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Talley v. PA Department of Corrections

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 14, 2019



          SAVAGE, J.

         Plaintiff Quintez Talley, a prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil action asserting claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act (RA) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] He also brings state law claims and requests injunctive and declaratory relief. He has sued the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) and several of its officers and employees.[2]

         Defendants have moved to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) and failure to state a claim.[3] They also assert sovereign immunity as to the state claims. Because Talley fails to state any claims, we shall grant the motion and dismiss the complaint.


         On January 16, 2018, Talley was housed in a Psychiatric Observation Cell (POC) on suicide watch at the DOC's State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Graterford.[5] He informed Lieutenant Harvey Leonard that he was suicidal.[6] Leonard told Psychological Services Specialist Robert Ladonne what Talley had said and brought him to Talley's POC, where they watched Talley swallow a plastic spoon.[7] Ladonne told Talley that under no circumstances would he or Doyle sign Talley into the Mental Health Unit (MHU) and walked away.[8] Talley continued swallowing unidentified foreign objects.[9] Leonard asked why he was suicidal and Talley responded that he “wanted the same treatment to which [his] Caucasian counterparts received.”[10]

         Leonard left and later returned, stating that Doyle had “cleared” Talley.[11] Talley continued to insist he was suicidal and swallowed more foreign objects.[12] Leonard left again and returned with an extraction team[13] Talley, after swallowing more foreign objects, allowed himself to be handcuffed and escorted to the Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU) by the extraction team.[14] Leonard turned Talley over to Lieutenant Terrance Bright, who asked Talley if he was suicidal.[15] Talley told Bright that he was suicidal and needed a medical consultation because he had swallowed several foreign bodies.[16]Bright left and returned with Psychological Services Specialist McKenzie Nash, who asked Talley why he was suicidal and how he intended to kill himself.[17] Talley responded that he feared for his life in the RHU and that he had swallowed several foreign bodies.[18]Nash walked away.[19]

         Talley was placed in restraints and transferred to a camera cell in the Diversionary Treatment Unit (DTU).[20] He freed himself from the restraints and destroyed the camera.[21] Lieutenant Andrew Reber and the Unknown Extraction Team #2 placed Talley in a restraint chair.[22] Talley complained that the restraints were too tight, but Nurse Mark Sokolski only tightened them.[23] Talley remained in the chair for approximately seven and a half hours and was provided exercise breaks at two-hour intervals.[24]

         After Talley was released from the chair, he began a hunger strike.[25] Twenty-four hours later he was taken to medical triage where he spoke to RN Chris and RN Crystal about his mental health.[26] RN Chris contacted the on-call psychiatrist and “convinced” him or her to order Talley returned to his DTU camera cell.[27] Talley continued to vomit blood during this period from the foreign objects he had swallowed, until he had a bowel movement.[28]

         Talley remained in the DTU camera cell from January 17 until he was transferred to another prison on January 30.[29] During this period, Ladonne and Doyle, “the only people capable of clearing [Talley] off of suicide watch, ” refused to evaluate him.[30] As a result, he stayed in his cell 24 hours a day without access to showers or recreation space.[31]

         Talley alleges that the DOC, Wetzel, Link, Banta, Clark, Doyle and Ladonne violated the ADA, the RA and the Eighth Amendment by excluding him from showers and recreation and from mental health services.[32] He alleges that Leonard, the Unknown Extraction Team #1, Doyle, Ladonne, RN Crystal, RN Chris, Nash and Bright violated the Eighth Amendment by denying him medical and/or mental health treatment.[33] He alleges that Link, Banta, Clark, Wetzel, Doyle, Ladonne, Leonard, Bright and Unknown Extraction Teams #1 and #2 violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by placing him in restraints rather than providing him with mental health treatment whenever he complained he was suicidal.[34] He alleges that Sokolski violated the Eighth Amendment and committed assault and battery and medical malpractice when he tightened his restraints.[35] He alleges that Reber and the Unknown Extraction Team #2 violated the Eighth Amendment and committed assault and battery when they failed to intervene.[36]Talley seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive and declaratory relief.[37]

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss all or part of an action for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The complaint must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). The plaintiff must allege facts that indicate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. Pleading only “facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability” is insufficient and cannot survive a motion to dismiss. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         A conclusory recitation of the elements of a cause of action is not sufficient. Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). The plaintiff must allege facts necessary to make out each element. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8). In other words, the complaint must contain facts which, if proven later, support a conclusion that the cause of action can be established.

         In assessing the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must: (1) identify the elements of the causes of action; (2) disregard conclusory statements, leaving only factual allegations; and (3) assuming the truth of those factual allegations, determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Palakovic v. Wetzel, 854 F.3d 209, 220 (3d Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (quoting Burtch v. Millberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir. 2011)).


         Before filing suit challenging prison life under any federal law, including the ADA and the RA, a prisoner must exhaust all available administrative remedies. Rinaldi v. United States, 904 F.3d 257, 265 (3d Cir. 2018). The PLRA provides that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [§ 1983 or any other federal law] until administrative remedies as available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997(e)(a). To properly exhaust, the prisoner must comply with all deadlines and procedural rules. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90 (2006). He must pursue all available steps in the process. Id. See also Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1859-60 (2016); Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 222 (3d Cir. 2004). If he fails to do so, his action must be dismissed. Spruill, 372 F.3d at 227.

         The exhaustion requirement is mandatory. A court may not excuse a failure to exhaust even if there are “special circumstances.” Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1856. The only exception is where an administrative remedy is not available. Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA only requires the exhaustion of available remedies. Stated differently, if the administrative remedies are not available, there is nothing to exhaust.

         The administrative remedies are deemed unavailable where: (1) the administrative procedure, in practice, does not afford inmates a real chance for redress because the prison administrators refuse or are unable to process the grievance; (2) the procedure is so “opaque” that inmates cannot “discern or navigate it”; and (3) the prison administrators prevent or thwart inmates from pursuing grievances through the process by “machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation.” Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1859-60.

         The DOC maintains an official grievance process entitled the “Inmate Grievance System” and is governed by Administrative Regulation 804 (DC-ADM 804).[38] Defendants argue that Talley failed to exhaust administrative remedies because he did not take any of the steps set forth in DC-ADM 804.[39] As the Commonwealth Court has explained:

While DOC policy DC-ADM 804 provides that claims of inmate abuse can be the subject of a grievance (DC-ADM 804 Procedures Manual § 1(B)(10)), the DOC policy governing inmate abuse, DC-ADM 001, provides that inmates are not required to use the prison grievance procedure to report abuse, and may also proceed by other means, including notifying a staff member of the abuse. DC-ADM 001 § IV(D).

Parran v. Rozum, No. 239 C.D. 2012, 2013 WL 3942101, at *3 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Jan. 4, 2013) (unreported panel decision).

         Talley alleges that he made an on-camera verbal complaint to prison personnel regarding the denial of mental health treatment and the use of restraints.[40] Defendants respond that “this does not relieve Plaintiff of his obligation to address his complaints through the grievance system.”[41] But, they do not explain why Talley was required to proceed under DC-ADM 804 where that policy provides that “[a] grievance dealing with allegations of abuse shall be handled in accordance with Department policy DC-ADM 001, ‘Inmate Abuse.'”[42] In Parran, the court concluded that dismissal was inappropriate at the pleadings stage where defendants failed “to discuss whether the grievance procedure is mandatory for abuse claims, in light of the language in DC-ADM 001.” 2013 WL 3942101, at *3. Because Talley exhausted the administrative remedies available to him under DC-ADM 001, we find dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies is unwarranted at this time.

         ADA and RA Claims

         The ADA makes it unlawful for public entities, including prisons, to discriminate against the disabled in the provision of services, programs and activities. Disability Rights N.J., Inc. v. Comm'r, N.J. Dep't of Human Servs., 796 F.3d 293, 301 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 517 (2004)); Chisholm v. McManimon, 275 F.3d 315, 325 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Pa. Dep't of Corr. v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206 (1998)). The RA prohibits discrimination by entities receiving federal funding and is interpreted similarly to the ADA. Yeskey, 118 F.3d at 170. To state a claim under the ADA and RA, a plaintiff must allege “that he is a ‘qualified individual with a disability' [and] that he was excluded from a service, program, or activity of a public entity . . . because of his disability.” Disability Rights N.J., Inc., 796 F.3d at 301 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A)). Mental illness is a disability under the ADA and RA. 29 U.S.C. § 705(9)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A).

         Talley claims that the DOC, Wetzel, Link, Banta, Clark, Doyle and Ladonne violated the ADA and RA by placing him in restraints and later in a DTU cell without permitting him to consult with a mental health professional.[43] Yet, he alleges a number of mental health professionals interacted with him prior to his placement in restraints and a DTU cell. Ladonne observed Talley swallowing foreign objects but informed him that neither he nor Doyle would place him in the MHU.[44] After Leonard consulted Doyle about Talley's self-injurious behavior, Doyle approved Tally's transfer to the RHU.[45] Once in the RHU, Talley told Bright he was suicidal.[46] Bright then retrieved Nash to speak with Talley.[47] Nash asked Talley why he was suicidal and how he intended to kill himself.[48]She refused to move him to the MHU.[49] Talley later spoke to RN Chris and RN Crystal in the medical triage about his depression and suicidal ideation.[50] RN Crystal spoke with a psychiatrist who ordered Talley placed in the DTU camera cell.[51] From January 17 through 30, 2019, Talley remained on suicide watch.[52]

         Talley fails to allege facts supporting his conclusion that he was excluded from mental health treatment. In effect, he alleges only he received inadequate or incompetent treatment of his suicidal threats and his swallowing of foreign objects. A denial of treatment for a disability is not actionable under the ADA and RA. Iseley v. Beard, 200 Fed.Appx. 137, 142 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Bryant v. Madrigan, 84 F.3d 246, 248 (7th Cir. 1996)). Nor is medical malpractice. Bryant, 84 F.3d at 248.

         Talley also claims that these defendants violated the ADA and RA by depriving him of showers and recreation while he remained on suicide watch.[53] Showers are “part of the programs, services [and] activities” provided by a prison. Furgess v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 933 F.3d 285, 291 (3d Cir. 2019). So is recreation.[54] Norfleet v. Walker, 684 F.3d 688, 690 (7th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted); DeFreitas v. Montgomery Cty. Corr. Facility, No. 08-5330, 2012 WL 2920219, at *14 (E.D. Pa. July 18, 2012). But, a plaintiff must also allege “facts sufficient to show” that he was excluded “by reason of” his disability. Brown v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 290 Fed.Appx. 463, 467 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12132). See also Brown v. Deparlos, 492 Fed.Appx. 211, 215 (3d Cir. 2012).

         Here, Talley alleges that he was excluded from prison activities while he was on suicide watch. According to his own allegations, he was placed in a restricted area under surveillance after he claimed he was suicidal. He does not allege facts making out a plausible claim of discrimination due to his mental health.

         Section 1983 Claims

         “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). The DOC, as a state agency, is not a “person” under § 1983. Estate of Lagano v. Bergen Cty. Prosecutor's Office, 769 F.3d 850, 847 (3d Cir. 2014). Nor do the facts pled by Talley establish a plausible constitutional violation against any individual defendant.[55]

         Eighth Amendment Claims

         Talley claims that Ladonne, Doyle, Nash, Bright, Leonard, Unknown Extraction Team #1, RN Crystal and RN Chris failed to provide him with medical and mental health treatment. The Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment extends to a prisoner's right to treatment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102, 103 (1976) (internal citations omitted). Failure to provide adequate care violates a prisoner's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when it results from “deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or injury.” Id. at 104-05.

         To state an Eighth Amendment claim arising out of the failure to treat, Talley must plead sufficient facts that, if proven, would establish two elements: (1) he had a serious medical need; and (2) prison officials were deliberately indifferent to that need. Spruill, 372 F.3d at 235-36.

         A serious medical need is “one that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment or one that is so obvious that a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Monmouth Cty. Corr. Inst. Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987). See also Atkinson v. Taylor, 316 F.3d 257, 272-73 (3d Cir. 2003). A medical condition is serious when the denial or delay of medical treatment causes “unnecessary or wanton infliction of pain.” Monmouth Cty., 834 F.3d at 347.

         Deliberate indifference to a serious medical need is shown when: (1) a doctor intentionally inflicts pain on a prisoner; (2) a prison official denies reasonable requests for medical treatment, exposing the inmate to undue suffering or the threat of tangible residual injury; or (3) an official intentionally refuses to provide care even though he is aware of the need for such care. Spruill, 372 F.3d at 235. A prison official is deliberately indifferent if he disregards a known excessive risk to the inmate's health and safety. It is not enough that the official is aware of facts from which an inference can be drawn that the inmate is exposed to a substantial risk of serious harm. The official must actually draw that inference. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837-38 (1994).

         Talley claims that Ladonne, Leonard, Unknown Extraction Team #1, RN Crystal and RN Chris were deliberately indifferent when they failed to provide him with medical care after he swallowed foreign objects.[56] Talley did not vomit blood until at least eight and a half hours after swallowing foreign objects in front of Ladonne, Leonard and Unknown Extraction Team #1.[57] Once he began exhibiting these symptoms, he was taken to medical triage where he was seen by RN Crystal and RN Chris within 24 hours.[58]

         Talley fails to allege deliberate indifference. He was seen by medical professionals within a reasonable time after exhibiting symptoms apparently related to the ingestion of the foreign objects. He does not allege what medical care was withheld from him. His symptoms ceased within 48 hours.

         Talley also claims that Ladonne, Doyle, Bright and Nash were deliberately indifferent when they failed to provide him with mental health treatment.[59] Ladonne met with Talley but concluded that commitment to the MHU was unwarranted.[60] Doyle reached the same conclusion based upon his discussion with Leonard.[61] Bright, who is not a medical or mental health professional, retrieved Nash after Talley stated he was suicidal.[62] After talking with Talley, Nash concluded he need not be transferred to the MHU.[63]

         At most, Talley alleges medical malpractice or a disagreement over his treatment. He believes that he should have remained in the POC or been examined by a mental health professional prior to his transfer to the DTU cell. Instead, he was placed in a restraint and later transferred to the DTU cell, another camera cell.

         Medical malpractice does not amount to a constitutional violation. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06; Monmouth Cty., 834 F.2d at 347. Likewise, disagreement as to proper medical treatment does not establish an Eighth Amendment violation. Spruill, 372 F.3d at 235-36.

         The allegations in his complaint demonstrate that the defendants were not deliberately indifferent to Talley's suicidal ideation and self-injurious behavior. Rather, they chose to handle it in a manner other than what he preferred.

         Talley claims that Link, Banta, Clark and Sokolski's use of restraints, and Reber and Unknown Extraction Team #2's failure to intervene, violated his Eighth Amendment rights.[64] We analyze Talley's claim as alleging both excessive force and unconstitutional conditions of his confinement. Fuentes v. Wagner, 206 F.3d 335, 345 (3d Cir. 2000) (analyzing challenge to use of restraint chair under both standards).

         Where a prisoner alleges excessive force, “the subjective inquiry is ‘whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.'” Id. (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992)). The inmate's injury must be objectively more than de minimis. Id. (citing Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9-10). Where a prisoner challenges the conditions of his confinement, we apply a deliberate indifference standard. Id. (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837). The inmate must have been objectively “denied the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'” Id. (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9).

         Talley was initially placed in body restraints in a camera cell after he swallowed foreign objects and stated he was suicidal.[65] He freed himself from those restraints within two hours, climbed the wall of his cell, and destroyed the camera there.[66] Only then was he placed in a more restrictive restraint chair.[67] Talley complains that the restraint chair was too tight and made tighter after he complained.[68] However, he had already escaped one set of restraints and he alleges no resulting injury. He spent only two hours in the chair before he was allowed to exercise, and he does not allege that it was overly tightened again when he was placed back into it.[69] Talley was let out of the chair again for exercise two and four hours later.[70] While ...

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