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Bennett v. Primecare Medical Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 2, 2019

MICHAEL BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
PRIMECARE MEDICAL INC., et al., Defendants.

          Caputo Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Statement of Facts and of the Case.

         On March 5, 2018, Michael Bennett filed a pro se complaint against PrimeCare Medical, Inc., the corporate health care provider that provided medical services to inmates at the Cumberland County Prison and another corporate defendant, Aramark Correctional Services, Inc., which managed food services at the prison. (Doc. 1.) According to Bennett's complaint, in 2016, he was housed in the Cumberland County Prison for approximately 50 days, with his jaws immobilized due to a prior unrelated jaw injury. During this time, Bennett alleged that, with the exception of one occasion when he was offered a high calorie milk shake, his liquid diet was limited to one 8-ounce cup and beef broth, and one 8-ounce cup of chicken broth three times a day. (Id., ¶¶ 15-20.) Bennett claimed that he suffered profound physical and emotional consequences from this meager diet, including dramatic weight loss, headaches, abdominal pain, depression, and fear of death. (Id.) In fact, according to Bennett, he lost 40 pounds or more than 20% of his total body weight during this period of confinement when he was denied adequate nutrition. (Id., ¶ 23.) Based upon these allegations, Bennett brought Eighth Amendment and related state common law tort claims against these two corporate defendants. (Id.) Finding that Bennett's allegation stated a colorable constitutional claim, we denied motions to dismiss the complaint without prejudice to renewal of any defenses through properly documented motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 30 and 33.)

         On June 14, 2019, the defendants filed summary judgment motions in this case. (Docs. 43 and 46.) These motions were accompanied by what are uncontradicted exhibits that thoroughly rebut Bennett's allegations. These records reveal that Bennett was treated and assessed by medical staff on numerous occasions during his 50 days in the Cumberland County Prison. During this time, medical records disclose that Bennett actually gained weight while on the soft and liquid diet necessitated by his jaw injury. Furthermore, these records indicate that the diet Bennett received was prescribed by the outside doctor who was treating his injured jaw, and indicate that the defendants followed their own policies of scrupulously abiding by the medical instructions they received from Bennett's treating physician.

         Bennett has yet to respond to these summary judgment motions, and the time for a response, which was extended twice at his request, has now passed. Thus, on July 9, 2019, we granted Bennett an extension of time until August 30, 2019 in which to respond to these motions while he sought to retain counsel. (Doc. 56.) Bennett then notified us that he was unable to secure the assistance of counsel and requested an second extension of time in which to respond to these motions. (Doc. 57.) We granted this request, in part, and ordered Bennett to respond to the outstanding motions on or before September 27, 2019. (Doc. 58.) That order also informed Thompson that Local Rule 7.6 of the Rules of this Court imposed an affirmative duty on the plaintiff to respond to motions and warned Roberts in clear and precise terms that “Local Rule 7.6 can be applied to grant a motion to dismiss without analysis of the complaint's sufficiency ‘if a party fails to comply with the [R]ule after a specific direction to comply from the court.'” Williams v. Lebanon Farms Disposal, Inc., No. 09-1704, 2010 WL 3703808, *1 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 26, 2010) (quoting Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz, 951 F.2d 29, 30 (1991)). Therefore, a failure to comply with this direction may result in the motion being deemed unopposed and granted. Id.

         Bennett has not responded to these motions and the time for a response, which we twice extended, has now passed. Accordingly, in the absence of any response by Bennett, the motions will be deemed ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the motions be granted and this case dismissed.

         II. Discussion

         A. Under The Rules of This Court This Motion to Dismiss Should Be Deemed Unopposed and Granted.

         At the outset, under the Local Rules of this Court the plaintiff should be deemed to concur in these summary judgment motions, since the plaintiff has failed to timely oppose the motions or otherwise litigate this case. This procedural default completely frustrates and impedes efforts to resolve this matter in a timely and fair fashion, and under the rules of this court warrants dismissal of the action, since Local Rule 7.6 of the Rules of this Court imposes an affirmative duty on the plaintiff to respond to motions and provides that

Any party opposing any motion, other than a motion for summary judgment, shall file a brief in opposition within fourteen (14) days after service of the movant's brief, or, if a brief in support of the motion is not required under these rules, within seven (7) days after service of the motion. Any party who fails to comply with this rule shall be deemed not to oppose such motion. Nothing in this rule shall be construed to limit the authority of the court to grant any motion before expiration of the prescribed period for filing a brief in opposition. A brief in opposition to a motion for summary judgment and LR 56.1 responsive statement, together with any transcripts, affidavits or other relevant documentation, shall be filed within twenty-one (21) days after service of the movant's brief.

Local Rule 7.6 (emphasis added).

         It is now well-settled that “Local Rule 7.6 can be applied to grant a motion to dismiss without analysis of the complaint's sufficiency ‘if a party fails to comply with the [R]ule after a specific direction to comply from the court.'” Williams, No. 09-1704, 2010 WL 3703808, at *1 (quoting Stackhouse, 951 F.2d at 30)). In this case, the plaintiff has not complied with the local rules, or this Court's order, by filing a timely response to this motion. Therefore, these procedural defaults by the plaintiff compel the court to consider:

[A] basic truth: we must remain mindful of the fact that ''the Federal Rules are meant to be applied in such a way as to promote justice. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 1. Often that will mean that courts should strive to resolve cases on their merits whenever possible. However, justice also requires that the merits of a particular dispute be placed before the court in a timely fashion ....'' McCurdy v. American Bd. of Plastic Surgery, 157 F.3d 191, 197 (3d Cir.1998).

Lease v. Fishel, 712 F.Supp.2d 359, 371 (M.D. Pa. 2010).

         With this basic truth in mind, we acknowledge a fundamental guiding tenet of our legal system. A failure on our part to enforce compliance with the rules, and impose the sanctions mandated by those rules when the rules are repeatedly breached, “would actually violate the dual mandate which guides this Court and motivates our system of justice: ‘that courts should strive to resolve cases on their merits whenever possible [but that] justice also requires that the merits of a particular dispute be placed before the court in a timely fashion.'” Id. Therefore, we are obliged to ensure that one party's refusal to comply with the rules does not lead to an unjustified prejudice to those parties who follow the rules.

         These basic tenets of fairness apply here. In this case, the plaintiff has failed to comply with Local Rule 7.6 by filing a timely response to these dispositive motions. This failure now compels us to apply the sanction called for under Rule 7.6 and deem these motions unopposed.

         B. Dismissal of this Case Is Also Warranted Under Rule 41.

         Beyond the requirements imposed by the local rules of this court, Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a court to dismiss a civil action for failure to prosecute, stating that: “If the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to comply with these rules or a court order, a defendant may move to dismiss the action or any claim against it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b). Decisions regarding dismissal of actions for failure to prosecute rest in the sound discretion of the Court and will not be disturbed absent an abuse of that discretion. Emerson v. Thiel College, 296 F.3d 184, 190 (3d Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). That ...


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