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Taylor v. Plousis

June 21, 2000


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph E. Irenas, U.S.D.J.



IRENAS, District Judge

Plaintiff Robert Taylor ("Plaintiff" or "Taylor") is currently incarcerated in South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, New Jersey. On June 29, 1998, Taylor filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against several defendants, including the County of Cape May ("Cape May"), James T. Plousis ("Plousis"),and Correctional Health Services, Inc. ("CHS").

Two separate motions for summary judgment have been filed in this case. Defendants CHS, Dr. Larry Pettis, Dr. Angelique Beckett, and Mary Franks (hereafter "CHS defendants") move for summary judgment on the ground that the established facts fail to support plaintiff's claims. Defendants County of Cape May, James T. Plousis, Jean Crean, Edward Letts, and Thomas Shagren (hereafter "County defendants") have filed a similar motion and also assert the defense of qualified immunity. For the reasons set forth below, each motion is granted in part and denied in part. *fn1


Plaintiff's allegations arise from the treatment he received between June of 1997 and February of 1998 at the Cape May County Jail, where the plaintiff was held awaiting trial. Plaintiff complains that he was denied adequate medical treatment to address his condition as a dual amputee. He claims that defendants failed to provide him with new stump socks, denied him his needed pain killer (Motrin) on several occasions, and forced him to walk on a broken prosthesis for seven months. Plaintiff claims that the broken prosthesis was held on by tape and that the strap mechanism that held the to the leg was three inches too small.

Upon his entry into the Cape May County Jail, defendant Angelique Colbert-Beckett, D.O., performed an initial physical exam of plaintiff. At this time, plaintiff was wearing a which attached to his left leg above the knee. According to plaintiff, the was in an obvious state of disrepair. Plaintiff testified that the foot portion of the prosthesis was broken and was secured with postal tape and that the foot would bend inward while he walked. (Pl.'s Ex. B, Dep. of R. Taylor, 11-12.) Dr. Beckett did not inquire about or examine plaintiff's prosthesis during the exam. (Pl.'s Ex. G, Dep. of A. Beckett, 91.) However, she gave plaintiff a prescription for 800 mg of Motrin for thirty days in case plaintiff experienced "phantom limb pain" related to his amputation. (Id. at 37.)

On July 3, 1997, plaintiff submitted a medical request form "to find out how to go about receiving [sic] a new prosthesis. . . ." (Pl.'s Ex. D, Medical Request Slip.) Plaintiff was told that the medical department would not have a problem with him receiving a new prosthesis from a source outside of the prison. Plaintiff was referred to Jean Crean, a prison social worker, for any further requests.

On July 6, 1997, plaintiff submitted a second medical request slip asking to see a doctor "about some problems" he was having and again inquired about a new prosthesis. (Pl.'s Ex. E.) He did not receive a response to this request. On July 10, 1997, plaintiff filled out an inmate/staff correspondence form addressed to Jean Crean. Plaintiff asked Crean to contact Frank J. Malone & Son, Inc., ("Malone's") a medical device company where plaintiff had been fitted for a new prosthesis prior to his incarceration. Apparently, plaintiff was allowed to call himself. The reply to plaintiff's inmate/staff correspondence form states, "you called Limb Co. -- limb not ready." (Pl.'s Ex. H.)

On July 26, 1997, plaintiff submitted an inmate/staff correspondence form to the Medical Department. (Pl.'s Ex. I.) Plaintiff stated that he was in pain and needed his pain medication renewed. (Id.) Dr. Beckett did not examine plaintiff at this time, but she did renew his prescription for pain medication.

On August 11, 1997, plaintiff was weighed by the medical staff and his weight was recorded as 155 1/2 pounds, an increase of nearly 17 pounds since the date he entered the Cape May Jail. On August 19, 1997, plaintiff was weighed again, he weighed 158 pounds. *fn2 On September 27, 1997, plaintiff complained of "aches and pains" and was given a prescription for Tylenol.

On November 9, 1997, plaintiff submitted an inmate/staff correspondence form to the medical staff. Plaintiff stated, "[m]y prosthesis no longer fits me, the socket is to[o] small for the stump, and the leather belt is way to[o] tight and is leaving welts around my hip. The foot is brok[en] and is causing me pain in my lower back, when I'm walking around the yard. I already put in a request last week." (Pl.'s Ex. L.) The reply area of the inmate/staff form indicates that plaintiff was put on the list to see a doctor. On November 12, 1997, Dr. Beckett examined plaintiff. She recorded in her notes that, "[p]atient's artificial leg is wearing out," and that, "Medical Dept. will arrange to have prosthesis fitted & delivered to the jail ASAP." (CHS' Ex. J.) Dr. Beckett testified that she wrote an order to the Medical Department requesting that they arrange delivery of the prosthesis previously ordered from Malone's. (Pl.'s Ex. G, Dep. of A. Beckett, 119.)

On November 23, 1997, plaintiff sent another inmate/staff correspondence form to the medical department. Plaintiff stated: The new prosthesis that was being made for me is no longer the right size. I would like to inform you that the belt that holds the prosthesis on to my stump is way to small. It is starting to cut into my hip. I'm in severe pain from this. What are we going to do about this!! I been in alot of pain for over a month, my back i[s] hurt[ing] from the broken foot. (Pl.'s Ex. N.) Plaintiff was scheduled for an appointment with Dr. Beckett on December 2, 1997.

Nurse Mary Franks testified that "[s]omewhere between November 12th and the end of the month" the medical staff became aware that the medical device ordered from Malone's "was not going to be coming" and that plaintiff "was requesting that we provide him with a prosthetic device." (Pl.'s Ex. M, Dep. of M. Franks, 107-108.) She testified that, in mid- to late-November, Dr. Beckett ordered the purchase of a new prosthesis. (Id. at 108-109.) However, Dr. Beckett testified that she never ordered anyone to obtain a prosthesis for plaintiff other than the prosthesis manufactured by Malone's. (Pl.'s Ex. G, Dep. of A. Beckett, 119-120.)

On November 24 and November 26, 1997, plaintiff again wrote to the Medical Department concerning his prosthesis. On December 2, 1997, plaintiff met with Dr. Beckett. In her progress notes, Dr. Beckett stated, "[p]atient still needs a new prosthesis. Medical staff is trying to find out what arrangements can be made to remedy this situation." (Pl.'s Ex. Q.) Three days later, on December 5, 1997, plaintiff sent another request to the Medical Department: "When is the Medical Dept. going to have my prosthesis fix[ed]? I'm in a lot of pain! HELP!!" (Pl.'s Ex. R.) A notation was made in the reply portion of this form stating, "[p]rosthesis is being looked into." (Id.)

Nurse Mary Franks testified that between November of 1997 and January of 1998, she requested permission from defendant Shagren to order a new prosthesis for plaintiff. In her answer to an interrogatory, Nurse Franks certified:

Mary Franks spoke to Lt. Thomas Shagren, who stated that plaintiff was scheduled to be sentenced on or about November 4, 1997. Once plaintiff was sentenced, he would go to State prison and receive his leg prosthesis if necessary. The same call was made to Lt. Shagren in December and he stated that plaintiff was going out after the first of the year and that he could get his leg prosthesis at the State prison if necessary. The same call was made to Lt. Shagren in January and he stated that plaintiff would be sentenced soon and to hold off on ordering the leg prosthesis. (Pl.'s Ex. S.)

Contrary to the testimony of Nurse Franks, the County defendants deny that any Cape May County employee had knowledge of plaintiff's need for a new prosthesis prior to January of 1998:

At no time during October, November, or December of 1997 did any member of the Correction Division Administration -- this includes the Sheriff, Col. Edward Letts and the above-named lieutenants [including Lt. Shagren] -- receive a request from Charlotte Hill or Mary Franks regarding the need to order a leg prosthesis for Robert Taylor. During the latter part of January 1998 (after Rober Taylor was sentenced and scheduled to leave CMCC) (then) Lt. Shagren had a conversation with a Correctional Health Services(CHS) nurse regarding a new leg prosthesis for Robert Taylor. At this date, Warden Shagren is unable to recall the name of the nurse with whom he spoke. (Pl.'s Ex. U, J. Plousis' Answers to Interrogatories, 2-3.) Similarly, defendant Shagren stated at his deposition that, "if the medical department had ordered it, we would have provided it." (Pl.'s Ex. F, dep. of Shagren/Letts, 23.)

Just prior to December 25, 1997, Lt. Shagren observed plaintiff's condition first-hand. Lt. Shagren testified that he visited the inmates' ceramic program to observe the inmates' work on their annual Christmas donation to a nursing home. Shagren stated that all inmates were working on the project except for plaintiff who was "in the corner using a ceramic tool trying to make an extra hole in the leather strap of the prosthesis." (Id. at 40.) Shagren told plaintiff, "I would prefer you not ruin one of my ceramic tools to do that" and arranged to have a maintenance person punch the hole. (Id. at 50.)

On January 13, 1998, Dr. Beckett examined plaintiff. In her notes corresponding to this examination, Dr. Beckett wrote that plaintiff would receive a new prosthesis after his transfer to a State facility. Dr. Beckett noted that plaintiff was "not having any problems and [was] doing well on meds." (Pl.'s Ex. V.)

On January 13, 1998, plaintiff sent an inmate/staff correspondence form to Undersheriff Letts, and indicated that his "medical needs" remained unfulfilled. (Pl.'s Ex. W.) According to defendants Plousis, Letts, Shagren, and Cape May County, this was the first notice any Cape May County employee received from plaintiff regarding his need for a new prosthesis. On or about January 14, 1998, defendant Shagren met with plaintiff to discuss his medical needs and his impending transfer. (Id.) Lt. Shagren advised plaintiff that he would be transferred on February 1, 1998. Lt. Shagren wrote on the inmate/staff correspondence form that plaintiff's "medical problem is a need for new fittings on his leg prosthesis." (Id.)

On or about January 21, 1998, Lt. Shagren met with one of the nurses employed by CHS who advised Shagren of plaintiff's need for a new prosthesis. Defendants Plousis, Letts, Shagren and Cape May County claim that this was the first communication between any County employee and CHS regarding plaintiff's need for a new prosthesis.

In anticipation of plaintiff's impending transfer, Dr. Beckett filled out a "Confidential Medical Record for Inmate Transfers." (Pl.'s Ex. CC.) In this record, Dr. Beckett stated: "[Inmate] has gained a lot of [weight] and is waiting to be fitted for a new prosthesis as the one he has no longer sits properly and he is having difficulty ambulating." (Id.)

On February 3, 1998, plaintiff was transferred into State custody. At the time of his transfer, plaintiff weighed 170 pounds, he had gained more than thirty pounds since his admission into the Cape May County Jail. (Pl.'s Ex. Y.) After he was transferred, State officials placed plaintiff in a wheelchair. On February 10, 1998, plaintiff was examined by Dr. R. Occasio of the State Department of Corrections. Dr. Occasio gave plaintiff three new stump socks and noted that, "[p]rosthesis is in seriously irreparable condition and needs replacement." (Pl.'s Ex. Z.)

Both the County defendants and the CHS defendants have filed motions for summary judgment. The County defendants argue that any failure to order a new prosthesis for plaintiff was due to CHS defendants' failure to request one. They also argue that defendants Plousis, Letts, and Shagren are entitled to qualified immunity. The CHS defendants claim that they were not deliberately indifferent to any "serious medical need" alleged by plaintiff.


"[S]ummary judgment is proper `if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. American Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The role of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).


In plaintiff's Amended Complaint, in his "First Claim for Relief," plaintiff asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides for the imposition of liability on any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute is not a source of substantive rights, but merely provides "a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989). To assert a claim successfully under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States and that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person "acting under color of State law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Flagg Bros. Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155 (1978); Shaw v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1142 (3d Cir. 1990). In addition, the Third Circuit requires that § 1983 claims be pled with a modicum of factual specificity identifying the particular conduct of the defendants that is alleged to have harmed the plaintiff. Darr v. Wolfe, 767 F.2d 79, 80 (3d Cir. 1985).

The Eighth Amendment provides a constitutional basis for a § 1983 claim by prisoners alleging inadequate medical care. *fn3 However, "[f]ailure to provide medical care to a person in custody can rise to the level of a constitutional violation [of the Eighth Amendment] under § 1983 only if that failure rises to the level of deliberate indifference to that person's serious medical needs." Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636-37 (3d Cir. 1995).

The "deliberate indifference" standard is, in effect, a two-pronged test, requiring (1) that the prisoner's medical needs be serious, and (2) that there be deliberate indifference on the part of defendants. See Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce, 612 F.2d 754, 762 (3d Cir. 1979); Monmouth County Correctional Inst. Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 346 (3d Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1006 (1988). A mere disagreement with the form of treatment does not rise to a constitutional violation. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 107 (1976). Moreover, medical malpractice, even if it did occur, does not become a constitutional claim merely because the victim is a prisoner. Id. at 106.

Construing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the non-moving party, plaintiff has established that his need for a new prosthesis constituted a "serious medical need." The Third Circuit has defined a "serious medical need" as "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." Lanzaro, 834 F.2d at 347. Also, a medical need will be considered "serious" where delay in treatment results in the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Estelle v, 429 U.S. at 103, 105. Moreover, several courts have recognized that a medical condition which threatens a plaintiff's ability to walk, even on a non-permanent basis, falls within the ambit of a "serious medical need." See, e.g., Kaufman v. Carter, 952 F. Supp. 520, 527 (W.D. Mich. 1996)("A medical condition that threatens one's ability to walk, even if ultimately reversible, is unquestionably a serious matter."); Johnson v. Harding County, 908 F.2d 1280, 1283-84 (6th Cir. 1990)(holding that defendant's refusal to provide inmate with crutches supported claim of deliberate indifference).

Here, plaintiff has testified, and defendants have not disputed, that his ill-fitting and deteriorating prosthesis caused him to suffer severe pain and impaired his ability to walk. As noted above, on November 23, 1997, plaintiff filled out a medical correspondence form which stated:

The new prosthesis that was being made for me is no longer the right size. I would like to inform you that the belt that holds the prosthesis on to my stump is way to[o] small. It is starting to cut into my hip. I'm in severe pain from this. What are we going to do about this!! I been in alot [sic] of pain ...

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