Yates v. Wetzel et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry).Signed by Honorable A. Richard Caputo on 8/7/2017. (dw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
SECRETARY JOHN WETZEL, et al.,
CIVIL NO. 3:CV-15-0756
On April 2, 2015, pro se Plaintiff, Clarence Yates, an inmate confined at the
Dallas State Correctional Institution (SCI-Dallas), in Dallas, Pennsylvania filed the
above-captioned civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his Complaint Mr.
Yates names the following individuals as Defendants: John Wetzel, Secretary of the
Department of Corrections (DOC); Lea Martin, SCI-Dallas' Corrections Health Care
Administrator (CHCA); and Dr. Stanley Stanish, the Medical Director for the contract
medical care provider at SCI-Dallas. (ECF No. 1, Compl.) Plaintiff alleges that the
Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his on-going complaints of pain on the left
side of his neck, shoulder and arm. (Id.)
Presently before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Wetzel
and Martin (ECF No. 16) and Dr. Standish (ECF No. 32).1
For the reasons that follow, both motions will be granted and the case closed.
The DOC Defendants (Sec. Wetzel and CHCA Martin) and Dr. Standish, are
represented by separate counsel.
Allegations of the Complaint
Mr. Yates is an incarcerated veteran who was honorably discharged from the
Army. At the time of filing his Complaint, Mr. Yates lived on SCI-Dallas’ veteran’s unit.
While in prison he has positively engaged in programming. Plaintiff’s medical history
include a myocardial infarction and hypertension. (ECF No. 1, Compl.) For undisclosed
reasons, Mr. Yates showers in the medical unit.
In January 2015, he requested pain medication for a lump on his left shoulder.
Although he received “two shots” in his shoulder, they did “not doing [sic] anything for
[him]”. (Id., p. 2.) An x-ray was taken of his shoulder but he was told “there was
nothing wrong, but they told [him he had] arthritis”. (Id., p. 10.) He has had the same
pain “since December 2014 and been in the Hospital (sic) 3 times for this problem, and
still haven't fix it and this April 2015.” (Id., p. 3.) On April 1, 2015, Mr. Yates states he
was placed on medication that is “said to relieve some pain.” (Id., p. 4.)
When Mr. Yates’s continued requests for pain medication to medical and prison
staff failed, his family members reached out to Secretary Wetzel and SCI-Dallas officials
on his behalf without success. (Id. at p. 3.)
Mr. Yates’ Administrative Exhaustion Efforts
On the face of the Complaint, Mr. Yates acknowledges there is an available
grievance procedure at SCI-Dallas. (Id., p. 1.) He affirms that he filed a grievance
concerning the facts relating to his Complaint but that the grievance process was not
complete at the time of filing his lawsuit. (Id.)
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (DOC) Administrative Directive
DC-ADM 804 (DC-ADM 804), also known as the Inmate Grievance System. See DCADM 804, Grievance Policy, is available at http://www.cor.pa.gov. The grievance policy
provides inmates with a multi-step administrative grievance appeal process to raise and
resolve issues arising during the course of their incarceration. Pursuant to DC-ADM
804, inmates must first file a grievance with the Facility Grievance Coordinator at the
facility where the events giving rise to the grievance occurred. If unsatisfied with the
initial response to his or her grievance, the inmate may appeal the decision to the
Facility Manager. (Id.) The Facility Manager may uphold the initial response, find in
favor of the inmate, or remand the grievance to the Grievance Officer. An inmate may
appeal the Facility Manager’s decision to final review by the Secretary's Office of Inmate
Grievances & Appeals (SOIGA). (Id.)
On January 16, 2015, Mr. Yates filed Grievance No. 547523 complaining about
CRNP Loretta's unprofessional behavior during a January 12, 2015 encounter as well
as the denial of medical care for the pain on the left side of his head, neck and arm.
When he advised Dr. Stanish of these events, he sided with CRNP Loretta. (ECF No.
1, p. 7.) CHCA Martin denied the grievance on February 10, 2015, noting that since
that encounter Plaintiff was “admitted to and discharged from the Medical Department
for [his] shoulder complaint. [He] is on a course of medication and will be followed up
in the near future.” (Id.) On March 27, 2015, SOIGA rejected Mr. Yates' appeal of
Grievance No. 547523 due to his failure to first appeal the issue to the Facility Manager.
He was advised he could resubmit his appeal to SOIGA after receiving a response to
his appeal to the Facility Manager. (ECF No. 28, Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to
Dismiss, p. 25.)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a
complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the
Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support
of his claims. See Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000).
The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Id. A defendant
bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See
Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).
A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain “a short and plain statement
of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The
statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must “ ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the...
claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’ ” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93,
127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Detailed
factual allegations are not required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964.
However, mere conclusory statements will not do; “a complaint must do more than
allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203,
210 (3d Cir. 2009). Instead, a complaint must “show” this entitlement by alleging
sufficient facts. Id. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint,
they must be supported by factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129
S.Ct. 1937, 1949 - 50, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). As such, “[t]he touchstone of the
pleading standard is plausibility.” Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012).
The inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage is "normally broken into three parts:
(1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory
allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and
evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently
alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).
Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the
complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1973, meaning enough
factual allegations “ 'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal
evidence of' ” each necessary element. Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234
(3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). "The plausibility
standard is not akin to a `probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at
1949. "When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their
veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief."
Id. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1950.
In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the complaint, exhibits
attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. 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 Cir. 1993)). The Court may also consider "undisputedly
authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the
defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Pension
Benefit Guar. Corp., 998 F.2d at 1196. The Court need not assume that the plaintiff can
prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn
Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's “ 'bald
assertions' ” or “ 'legal conclusions,' ” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902,
906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410,
1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)).
Both the DOC Defendants and Dr. Stanish argue that Mr. Yates: (1) failed to
exhaust his available administrative remedies concerning their alleged deliberate
indifferent to his serious medical needs; and (2) Plaintiff fails to state an Eighth
Amendment claim against them due to their lack of personal involvement and/or
prescribed care. Mr. Yates argues that both he and his family have diligently written to
and attempted to contact various individuals, including Secretary Wetzel in effort to
obtain pain medication for his left side ailments, but to no avail. In
light of these efforts he states the Defendants' exhaustion argument “is simply wrong.”
(ECF No. 28, p. 4.) However, M. Yates does not dispute that he did not appeal
Grievance No. 547523 to the Facility Manager or SOIGA as required by the DOC’s
grievance policy prior to initiating this lawsuit.
Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), before a prisoner may bring
a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or any other federal law, he must
exhaust all available administrative remedies. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Ross v.
, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1858, 195 L.Ed.2d 117 (2016). However,
an inmate need only exhaust those administrative remedies which are “available” to
him. See Robinson v. Supt. SCI Rockview, 831 F.3d 148, 153 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting
Brown v. Croak, 312 F.3d 109, 113 (3d Cir. 2002) (“[W]e note that the PLRA requires
exhaustion of 'available' administrative remedies and defined such as those that are
'capable of use; at hand.' ”).
The Supreme Court has explained that “[e]xhaustion of administrative remedies
serves two main purposes.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 89, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2385,
165 L.Ed.2d 368 (2006).
First, exhaustion protects administrative agency authority.
Exhaustion gives an agency an opportunity to correct its
own mistakes with respect to the programs it administers
before it is hauled into federal court, and it discourages
disregard of the agency's procedures.
Second, exhaustion promotes efficiency. Claims generally
can be resolved much more quickly and economically in
proceedings before an agency than in litigation in federal
court. In some cases, claims are settled at the
administrative level, and in others, the proceedings before
the agency convince the losing party not to pursue the
matter in federal court. And even where a controversy
survives administrative review, exhaustion of the
administrative procedure may produce a useful record for
subsequent judicial consideration.
Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted).
Exhaustion is mandatory and must be “proper,” which requires a prisoner to
“us[e] all steps that the agency holds out, and [to do] so properly (so that the agency
addresses the issues on the merits).” Id., 548 U.S. at 90, 126 S.Ct. at 2383 (emphasis
This means that the prisoner plaintiff must have completed "the
administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules,
including deadlines, as a precondition to bringing suit in federal court." (Id.) The "filing
[of] an untimely or otherwise procedurally defective administrative grievance or appeal"
does not satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement. (Id.) Failure to substantially
comply with procedural requirements of the applicable prison's grievance system will
result in a procedural default of the claim. Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 227-32 (3d Cir.
2004). Further, the Supreme Court has held that "there is no question that exhaustion
is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court."
Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 212, 127 S.C. 910, 918-19, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007).
Inmates complaining about prison conditions must exhaust prison grievance remedies
before initiating a lawsuit. See Jones, 549 U.S. at 204, 127 S.Ct. at 914; see also
Strickengloss v. State Corr. Inst. at Mercer, 531 F. App’x 193, 194 (3d Cir. 2013)
(nonprecedential) (inmates required to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing
suit); see also Oriakhi v. United States, 165 F. App’x 991, 993 (3d Cir. 2006)
(nonprecedential) (noting “unanimous circuit court consensus” that prisoner cannot fulfill
the exhaustion requirement after filing the complaint).
As exhaustion is a precondition for bringing suit and, as such, it is a “‘'threshold
issue that courts must address to determine whether litigation is being conducted in the
right forum at the right time.’” Small v. Camden Cnty., 728 F.3d 265, 269 - 270 (3d Cir.
2013) (emphasis in original) (citations omitted). Accordingly, “judges may resolve
factual disputes relevant to the exhaustion issue without the participation of a jury.” Id.
A prisoner is not required to allege that administrative remedies have been
exhausted. Ray v. Kertes, 285 F.3d 287 (3d Cir. 2002). Failure to exhaust available
administrative remedies is an affirmative defense. (Id.) As such, it must be plead and
proven by the Defendants. Brown, 312 F.3d at 111.
In the case sub judice, the Complaint, and documents attached to it, demonstrate
that although Mr. Yates filed a grievance concerning the denial of pain medication, he
did not substantially comply with the DOC’s grievance process by completing the appeal
process, as established by the policy, prior to his commencement of this action. Mr.
Yates admits as much on the face of his Complaint. Additionally, Dr.Stanish, in support
of his exhaustion argument, provides documentation that prove Mr. Yates failed to
pursue the denial of his grievance to the Facility Manager prior to seeking final review
by SOIGA. Mr. Yates does not dispute this. However, Mr. Yates believes both his, and
his family’s, efforts to contact the medical unit, counselors, psychologists, Secretary
Wetzel and many others by phone and in writing, are proof of his exhaustion efforts.
Attached to his Complaint and opposition brief are copies of the myriad of letters Mr.
Yates sent to various people and organizations. Unfortunately, these efforts are clearly
insufficient to satisfy the exhaustion requirement as defined by the DOC’s grievance
Mr. Yates does not dispute that he failed to appeal Grievance No. 547523 to the
Facility Manager prior to seeking final review by SOIGA, or that he ever perfected his
appeal to either, let alone prior to the commencement of this action. Thus, he did not
properly exhaust his administrative remedies in accordance with the DOC’s grievance
policy. Additionally, even if his appeal to SOIGA was properly filed, which it was not,
Plantiff’s appeal was dated after his initiation of this lawsuit.
The PLRA clearly
precludes Mr. Yates' action against all Defendants based on these failures. Secretary
Wetzel, Ms. Martin, and Dr. Stanish are entitled to dismissal of Mr. Yates' Eighth
Amendment claims of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs due to his
failure to exhaust his available administrative remedies as to his denial of pain
Based on this finding the Court need not address the Defendants’
alternative arguments for the dismissal of the action against them.
For the reasons set forth above, Mr. Yates' claims against Secretary Wetzel, Ms.
Martin and Dr. Stanish will be dismissed. Further, because Mr. Yates failed to exhaust
his available administrative remedies as to his Eighth Amendment claim, any further
amendment of the Complaint pertaining to these Defendants would be futile.
Accordingly, the Court will not grant Mr. Yates leave to file an amended complaint as
to these Defendants.
Shelley v. Patrick, 481 F. App’x 34, 36 (3d Cir.
An appropriate order follows.
/s/ A. Richard Caputo
A. RICHARD CAPUTO
United States District Judge
Date: August 7, 2017
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