GARCIA v. CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL SERVICE INC. et al
OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Anne E. Thompson on 4/25/2017. (mmh)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
HONORABLE ANNEE. THOMPSON
No. 13-1250 (AET-DEA)
SERVICE,INC.; RALPH WOODWARD,
M.D., individually and in his official
capacity; ABU AHSAN, M.D., individually
and in his official capacity; DR. NUGGEN,
M.D. Urologist, individually and in her
official capacity; DESPINA TERRIS, M.D.,
Oncologist, individually and in her official
capacity; SAINT FRANCIS MEDICIAL
CENTER; CHARLES WARREN, JR.,
N.J.S.P. ADMINISTRATOR, individually
and in his official capacity; NEW JERSEY
STATE PRISON; GARY LANIGAN,
N.J.D.O.C. COMMISSIONER; NEW
JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF
CORRECTION; NEW JERSEY
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY
AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; JOHN
AND JANE DOES 1-30, individually and in
their official capacities,
APR 2 8 2017
THOMPSON, District Judge:
This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Dr. Despina Terris' Motion for
Sul11tnary Judgment. (ECF No. 132). Plaintiff Agustin Garcia opposes the motion. (ECF No.
144). The Court has issued the opinion below based on the written submissions of the parties and
without oral argument pursuant to Local Civil Rule 78.l(b). For the reasons stated below, the
motion is denied without prejudice.
This case involves medical treatment provided to Plaintiff for his prostate cancer while he
was in the custody of the New Jersey Department of Corrections. Plaintiff raises an Eighth
Amendment denial of adequate medical care claim as well as negligence and medical
malpractice claims against Dr. Terris. The undisputed facts are as follows: Dr. Terris is an
employee of Saint Francis Medical Center ("Saint Francis"). (Def.'s Undisputed Facts if 2).
Plaintiff received radiation therapy from Dr. Terris at Saint Francis beginning in March 2012.
(Id., 6; Pla.'s Cert., ECF No. 144-1, 7). The therapy consisted of 44 sessions_ofradiation
treatment. (Def.'s Undisputed Facts if 7; Pla.'s Cert.~ 13). Plaintiffs amended complaint alleges
that his therapy was interrupted without explanation and was defective and failed to eradicate his
cancer. (Def.'s Undisputed Facts~ 1). Plaintiff has not served Dr. Terris with an affidavit of
merit or a notice of tort claim fonn. (Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[s]ummary judgment is appropriate only if
'the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.' In making that determination, a court must view the
evidence 'in the light most favorable to the opposing party."' Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S. Ct. 1861,
1866 (2014) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157
(1970)). A "genuine" dispute of "material" fact exists where a reasonable jury's review of the
evidence could result in "a verdict for the non-moving party" or where such fact might otherwise
affect the disposition of the litigation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
The Court must grant summary judgment against any party "who fails to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
A. Eighth Amendment_ Claim
Dt. Terris seeks summary judgment on Plaintiffs Eighth Amendment claim on two
grounds: that she was not acting under color of state law when she treated Plaintiff, and that he
has failed to otherwise prove a claim of deliberate indifference.
In order to make a case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff must show: "(1) a person
deprived him of a federal right; and (2) the person who deprived him of that right acted under
color of state or territorial law." Groman v. Twp. ofManalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995)
(citing Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980)). A person acts ''under color of state law"
when they "exercise power [that the defendant] possessed by virtue of state law and made
possible only because the wrongdoer [was] clothed with the authority of state law." Westv.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988) (citation omitted). Dr. Terris asserts Plaintiff has failed to meet
Dr. Terris' motion for summary judgment on this ground is premature. Whether a private
entity is a state actor for purposes of§ 1983 is a fact-intensive inquiry regarding the relationship between the entity and the State. Dr. Terris states only that she is an employee of St. Francis and
that St. Francis "is a non-profit organization and is not affiliated with the State of New Jersey."
(Def. 's SOF ifif 3-4). However, "[i]t is the physician's function within the state system, not the
precise terms of [her] employment, that determines whether [her] actions can fairly be attributed
to the State. Whether a physician is on the state payroll or is paid by contract, the dispositive
issue concerns the relationship among the State, the physician, and the prisoner." West, 487 U.S.
at 55-56. Here, the inquiry must focus on the nature of the relationship between the State of New
Jersey and St. Francis. If New Jersey has delegated its constitutional duty to provide inmates
with adequate medical care to St. Francis, Dr. Terris becomes a state actor for purposes of§ 1983
by virtue of her employment. See Natale v. Camden Cty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d
Cir. 2003) (noting employees of private health services company providing healthcare to inmates ,
were considered "prison officials" because their employer was a "state actor").
St. Francis' articles of incorporation do not address whether it has a contract or other
agreement with New Jersey to treat its prisoners or the extent of that agreement if one exists.
There are not enough facts before the Court regarding St. Francis' arrangement with the State for
the Court to conclude as a matter of law that Dr. Terris is not a state actor.
The Court also cannot conclude as a matter of law that Plaintiff has not established an
Eighth Amendment violation. Plaintiff alleges Dr. Terris interrupted his radiation therapy
without explanation and "significantly deviate[ d] from the previously established duration of
sessions, such that sessions would extent for 60 minutes rather than the 15 minutes previously
established." (Amended Complaint, ECF No. 130 ifif 62-63). Plaintiff asserts his PSA increased
in severity because of the interference with his therapy, which in tum increased his risk of dying'
of prostate cancer. (Id.
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