TORRES v. LANIGAN et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Madeline Cox Arleo on 10/10/2017. (JB, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 17-359 (MCA)
GARY M. LANIGAN,
This matter has been opened to the Court by Plaintiffs filing of apro se civil rights
complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 alleging inadequate medical care in violation of the
Eighth Amendment. The Court previously granted Plaintiffs application to proceed informa
pauperis. Federal lawrequires this Court to screen Plaintiffs Complaint for sua sponte
dismissal prior to service, and to dismiss any claim if that claim fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and/or to dismiss any defendant who is
immune from suit. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 19l5(e)(2)(B).’ For the reasons explained in this
Memorandum Opinion, the Court will dismiss with prejudice the
§ 1983 claims for damages
Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, § 801-810, 110 Stat.
1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review complaints in those
civil actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in formapauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B),
seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § l9l5A(b), or brings a
claim with respect to prison conditions, see 42 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
relief. “The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 191 5(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)
(citing Allah v. Seiverling. 229 F.3d 220. 223 (3d Cir. 2000)): Mitchell v. Beard. 492 F. App’x
230, 232 (3d Cir. 2012) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(l)); Courteau v. United States. 287 F.
App’x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § l9l5A(b)).
against Defendants in their official capacities and will dismiss without prejudice the
claims for inadequate medical care. In the absence of a viable federal claim, the Court will deny
supplemental jurisdiction over any potential state law claims and will provide Plaintiff with 30
days within which to submit an amended complaint.
The Court first addresses whether Plaintiff states any claims for relief under 28 U.S.C.
1983. A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for certain violations of his
constitutional rights. Section 1983 provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory subjects,
or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other
person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and
laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in
equity, or other proper proceeding for redress....
Thus, “to state a claim for relief 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 or caused by a person acting under color of state law.” See West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).
Here, Plaintiff has sued Defendants Gary M. Lanigan, George 0. Robinson, Bridget
Hogan, and John Doe 1 in their official and personal capacities and seeks damages and
injunctive/declaratory relief. The Court will dismiss with prejudice the official capacitY claims
for damages against the state Defendants, because these claims are essentially damages claims
against the state. And the state is not a “person” subject to suit under
§ 1983. See Will v.
Michigan Dept. ofState Police, 491 U.S. 58, 68-70 (1989) (holding that States and governmental
entities considered “arms of the State” for Eleventh Amendment purposes are not “persons”
within the meaning of’ 1983); Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 27(1991) (“State officers sued for
damages in their official capacity are not ‘persons for purposes of the suit because they assume
the identity of the government that employs them.”).
The Court construes Plaintiff’s Complaint to allege that he was provided with inadequate
medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment “requires prison
officials to provide basic medical treatment to those whom it has incarcerated.” Rouse v.
Plantier. 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir.1999) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976)). In
order to state an Eighth Amendment medical claim, an inmate must allege acts or omissions by
prison officials sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.
See Spruill v. Gulls, 372 F,3d 218, 235—36 (3d Cir. 2004); Natale v. Camden Cty. Correctional
Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2003).
In order to prevail under
§ 1983, a plaintiff must assert that each defendant had personal
involvement in the alleged wrongs, and liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of
respondeat superior. Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d
1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Here, Plaintiff fails to state
§ 1983 claims for inadequate medical
care against Defendants Lanigan, Robinson, and Hogan, as the Complaint states only that these
Defendants are “legally responsible for” the operation of the prison and/or the medical care of
It is not clear if Plaintiff is attempting to assert claims for supervisory liability against these
Defendants. A deliberate indifference claim against a supervisor requires a showing that “(1)
[the supervisor’s policies] created an unreasonable risk of the Eighth Amendment injury; (2) the
supervisor was aware that the unreasonable risk was created; (3) the supervisor was indifferent to
that risk; and (4) the injury resulted from the policy .“Lopez v. Corr. Med. Servs. Inc., 499 F.
App 142, 146 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Beers—Capitol v. Whetzei, 256 F.3d 120, 134 (3d Cir.
2001)); see also Barkes v. First Correctional Med., inc., 766 F.3d 307, 317 (3d Cir. 2014),
judgment rev’d sub nom on different grounds, Taylor v. Barkes, 135 5. Ct. 2042 (2015). In a
nutshell, “[a] highranking prison official can expose an inmate to a danger by failing to correct
serious known deficiencies in the provision of medical care to the inmate population.” Barkes.
766 F.3d at 324. Where this test is met, the official need not have specific knowledge of any
particular inmate’s plight or the failure of subordinate officials to treat the inmate’s serious
medical condition. Id.
inmates. (ECF No. 1, Compi. at ¶J 4-7.) Such allegations are premised solely on a theory of
respondeal superior liability, which is not a basis for relief under
therefore dismiss without prejudice the
1983. The Court will
1983 claims for inadequate medical care as to
Defendants Lanigan, Robinson, and Hogan.
Plaintiff also fails to allege a
1983 claim against Defendant John Doe 1, the only other
Defendant identified in the caption of the Complaint. (ECF No. 1, Compl. at 1.) To state a claim
under the Eighth Amendment, a prisoner must demonstrate “(1) that defendants were
deliberately indifferent to [his] medical needs and (2) that those needs were serious.” Rouse,
182 F.3d at 197. “To act with deliberate indifference to serious medical needs is to recklessly
disregard a substantial risk of serious harm.” Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318, 330 (3d Cir.
2009). Deliberate indifference requires proof that the official “knows of and disregards an
excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Natale. 318 F.3d at 582 (quoting Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)). For instance, a plaintiff may make this showing by establishing that
the defendants “intentionally den[ied] or delay[ed] medical care.” Giles, 571 F.3d at 330. The
Third Circuit has 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. Notably, however, allegations of negligent
treatment or medical malpractice do not trigger constitutional protections. Pierce
“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))). Here, Plaintiff alleges sufficient facts to show he has a
serious medical condition.
F. App’x 64, 66 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (citing Estelle. 429 U.S. at 105—06); Singlelaiy v.
Pa. Dep’t of Corr.. 266 F.3d 186, 192 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2001). Such allegations rise only to the level
of potential medical malpractice, which are insufficient to state a cognizable deliberate
indifference to a serious medical need claim under
See Spruill, 372 F.3d at 235
(“Allegations of medical malpractice are not sufficient to establish a Constitutional violation.’)
(citations omitted); see also Bramson v. Sulayman, 251 F. App’x 84, 86 (3d Cir. 2007) (per
curiam) (“[Plaintiff’s] complaint makes clear that the defendants treated him on many occasions.
He claims those treatments proved ineffective and that defendants negligently failed to diagnose
his heart condition, but those allegations do not state an Eighth Amendment claim.”) (citing
Estelle. 429 U.S. at 107—08 & n.16.)
Plaintiff alleges in the Complaint that John Doe 1, a medical doctor at Northern State
Prison, treated him in June 2014 after Plaintiff fell out of his bunk bed and injured his back and
hip. (ECF No. 1, Compl. at ¶j 9-13.) John Doe 1 allegedly provided Plaintiff with Motrin and
approved his return to the general population but “did not conduct or order any scientific medical
examination of Plaintiff as a result of the fall.” (Id. at ¶ 11.) John Doe I also allegedly
diagnosed Plaintiff with arthritis, and Plaintiff appears to disagree with this diagnosis, as he did
not have arthritis prior to his fall from the bunk bed. (Id. at ¶ 13.) There are no other allegations
in the Complaint against John Doe i. The Court finds that the allegations against John Doe I do
not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation evincing deliberate indifference to
Because John Doe I last treated Plaintiff in 2014. Plaintiff allegations against him also appear
time barred under the two-year statute of limitations for claims brought pursuant to § 1983, See
Montgomery v. DeSimone, 159 F.3d 120, 126 & n. 4 (3d Cir. 1998); Cito v. Bridgewater Titp.
Police Dep’t, 892 F.2d 23, 25 (3d Cir. 1989) (finding that New Jersey’s two-year limitations
period on personal injury actions, N.J.S.A. § 2A:14—2, governs claims under section 1983).
Plaintiff’s serious medical needs. Rather, these allegations at best suggest that John Doe 1 may
have misdiagnosed Plaintiff and/or committed medical malpractice, which is not actionable
§ 1983. As such, the Court will dismiss without prejudice the claims against John Doe 1.
The remaining allegations in the Complaint (see
¶J 14-27) detail Plaintiffs requests for
medical treatment for his injuries during the period from June 2014 through October 2016.
Plaintiff alleges that he submitted medical requests, complaining that he was experiencing
increasing pain and decreasing mobility due to the 2014 fall. (Id. at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff requested to
be taken to the hospital or other facility for “more sophisticated examinations”, but unidentified
medical personnel “ignored his pleas insisting that he continue taking pain medication and
attending physical therapy.” (Id.) Further, the “medical services personnel at Northern State
Prison did not recommend or order that Plaintiff undergo more extensive examinations in
response to [Plaintiff sj disclosure that he was experiencing more acute pain in his lower back
and side.” (Id. at ¶ 16.) Plaintiff further alleges that his condition during this period was
“deteriorat[ing]” and that he began having trouble moving his legs and hips. (Id. at ¶ 17.) In
June or July 2016, unidentified medical staff were summoned to the yard because Plaintiff was
lying prone and unable to move, which Plaintiff alleges was a direct result of the 2014 fall. (Id.
at ¶ 18.) After that incident, he was taken to the infirmary, where he was questioned; however,
medical personnel did not examine him or perform any procedures. (Id. at
¶ 19.) Several
months later, on October 14, 2016, Plaintiff fell again in his cell and was transported to the
infirmary; at that time, he was advised by the treating physician that he would be transported to
an outside medical facility for an MRI or CAT scan because those tests were needed to diagnose
his condition. (Id. at
¶ 21.) It is not clear whether Plaintiff received the MRI or CAT scan.
The Court notes that the generically-identified medical personnel described in paragraphs
fourteen through twenty seven are not named as John Doe Defendants, and it is impossible to
determine if the same medical personnel treated Plaintiff on the dates provided in the Complaint
or if he was treated by different medical personnel each time. Nor has Plaintiff provided
sufficient facts suggesting that any of these individual medical personnel were deliberately
indifferent to his serious medical needs, i.e., knew of his need for medical treatment but
intentionally refused to provide it, delayed necessary medical treatment for a nonmedical reason,
or prevented him from receiving needed or recommended treatment. To the contrary, the
Complaint acknowledges that Plaintiff was receiving pain medication and physical therapy for
his injuries, and that prison medical personnel wanted him to continue with that course of
treatment. After his second fall, however, a prison physician determined that he needed an MRI
and/or CAT scan. Although Plaintiff alleges that his condition was worsening, and that he
wanted “more sophisticated tests” to diagnose his injuries, he does not deny that he was
receiving treatment for his injuries and ultimately was referred to a specialist for an MRI or CAT
scan. It is well-established that
[mjere disagreement as to the proper course of medical
treatment’... is insufficient to state an Eighth Amendment claim.” Artis v. Jin, 642 F. Appx 92,
95 (3d Cir. 2016) (Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 235 (3d Cir. 2004)); see also Norris v. Frame,
585 F.2d 1183, 1186 (3d Cir.1978) (“Where the plaintiff has received some care, inadequacy or
impropriety of the care that was given will not support an Eighth Amendment claim.”). For
these reasons, the Complaint, as currently drafted. fails state an Eighth Amendment claim for
deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs against any of the “medical personnel” listed
in the Complaint, and the Court will dismiss this claim without prejudice.
Finally, it is unclear whether Plaintiff’s Complaint also raises state law claims for relief.
Because the Court has dismissed the federal claims, the remaining potential basis for this Court’s
jurisdiction over Plaintiffs state law claims is supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
1367. “Supplemental jurisdiction allows federal courts to hear and decide state-law claims along
with federal-law claims when they are so related to claims in the action within such original
jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy.” Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections
v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 387 (1998) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Where a
district court has original jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
1331 over federal claims and
supplemental jurisdiction over state claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
1367(a), the district court has
discretion to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction if it has dismissed all claims over
which it has original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C.
l367(c)(3); Growth Horizons, Inc. v. Delaware
County, Pennsylvania, 983 F.2d 1277, 1284—1285 (3d Cir. 1993). In exercising its discretion,
“the district court should take into account generally accepted principles of judicial economy.
convenience, and fairness to the litigants.” Growth Horizons, Inc., 983 F.2d at 1284 (quoting
United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966)). Where the federal claims are
dismissed at an early stage in the litigation, courts generally decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over state claims. United Mine Workers, 383 U.S. at 726; Growth Horizons, Inc., 983
F.2d at 1284—1285. Here, the Court has dismissed the federal claims without prejudice at the
Having dismissed Plaintiff’s substantive claims, the Court need not separately address
Plaintiff’s request for injunctive and declaratory relief.
earliest possible stage of the proceedings and exercises its discretion to decline supplemental
jurisdiction at this time.
For the reasons stated above, the Court dismisses with prejudice the
§ 1983 claims for
damages against Defendants in their official capacities. The Court dismisses without prejudice
§ 1983 claims for inadequate medical care against Defendants in their personal capacities.
To the extent Plaintiff alleges state law claims, the Court declines to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over those claims at this time. The Court will provide Plaintiff with thirty days to
submit an amended complaint to the extent he can cure the deficiencies in those claims the Court
has dismissed without prejudice. An appropriate order follows.
Madeline Cox Arleo, U.S.D.J.
If Plaintiff files an Amended Complaint that both (1) alleges a valid federal claim and (2)
asserts state-law claims, the Court will exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his state law
claims at that time. To the extent Plaintiff’s decides not to file an Amended Complaint in this
court, Plaintiff is free to assert his state law claims in state court.
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