Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Whitenight v. Wetzel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh.

December 12, 2019

SHAWN WHITENIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN WETZEL, PA DOC SECRETARY; JOHN/JANE DOE, CORRECT CARE SOLUTIONS; ROBERT GILMORE, SCI GREENE SUPERINTENDENT; DEPUTY DIALESANDRO, SCI GREENE DEPUTY SECRETARY; DORINA VARNER, CHIEF GRIEVANCE OFFICER; KERI MOORE, PA. DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS; PAUL NOEL, ACTING MEDICAL DIRECTOR, PA. DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS; ANDREA NORRIS, ACTIVE DIRECTOR OF BUREAU OF HEALTH CARE SERVICES; TRACY SHAWLEY, GRIEVANCE COORDINATOR; IRMA VIHIDAL, CHCA; KYLE GUTH, CHCA; R. CLITES, MEDICAL; MICHAEL BELL, PA. DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS; MICHAEL ZAKEN, PA. DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS; DR. HERBIK, REGIONAL MANAGER OF CORRECT CARE SOLUTIONS; DR. BYUNGHAK JIN, MEDICAL DIRECTGOR SCI GREENE; DR. ALPERT, MEDICAL DIRECTGOR SCI GREENE; DR. RAJ MAHLI, MEDICAL DIRECTOR SCI GREENE; DR. MIN HI PARK, PHYSICIAN SCI GREENE; DR. SANTOS, PHYSICIAN SCI GREENE; DR. KRAK, DENTIST SCI GREENE; JOHN KUSHNER, PHYSICAL THERAPIST; ESTHER MATTES, PHYSICIANS ASSISTANT; ELAN MWAURA, PHYSICAL ASSISTANT; JOHN MCANANY, R.N.SUPERVISOR; NEDRA GREGO, RN SUPERVISOR; NURSE JONES, JOHN/JANE DOE, PA. DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS; JOHN/JANE DOE, CORRECT CARE SOLUTIONS; PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, CORRECT CARE SOLUTIONS, JOHN/JANE DOE, BUREAU OF HEALTHCARE SERVICES; Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          Cynthia Reed Eddy Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Shawn Whitenight, brings this civil rights case against a 28 named defendants and a number of Jane/John Doe Defendants claiming his civil rights were violated during his incarceration at SCI-Greene.[2] In response to Defendants' motions to dismiss, Whitenight filed an Amended Complaint, which remains the operative pleading. (ECF No. 110). The defendants are the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”), and individuals and entities employed by the DOC, including the Secretary of the DOC, the Superintendent, grievance coordinators, physicians and medical staff, a physical therapist, the Director of the Bureau of Healthcare Services, and several unnamed individuals. Whitenight asserts that he was denied adequate medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, that he was retaliated against for speaking out about his inadequate medical treatment in violation of the First Amendment, and that his Due Process rights were violated when he was placed in administrative custody for 33 days in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. He also brings multiple state law claims sounding in medical malpractice, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and corporate negligence.

         The Defendants have filed motions to dismiss contending that Whitenight's constitutional claims are without merit because the facts set forth in his Amended Complaint affirmatively reveal that he did receive adequate medical care and that the Amended Complaint does not sufficiently allege a claim for First Amendment retaliation or a due process violation. See ECF Nos. 133, 139, 153, and 180.[3] Whitenight has responded in opposition to each motion. (ECF Nos. 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 165, 166, 167, 190, 191, and 192). Defendants Santos and Kushner filed Reply Briefs (ECF Nos. 179 and 194, respectively), to which Whitenight filed a Sur-Replies. (ECF No. 186 and 195). The motions are fully briefed and ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted to the extent that all federal claims will be dismissed with prejudice and any state law claims will be dismissed without prejudice for want of jurisdiction.

         Background[4]

         At the outset, the Court notes that the Amended Complaint contains over 360 paragraphs and is a running narrative of the medical care, or lack thereof, that Whitenight received during an approximately 18-month period at SCI-Greene. The Amended Complaint incorporates and references over 300 pages of exhibits which Whitenight filed with his original complaint. Consistent with the Court of Appeals' directive in Garrett v. Wexford Health, 938 F.3d 69 (3d Cir. 2019), the Court has carefully examined the allegations of the Amended Complaint.

         Plaintiff was arrested on December 17, 2013, and he claims that during his arrest he was a "victim of excessive force retaliation" by the arresting Pennsylvania State Troopers. Amended Complaint, ¶38. He claims that this alleged "excessive force" caused injuries to his cervical and lumbar spine. Id. He does not claim that any of the named Defendants, who saw him when he was at SCI-Greene, caused his injuries. In his summary and “index” of claims, Whitenight stresses that the claims of his Amended Complaint are about “denials and delays to provide the correct, adequate medical care.” (ECF 115, p. 1 and ECF 110, ¶41).

         Standard of Review

         The applicable inquiry under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is well settled. 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)).

         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.”).

         Discussion

         A. The Amended Complaint Fails to State a Claim For Deliberate Indifference in Violation of the Eighth Amendment.

         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). Whitenight faces an exacting burden in advancing his Eighth Amendment claim against prison officials in their individual capacities.[5] To sustain such a claim, he must plead facts that:

[M]eet two requirements: (1) “the deprivation alleged must be objectively, sufficiently serious;” and (2) the “prison official must have a sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994) (quotations marks and citations omitted). In prison condition cases, “that state of mind is one of ‘deliberate indifference' to inmate health or safety.” Id. “Deliberate indifference” is a subjective standard under Farmer-the prison official-defendant must actually have known or been aware of the excessive risk to inmate safety.

Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F.3d 120, 125 (3d Cir. 2001).

         These principles apply with particular force to Eighth Amendment claims premised upon inadequate medical care. In the medical context, a constitutional violation under the Eighth Amendment occurs only when officials are deliberately indifferent to an inmate's serious medical needs. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105. To establish a violation of a constitutional right to adequate medical care in accordance with this standard, a prisoner is required to point to evidence that demonstrates (1) a serious medical need, and (2) acts or omissions by prison officials that indicate deliberate indifference to that need. Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1999). Deliberate indifference to a serious medical need involves the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104. Such indifference may be evidenced by an intentional refusal to provide care, delayed provision of medical treatment for non-medical reasons, denial of prescribed medical treatment, denial of reasonable requests for treatment that results in suffering or risk of injury, Durmer v. O'Carroll, 991 F.2d 64, 68 (3d Cir. 1993), or “persistent conduct in the face of resultant pain and risk of permanent injury.” White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 109 (3d Cir. 1990).

         However, it is also clear that the mere misdiagnosis of a condition or medical need, or negligent treatment provided for a condition, is not actionable as an Eighth Amendment claim because medical malpractice is not a constitutional violation. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. “Indeed, prison authorities are accorded considerable latitude in the diagnosis and treatment of prisoners.” Durmer, 991 F.2d at 67 (citations omitted). Furthermore, in a prison medical context, deliberate indifference is generally not found when some significant level of medical care has been offered to the inmate. Thus, such complaints fail as constitutional claims under § 1983 since “the exercise by a doctor of his professional judgment is never deliberate indifference. See e.g., Brown v. Borough of Chambersburg, 903 F.2d 274, 278 (3d Cir. 1990) (‘[A]s long as a physician exercises professional judgment his behavior will not violate a prisoner's constitutional rights').

         1. Claims Against the DOC Defendants Relating to Whitenight's Back Pain

         Plaintiff generally accuses the DOC Defendants of not agreeing with him when he complained about his medical care and/or not overriding the medical and clinical judgment of his doctors. In fact, most of the claims against the DOC defendants concern their failure to respond “appropriately” to letters, requests, or grievances where Whitenight complained about the scope, timing, and medical judgment of his doctors, and/or the medical staff's handling of medical records or consultations. See Amended Complaint, Counts 1, 3-9, 11, 52-55, 66-67, 69-70, 73, 77-83, 86-87. (ECF No. 110).

         The DOC Defendants argue that Whitenight has failed to state a claim against them as they did not have personal involvement in the treatment or alleged delay of Whitenight's medical treatment. The Court agrees with the DOC Defendants and finds that Whitenight's allegations against them cannot ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.