CRUZ v. MEDICAL DEPARTMENT STAFF et al
OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Michael A. Shipp on 12/4/2014. (eaj)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 14-4078 (MAS)
MEDICAL DEPARTMENT STAFF,
PEDRO CRUZ, Plaintiff pro se
Middlesex County Adult Correctional Center
P.O. Box 266
New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903
SHIPP, District Judge
Plaintiff, Pedro Cruz, a state inmate confined at the Middlesex County Adult Correctional
Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey, at the time he submitted this Complaint for filing, seeks
to bring this action in forma pauperis. Based on Plaintiffs affidavit of indigence, the Court will
grant Plaintiffs application to proceed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) and order the Clerk of
the Court to file the Complaint accordingly.
At this time, the Court must review the Complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§
1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A, 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 such relief. For the reasons set forth below, the Court
dismisses the Complaint for failure to state a claim at this time.
Plaintiff, Pedro Cruz ("Plaintiff'), brings this civil action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
against Defendants, the Medical Department Staff at the Middlesex County Adult Correction
Center ("MCACC"), and Warden Edmond C. Cicchi.
(Complaint, Caption and
Plaintiff alleges that, for four months, the nurses and doctors at the MCACC medical department
have refused medical treatment for his complaints of headache pain and dizziness. (Id.,
6.) On May 30, 2014, he requested medical attention for "headache pain" and "dizziness on a
couple of occasions," but his request was ignored. However, he admits that on June 1, 2014, he
was given ibuprofen for his headache. Plaintiff states that the medical staff is aware that he has
Plaintiff seeks unspecified money damages for his pain and suffering. (Id.,
II. STANDARDS FOR A SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL
Per 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 forma pauperis or seeks redress against a
governmental employee or entity. Specifically, 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. See 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). Accordingly, because Plaintiff is a prisoner
proceeding in forma pauperis in this matter, this action is subject to sua sponte screening for
dismissal under both 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and§ 1915A.
"The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim under [the
PLRA] is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to a motion filed under Rule
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." Aruanno v. Green, 527 F. App'x 145, 147 (3d
Cir. 2013) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)); Courteau v. United States, 287 F. App'x 159,
162 (3d Cir. 2008) (28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). According to the Supreme Court's decision in
Ashcroft v. 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. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).
Rather, to prevent summary dismissal, the
complaint must allege "sufficient factual matter" to show that the claim is facially plausible.
Fowler v. UPMS Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). Moreover,
while pro se pleadings are liberally construed, Higgs v. Atty. Gen., 655 F .3d 333, 339 (3d Cir.
2011), "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).
Nonetheless, courts must be cognizant that the Iqbal standard "is not akin to a probability
requirement." Covington v. Int'! Ass 'n of Approved Basketball Officials, 710 F.3d 114, 118 (3d
Cir. 2013) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678) (internal quotation marks omitted).
III. SECTION 1983 ACTIONS
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1, Compl.
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, first, the violation of a right
secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and, second, that the alleged deprivation
was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S.
42, 48 (1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d Cir. 1994). See also
Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).
A. Denial of Medical Care Claim
Plaintiffs Complaint asserts a claim that he was denied medical care for headache pain
and occasional dizziness.
Plaintiff does not indicate whether he is a pretrial detainee or a
Consequently, the Court will examine Plaintiffs claim under both the
Eighth Amendment standard (applicable to convicted prisoners) and the Fourteenth
Amendment's due process standard (applicable to pretrial detainees). See Hubbard v. Taylor,
399 F.3d 150 (3d Cir. 2005) (holding that criminal pretrial detainees retain liberty interests
firmly grounded in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment).
To state a Fourteenth Amendment claim of inadequate medical attention, Plaintiff must
allege that a defendant acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. See
Lenhart v. Pennsylvania, 528 F. App'x 111, 115 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (citing Revere v.
Mass. Gen. Hosp., 463, 239, 243--44 (1983); Natale v. Camden Cnty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d
575, 581 (3d Cir. 2003)). The standard used to evaluate a Fourteenth Amendment claim for
inadequate medical care is similar to that under the Eighth Amendment, except that for a pretrial
detainee no aspect of confinement can have the purpose of punishment since the detainee has not
been convicted. Thus, the Fourteenth Amendment standard for detainee's medical care is at least
as demanding upon prison authorities as the Eighth Amendment standard. See King v. Cnty. of
Gloucester, 302 F. App'x 92, 96 (3d Cir. 2008).
The Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment requires that
prison officials provide inmates with adequate medical care. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97,
103-04 (1976); Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192 (3d Cir. 1999). In order to set forth a cognizable
claim for a violation of his right to adequate medical care, an inmate must allege: (1) a serious
medical need; and (2) behavior on the part of prison officials that constitutes deliberate
indifference to that need. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106; Natale, 318 F.3d at 582.
To satisfy the first prong of the Estelle inquiry, the inmate must demonstrate that his
medical needs are serious. "Because society does not expect that prisoners will have unqualified
access to health care, deliberate indifference to medical needs amounts to an Eighth Amendment
violation only if those needs are 'serious."' Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992). "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 second element of the Estelle test requires an inmate to show that prison officials
acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical need. See Natale, 318 F .3d at 582
(finding deliberate indifference requires proof that the official knew of and disregarded an
excessive risk to inmate health or safety).
"Deliberate indifference" is more than mere
malpractice or negligence; it is a state of mind equivalent to reckless disregard of a known risk of
harm. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837-38 (1994).
The Court of Appeals for 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 for non-medical reasons; or (3) prevents a
prisoner from receiving needed or recommended treatment." Pierce v. Pitkins, 520 F. App'x 64,
66 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Rouse, 182 F.3d at 197). The Court of Appeals also has held that
needless suffering resulting from the denial of simple medical care, which does not serve any
penological purpose, violates the Eighth Amendment. See Atkinson, 316 F.3d at 266.
In this case, the Court finds that Plaintifr s vague allegation that he has headache pain and
dizziness is not sufficient to demonstrate a "serious medical need." Cf Tsakonas v. Cicchi, 308
F. App'x 628, 632 (3d Cir. 2009) (holding that "[i]n order to be considered 'serious,' '[t]he
detainee's condition must be such that a failure to treat can be expected to lead to substantial and
unnecessary suffering, injury, or death." (citation omitted)).
However, even if Plaintifrs
allegations of headache pain and occasional dizziness could be construed as a "serious medical
need, the facts alleged regarding the behaviors of the unnamed nurses and doctors indicate that
they responded timely and appropriately to Plaintifrs needs. Plaintiff admits that one day after
his complaints of headache pain, Plaintiff was provided ibuprofen for his pain. (Compl.,, 6.)
Thus, Plaintifr s general allegation that he was refused treatment is unsupported by his own
admission of treatment received. Courts "will generally not find deliberate indifference when
some level of medical care has been offered to the inmate." Christy v. Robinson, 216 F. Supp.2d
398, 413-14 (D.N.J. 2002). See also DeJesus v. Correctional Medical Services, Inc., 574 F.
App'x 66, 69 (3d Cir. 2014) (holding that "[w]here a prisoner has received some medical
attention and the dispute is over the adequacy of the treatment, federal courts are generally
reluctant to second guess medical judgments and to constitutionalize claims which sound in state
Accordingly, the Complaint fails to state a claim against these medical staff
B. Supervisor Liability
It has been long established that claims based solely on the theory of respondeat
superior or supervisor liability are facially deficient. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 67677 (2009); see also Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 946 F.2d 1017, 1027 (3d Cir. 1991); accord
Solan v. Ranck, 326 F. App'x 97, 100-01 (3d Cir. 2009) (holding that "[a] defendant in a civil
rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability cannot be
predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior"), cert. denied, 558 U.S. 884 (2009).
But see Barkes v. First Correctional Medical, Inc., 766 F.3d 307, 324 (3d Cir. 2014) (holding
that supervisor liability can be imposed in a § 1983 action where the supervisory official has
"fail[ ed] to correct known deficiencies in the provision of medical care to the inmate
population," and noting that it is irrelevant [t]hat the [supervisory] official had no specific
knowledge of any particular inmate or the failure of subordinate officials to treat that inmate's
serious medical condition").
Here, Plaintiffs complaint does not allege any direct or personal involvement by Warden
Cicchi other than in his capacity as the warden at MCACC. Indeed, Plaintiff simply states that
Cicchi "fail[ ed] to supervise nurses and/or doctors." (Compl., if 4c.) Further, Plaintiff does not
allege Warden Cicchi has ignored or failed to correct known deficiencies in the medical care
provided to the inmates at MCACC. Therefore, Plaintiffs claim against Warden Cicchi must be
dismissed because it rests impermissibly on a theory of supervisory liability.
Therefore, for the reasons set forth above, the Complaint is dismissed without prejudice,
in its entirety, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(l), for failure to state a
cognizable claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 at this time. An appropriate order follows.
United States District Judge
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