Green v. Morales
OPINION. Signed by Judge Robert B. Kugler on 5/12/2014. (bdk, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civ. No. 13-5908 (RBK) (KMW)
ROBERT B. KUGLER, U.S.D.J.
Plaintiff is a federal prisoner currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in
Marion, Illinois. Plaintiff was previously incarcerated at F.C.I. Fairton in Fairton, New Jersey.
He is proceeding pro se with a complaint filed pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics
Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), alleging violations of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff’s
application to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted based on the information provided
At this time, the Court must review the complaint to determine whether it should be
dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,
or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from suit. For the following
reasons, the complaint will be permitted to proceed against defendant Ruben Morales.
Plaintiff initially filed his complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Illinois. Plaintiff’s original complaint named Leslee Duncan and Ruben Morales as
defendants. The Southern District of Illinois subsequently severed plaintiff’s claims against
Morales and transferred the complaint as to Morales to this Court.
The allegations of the complaint will be construed as true for purposes of this screening.
The Southern District of Illinois previously set forth the facts of the complaint regarding Morales
Plaintiff was incarcerated at F.C.I. Fairton, in New Jersey, when he
fell and injured his back on April 6, 2012. He developed severe
back pain, numbness in his hand, arm and feet, and extreme
weakness in his legs. These symptoms became worse over time.
Defendant Morales (a physician and clinical director) examined
Plaintiff soon after the injury, and refused to issue Plaintiff a cane
or wheelchair even though his ability to walk was impaired. Some
days later, when Plaintiff’s back pain became excruciating,
Defendant Morales refused to see Plaintiff or give him anything to
relieve the pain. From June through October 2012, Plaintiff
continued to seek help for his pain and requested Defendant
Morales to give him an MRI. These requests were refused, until
Plaintiff was prescribed 800 mg of Ibuprofen for “a while[.]”
(Dkt. No. 1 at p. 2.) In October, 2012, plaintiff was transferred to another prison. An MRI was
then taken which disclosed that plaintiff had a serious spinal condition.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A. Standard for Sua Sponte Dismissal
Per the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 132166 to 1321-77 (Apr. 26, 1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review complaints in those civil
actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B),
seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), or brings a
claim with respect to prison conditions, see 28 U.S.C. § 1997e. The PLRA directs district courts
to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is malicious, fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such
According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Iqbal, “a pleading that offers ‘labels or
conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’” 556
U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive sua
sponte screening for failure to state a claim 1, the complaint must allege “sufficient factual
matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203,
210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Belmont v. MB Inv. Partners, Inc., 708 F.3d 470, 483 n.17 (3d Cir.
2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Moreover, while pro se pleadings are liberally
construed, “pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a
claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted)
B. Bivens Actions
Bivens is the federal counterpart to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Walker v. Zenk, 323 F. App’x
144, 145 n. 1 (3d Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (citing Egervary v. Young, 366 F.3d 238, 246 (3d Cir.
2004)). In order to state a claim under Bivens, a plaintiff must allege: (1) a deprivation of a right
secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the deprivation of the right
was caused by a person acting under color of federal law. See Couden v. Duffy, 446 F.3d 483,
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Schreane v. Seana, 506 F. App’x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (per
curiam) (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); Mitchell v. Beard, 492 F.
App’x 230, 232 (3d Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1)); Courteau v.
United States, 287 F. App’x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)).
491 (3d Cir. 2006) (stating that under Section 1983 “an individual may bring suit for damages
against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another individual of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the United States Constitution or federal law,” and
that Bivens held that a parallel right exists against federal officials); see also Collins v. F.B.I.,
No. 10-3470, 2011 WL 1627025, at *6 (D.N.J. Apr. 28, 2011) (“The Third Circuit has
recognized that Bivens actions are simply the federal counterpart to § 1983 claims brought
against state officials’ and thus the analysis established under one type of claim is applicable
under the other.”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Based on the allegations of the complaint, plaintiff is attempting to bring a
denial/deprivation of medical care claim against Morales. The United States Court of Appeals
for the Third Circuit has laid out the necessary elements to properly allege a constitutional claim
for denial of medical care; specifically:
For the delay or denial of medical care to rise to a violation of the
Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual
punishment, a prisoner must demonstrate “(1) that defendants were
deliberately indifferent to [his] medical needs and (2) that those
needs were serious.” Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir.
1999). Deliberate indifference requires proof that the official
“knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or
safety.” Natale v. Camden Cnty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582
(3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837
(1994)). We have found deliberate indifference where a 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 nonmedical reason; or (3) prevents a prisoner
from receiving needed or recommended treatment.” Rouse, 182
F.3d at 197. Deference is given to prison medical authorities in the
diagnosis and treatment of patients, and courts “disavow any
attempt to second-guess the propriety or adequacy of a particular
course of treatment. . . (which) remains a question of sound
professional judgment.” Inmates of Allegheny Cnty. Jail v. Pierce,
612 F.2d 754, 762 (3d Cir. 1979) (quoting Bowring v. Godwin, 551
F.2d 44, 48 (4th Cir. 1977)). Allegations of negligent treatment or
medical malpractice do not trigger constitutional protections.
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976).
Pierce v. Pitkins, 520 F. App’x 64, 66 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam). The Third Circuit has also
noted that deliberate indifference can be found “where the prison official persists in a course of
treatment in the face of resultant pain and risk of permanent injury.” See McCluskey v. Vincent,
505 F. App’x 199, 202 (3d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “A
medical need is serious if it ‘has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment,’ or if it ‘is
so obvious that a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s attention.’” See
Mitchell v. Beard, 492 F. App’x 230, 236 (3d Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (quoting Atkinson v.
Taylor, 316 F.3d 257, 272-73 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Monmouth Cnty. Inst. Inmates v. Lanzaro,
834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987))).
The Court finds that plaintiff has stated a Bivens claim against Morales. Plaintiff alleges
that Morales at times refused to see him despite his excruciating pain. As stated above, a
defendant is deemed to be deliberately indifferent if he knows of a prisoner’s need for medical
treatment but intentionally refuses to provide it. See Rouse, 182 F.3d at 197. Additionally, the
complaint may also be alleging that Morales was deliberately indifferent because he persisted in
a course of treatment in the face of resultant pain as plaintiff notes that he continued to seek
treatment for his back pain but was refused. As stated above, this refusal is sufficient to allege
that Morale acted with deliberate indifference. See id.; see also McCluskey, 505 F. App’x at 202.
Finally, plaintiff has alleged that his medical needs were serious as he alleges that he was in
excruciating pain, his ability to walk was being impaired and that he was eventually diagnosed
with a serious spinal column injury. Therefore, plaintiff has stated a Bivens claim against
Morales to permit the complaint to proceed past screening.
For the foregoing reasons, the complaint will be permitted to proceed against Morales.
An appropriate order will be entered.
DATED: May 12, 2014
s/Robert B. Kugler
ROBERT B. KUGLER
United States District Judge
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