WILLIAMS v. DOE, ET AL.
MEMORANDUM/OPINION THAT DEFENDANT KORSZNIAK'S MOTION TO DISMISS IS GRANTED WITH PREJUDICE. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JEFFREY L. SCHMEHL ON 10/17/17. 10/18/17 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED TO PRO SE' AND E-MAILED. (ky, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
NURSE/DOCTOR JOHN DOE/
JANE DOE, et al.,
SCHMEHL, J. /s/ JLS
OCTOBER 17, 2017
Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff Roger Williams’ Complaint. Mr. Williams
pro se alleges Defendants Jane/John Doe and Joseph C. Korszniak violated the Eighth
Amendment when they withheld medication with deliberate indifference to his medical
needs and inflicted unnecessary pain and suffering. Defendant Korszniak is employed by
S.C.I. Graterford as the Correctional Health Care Administrator (“CHCA”) and
Defendant Nurse/Doctor John/Jane Doe ostensibly refers to the medical prison official
who provided care to Mr. Williams. However, Mr. Williams’ Complaint does not
identify who specifically provided the care resulting in the alleged injury.
Defendants assert that Eleventh Amendment immunity bars suit against the
Commonwealth, its agencies, and employees in their official capacities. Given Mr.
Williams’ pro se status, it is understandable that he does not distinguish between
Defendants’ official and individual capacity under § 1983. For purposes of the present
complaint, this Court will analyze Mr. Williams’ claim as if pled as an official-capacity
claim while addressing Defendants’ sovereign immunity defense. This Court will then
address Mr. Williams’ Eighth Amendment argument set forth in the Complaint. Further,
Defendants’ motion only addresses claims made against one Defendant, Joseph C.
Korszniak; therefore, this Court will only address those defenses.
Mr. Williams failed to respond to the motion to dismiss filed by Defendants.
Failure to make a timely response allows the court to treat a motion as uncontested.
Move Organization v. City of Philadelphia, 89 F.R.D. 521, 523 (E.D. Pa. 1981). Further,
there is no question that Mr. Williams actually received a copy of the motion to dismiss,
as the certificate of service states that the motion was served upon him at S.C.I. Mercer.
As of the date of this opinion, Mr. Williams is no longer incarcerated at S.C.I. Mercer.
Mr. Williams’ response was due in October of 2016; he has not responded, nor has he
requested additional time to do so.
Rule 7.1(c) of the local Rules of Civil Procedure for the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania provides that “[i]n the absence of a timely response, the motion may be
granted as uncontested except as provided under [the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
governing summary judgment motions].” See also Celestial Community Development
Corp., Inc., v. City of Philadelphia, 901 F.Supp.2d 566, 578 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (“To put it
simply: plaintiffs who fail to brief their opposition to portions of motions to dismiss do so
at the risk of having those parts of the motions to dismiss granted as uncontested.”);
Nelson v. DeVry, Inc., No. 07-4436, 2009 WL 1213640 (E.D. Pa. April 23, 2009)
(“Failure to address even part of a motion in a responsive brief may result in that aspect
of the motion being treated as unopposed.”). Accordingly, Defendants motion to dismiss
is granted as unopposed. However, even if this Court were not to consider the motion as
unopposed, the motion would be granted nonetheless. Therefore, moving Defendant’s
motion to dismiss will be granted with prejudice as to Defendant Korszniak.
This Court also notes the remaining Defendant in this case is Nurse/Doctor
Jane/John Doe. Mr. Williams will be given thirty (30) days to file an amended complaint
properly identifying Jane/John Doe. If Plaintiff fails to do so, his complaint will be
dismissed without further notice.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
“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.’” Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007)). A claim satisfies the plausibility standard when the facts alleged “allow
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Burtch v. Millberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 220-21 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). While the plausibility standard is not “akin to a ‘probability
requirement,’” there nevertheless must be more than a “sheer possibility that a defendant
has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
“Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant's liability,
it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.’”
Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
The Court of Appeals requires us to apply a three-step analysis under a 12(b)(6)
motion: (1) “it must ‘tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a
claim;’” (2) “it should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than
conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth;’” and, (3) “[w]hen there are wellpleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine
whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.” Connelly v. Lane
Construction Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675,
679); see also Burtch, 662 F.3d at 221; Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d. Cir.
2011); Santiago v. Warminster Township, 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d. Cir. 2010).
However, a document filed pro se must be “liberally construed.” Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A pro se complaint, “however inartfully pleaded,”
must be held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers” and
can only be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it appears beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to
relief. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520–21 (1972). The Third Circuit has instructed
that if a complaint is vulnerable to dismissal for failure to state a claim, the district court
must permit a curative amendment, unless an amendment would be inequitable or futile.
Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002).
1. Sovereign Immunity under the Eleventh Amendment
Defendant Korszniak argues the Eleventh Amendment bars him from suit in his
official-capacity. 1 The Eleventh Amendment precludes private federal litigation against
states, state agencies, and state officials in their official capacities. This immunity is
subject to three basic exceptions: “(1) Congress may specifically abrogate a state’s
sovereign immunity by exercising its enforcement power under the Fourteenth
Amendment; (2) a state may waive its sovereign immunity by consenting to suit; or (3)
under Ex parte Young, a state official may be sued in his or her official capacity for
prospective injunctive relief. Hollihan v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, 159
As previously stated, this Court will address Mr. Williams’ allegations against Defendant Korszniak as
official-capacity claims under § 1983.
F.Supp.3d 502, 510 (M.D. Pa. 2016) (citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908)); see
also Idaho v. Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 267-70 (1997).
As it pertains to the first exception, it is well-settled that by enacting § 1983
Congress has not abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity. Id. (citing Will v. Michigan
Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989)). Second, Pennsylvania has unequivocally
withheld consent to suit under § 1983. Id. “Section 8521 of Title 42 of the Pennsylvania
Code clearly states, ‘Nothing contained in this subchapter shall be construed to waive the
immunity of the Commonwealth from suit in Federal courts guaranteed by the Eleventh
Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.’” Id. (citing 42 Pa. C.S. §
8521(b)); see also Lombardo v. Pennsylvania, Dept. of Public Welfare, 540 F.3d 190,
196 (3d Cir. 2008); see also Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 661 F.2d 23, 25 (3d Cir. 1981).
Finally, Mr. Williams raises official-capacity claims against Defendant Korszniak under
§ 1983 as an employee of the DOC and agent of the Department. Such official-capacity
claims are only exempt from Eleventh Amendment immunity when the official is sued
for prospective injunctive relief. Hindes v. F.D.I.C., 137 F.3d 148, 165 (3d Cir. 1998)
(citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908)).
To the extent Mr. Williams requests injunctive relief against Defendant
Korszniak, this relief is not “prospective.” Mr. Williams is no longer in prison and there
are ostensibly no legal claims or factual allegations against Defendant Korszniak.
Therefore, Mr. Williams’ § 1983 official-capacity claims against Defendant Korszniak
are barred by sovereign immunity.
2. Inadequate medical care under the Eighth Amendment
Mr. Williams brings an Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Korszniak
stemming from the inadequate care he received traveling from S.C.I. Mercer to S.C.I.
Graterford. The Eighth Amendment protects prisoners from cruel and unusual
punishment in the form of inadequate medical care. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 10305 (1976). To establish a claim under the Eighth Amendment, an inmate must allege:
“(1) a serious medical need; and (2) acts or omissions by prison officials which
demonstrate deliberate indifference to that need. Id. at 103-04. A serious medical need is
something so obvious a lay person would “easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s
attention.” Monmouth County Correctional Institutional Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d
326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987). Deliberate indifference requires the official know of and
disregard “an excessive risk to inmate health or safety,” and that the “excessive risk was
so obvious that the official must have known about it.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S.
825, 832 (1994). Negligence alone is not itself actionable under the Constitution in
violation of the Eighth Amendment. Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce, 612
F.2d 754, 762 (3d Cir. 1979).
Medical authorities are typically provided “considerable latitude” in the diagnosis
and treatment of inmate patients when made with informed judgment. Id. However,
Estelle’s deliberate indifference standard is violated when “a prison official knows of a
prisoner’s need for medical treatment and intentionally refuses to provide it; delays
necessary medical treatment for a non-medical reason; or prevents a prisoner from
receiving needed or recommended medical treatment.” Hollihan, 159 F.Supp.3d at 511.
Before determining whether a defendant demonstrated deliberate indifference,
this Court must distinguish between medical and non-medical prison officials. Our
Circuit finds a distinction between non-medical prison officials – typically corrections
officers – and medical prison officials – doctors and nurses providing medical care.
Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 236 (3d Cir. 2004) (finding non-medical prison official
not chargeable with Eighth Amendment scienter required of deliberate indifference)
(emphasis added). 2 As such, medical and non-medical prison officials are held to
different standards within the context of deliberate indifference.
Here, though Mr. Williams does not factually or legally allege violations against
Defendant Korszniak, Korszniak is nonetheless a named Defendant and his status as a
prison official must be addressed. Mr. Korszniak’s position at S.C.I. Graterford is
Correctional Health Care Administrator (“CHCA”) and his only role in Mr. Williams’
case appears to be his decision upholding Mr. Williams’ grievance against the prison
nurses and doctors. Defendants argue Korszniak’s role is merely supervisory and not
medical; therefore, he is not qualified to second guess treatment. (ECF Docket No. 8, at
12.) Furthermore, he does not appear to have done anything detrimental to Mr. Williams.
Defendants contend Korszniak lacks authority to prescribe or dispense
medication, or make medical decisions. (Id.) In Davis, our Circuit summarily affirmed
the order of the District Court adopting the Magistrate’s Report and Recommendation
finding “deliberate indifference is not shown where supervisory correctional staff do not
respond to the medical complaints of a prisoner who is already being treated by prison
medical staff.” Davis v. Thomas, 448 Fed.Appx. 150, 154 (3d Cir. 2014). As Defendants
In Spruill, our Circuit stated: “If a prisoner is under the care of medical experts . . . a non-medical prison
official will generally be justified in believing that the prisoner is in capable hands. This follows naturally
from the division of labor within a prison. Inmate health and safety is promoted by dividing responsibility
for various aspects of inmate life among guards, administrators, physicians, and so on. Holding a nonmedical prison official liable in a case where a prisoner was under a physician's care would strain this
division of labor. Moreover, under such a regime, non-medical officials could even have a perverse
incentive not to delegate treatment responsibility to the very physicians most likely to be able to help
prisoners, for fear of vicarious liability.” Spruill, 372 F.3d at 236.
argue, “it is not the CHCA’s role to order medical treatments or prescribe medication;
rather, the CHCA acts in a ‘management capacity,’ overseeing administration of the
health and dental departments of the prison, nursing staff, and independent contractors.”
(Id.) (citing Popovich v. Lames, C.A. No. 13-1528, 2014 WL 939508, at *3 (M.D. Pa.
March 11, 2014; Josey v. Beard, C.A. No. 06-265, 2009 WL 1858250, at *7, n.9 (W.D.
Pa. June 29, 2009)). On its face, the Complaint does not appear to allege Defendant
Korszniak provided medical care to Mr. Williams. The only reference to Defendant
Korszniak’s interaction with Mr. Williams is Korszniak’s role in the grievance process –
a mechanism for aggrieved inmates to make formal complaints against prison officials.
(ECF Docket No. 3, at 8.) In fact, Defendant Korszniak upheld Mr. Williams’ initial
grievance in his role as the Corrections Health Care Administrator.
However, there is no constitutional right to a grievance procedure. Atwell v.
Lavan, 557 F.Supp.2d 532, 547 (M.D. Pa. 2008) (citing Jones v. North Carolina
Prisoners' Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119, 137–38 (1977)). “As the Court indicated in
James, evidence only showing supervisory Defendants’ involvement in an Eighth
Amendment medical care claim was that they responded unfavorably to the inmate’s
later-filed grievances, does not establish an Eighth Amendment violation against them.”
Id (citing James v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections, 230 Fed.Appx. 195, 198 (3d Cir.
2007)). Our Circuit has found that “[o]nce a prison grievance examiner becomes aware
of potential mistreatment, the Eighth Amendment does not require him or her to do more
than ‘review [ ] ... [the prisoner's] complaints and verif[y] with the medical officials that
[the prisoner] was receiving treatment.’” James, 230 Fed.Appx. at 198 (citing Greeno v.
Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 655 (7th Cir. 2005)).
Therefore, given Defendant Korszniak’s role in Mr. Williams’ treatment and
grievance process, and his status as the CHCA, this Court finds his actions could not have
amounted to deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Furthermore,
Defendant Korszniak is not required to do more than review Mr. Williams’ grievance –
as he did in this situation. Thus, this Court finds the Eighth Amendment claim against
Defendant Korszniak dismissed as a matter of law.
Accordingly, for the reasons stated, Defendant Korszniak’s motion to dismiss will
be granted. Mr. Williams’ § 1983 official-capacity claims are barred by sovereign
immunity and Defendant Korszniak is not subject to Eighth Amendment deliberate
indifference. This Court again notes the remaining Defendants in this case are
Nurse/Doctor Jane/John Doe. Mr. Williams has thirty (30) days to file an amended
complaint properly identifying Jane/John Doe. If Mr. Williams fails to do so, his
complaint will be dismissed without further notice.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?