HARRIS v. JOHNSON et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Madeline Cox Arleo on 3/1/18. (DD, ) N/M
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
BENJAMfN C. HARRIS,
Civ. No. 17-0606 (MCA) (MAR)
OFFICER JOSON, et al.,
ARLEO, DISTRICT JUDGE
Before the Court is the Complaint of Plaintiff, Benjamin C. Harris. (D.E. No. 1.) Plainti
has previously been granted inJörma pauperis status in this matter. (D,E.
No. 2.) The Court is
required to screen Plaintiffs Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
1915(e)(2)(B). Under this statute,
this Court must dismiss Plaintiffs claims if they are frivolous or malicious,
fail to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who
is immune. For
the reasons explained below, this Court will permit Plaintifis Complaint to procee
will dismiss in part, without prejudice.
Plaintiff filed his Complaint on January 27, 2017, and names the following defend
Officer Johnson, Officer Bray, Officer Martinez, Dr. Sayed Rizvi, Dr. Kaiser
and Dr. Lionel
Anicette. (D.E. No. 1 at 4-6.) Plaintiffs claims relate to inadequate medical care
and the denial
of medical care as a pretrial detainee. (D.E. No. 1 at 2-14.) He explains that upon
to the correctional facility in July of 2016, he immediately informed the medical staff
of his pre
existing health issues he “sustained on an on..the-job accident, which included the spine and lower
back causing [Plaintiff] to suffer severe and persistent lower back pain.” (Id. at 8.) The health
issues required him to use a cane and he informed the medical staff that he was “under a doctor’s
care on the outside.” (Id.) However, Plaintiffs cane was “confiscated and not returned for four
months.” (Id.) Between July and November, he states that he submitted requests for medical care
to alleviate his back and leg pain. (Id.) On November 5, 2016, Plaintiff began experiencing
difficulty breathing; however, Defendant Johnson did not permit him to be seen by medical
personnel and locked Plaintiff in a holding room. (Id. at 8-9,) Shortly after, Plaintiff states that
he collapsed to the ground sustaining serious injury, was brought to the infirmary, but was not
given treatment for his severe pain. (Id. at 9-10.) Four days later, he was discharged from the
infirmary without having been administered any diagnostic procedures to assess his injuries from
the fall. (Id. at 10.) Following the incident on November
Plaintiff continued to complain of
severe pain, but was only given Tylenol, Naprosin, and Motrin. (Id.) Then, in December of 2016,
Plaintiff states that he fell while walking down stairs and sustained serious injury a second time.
(Id.) Defendants Bray and Martinez left him lying on the floor and said he was faking his injuries.
(Id. at 11.) Plaintiff was then brought to the infirmary and complained to Dr. Rizvi of his pain, but
was only given Motrin. (Id.) Plaintiff further states that he wrote multiple letters to Medical
Director Dr. Anicette requesting medical treatment, but the requests were ignored. (Id. at 12.)
Plaintiff states that he spoke with Dr. Kaiser, an orthopedic doctor about his pain, his tendency to
collapse and the need for a walking device, but Dr. Kaiser merely told him to hold onto the walls
when he walks. (Id.) Plaintiff requests damages, declaratory relief and injunctive relief. (Id. at 8,
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), district courts are required to review
civil actions in which a prisoner proceeds in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C.
When reviewing such actions, the PLRA instructs courts to dismiss cases that are at any time
frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief
against a defendant who is immune. Id. “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) (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)).
Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the applicable provisions of the PLRA
apply to the screening of his Complaint. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Asheroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007)). “A pleading that offers labels or conclusions’ or a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. In order to survive a dismissal for failure to state
a claim, a 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) (internal quotation
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.”
lqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Furthermore, while pro se pleadings are liberally construed, they “still
must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.” Mala, 704 F.3d at 245.
The Court considers Plaintiffs claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
1983. 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.
To recover under this provision, two elements must be shown. First, a plaintiff must establish
that the defendant acted under color of state law,” and second, that the plaintiff has been deprived
of “a right secured by the Constitution.” Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011)
(citing West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)). Here, the Court construes Plaintiff to raise
claims against the defendants for inadequate medical care under the 1 4 Amendment.
a. Claims for Inadequate Medical Care
A pretrial detainee’s right to adequate medical care arises under the Due Process Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment. iVatale v. Camden Cty. Corr. Facility. 318 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir.
2003). “[Tjhe Supreme Court has concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment affords pretrial
detainees protections ‘at least as great as the Eighth Amendment protections available to a
convicted prisoner,’ without deciding whether the Fourteenth Amendment provides greater
protections.” Id. (quoting City ofRevere v. Massachusetts Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239. 244 (1983)
(quoting Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 671—72 n.40 (1977)). Therefore, it is appropriate to
Based on the language in the pleading, the Court construes Plaintiff to raise only federal
claims of inadequate medical care. Should Plaintiff wish to proceed on any state claims, he must
do so in an amended complaint.
evaluate Plaintiffs ‘Fourteenth Amendment claim for inadequate medical care under the standard
used to evaluate similar claims brought under the Eighth Amendment.” Id.
“For a denial of medical care to constitute a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, [a
plaintiffj must demonstrate: (i) a serious medical need, and (ii) acts or omissions by [the Named
Officers] that indicate deliberate indifference to that need.” Manern v. City of Sea Isle, 657 F.
App’x 134, 138 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal citations and quotations omitted). “[A] medical need is
if it is either ‘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
attention.” Id. at 139 (internal citations and quotations omitted). “Deliberate indifference is a
subjective standard of liability.
and requires proof that the official knows of and disregards an
excessive risk to inmate health or safety.”
Nutale, 318 F.3d at 582 (internal citations and
Deliberate indifference is evident where: “(i) the denial of reasonable
requests for medical treatment
expose[s] the complainant to undue suffering; (ii) knowledge of
the need for medical care and the intentional refusal to provide such care; or (iii) the delay of
necessary medical treatment for non-medical reasons.” Mattern, 657 F. App’x at 140 (internal
citations and quotations omitted).
The Third Circuit has identified several scenarios that rise to the level of deliberate
indifference to serious medical need. Most relevant here, are “(1) [w]here prison authorities deny
reasonable requests for medical treatment
and such denial exposes the inmate to undue
suffering or the threat of tangible residual injury, and (2) where knowledge of the need for medical
care [is accompanied by the]
intentional refusal to provide that care.” Spruill v. Gillis, 372
F.3d 218, 235 (3d Cir. 2004) (internal citations and quotations omitted).
Plaintiff has satisfied the first prong of a
amendment claim for inadequate medical
care, because he has demonstrated that his condition is “serious,” requiring treatment by a
physician. Matrern. 657 F. App’x at 138. As alleged by Plaintiff, he informed the medical staff
at the correctional facility that he was “under a doctor’s care on the outside” for back and spinal
injury that caused “severe and persistent lower back pain.” (D.E. No. I at 8.) Moreover, during
the several months described in the Complaint, Plaintiff allegedly collapsed twice, causing
Plaintiff to sustain serious injuries, resulting in significant
(Id. at 9-1 1.) See Spruill, 372
F.3d at 236 (finding “serious medical need” where inmate’s back condition “required significant
and continuous medication,” “caused him excruciating pain” and inmate “claim[ed] to have fallen
or collapsed from the pain twice.
exposing himself to further injury”).
This Court will next address the element of deliberate indifference with respect to each
1. Officer Johnson
The Plaintiff states that on or about November 1 5 2016. he “began to experience chest
pains and difficulty breathing.” (D.E. No. 1 at 8.) He was sent to the medical department by his
housing unit officer “on an urgent/emergent.” (Id.) When he arrived, Officer Johnson asked him
why he was there; Plaintiff “explained, during which time the Nurse at the desk told [Plaintiff] to
sit down because she was concerned about the way [Plaintiff] looked.” (Id.) Defendant Johnson
then refused him access to medical personnel because he did not have a medical pass. (Id. at 8-9.)
Plaintiff alleges that he explained to Defendant Johnson that he was sent there by the housing unit
officer, and stated he could not return to retrieve a pass “because of my condition[,]” but Defendant
Johnson still refused him care. (Id. at 9.) He alleges that Defendant Johnson then “locked [him]
in a holding room.. while [Plaintiff] was in excruciating pain,” upon which time Plaintiff agreed
“for fear of his life” to return to his housing unit to get a pass. (Id. at 9.) While returning to his
unit, Plaintiff states that he “experienced shortness of breath,” “collapsed to the ground” hit his
head, twisted his neck, was knocked unconscious and was then brought to the infirmary. (Id. at 910.)
Taken together, the Court finds these facts are sufficient to demonstrate that Officer
Johnson had a subjective believe of Plaintiffs serious medical need, and the failure, as well as the
delay in permitting Plaintiff to be seen by medical personnel demonstrates deliberate indifference
to that need. See Rouse v. Planlier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir.1999) (holding that a court may
find deliberate indifference where the prison official delays medical treatment based on a nonmedical reason or prevents a prisoner from receiving needed medical care). Therefore, the Court
will permit this claim to proceed with respect to Officer Johnson.
2. Officers Bray and Martinez
Plaintiff claims that on December 8, 2016, he fell while walking down stairs to get
medication, “hitting my head on a concrete pillar, and injuring my back, splitting my li[p] and
sustaining an ‘egg shape’ lump on my forehead.” (D.E. No. 1 at 10.) Plaintiff further states that
the housing unit officers, Defendants Bray and Martinez, came to check on him, said that he was
“faking” and “continued running medication.” (Id. at 11.) The officers left Plaintiff “laying on
the floor for 25 minutes while other inmates walked over and around [him]” and the officers
“refused to call a medical emergency.” (Id.) Plaintiff explains that he “was in excruciating pain
from the injuries” he sustained from the fall, and some thirty minutes later he was brought on a
stretcher to the infirmary. (Id.)
Again, the Court finds that these facts, taken as true, are sufficient to demonstrate deliberate
indifference by Officers Bray and Martinez. While the officers said he was “faking” his injuries,
the visible signs of injury demonstrate that it would have been obvious to the officers that Plaintiff
required medical attention, but they still “refused to call a medical emergency.” See Dormer v.
o ‘Carroll, 991
F.2d 64, 68 (3d Cir. 1993) (explaining that “deliberate indifference could exist.
• where [s]hort of absolute denial.
necessary medical treatment [us.
delayed for non-medical
reasons”) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Thus, the delay, together with Plaintiff’s
external injuries, demonstrate deliberate indifference, and the Court will allow this claim to
3. Doctor Rizvi
With respect to Defendant Rizvi, Plaintiff explains that after he was brought to the
infirmary following his fall in December, he informed Dr. Rizvi that he was under a doctor’s care
on the outside and that he was experiencing “severe and persistent pain,” but was only given
Motrin. (D.E. No. 1 at 11.)
Plaintiff has failed to show that Dr. Rizvi was deliberately indifferent to his medical need.
Deliberate indifference requires a Plaintiff to show that a defendant knowingly disregards an
excessive risk to an inmate. See Natale, 318 F.3d at 582. Dr. Rizvi did in fact prescribe Plaintiff
medication for his pain, and there is nothing to indicate that this course of treatment created an
excessive risk to his health, See Andrews v. Camden County, 95 F. Supp. 2d 217, 228 (D.N.J.
2000) (explaining that a “prisoner’s subjective dissatisfaction with his medical care does not in
itself indicate deliberate indifference”); White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 110 (3d Cir. 1990)
(explaining that “[i]fthe doctor’s judgment is ultimately shown to be mistaken, at most what would
be proved is medical malpractice, not an Eighth Amendment violation”). Therefore, the claim
against this defendant will be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim.
4, Medical Director Doctor Lionel Anicette
With respect to this defendant, Plaintiff states that he wrote numerous letters to Dr. Anicette
asking for help with the medical treatment for his severe pain, but that the letters were ignored.
(D.E. No. 1 at 12.) Plaintiff attaches one such letter to his Complaint. 2 (See D.E. No. 1-3 2.)
A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs
to be liable and cannot be held responsible for a constitutional violation which he or she neither
participated in nor approved.” Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 210 (3d Cir. 2007). The Third
Circuit has found that a supervisor can be liable for acts of subordinates where “he or
participated in violating the plaintiffs rights, directed others to violate them, or, as the person
charge, had knowledge of and acquiesced in his subordinates’ violations.” Santiago v. Warminster
Tp., 629 F.3d 121, 129 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting A.M ex rel. J.MK. v. Luzerne Cnty Juvenile Del.
Ctr., 372 F.3d 572, 586 (3d Cir. 2004)). Where a supervisor with authority over a subordinate
knows that the subordinate is violating someone’s rights but fails to act to stop the subordinate
from doing so, the factfinder may usually infer that the supervisor ‘acquiesced’ in
In that letter, Plaintiff states:
I am writing to request your assistance to obtain medical treatment
to alleviate the severe and per[Jsistent head neck and back pain.
I suffer as a result of a[sic] falls I had in this jail as well as procedures
to determine what [i]s wrong with me.
I also suffer from pre existing medical conditions that are [not] being
addressed despite my having submitted numerous sick call
request[s] and a grievance concerning both issues.
Thanking you in advance for your much anticipated assistance with
this extremely urgent matter[.]
subordinate’s conduct.” Bennett v. Washington. 2015 WL 731227, at *11 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 19, 2015)
(citing Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh, 120 F.3d 1286, 1294 (3d Cir.1997)).
Assuming that Dr. Anicette had knowledge of the letters, the alleged harm fails to show
that Dr. Anicette acquiesced to a constitutional violation. The facts supplied by Plaintiff mention
only that he wrote to Dr. Anicette about his severe pain as a result of falling, and his pre-existing
medical conditions. As noted with respect to Dr. Rizvi, however, Plaintiff did in fact receive
treatment for his pain and medical care following his falling episodes. While Plaintiff may not
have found the care adequate, dissatisfaction with medical care does not state a claim of deliberate
indifference to serious medical need. See Andrews, 95 F. Supp. at 228. Therefore, the claims as
to this defendant are dismissed without prejudice.
5. Dr. Kaiser
Plaintiff describes that he spoke with Defendant Dr. Kaiser with respect to his persistent
leg and back pain, his tendency to collapse, his need for a cane and that he was under the care of a
physician on the outside. (D.E. No. 1 at 12.) He further states that he explained his need for a
“walking device,” but that Defendant Dr. Kaiser ‘told [Plaintiff] to hold on to the walls when [he]
walk[s].” (Id.) These facts, if true, are sufficient at this stage to demonstrate a claim of deliberate
indifference to Plaintiff’s serious medical need. See Johnson v. f-fardin County, 908 F.2d 1280.
128 3—84 (6th Cir. 1 990) (refusal to provide inmate with crutches. among other things. supported
claim of deliberate indifference; Kwanzaa v. Brown, No. 05-5976. 2006 WL 2403978. at
(D.N.J. Aug. 17, 2006) (wherein court permitted claim to proceed that alleged prison officials
failed to allow inmate to ambulate with a cane and failed to allow inmate use of medically
prescribed devices such as a cane): ); Rosa/es v. Coughlin, 10 F. Supp. 2d 261, 268-70 (W.D.N.Y.
1998) (denying summary judgment motion of prison officers who allegedly repeatedly deprived
an inmate with leg problems of his cane): cf Owens v. Chester Cly.. No. 97-1344. 2000 WL
116069. at *8 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 31. 2000) (differentiating Rosa/es, supra: “[tjhe key to this decision.
and other similar decisions, is the fact that the cane was specifically prescribed by a doctor... [ijn
the case at bar, there is no evidence offered by Plaintiff that he was prescribed crutches or that they
were essential to his treatment”). As such, the Court will permit this claim to proceed with respect
to Doctor Kaiser.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will allow Plaintiffs
§ 1983 claims against Doctor
Kaiser, Officer Johnson, Officer Bray and Officer Martinez to proceed, and will dismiss without
prejudice Plaintiffs claims against Dr. Rizvi and Dr. Anicette. for failure to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted. An appropriate Order follows.
MadeIne Cox Arleo
United States District Judge
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