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LEWIS v. BROWN

August 15, 2005.

ARSELL LEWIS, JR. Plaintiff,
v.
DEVON BROWN, ET AL., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDA WOLFSON, Magistrate Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the motions to dismiss filed by Defendant Devon Brown ("Defendant Brown"), Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, and Defendant Kathryn MacFarland ("Defendant MacFarland"), Administrator of South Woods State Prison ("SWSP") (Collectively, "Defendants Brown and MacFarland" or "State Defendants"). Plaintiff Arsell Lewis, Jr., pro se ("Plaintiff" or "Lewis"), an inmate at the Atlantic County Justice Facility, is suing seven defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in connection with an infection he suffered after undergoing surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon. The issues before the Court are whether Plaintiff alleges personal conduct on the part of Defendants Brown and MacFarland sufficient to state a § 1983 claim and whether the letters Plaintiff sent to State Defendants can support a deliberate indifference claim against them. For the reasons stated below, State Defendants' motions to dismiss are granted.

  I. BACKGROUND

  On June 29, 2002, while playing handball, Plaintiff sustained a tear of his left Achilles tendon. Discharge Summary at 1, Ex. B to Pl.'s Compl. Plaintiff underwent surgery to repair the torn tendon on September 4, 2002. Id. After the surgery, Plaintiff was placed in a short-leg cast and discharged. Id. Dr. Mark Pressman ("Dr. Pressman") indicated in the discharge summary, dated September 5, 2002, that Plaintiff "need[ed] follow-up in approximately two weeks time at the orthopedic clinic to check the cast as well as window the cast and check the posterior medial wound at the site of the Achilles tendon repair." Id. at 2.

  On September 29, 2002, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Defendant MacFarland asking for her assistance in "getting back out to have cast removed." Letter from Arsell Lewis, Jr. to Kathryn MacFarland (Sept. 29, 2002). He also wrote a letter to Defendant Brown on October 18, 2002. Letter from Arsell Lewis, Jr. to Devon Brown (Oct. 18, 2002). In this letter, Plaintiff indicated that he had not received a response from his letter to Defendant MacFarland, and that he "went to medical trip station for appointment to have cast removed but [he] was stopped from going to appointment by central transportation [because central transportation] didn't have [a] handicap[ed] van [in which] to deliver [him] in [his] wheelchair." Id. He also asked Defendant Brown for help. Id.*fn1

  Plaintiff did not return to the Orthopedic Clinic until October 24, 2002, seven weeks after the surgery; however, he had not had a cast change until the week prior to the re-evaluation. Discharge Summary at 1, Ex. 1A to Pl.'s Compl. at 15. According to Dr. Pressman, Plaintiff was "lost" postoperatively. Id. Plaintiff was diagnosed as having an infected wound of the left Achilles tendon with skin sloughs. Id.; Ex. F. to Pl.'s Br. On October 28, 2002, the infected tissue was surgically removed and determined gangrenous. Id.; Discharge Summary at 1, Ex. 1A to Pl.'s Compl. at 15. A portion of the Achilles tendon was also removed. Id.

  Plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court on August 19, 2004. The case was assigned docket number 04-CV-3962 (FLW). On October 4, 2004 Plaintiff sent a letter to the clerk stating that he "would like to take opportunity to dismiss this complaint under the Civil Rights Act 42 U.S.C. § 1983." On October 18, 2004, in accordance with Plaintiff's letter, I entered an order dismissing his case. On October 25, 2004, Plaintiff sent me a letter indicating that there had been a mistake and that he did not intend to voluntarily dismiss his case. Plaintiff filed another complaint on December 13, 2004, docketed as Case No. 04-CV-6063(FLW). I granted his application to proceed in forma pauperis on March 24, 2005. Defendant Brown filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint on May 2, 2005 and Defendant MacFarland filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on May 10, 2005.

  II. DISCUSSION

  A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

  In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court accepts as true all allegations in the Plaintiff's Complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom after construing them in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). A pleading may be dismissed for "failure to state a claim where it appears beyond doubt that no relief could be granted under any set of facts which could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hedenburg v. Bando American, Inc., 1992 WL 443432, at *4 (D.N.J. Mar.3, 1992) (citing Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984)). Courts are required when conducting the 12(b)(6) inquiry to accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. In re Rockefeller Ctr. Prop., Inc. Sec. Litig., 311 F.3d 198, 215 (3d Cir. 2002). Nevertheless, legal conclusions offered in the guise of factual allegations are given no presumption of truthfulness. Chugh v. Western Inventory Services, Inc., 333 F.Supp.2d 285, 289 (D.N.J. 2004) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986)). Therefore, in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, courts can and should reject "legal conclusions," "unsupported conclusions," "unwarranted references," "unwarranted deductions," "footless conclusions of law," and "sweeping legal conclusions in the form of actual allegations." Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 907, n. 8 (3d Cir. 1997). Civil rights plaintiffs are not subject to a heightened pleading requirement, but rather must only contain a "short and plain statement" of the claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 233-34 (3d Cir. 2004).

  On a motion to dismiss, the Court generally does not consider documents extraneous to the pleadings, but the Court may consider a "document integral or explicitly relied upon in the complaint . . . without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment." In re Burlington Coat Factory Secs. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997). Here, because Plaintiff refers in his complaint to the medical reports and letters that he provided, this Court may consider those documents without converting this Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a motion for summary judgment. See id.

  B. Personal Involvement and Deliberate Indifference

  Section 1983 imposes "civil liability upon any person who, acting under the color of state law, deprives another individual of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Gruenke v. Seip, 225 F.3d 290, 298 (3d Cir. 2000). For liability to attach to a defendant in his individual capacity, he or she "must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988) (citing Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 537 n. 3, 68 L. Ed. 2d 420, 101 S. Ct. 1908, (1981)); see also Sunkett v. Misci, 183 F. Supp. 2d 691, 710 (D.N.J. 2002). Such personal involvement "can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence." Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207-08.

  In his complaint, Plaintiff does not make any specific allegations regarding the conduct of Defendant Brown or Defendant MacFarland. Instead, Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that "[a]ll defendants play[ed] a major part . . . [in the] delay in removing [the] cast [from his] left leg" which caused Plaintiff's Achilles tendon to become infected. Compl. In their moving papers, Defendant Brown, the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, and Defendant MacFarland, the Administrator of South Woods State Prison, argue that the complaint does not allege personal conduct on their part sufficient to state a § 1983 claim. While civil rights plaintiffs are not subject to a heightened pleading requirement, but rather must only contain a "short and plain statement" of the claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), Alston, 363 F.3d at 233-34, the Court finds that Plaintiff's ...


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