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Roman v. Little

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 4, 2019

ALEXSANDRO ROMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. LITTLE, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          KEARNEY, J.

         Inmate Alexsandro Roman pro se sues the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and certain prison officials and medical staff employed at SCI-Chester alleging their August and September 2018 delay in medical care including in a three-day postponement of a sick call appointment caused him injury. Mr. Roman seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis. We grant Mr. Roman leave to proceed in forma pauperis but dismiss the Complaint with the exception of the deliberate indifference and negligence claims against medical professionals Dr. Little and Physician Assistant Nicholson. We also grant him leave to replead the dismissed claims if he can do so consistent with this Memorandum other than civil rights and state law claims against the Department of Corrections, against state actors in their official capacity, and for disability discrimination against the individual state actors.

         I. Pro se allegations

         Alexsandro Roman is a "Hispanic-Spanish speaking prisoner who was physically disabled and suffering from a serious medical condition of a dislocated disc, arthritis, and infection in the bone at L-2 and L-3" which required immediate medical treatment during his confinement at SCI- Chester.[1] Before he began to serve a prison term at SCI-Chester, Temple University Medical Hospital prescribed medication for these ailments.[2]

         Medical treatment in August 2018.

         On August 1, 2018, Hahnemann Hospital discharged Mr. Roman to SCI-Chester in extreme physical pain.[3] Mr. Roman gave his Hahnemann records to prison Medical Director Dr. Little and Physician Assistant Nicholson, who reviewed them.[4] Mr. Roman told SCI-Chester's medical intake staff, including Dr. Little and Physician Assistant Nicholson, about his injuries and medical needs.[5] On August 1, 2018, and for many days thereafter, Mr. Roman suffered excruciating physical pain.[6] He asked Dr. Little and Physician Assistant Nicholson for "medications for pain, a cane to walk with, bottom bunk status, and [a] no stairs status."[7] They "intentionally and deliberately disregarded [his] requests for medical assistance."[8]

         Mr. Roman's September 10, 2018 sick call is cancelled but gets his medicine three days later.

         Over five weeks later, on September 6, 2018, Mr. Roman submitted a sick call request, and SCI-Chester scheduled a sick call for September 10, 2018.[9] Upon arriving for the sick call, Correctional Officer Dixon told Mr. Roman of no more available sick call services for the remainder of the day.[10] As Mr. Roman now concedes, SCI-Chester had just returned to normal operations after a lockdown.[11]Mr. Roman told Officer Dixon and Lieutenant White of his "serious physical injuries", "extreme and severe physical pain" and "urgent" need to be seen by medical staff[12] Lieutenant White assisted Officer Dixon "in refusing [him] medical care even though [he] had a scheduled appointment for medical services at sick call" and both sent him "back to his housing unit still suffering in pain from his physical injuries without any medical care."[13]

         Mr. Roman grieved the denial of medical services on September 10, 2018.[14] He also "brought his medical issues to the attention of Deputy Superintendent Walls."[15] The Deputy Superintendent scheduled him for a September 13, 2018 sick call at which time SCI-Chester reordered his medications.

         II. Analysis

         Mr. Roman pro se sues state actors employed with SCI-Chester claiming they deprived him of civil rights in delaying medical care between August 1 and September 13, 2018. He sues Medical Director Dr. Little, Physician Assistant Nicholson, Officer Dixon, Lieutenant White and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. He pleads Dr. Little and Physician Assistant Nicholson intentionally and maliciously denied and/or delayed his medical care and medications for many days; knowingly and intentionally disregarded the medication prescription orders from Temple University Medical Hospital; and, failed to have him sign a medical records release authorization so that they could properly and appropriately treat his serious medical conditions.[16]He also alleges the individual Defendants treated him unfairly and in a discriminatory manner based on his inability to speak English, his Puerto Rican descent, and his physical disabilities.[17]Mr. Roman alleges he "personally observed all other similarly situated inmates at SCI-Chester being treated appropriately who spoke English, [and were] of a different ethnicity, and not physically disabled."[18]

         In addition to the cruel and unusual punishment and equal protection theories, Mr. Roman attempts to raise claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act as a qualified individual with a physical disability while confined at SCI-Chester.[19] He alleges Defendants "denied programs, services, and activities on the account of his physical disabilities."[20]

         Mr. Roman claims these constitutional torts exacerbated the pain of his dislocated disc, more arthritis in L-2 and L-3, increased infection due to lack of prescribed medication, extreme suffering without cane and medication, exposure to "M[RS]A and staph" infections, and deterioration of health.[21] He seeks $75, 000 in compensatory damages and $100, 000 in punitive damages from each Defendant.[22]

         A. We grant Mr. Roman leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

         Mr. Roman seeks leave to proceed without paying the filing fees under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. We grant Mr. Roman leave to proceed in forma pauperis as the sworn filings confirm he is an inmate incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action.[23]

         B. Mr. Roman may only proceed on the deliberate indifference claim against Dr. Little and Physician Assistant Nicholson.

         In waiving his filing fees, Congress requires us to review and dismiss the Complaint if he fails to state a claim. We determine whether the complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."[24] Conclusory allegations do not suffice.[25] As Mr. Roman is proceeding pro se, we construe his allegations liberally.[26]

         1. We dismiss Mr. Roman's claims against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections with prejudice.

         Mr. Roman sued the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Roman cannot maintain his claims against the Department of Corrections as an arm of the Commonwealth sharing in the Commonwealth's immunity and is not a "person" liable under section 1983.[27] We dismiss Mr. Roman's civil rights claims against the Department of Corrections with prejudice.

         2. We dismiss Mr. Roman's civil rights claims against state officials in their official capacity with prejudice.

         Mr. Roman sues the state officials in their official and individual capacities. We dismiss the official capacity claims with prejudice. The Eleventh Amendment bars suits against a state and its agencies in federal court that seek monetary damages.[28] As noted above, "[b]ecause the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections is a part of the executive department of the Commonwealth, it shares in the Commonwealth's Eleventh Amendment immunity."[29] Suits against state officials acting in their official capacities are really suits against the employing government agency, and as such, are also barred by the Eleventh Amendment.[30]

         As Mr. Roman's official capacity claims are essentially claims against the Department of Corrections barred by the Eleventh Amendment, we dismiss these official capacity claims with prejudice.

         3. Mr. Roman has plead deliberate indifference claims against Dr. Little and Physician Assistant Nicholson but has not plead deliberate indifference by Lieutenant White or Officer Dixon.

         Mr. Roman sues Dr. Little, Physician Assistant Nicholson, Lieutenant White and Officer Dixon in their individual capacities for deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment. After review of the preliminary record, he may proceed against the medical professionals but not against Lieutenant White or Officer Dixon.

         "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."[31] To state an Eighth Amendment claim based on the failure to provide medical treatment, a prisoner must allege facts showing prison officials deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.[32] A prison official is not deliberately indifferent "unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference."[33]

         "A medical need is serious, ... if it 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."[34] Deliberate indifference has been found "where the prison official (1) knows of a prisoner's need for medical treatment but intentionally refuses to provide it; (2) delays necessary medical treatment based on a non-medical reason; or (3) prevents a prisoner from receiving needed or recommended medical treatment."[35] But allegations of medical malpractice and mere disagreement regarding proper medical treatment are insufficient to establish a constitutional violation.[36] "Absent a reason to believe (or actual knowledge) that prison doctors or their assistants are mistreating (or not treating) a prisoner, a non-medical prison official... will not be chargeable with the Eighth Amendment scienter requirement of deliberate indifference."[37]

         Mr. Roman alleges Dr. Little and Physician Assistant Nicholson have medical training, and the most knowledge of Mr. Roman's injuries and condition, and are the most capable of taking action related to his medical treatment. Liberally construing his Complaint, Mr. Roman alleged facts suggesting these two medical professionals observed, examined, and knew of his injuries and the extent of those injuries, and either did not provide medical treatment or did not provide the required treatment. Liberally construing his Complaint and taking all inferences as true as we must do at this stage, Mr. Roman alleges sufficient facts to proceed on his deliberate indifference Eighth Amendment claims against these two medical Defendants.

         We cannot find the same plead facts showing a deliberate indifference claim as to Lieutenant White and Officer Dixon. Mr. Roman's allegations against Lieutenant White and Officer Dixon do not state a plausible claim against them. Mr. Roman alleges Officer Dixon, working at the desk at the medical department on September 10, 2018, told him the "medical staff was not providing any more sick call services for the day."[38] Mr. Roman told Officer Dixon and Lieutenant White of "serious physical injuries" and "in extreme and severe physical pain" and "urgently needed to be seen by medical staff"[39] Mr. Roman alleges Lieutenant White assisted Officer Dixon "in refusing [him] medical care even though [he] had a scheduled appointment for medical services at sick call" and both Lieutenant White and Officer Dixon sent him "back to his housing unit still suffering in pain from his physical injuries without any medical care."[40] The responses to grievances confirm a lockdown at the same time.

         Mr. Roman's brief and conclusory allegations do not support a plausible claim of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs by the prison officials. Although Mr. Roman alleges he spoke with Lieutenant White and Officer Dixon on September 10, 2018, his plead facts do not support a plausible claim against either of them for deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. Mr. Roman has not alleged sufficient facts suggesting either Lieutenant White or Officer Dixon knew his medical condition, the extent of his medical condition, or his alleged need for medication. We cannot find they would be able to draw an inference of a substantial risk of serious harm existing if he did not see the doctor that day.[41] Nor does Mr. Roman allege facts suggesting he presented with such an obvious or immediate need for medical care to allow us to infer Lieutenant White or Officer Dixon acted with deliberate indifference.

         Mr. Roman's allegations against Lieutenant White and Officer Dixon are not sufficiently developed to support a plausible claim against either. We dismiss Mr. Roman's deliberate indifference claim against those Defendants without prejudice.

         4.Mr. Roman does not plead a disabilities claim.

         Mr. Roman sues the Department of Corrections and individual state actors for discriminating against him under the Americans with Disabilities Act (Act). He cannot sue these individuals. He also fails to state a claim against these Defendants under the Act. The Supreme Court directs "Title II of the [Act], which prohibits a 'public entity' from discriminating against a 'qualified individual with a disability' on account of that individual's disability, covers inmates in state prisons."[42] To state a claim under the Act, "a plaintiff must show (a) that he has a disability, (b) that he was either excluded from participation in or denied the benefits ...


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