Terantino v. Fortson et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry). Signed by Honorable Christopher C. Conner on 5/6/2022. (mw)
Case 1:21-cv-01248-CCC-MP Document 24 Filed 05/06/22 Page 1 of 11
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
FAWN FORTSON, ROBERT LYNCH, :
PAULA PRICE, KEVIN KAUFFMAN, :
and JOHN WETZEL,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:21-CV-1248
Plaintiff Edward Terantino filed this pro se lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging constitutional violations by various prison officials and medical department
staff at the State Correctional Institution in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania (SCI
Huntingdon). Defendants move to dismiss Terantino’s complaint under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, we will grant in part
and deny in part defendants’ motions to dismiss.
Factual Background & Procedural History
The gravamen of Terantino’s lawsuit is that he was allegedly denied
prescription medication over a three-week period in mid-2020. According to
Terantino, he turned in his expiring stickers for self-administered medication on
June 15, 2020, as he would run out of those medications on June 18, 2020. (Doc. 1 at
5). The following day, defendant Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner Fawn
Case 1:21-cv-01248-CCC-MP Document 24 Filed 05/06/22 Page 2 of 11
Fortson1 came to his cell and asked whether he needed his prescriptions renewed,
to which Terantino responded affirmatively. (Id.) Fortson then specifically asked if
he wanted his prescription for Meloxicam renewed, and Terantino again responded
that he did. (Id.) A dispute ensued regarding payment for the Meloxicam. (Id.)
Fortson allegedly told Terantino that he would have to pay for the Meloxicam to be
reissued and Terantino claims that he responded that he had never previously paid
for the renewal, would not pay for the renewal this time, and—if charged for it—
would bring the issue to Fortson’s supervisor. (Id. at 5-6).
Terantino claims that this exchange was tense and angered Fortson. (Id.) He
alleges that Fortson then deliberately, and with the intent to harm him, entered his
prescription refill orders into the wrong section of the computer, thereby causing a
substantial delay in receipt of his medications. (Id. at 6, 7). He describes the
prescriptions as “life sustaining” medications, including Atorvastatin (for
cholesterol), Glipizide (for Type II diabetes), Lisinopril (for high blood pressure),
Furosemide (for water retention), and a blood thinner. (Id. at 7). Terantino avers
that he spoke with multiple nurses about his missing medications between June 18
and July 3, 2020, to no avail. (Id. at 6-7).
On July 3, he filed an inmate grievance (number 876511), asserting that he
had not received any of his self-administered medications since June 18. (Id. at 9).
Fortson’s last name is sometimes listed as “Baldauf,” which appears to be a
prior maiden name. (See Doc. 1 at 5, 10; Doc. 16 at 1, 3; Doc. 22 at 3). We will use
the last name “Fortson,” as this is how she is identified in Terantino’s complaint.
(See Doc. 1 at 3).
Case 1:21-cv-01248-CCC-MP Document 24 Filed 05/06/22 Page 3 of 11
The grievance was addressed and denied by defendant Registered Nurse
Supervisor Robert Lynch. (Id. at 10). In the denial, Lynch explained,
You have an obligation to be proactive with your medications. You see
a nurse daily for vital signs and Cymbalta. You could have asked one of
them for your medications. You also could have signed up for sick call
to voice the fact that you ran out of medications. Medical cannot read
your mind and know what you need. If you had a poor experience with
[Fortson] and were disrespectful to her and she terminated the visit, it
would be your responsibility to sign back up for sick call. Your
medications were renewed on 7/7/2020 and issued on 7/8/2020. Your
grievance is without merit and is denied.
(Id.) Terantino does not indicate in his complaint whether he appealed this firstlevel grievance denial.
On June 30, 2021, Terantino filed the instant lawsuit. (See generally Doc. 1;
see id. at 8). It is not entirely clear what type of constitutional violation Terantino is
alleging, but it appears that he is asserting an Eighth Amendment claim of
deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. 2 He names as defendants Fortson
and Lynch, as well as Health Care Administrator Paula Price, SCI Huntingdon
Superintendent Kevin Kauffman, and then-Secretary of the Pennsylvania
Department of Corrections (DOC) John Wetzel. 3
Defendants move to dismiss Terantino’s claims pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Docs. 14, 20). Terantino has only responded to the DOC
At one point in the “Relief” section of his complaint, Terantino references
“medical malpractice,” (Doc. 1 at 4), but he does not plead or otherwise develop any
such state-law claim and we therefore will not discuss it further.
Defendants Lynch, Price, Kauffman, and Wetzel are represented by the
Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and will be collectively referred to as
the “DOC defendants.” Fortson “is an independent medical contractor” and is
represented by separate counsel. (Doc. 15 at 2 n.2).
Case 1:21-cv-01248-CCC-MP Document 24 Filed 05/06/22 Page 4 of 11
defendants’ motion to dismiss, (see Doc. 22), despite being served with Fortson’s
motion to dismiss and supporting brief in December 2021, (see Doc. 20 at 5; Doc. 21
at 21). The motions, therefore, are ripe for disposition.
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the
dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the
court must “accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable
reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Phillips v. County
of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings,
Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). In addition to reviewing the facts
contained in the complaint, the court may also consider “exhibits attached to the
complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents”
attached to a defendant’s motion to dismiss if the plaintiff’s claims are based upon
these documents. Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing
Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d
Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide “the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.”
Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (alteration in original) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the court conducts
a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Township, 629 F.3d 121, 130-31
Case 1:21-cv-01248-CCC-MP Document 24 Filed 05/06/22 Page 5 of 11
(3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, “the court must ‘tak[e] note of the elements a
plaintiff must plead to state a claim.’” Id. at 130 (alteration in original) (quoting
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a
claim must be separated; well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, while mere legal
conclusions may be disregarded. Id. at 131-32; see Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578
F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the court isolates the well-pleaded factual
allegations, it must determine whether they are sufficient to show a “plausible claim
for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550
U.S. at 556. A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts “that allow
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Courts should grant leave to amend before dismissing a curable pleading in
civil-rights actions. See Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc.,
482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108
(3d Cir. 2002). Leave to amend is broadly encouraged “when justice so requires.”
FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(2).
Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code creates a private cause
of action to redress constitutional wrongs committed by state officials. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. The statute is not a source of substantive rights, but serves as a mechanism
for vindicating rights otherwise protected by federal law. Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536
U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). To state
a Section 1983 claim, plaintiffs must show a deprivation of a “right secured by the
Case 1:21-cv-01248-CCC-MP Document 24 Filed 05/06/22 Page 6 of 11
Constitution and the laws of the United States . . . by a person acting under color of
state law.” Kneipp, 95 F.3d at 1204 (quoting Mark v. Borough of Hatboro, 51 F.3d
1137, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995)).
The DOC defendants contend that any Section 1983 claim against them must
be dismissed because they had no personal involvement in the alleged Eighth
Amendment violation. Defendant Fortson asserts that Terantino has not plausibly
stated a constitutional violation and has failed to exhaust his administrative
remedies. We take each argument in turn.
It is well established that, in Section 1983 actions, liability cannot be
“predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior.” Rode v. Dellarciprete,
845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988) (citations omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556.
U.S. 662, 676 (2009) (affirming same principle in Bivens context). Rather, a Section
1983 plaintiff must plausibly plead facts that demonstrate the defendant’s “personal
involvement in the alleged misconduct.” Dooley v. Wetzel, 957 F.3d 366, 374 (3d Cir.
2020). Personal involvement can include direct wrongful conduct by a defendant,
but it can also be demonstrated through evidence of “personal direction” or “actual
knowledge and acquiescence”; however, such averments must be made with
particularity. Id. (quoting Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207).
The DOC defendants are correct that, as to Price, Kauffman, and Wetzel,
Terantino’s complaint is completely devoid of allegations implicating personal
involvement by these defendants. Their names, in fact, do not appear anywhere in
the body of the complaint where Terantino discusses the alleged constitutional
Case 1:21-cv-01248-CCC-MP Document 24 Filed 05/06/22 Page 7 of 11
infringement. (See Doc. 1 at 5-7). The claims against these three defendants,
therefore, must be dismissed.
The only allegations implicating Lynch involve his review and denial of
Terantino’s inmate grievance. The problem for Terantino, however, is that
involvement in the post-incident grievance process alone does not give rise to
Section 1983 liability. See Lewis v. Wetzel, 153 F. Supp. 3d 678, 696-97 (M.D. Pa.
2015) (collecting cases); Brooks v. Beard, 167 F. App’x 923, 925 (3d Cir. 2006)
(nonprecedential); Alexander v. Gennarini, 144 F. App’x 924, 925 (3d Cir. 2005)
(nonprecedential) (explaining that prisoner’s claims against certain defendants
were “properly dismissed” because the allegations against them “merely assert
their involvement in the post-incident grievance process”). According to the initial
review response, by the time Lynch denied the grievance on July 13, 2020,
Terantino’s prescriptions had already been renewed and issued. Consequently,
Lynch must be dismissed for lack of personal involvement as well.
Eighth Amendment Medical Deliberate Indifference
The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the
infliction of cruel and unusual punishments on prisoners. See Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). In the context of prison medical care, the Eighth
Amendment “requires prison officials to provide basic medical treatment” to
incarcerated individuals. Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1999). To
plausibly plead an Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference regarding
inadequate medical care, a plaintiff must allege (1) “a serious medical need,” and
(2) “acts or omissions by prison officials that indicate deliberate indifference to that
Case 1:21-cv-01248-CCC-MP Document 24 Filed 05/06/22 Page 8 of 11
need.” Natale v. Camden Cnty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2003). A
serious medical need is “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
necessity for a doctor’s attention.” Monmouth Cnty. Corr. Inst. Inmates v. Lanzaro,
834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987).
Deliberate indifference by prison officials may be evidenced by intentional
refusal to provide care known to be medically necessary, delayed provision of
medical treatment for non-medical reasons, denial of prescribed medical treatment,
and denial of reasonable requests for treatment resulting in unnecessary suffering
or risk of injury. See Durmer v. O’Carroll, 991 F.2d 64, 68 & n.11 (3d Cir. 1993)
(quoting Lanzaro, 834 F.2d at 346). Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs
is an exacting standard, requiring a showing of “unnecessary and wanton infliction
of pain.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (citation omitted). Claims
sounding in mere medical negligence will not suffice. Rouse, 182 F.3d at 197.
Fortson argues that Terantino’s allegations do not rise to the level of
deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. We disagree. According to
Terantino, Fortson deliberately deprived him of “life sustaining” prescription
medications for almost three weeks in retaliation for an in-cell disagreement about
payment. This type of conduct could be categorized as delayed provision of medical
treatment for non-medical reasons. See Durmer, 991 F.2d at 68. Terantino further
avers that he experienced stress, anxiety, and physical pain from the withholding of
his medications. (Doc. 1 at 4). Terantino’s allegations, taken as true, plausibly state
an Eighth Amendment medical indifference claim.
Case 1:21-cv-01248-CCC-MP Document 24 Filed 05/06/22 Page 9 of 11
Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Fortson’s exhaustion argument, although possibly meritorious, is premature.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e et seq., requires
prisoners to exhaust available administrative remedies before suing prison officials
for alleged constitutional violations. See id. § 1997e(a); Ross v. Blake, 578 U.S. 632,
639, 642 (2016) (explaining that only “available” remedies must be exhausted).
Proper exhaustion is mandatory, even if the inmate is seeking relief—like monetary
damages—that cannot be granted by the administrative system. See Woodford
v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85 (2006). The exhaustion process is governed by the contours
of the prison grievance system in effect where the inmate is incarcerated. Jones
v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007); see also Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90-91.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections (DOC) employs a three-step
grievance process that must be completed to properly exhaust administrative
remedies in most cases. See Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289, 292 n.2 (3d Cir. 2002);
COMMONWEALTH OF PA., DEP’T OF CORR., INMATE GRIEVANCE SYS., Policy No. DCADM 804 (May 1, 2015) (hereinafter “DC-ADM 804”). If informal resolution
attempts do not resolve the problem, the first step is to file a written grievance
(using form DC-804, Part 1) with the Facility Grievance Coordinator within 15
working days after “the event upon which the claim is based.” DC-ADM 804
§ 1(A)(3)-(5). An adverse decision by the grievance coordinator may be appealed to
the Facility Manager within 15 working days of the initial-review response or
rejection. Id. § 2(A)(1). Finally, the decision of the Facility Manager may be
appealed to “Final Review” with the Secretary’s Office of Inmate Grievances and
Case 1:21-cv-01248-CCC-MP Document 24 Filed 05/06/22 Page 10 of 11
Appeals (SOIGA), and again must be submitted within 15 working days of the date
of the Facility Manager’s decision. Id. § 2(B)(1).
It does not appear that Terantino appealed his initial grievance denial to the
Facility Manager or sought final review with the SOIGA. 4 However, failure to
exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense rather than a pleading
requirement, and necessarily will require a factual determination that goes beyond
the complaint. See Paladino v. Newsome, 885 F.3d 203, 208, 211 (3d Cir. 2018). We
therefore cannot grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion on this basis. Rather, we are required
to “notify the parties that” the court “will consider exhaustion in its role as a fact
finder under Small[ v. Camden County, 728 F.3d 265 (3d Cir. 2013)]” and provide
Terantino an “opportunity to respond.” Paladino, 885 F.3d at 211. Fortson,
accordingly, may renew her administrative exhaustion challenge via a motion for
summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Should Fortson do
so, Terantino will be on notice that this court will consider exhaustion in its role as
a fact finder under Small and he will be given an opportunity to respond through
the summary judgment briefing process.
Fortson provided an affidavit from Keri Moore, a DOC employee who works
in the SOIGA. (See Doc. 21-2 & ¶ 2). According to Moore, “Terantino did not file
any grievance in 2020 that was appealed to final review.” (Id. ¶ 7). Nevertheless, we
cannot consider such evidence at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage. See Mayer, 605 F.3d at
Case 1:21-cv-01248-CCC-MP Document 24 Filed 05/06/22 Page 11 of 11
We will grant in part and deny in part defendants’ motions (Docs. 14, 20) to
dismiss. We will also grant Terantino leave to amend, if desired. An appropriate
order shall issue.
/S/ CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER
Christopher C. Conner
United States District Judge
Middle District of Pennsylvania
Dated: May 6, 2022
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?