BROWN v. CHESTER COUNTY PRISON et al
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE LAWRENCE F. STENGEL ON 3/30/17. 3/31/17 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED TO PRO SE PLAINTIFF AND E-MAILED.(jpd, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
DONALD P. BROWN, SR.
TERENCE FARRELL, et al.
MAR 3 0 2017
KATE BARKMAN, Clerk
March 29, 2017
Donald Brown, Sr., a prose prisoner, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 for injuries he sustained, and medical treatment he received, after he fell out of his
bunk bed at Chester County Prison. The defendants filed motions to dismiss plaintiffs
amended complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure l 2(b )( 6), for failure to
state a claim. I will grant in part and deny in part the motions to dismiss.
Plaintiff was a prisoner at Chester County Prison in 2015. (Am. Compl., Doc. No.
5, at 1). On May 15, 2015, plaintiff fell off the top bunk of his prison bunk bed. (Id.). He
suffered a concussion, sprained neck, sprained shoulder, and lost two teeth. (Id.). Plaintiff
alleges the upper bunk bed he fell from was "unsecured." (Id.). After he fell, plaintiff was
taken by ambulance to Chester County Hospital for medical treatment. (Id.).
Plaintiff made prior complaints to the prison's warden, defendant Edward
McFadden, about the "unsafe conditions" in Chester County Prison. (Id. at 2). Plaintiff
alleges these complaints were ignored. (Id.). Plaintiff further alleges McFadden did
nothing to fix the conditions he complained about. (Id.). 1 Plaintiff also claims he
complained to Captain Morgan Taylor, who also ignored plaintiffs complaints about "a
lack of safety measures being taken at Chester County Prison." (hl at 4 ).
Prime Care Medical Inc. is a corporation that contracted with Chester County
Prison to provide medical treatment to inmates. Karen Murphy worked for Prime Care at
the prison where plaintiff was incarcerated at the time of his fall. Plaintiff claims that,
upon returning from Chester County Hospital, he complained to Karen Murphy and
Prime Care about continuing pain. (Id. at 3). Specifically, he complained about head pain
and a lack of range of motion in his neck and shoulder. (Id.). According to plaintiff, these
complaints went unanswered. (Id.). Plaintiff also alleges he asked Ms. Murphy for pain
medication but she did not provide any. (Id.). 2
Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint against defendants Chester
County Prison, Terence Farrell, Edward McFadden, Morgan Taylor, Karen Murphy, and
Prime Care Medical Inc. on June 17, 2016. (Doc. No. 1-1at1). I dismissed the
Plaintiff does not identify what the conditions he complained of were. (Am. Compl.,
Doc. No. 5 at 2). He merely alleges they were "unsafe" and "hazardous" conditions. (Id.).
Lastly, plaintiff alleges that, based on his medical records, he never should have been
placed on a top bunk bed. (Id. at 5). Plaintiff does not provide any additional information
indicating why he should not have been placed on a top bunk bed or how his medical history
confirms this. (Id.).
complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), for failure to state a claim. 3 (Doc.
All claims against Chester County Prison were dismissed with prejudice because
Chester County Prison is not subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 2). The
claims relating to the absence of a safety rail on the top bunk were also dismissed with
prejudice because precedent has foreclosed such claims under § 1983. (Id. at 4). In
dismissing plaintiffs complaint, I granted him leave to amend to challenge the lack of
medical treatment he received after his fall. (Id. at 5).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under Rule 12(b)(6), a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the
plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6);
see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the United States Supreme Court recognized
that "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief
requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. Subsequently, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662
(2009), the Supreme Court defined a two-pronged approach to a court's review of a
motion to dismiss. "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations
contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice."
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), district courts may dismiss prose prisoner
cases sua sponte if the complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.
Id. at 678. Thus, while "Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hypertechnical, code-pleading regime of a prior era ... it does not unlock the doors of
discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 678-79.
Second, the Supreme Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a
plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 679. "Determining whether
a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience
and common sense." Id. A complaint does not show an entitlement to relief when the
well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of
misconduct. Id.; see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232-34 (3d Cir.
2008) (holding that: (1) factual allegations of complaint must provide notice to defendant;
(2) complaint must allege facts suggestive of the proscribed conduct; and (3) the
complaint's "'factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level."' (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555)).
The basic tenets of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review have remained static.
Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch. Dist., No. Civ.A.08-626, 2008 WL 2779079, at *2
(W.D. Pa. July 15, 2008). The general rules of pleading still require only a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and need not
contain detailed factual allegations. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233. Further, the court must
"accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir.
2006). Finally, the court must "determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the
complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Pinkerton v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292
F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002).
The defendants, Commissioner Terence Farrell, Warden Edward McFadden, and
Captain Morgan Taylor filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. No.
22). The other defendants, Prime Care Medical Inc. and Karen Murphy, also filed a
motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 23).
Plaintiffs amended complaint restates his claims based upon the security of his
bunk bed. However, such claims are not cognizable under § 1983 because they amount to
mere negligence-not a constitutional violation . .Eg,_, Franco-Calzada v. United States,
375 F. App'x 217, 218-19 (3d Cir. 2010) (per curiam); Brown v. Chester Cty. Prison,
Civ. A. No. 16-3097, 2016 WL 3511545, at *2 (E.D. Pa. June 27, 2016); Tutora v.
Sweeney, Civ. A. No. 14-4458, 2014 WL 7059086, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 15, 2014);
Williams v. Corizon, Civ. A. No. 12-2412, 2013 WL 4787223, at *15 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 9,
2013); Walker v. Walsh, Civ. A. No. 11-1750, 2012 WL 314883, at *5 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 1,
2012); Pumphrey v. Smith, Civ. A. No. 09-233, 2010 WL 4983675, at *4 (W.D. Pa. Dec.
2, 2010). I previously dismissed these claims with prejudice. Plaintiffs restatement of the
claims cannot revive them.
Deliberate Indifference Claim Against Karen Murphy
Plaintiffs amended complaint states a plausible deliberate indifference claim
against Karen Murphy.
In order to make out a claim for deliberate indifference under the Eighth
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a plaintiff must show: (1) his medical needs were
serious; and (2) deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials. Estelle v. Gamble,
429 U.S. 97 (1976); Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1999). "[A]n
inadvertent failure to provide adequate medical care" does not rise to the level of
deliberate indifference. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06. Nor do claims of negligence or
medical malpractice. Rouse, 192 F.3d at 197.
Plaintiff has satisfied the first prong of his claim: his medical needs were serious.
Plaintiff alleges, and defendants do not dispute, that plaintiff suffered a concussion,
sprained neck, sprained shoulder, and lost two teeth because he fell headfirst onto the
ground from a top bunk.
Plaintiff has also satisfied the second prong: deliberate indifference. Upon
returning from the hospital, plaintiff complained to Ms. Murphy, a Prime Care employee,
about continuing pain in his head, as well as a lack of range of motion in his shoulder and
neck. Ms. Murphy did not respond to plaintiffs complaints. Plaintiff also asked Ms.
Murphy for some sort of pain medication, but she ignored him.
Plaintiffs claim against Ms. Murphy is not one for mere negligence. Rather,
plaintiff contends that his complaints of head pain were blatantly ignored. Plaintiff had
just suffered a concussion. Therefore, any complaints he made to Murphy about "head
pain" could have indicated a very serious medical condition. The alleged failure, on the
part of Murphy, to do anything about plaintiffs injuries, clearly amounts to deliberate
indifference. See Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 815 n.14 (3d Cir. 2000) (explaining that
when officials ignore a prisoner's or detainee's "need for medical care" such claims
amount to deliberate indifference); Mattern v. City of Sea Isle, 131 F. Supp. 3d 305, 316
(D.N.J. 2015) ("[T]he Third Circuit has found deliberate indifference in situations where
there was 'objective evidence that [a] plaintiff had serious need for medical care,' and
prison officials ignored that evidence") (alterations in original); Rodriguez v. Smith, No.
03-3675, 2005 WL 1484591, at *5 (E.D. Pa. June 21, 2005) (denying motion to dismiss§
1983 claim against prison doctors when they prevented plaintiff from receiving medical
treatment); Scantling v. Vaughn, No. 03-0067, 2004 WL 306126, at *7-8 (E.D. Pa. Feb.
12, 2004) (denying motion to dismiss plaintiffs§ 1983 claims against prison doctors
who were alleged to have known about his pain and denied the treatment he requested).
Accordingly, I will deny the motion to dismiss plaintiffs claim against Karen Murphy.
Deliberate Indifference Claim Against Prime Care Medical Inc.
Plaintiffs amended complaint fails to state a claim against Prime Care Medical
As with municipalities, under§ 1983, corporations that contract with prisons
cannot be held vicariously liable for their employees' acts. Natale v. Camden Cty. Corr.
Fae., 318 F.3d 575, 583 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S.
658, 691 (1978)). For Prime Care to be liable here, plaintiff must allege either a custom
or policy that caused the constitutional violation he suffered. Id. at 583-84.
A policy is made when a decisionmaker issues a formal proclamation, policy, or
edict. Id. at 584. A custom, unlike a policy, "is an act 'that has not been formally
approved by an appropriate decisionmaker,' but that is 'so widespread as to have the
force of law."' Id. (quoting Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997)). There are
three scenarios in which the acts of a government employee may be deemed the result of
a policy or custom, thereby imputing liability onto the employer. Id. The first is when an
employee's act is simply an implementation of the alleged custom or policy. Id. The
second occurs where no rule or policy has been announced but the policymaker itself has
violated federal law. Id. Third, "a policy or custom may also exist where the policymaker
has failed to act affirmatively at all, [though] the need to take some action to control the
agents of the government is so obvious, and the inadequacy of existing practice so likely
to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymaker can reasonably be
said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need." Id. (quoting Bryan Cty., 520 U.S.
at 417-18) (alteration in original)).
Plaintiffs amended complaint fails to allege any policy or custom. It also fails to
allege any decisionmakers or policymakers. Nor does it allege that Ms. Murphy's alleged
deliberate indifference was the result of Prime Care's implementation of any rules or
policies. Plaintiffs claim against Prime Care is based solely on vicarious liability, which
is not cognizable under§ 1983. Accordingly, I will dismiss the plaintiffs claim against
Plaintiffs complaint fails to state a claim for relief, except for his claims relating
to medical treatment he received subsequent to his fall from the bunk bed. Plaintiff states
a plausible deliberate indifference claim against Karen Murphy, but his claim against
Prime Care fails as a matter of law.
An appropriate Order follows.
I will dismiss the claims based on the absence of a bunk-bed railing with prejudice.
Allowing amendment of these claims would be futile since they are clearly foreclosed by the
law. My previous Opinion made this clear. However, I will allow plaintiff leave to amend his
claim against Prime Care Medical Inc. based upon the medical treatment he received after his
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