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Robertson v. Gilmore

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 2, 2019




         This is a civil rights action initiated under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by pro se Plaintiff Justin J. Robertson, a prisoner confined at SCI-Greene. Robertson's operative pleading is the Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 45).

         The gravamen of Robertson's Amended Complaint is that he was denied adequate medical treatment for a spinal disc problem in violation of the Eighth Amendment, specifically that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. The defendants are two individuals employed by the Department of Corrections, Superintendent Robert Gilmore and Grievance Coordinator Tracey Shawley; an employee of the contract medical provider, Michael Hice; and two contract medical physicians Robert Valley, M.D., the medical director, and Arthur Santos, M.D.[2] Robertson brings all his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Eighth Amendment, specifically he alleges that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

         There are currently four motions to dismiss pending before the Court: (i) the motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Gilmore and Shawley (ECF No. 52), (ii) the motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Hice (ECF No. 58), (iii) the motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Robert Valley, M.D. (ECF No. 60), and (iv) the motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Arthur Santos (ECF No. 68). Robertson has responded in opposition to each motion. (ECF Nos. 64, 65, 66, and 72). Dr. Santos filed a reply brief to Plaintiffs brief in opposition (ECF No. 73), to which Plaintiff filed a Sur-Reply. (ECF No. 77). For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted and this case will be dismissed with prejudice.


         On or about May 24, 2016, Robertson reported “severe pain in his upper back (left) shoulder blade to Dr. Santos who prescribed muscle relaxer which was ineffective.” Amended Complaint, at IV(D). On June 30, 2016, Robertson returned to Dr. Santos again complaining of pain. Dr. Santos again prescribed a muscle relaxer and ordered an x-ray. Robertson saw Dr. Santos again on July 12, 2016, and reported that the prescribed pain medication had provided no relief. Dr. Santos then prescribed a different medication.

         On July 26, 2016, Plaintiff underwent an x-ray, which revealed he had arthritis in his back. (ECF No. 45-1, Ex. A). On July 28, 2016, Robertson began a course of prescribed physical therapy with John Cushner, PT. According to Robertson, Mr. Cushner believed that Robertson's pain was coming from a swollen disc in his C-6 and C-7 spinal cord area possibly blocking the nerve, and that a MRI would be needed to confirm this. On August 30, 2016, Robertson informed Dr. Santos and Defendant Hice about the physical therapist's recommendation, but was told his x-ray was normal and a MRI was not needed. Plaintiff also told Dr. Santos and Defendant Hice that the physical therapy was making his pain worse, and requested pain medications. His request was denied and Robertson was advised to order “Motrin” from the commissary. Plaintiff immediately wrote a request to Medical Director Robert Valley asking for a MRI and filed a Grievance on August 30, 2016. Id.

         Sometime thereafter, Roberson was transferred to Dauphin County Prison, where he was by its medical staff and then sent to a specialist at Hershey Medical. The specialist found that a disc in Robertson's neck had collapsed and advised him that an MRI and “99% sure” surgery was needed. Robertson was returned to SCI Greene on January 12, 2017, prior to having the MRI.

         Upon return to SCI Greene, Robertson informed Dr. Valley and other medical staff of his need for an MRI. No. action was taken. Robertson's family contacted Dr. Valley multiple times, again to no avail. Robertson's family then contacted Hersey Medical and had his medical records sent to SCI Greene.

         On February 9, 2017, Plaintiff was informed that he was scheduled for a MRI. However, he did not undergo the MRI until July 14, 2017. Plaintiff underwent surgery on August 2, 2017.

         Robertson alleges that by delaying his medical treatment, each of the defendants was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Defendants have filed motions to dismiss asserting that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted against them.[4]The matter is ripe for resolution.

         Standard of Review

         The applicable inquiry under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is well settled. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint may be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss, 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)). A complaint that merely alleges entitlement to relief, without alleging facts that show entitlement, must be dismissed. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009). This “‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary elements.” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Nevertheless, the court need not accept as true “unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, ” Doug Grant, Inc. v. Greate Bay Casino Corp., 232 F.3d 173, 183-84 (3d Cir. 2000), or the plaintiff's “bald assertions” or “legal conclusions.” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

         When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court's role is limited to determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of his claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000). In short, a motion to dismiss should not be granted if a party alleges facts, which could, if established at trial, entitle him to relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8.

         Courts generally consider the allegations of the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record in deciding motions to dismiss. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Factual allegations within documents described or identified in the complaint also may be considered if the plaintiff's claims are based upon those documents. Id. (citations omitted). In addition, a district court may consider indisputably authentic documents without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2004); Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2004) (in resolving a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court generally should consider “the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim.”).

         Moreover, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that, in civil rights cases, a court must give a plaintiff the opportunity to amend a deficient complaint -regardless of whether the plaintiff requests to do so - when dismissing a case for failure to state a claim, unless doing so would be inequitable or futile. See Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007).


         The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments, ” U.S. Const. amend. VIII, and requires that prisoners receive access to basic medical treatment. Estelle v. Gamble,429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). Robertson faces an exacting burden in advancing his Eighth Amendment claim ...

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