Klakamp; Deputy Warden Jon Collins; Counselor Laura McDunn; Seneca Medical Center, LLC ("SMC")[1]; Norman K. Beals, III, M.D., who at all relevant times was SMC's Medical Director; Children's Center for Treatment and Education d/b/a/ Beacon Light Behavioral Health Systems, an affiliate of Journey Health System ("Beacon Light")[2]; Ernesto Roederer, M.D., a psychiatrist employed by Beacon Light; and John P. John, M.D., a psychiatrist and Outpatient Clinical Medical Director for Beacon Light. In her eight-count pleading, Plaintiff asserts a variety of claims against the Defendants, including - in relevant part - claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and state law claims based on alleged professional negligence. The Court has subject matter over these claims based on 28 U.S.C. §§1331, 1343(a), and 1367(a).

         Pending before the Court are motions filed by Defendants SMC (ECF No. 55), Beals (ECF No. 57), and John and Roederer (ECF No. 59) to dismiss the claims asserted against them. Defendant Beacon Light joins in these motions (ECF No. 61). Also pending before the Court is the Plaintiffs motion to further amend her pleading so as to add nine individual defendants who were employed as corrections officers at the Warren County Jail during the time period in question (ECF No. 68). For the reasons that follow, Dr. Roederer's motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part. In all other respects the motions to dismiss will be denied. Plaintiffs motion to amend will be granted in part and denied in part as discussed herein.

         I. BACKGROUND[3]

         Decedent James Kuzminski was, at all times relevant to this lawsuit, a Pennsylvania resident who suffered from Huntington's Disease. SAC ¶¶ 6, 31. Huntington's Disease is a rare genetic disorder that leads to the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. Id. 61. The symptoms and/or sequelae of the disease can include involuntary movement, difficulty swallowing and breathing, cognitive limitations including memory loss and eventual dementia, and psychiatric symptoms, including psychosis. Id. ¶62. Hunger can be a significant cause of behavior problems in persons with Huntington's Disease because afflicted individuals generally require a higher caloric intake, yet may be less able to identify or communicate feelings of hunger; they may also have difficulty consuming sufficient calories because of difficulties swallowing, feeding themselves, or staying on task. Id. ¶64.

         On February 22, 2016, Decedent was arrested and taken to the Warren County Jail (hereafter, "WCJ"), where he was placed in isolation. SAC ¶¶29-30. On or about March 31, 2016, Decedent pled guilty to disorderly conduct, a third-degree misdemeanor. Id. ¶59. He was subsequently sentenced to a term of incarceration of 61 days to one year. Id. ¶60.

         Prior to his incarceration, Decedent had been treated by Dr. William Esper, a neurologist. SAC ¶83. Dr. Esper prescribed Haldol - a psychotropic medication - to be administered in liquid form, due to Decedent's difficulty swallowing. Id. ¶83.

         At the time of his initial confinement at WCJ, Decedent was fully symptomatic and displayed obvious signs of impairment and dementia. SAC ¶¶31, 65. Among other things, Decedent was incontinent, could not communicate effectively, and could not care for himself or feed himself without assistance. Id. ¶¶9, 45, 48-49. As the result of involuntary physical movements related to his disease, Decedent required approximately 5, 000 calories every day. SAC¶55.

         The day following Decedent's incarceration, Plaintiff spoke at length with Defendant McDunn, a counselor at WCJ, about Decedent's diagnosis and his resulting limitations. Id. ¶¶53-54. McDunn advised Decedent's family members that she did not know how to handle an inmate with Huntington's Disease; consequently, Decedent was placed in solitary confinement. Id.¶33.

         Decedent remained confined in isolation until his release from WCJ one full year later. SAC¶¶30, 35. During this time, he was treated "like a caged animal." SAC¶37. His personal hygiene was extremely poor and he was often forced to sit in his own excrement, sometimes for days at a time, as prison staff rarely cleaned his cell. Id. ¶¶40-41, 50. The lights in his cell were left on at all times. Id. ¶36. Decedent's hair, beard, and nails were never trimmed, and he rarely got a shower. Id. ¶¶39? 51. Jail staff hosed Decedent down in the shower only infrequently, after which they took him outside without a coat or hat, even in cold weather. Id. ¶¶42, 46. Decedent would then return to his cell, shaking from the cold, his hair and beard frozen. Id. ¶46.

         Although family members informed WCJ administrators about Decedent's need for additional calories, food was sometimes withheld from Decedent so that he would not make a mess in his cell. Id. ¶34. At times he could be heard crying out for food, and he consistently complained about being hungry. Id. ¶¶ 43, 57.

         On July 14, 2016, Decedent was interviewed at WCJ by an outpatient therapist with Beacon Light, the designated provider of mental health services for WCJ inmates. SAC ¶¶20, 65. The therapist was unable to complete the intake process due to Decedent's cognitive and verbal decompensation and general inability to respond meaningfully to questions. Id. ¶66.

         On July 22, 2016, Defendant Roederer performed a psychiatric evaluation of Decedent and diagnosed "Huntington's Chorea, Cognitive Disorder, Major Cognitive Neuro-Cognitive Disorder due to Huntington's with behavioral disturbance, Bipolar Disorder, unspecified." SAC ¶¶67, 68. Roederer was unable to complete a formal mental status examination but noted that Decedent "exhibit[ed] significant agitation and [had] apparently exhibited significant cognitive decline." Id. ¶69. He noted that only 10 to 20 percent of Decedent's Haldol medications were being administered and recommended that Decedent's medication be converted from pills to elixir due to Decedent's difficulty swallowing. Id. ¶¶71, 73. He also recommended an increase in Decedent's caloric intake. Id. ¶71. For reasons that are not spelled out in Plaintiffs pleading, Dr. Roederer's report was allegedly not shared with the staff of WCJ. Id. ¶67. In addition, Roederer allegedly failed to consult with the prison physician (presumably Dr. Beals) about Decedent's serious deterioration and the need to transfer him to a more appropriate facility. Id. ¶72.

         Notwithstanding this, Plaintiff also alleges that, following Dr. Roederer's July 22, 2016 examination, WCJ's monthly medication administration records for Decedent included the following notation:


SAC ¶75.

         On September 19, 2016, Defendant John visited Decedent at the WCJ for the purpose of rendering a second psychiatric opinion in connection with efforts to force Decedent to take his medications. SAC¶78. The SAC does not allege any details concerning this examination. It is alleged, however, that Dr. John faxed a letter to WCJ some three months after his visit, on December 20, to order Haldol injections for the Decedent. Id. ¶79. Conflicting jail records suggest that Decedent's first inj ection occurred either in the last week of December 2016 or in late January 2017. Id. ¶80.

         In the interim, Decedent was scheduled to be transported from WCJ on October 19, 2016 to see Dr. Esper on an outpatient basis; however, this visit did not occur, as Decedent had an encountered with unspecified prison officials that resulted in him sustaining injuries and being returned to his isolation cell. SAC¶¶89-90.

         At the conclusion of his maximum prison term, Decedent was transferred to Warren General Hospital for involuntary commitment. SAC ¶92. Eventually, Decedent was transferred to Rosemont Care & Rehabilitation Center in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, where he continued to receive care and treatment until his death on January 26, 2018, at the age of 57. Id. ¶¶6, 95.

         According to the SAC, the Decedent's condition deteriorated during the twelve months that he was kept in solitary confinement, and he suffered physical and emotional injuries as a result. SAC ¶¶82, 93, 98. While the Decedent was at the WCJ, his weight was not monitored, no lab tests were ordered, and his vital signs went unchecked. Id. ¶82. Because no screening testi was ordered to assess his ability to swallow, the Decedent's difficulties with ingesting food and medication were allegedly prolonged, thus delaying his transfer to another, more appropriate treatment facility. Id. ¶86.

         Based on these alleged events, Plaintiff has asserted eight separate causes of action against the various Defendants. For present purposes, the relevant counts are: Count V, which asserts claims of professional negligence against Defendants Beacon Light, John, and Roederer (collectively, the "Beacon Light Defendants"); Count VI, which asserts claims of professional negligence against SMC and Beals (collectively, the "Seneca Defendants"); and Count VII, which asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against both the Beacon Light and Seneca Defendants (collectively, the "Moving Defendants"). Also relevant is Plaintiffs prayer for punitive damages against all of the Moving Defendants.

         Through their separate motions, each of the Moving Defendants requests the dismissal of Count VII for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[4] They also seek to strike Plaintiffs prayer for punitive damages on the grounds that it is not supported by the allegations in the complaint. Finally, they request that this Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the professional negligence claims in Counts V and VI. Plaintiff has filed her opposition to these motions and, consequently, the issues raised by the Moving Defendants are sufficiently joined and ripe for adjudication.


         A. Standard of Review

         Defendants' motions are brought under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The latter rule provides a defense for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. "When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Wayne Land & Mineral Grp. LLC v. Delaware River Basin Comm'n 894 F.3d 509, 526-27 (3d Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In order to survive dismissal, "a complaint must contain 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) (quoting Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility means "more than a sheer j possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Rule 12(b)(1) recognizes a defense based upon a failure of subject matter jurisdiction. Relevantly, when a facial attack on subject matter jurisdiction is raised based upon a perceived deficiency in the pleadings, the court must only consider the allegations on the face of the complaint, taken as true, and any documents referenced in the complaint, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Gould Elecs. Inc. v. United States,220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n.,549 F.3d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)); Turicentro, S.A. v. American Airlines, Inc., 303 F.3d 293, 300 (3d Cir. 2002). "The plaintiff must assert facts that affirmatively and plausibly suggest that the pleader has the right he claims (here, the right to ...

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