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Hernandez v. Link

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 20, 2019

MANUEL HERNANDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CYNTHIA LINK, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         While incarcerated, Manuel Hernandez was sent to Wills Eye Hospital for treatment for his glaucoma. At the hospital, an unnamed nurse injured Hernandez's hand during a procedure. When he returned to prison, Hernandez allegedly received inadequate medical care, which permanently damaged his hand. Hernandez sued various prison officials and medical providers. Two pairs of those defendants moved to dismiss Hernandez's claims. The Court grants both Motions.

         I

         During the relevant events, Hernandez was an inmate at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institutional at Graterford. See (Am. Compl. p. 4 ¶ 1, ECF No. 46).[1] At that time, Cynthia Link was Graterford's Superintendent. See (id. at p. 4 ¶ 2). Joseph Korszniak, a former registered nurse, also worked there as a Health Care Administrator. See (id.) In that role, Korszniak oversaw the prison's contracts with medical providers and was responsible for ensuring compliance with those contracts. See (id. at ¶ 25). Correct Care Solutions, LLC was one such contractor that provided SCI-Graterford's inmates with medical care. See (id. at p. 5 ¶ 4). Dr. Stephen Weiner was a physician with Correct Care. See (id.)

         While incarcerated at SCI-Graterford, Hernandez was diagnosed with glaucoma. See (id. at p. 7 ¶ 1). Months later, Korszniak, Link, Correct Care and Weiner allegedly ordered that Hernandez be transported to Wills Eye Hospital “for emergency treatment [for] his glaucoma.” (Id. at p. 7 ¶ 4.) At Wills, an unnamed nurse clumsily inserted an IV in Hernandez's right hand, causing unnecessary pain, bleeding and swelling. See (id. at pp. 7-8 ¶ 5-8). Despite Hernandez's swollen, bloody hand, the nurse and an unnamed doctor sent Hernandez back to SCI-Graterford without treatment. See (id. at p. 8 ¶¶ 9-10).

         Hernandez told an unnamed prison nurse about his hand injuries, but the nurse ignored the injuries without providing any treatment. See (id. at ¶¶ 11-12). Six days later, Weiner examined Hernandez's hand and prescribed steroids “to help with the swelling, discolor and pain.” (Id. at ¶ 17.) After two days, Weiner discharged Hernandez from the infirmary with a supply of pain killers. See (id. at ¶ 18). Neither the steroids nor the pain killers helped; the swelling and pain persisted. See (id. at ¶ 19).

         Hernandez later filed a grievance with the prison alleging that he had received inadequate medical care and remained in need of proper treatment. See (id. at ¶ 20). Korszniak denied the grievance and directed Hernandez “to go to sick call and be evaluated.” (Id. at ¶ 22.) Following Korszniak's instructions, Hernandez went to sick call, where a nurse practitioner diagnosed him “with nerve damage to his fingers” but provided no treatment. (Id. at ¶ 23.)

         Hernandez appealed the denial of his grievance to Link, who allegedly had the authority to direct Korszniak, Weiner and Correct Care to provide Hernandez immediate medical treatment. See (id. at ¶ 26). Link, however, did not do so; instead, she denied Hernandez's appeal two months later and told “him to go to sick call.” (Id. at ¶ 27.) Although Hernandez twice tried to appeal Link's decision, each attempt was rejected for noncompliance with grievance procedures. See (id. at ¶ 28).

         A few months later, Hernandez (acting pro se) sued Link, Korszniak, Weiner and Correct Care, among others. See (Compl., ECF No. 1). After the Court dismissed his complaint-some claims with prejudice, others without-Hernandez filed an Amended Complaint. See (Am. Compl.).

         The Amended Complaint states four counts, all seeking to vindicate federal rights via 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[2] Count I asserts Eighth Amendment claims of deliberate indifference against Link, Korszniak, Weiner and Correct Care. See (id. at 7-8 ¶¶ 1-9). In Count II, Hernandez reiterates and adds to his deliberate-indifference claim against Weiner. See (id. at ¶¶ 17-19). Count III does the same for the deliberate-indifference claims against Korszniak and Link. See (id. at ¶¶ 20-28). And Count IV adds claims that the defendants' “collective actions violated [Hernandez's] First, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, ” as well as the Department of Corrections' “Access to Health Care Procedure Manual 13.1; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Treatment of Prisoners Laws; . . . the Patient Informed Consent Act; [and] HIPPA Laws.” (Id. at ¶¶ 33-34.) Link, Korszniak, Weiner and Correct Care move to dismiss all claims against them.

         II

         To avoid dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible if the plaintiff pleads facts from which the Court can infer “that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Though this “plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, '” it demands “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Assessing plausibility under Twombly and Iqbal is a three-step process. See Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). Step one is to “take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (alterations omitted) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Next, the Court “should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, for all “well-pleaded factual allegations, the court should assume their veracity, ” draw all reasonable inferences from them “and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. (alterations omitted) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). If the well-pleaded facts do not nudge the “claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” the Court must dismiss the complaint. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         Because Hernandez appears pro se, the Court must construe his pleadings liberally. See Pearson v. Sec't Dep't of Corrs., 775 F.3d 598, 604 (3d Cir. 2015). This leniency “means that [courts] are willing to apply the relevant legal principle even when the complaint has failed to name it.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 244 (3d Cir. 2013). Incarcerated pro se litigants enjoy additional flexibility because they “often lack the resources and freedom necessary to comply with the technical rules of modern litigation.” Id. at 244-45. That said, “pro se litigants ...


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