United States District Court, D. New Jersey
August 18, 2005.
DAVID RIGGS, Plaintiff,
CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL SERVICES, GLENN FERGUSON, GRACE ROGERS, ANGEL SANTIAGO, BHARATKUMAR PATEL, JOHN AND JANE DOES 1-20, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSEPH GREENAWAY, District Judge
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This case is unpublished as indicated by the issuing court.] OPINION
This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary
judgment of Defendants Grace Rogers and Angel Santiago
("Defendant Rogers" and "Defendant Santiago"), pursuant to Rule
56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendant argues that
Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed with prejudice because
Plaintiff is unable to maintain a cause of action as to Defendant
Rogers, pursuant to Section 1983, and because Plaintiff's
complaint fails to state a colorable claim alleging that
Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's
serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth
In 1988, David Riggs ("Plaintiff" or "Riggs") was convicted of
criminal attempt aggravated sexual assault, burglary, and
possession of a weapon. (Affadivit of Angel Santiago ("Santiago
Aff.") Ex. A.) Prior to his release date, Plaintiff was
evaluated, and on February 15, 2000, he was deemed a sexually
violent predator and was civilly and involuntarily committed to
the Special Treatment Unit ("STU" or "Unit") in Kearny, New
Jersey, pursuant to the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predator Act
("SVPA"). N.J. STAT. ANN. § 30:4-27.24 et seq. (Santiago Aff.
Ex. A.) The SVPA allows involuntary commitment of those deemed
"individuals who commit sex offenses, suffer from mental
abnormalities or personality disorders which make them likely to
engage in repeat acts of predatory sexual violence if not treated
for their mental conditions." N.J. STAT. ANN. § 30:4-27.25(a).
The Department of Corrections ("DOC") is responsible for the
custody, care, and treatment of committed individuals. N.J. STAT.
ANN. § 30:4-27.34(a). Defendants Rogers and Santiago were the
Administrator and Assistant Superintendent of the Adult
Diagnostic and Treatment Center of the STU, respectively, at the
time Plaintiff was committed to the Unit. (Affadavit of Grace
Rogers ("Rogers Aff.") ¶ 1; Santiago Aff. ¶ 1.)
The DOC has entered into an agreement with Correctional Medical
Services ("CMS"), a private contract vendor, whereby CMS provides
medical services for STU residents. (Santiago Aff. ¶ 5.)
In August 2001, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Bharatkumar Patel, a
CMS physician. (Complaint ("Compl."), ¶ 5.) Plaintiff alleges
that he complained to Dr. Patel of chest pains and symptoms
related to coronary artery disease. (Id.) Sometime thereafter,
Plaintiff contends that Dr. Patel scheduled a cardiac consultation with Dr. Jeferi
of Hamilton Specialists. In October 2001, Plaintiff visited Dr.
Jeferi, who ordered a cardiac stress test and cardiac
catherterization. (Id.) Plaintiff received a cardiac stress test
in December of 2001. (Brief and Appendix on Behalf of State Defs.
("Defs.' App.," Ex. D.).)
On March 14, 2002, Joan D. Van Pelt, Plaintiff's court
appointed counsel, wrote to Defendant Santiago, inquiring about
the DOC's delay in providing the cardiac catheterization that Dr.
Jeferi had ordered, and requesting that the DOC schedule the
procedure immediately. (Compl. ¶ 5; Santiago Aff. Ex. C,
(explaining, "[i]t is now almost 6 months later and the procedure
has not been scheduled. It is my understanding that [the DOC] is
responsible for providing medical care to the STU residents.").)
(Id.) In May 2002, Plaintiff alleges that he asked Defendant
Santiago to inform him as to when the cardiac catheterization
would be ordered.*fn2
On August 7, 2002, Plaintiff submitted a written grievance,
alleging that Defendant Santiago ignored his repeated requests to
schedule a cardiac catheterization in compliance with Dr.
Jeferi's order. (Defs.' App., Ex. C.) Plaintiff's written
grievance states that it contained enclosures including a copy of
the letter from Ms. Van Pelt and Dr. Jeferi's order. (Id.)
Plaintiff's grievance notes that CMS reported no knowledge of Dr.
Jeferi's order. (Id.) The grievance form further indicates that
it was forwarded to DOC on August 9, 2002. (Id.) Defendants
contend that the form was forwarded "to medical" in September
2002. (Id.) The Residents' Guide to the STU, which each resident receives
upon arrival, states, "[a]ll responses to grievances will be made
to the resident within 30 days, and the responses will be in
writing. If the grievance is not resolved to the satisfaction of
the resident, the grievance can be forwarded to Unit's Clinical
Director, or Administrator for final resolution of the
complaint." (Defs.' App., Ex. B.)
St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey admitted
Plaintiff for a cardiac catheterization on November 19, 2002.
(Defs.' App., Ex. D.) The procedure revealed irregularities with
eighty to ninety percent stenosis. (Id.) Due to Plaintiff's heart
condition, Dr. Jay K. Patel performed an angioplasty with
placement of two stents. St. Francis Medical Center discharged
Plaintiff on November 22, 2002. (Id.)
A. Dispositive Motion
This matter is before this Court on Defendants Grace Rogers and
Angel Santiago's motion for summary judgment, pursuant to FED. R.
CIV. P. 56. Plaintiff argues that the parties have not yet
conducted preliminary discovery and thus, urges this Court to
apply the standard under Rule 12(b)(6).*fn3 On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, pursuant
to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as
true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable
inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and to view them in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Oshiver v.
Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir.
1994). A complaint should be dismissed only if the alleged facts,
taken as true, fail to state a claim. See In re Warfarin
Sodium, 214 F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000). The question is
whether the claimant can prove any set of facts consistent with
his or her allegations that will entitle him or her to relief,
not whether that person will ultimately prevail. Scheuer v.
Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Semerenko v. Cendant Corp.,
223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). While a court will accept
well-pled allegations as true for the purposes of the motion, it
will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions,
unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the
form of factual allegations. Morse v. Lower Merion School
District, 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). "The pleader is
required to `set forth sufficient information to outline the
elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that
these elements exist.'" Kost v. Kozakewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d
Cir. 1993) (quoting 5A Wright & Miller, Fed. Practice &
Procedure: Civil 2d § 1357).
Summary judgment is appropriate under FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)
when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue
of material fact and the evidence establishes the moving party's
entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Orson, Inc. v. Miramax
Film Corp., 79 F.3d 1358, 1366 (3d Cir. 1996). In making this
determination, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in
favor of the non-movant. Hullett v. Towers, Perrin, Forster & Crosby, Inc., 38 F.3d 107,
111 (3d Cir. 1994); Nat'l State Bank v. Fed. Reserve Bank of
N.Y., 979 F.2d 1579, 1581 (3d Cir. 1992).
Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the
party opposing the motion must establish that a genuine issue as
to a material fact exists. Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v.
Lacey Township, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir. 1985). The party
opposing the motion for summary judgment cannot rest on mere
allegations and instead must present actual evidence that creates
a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Siegel Transfer,
Inc. v. Carrier Express, Inc., 54 F.3d 1125, 1130-31 (3d Cir.
1995). "[U]nsupported allegations . . . and pleadings are
insufficient to repel summary judgment." Schoch v. First Fid.
Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990).
If the nonmoving party has failed "to make a showing sufficient
to establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of
proof at trial, . . . there can be `no genuine issue of material
fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential
element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all
other facts immaterial." Katz v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co.,
972 F.2d 53, 55 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Celotex,
477 U.S. at 322-23). In determining whether there are any issues of material
fact, the Court must resolve all doubts as to the existence of a
material fact against the moving party and draw all reasonable
inferences including on issues of credibility in favor of the
non-moving party. Watts v. Univ. of Del., 622 F.2d 47, 50 (3d
In the instant motion, this Court recognizes that there are
materials presented beyond the pleadings. Pursuant to FED. R.
CIV. P. 12(b), [i]f, on a motion . . . to dismiss for failure of the
pleading to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted, matters outside the pleading are presented
to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be
treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of
as provided in Rule 56, and all parties shall be
given reasonable opportunity to present all materials
made pertinent to such a motion by Rule 56.
Should this Court choose to accept materials beyond the
pleadings, this Court is then required to convert the motion to
one for summary judgment and provide the parties notice and a
reasonable opportunity to present all relevant material. See,
e.g., In re Rockefeller Center Properties, Inc.,
184 F.3d 280, 287-289 (3d Cir. 1999); Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331,
339-343 (3d Cir. 1989). This Court notes that it has complete
discretion to accept material beyond the pleadings. Morse v.
Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 905 n. 3 (3d Cir.
1997); Wright & Miller, Fed. Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d §
The parties have presented documents outside the pleadings to
this Court, including the affidavit of Grace Rogers, the
affidavit of Angel Santiago, and corresponding exhibits. (Rogers
Aff.; Santiago Aff. Ex. A-D.) This Court does not exclude these
submissions, but rather considers them in resolving the instant
motion. Plaintiff has had reasonable notice and opportunity to
present all material outside the pleadings made pertinent by the
motion. Therefore, in light of this Court's determination to
consider materials outside of the pleadings, and as directed by
FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b), this Court applies Rule 56 to resolve the
B. Violation of Due Process Claim
The parties dispute the appropriate constitutional standard
that this Court should apply to Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff's
complaint alleges Defendants acted with deliberate indifference
to his medical needs and denied him access to treatment for a
serious medical illness in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Defendants recognize that Plaintiff is not
a prison inmate. Defendants posit that Plaintiff is involuntarily
committed to the STU. (Santiago Aff. ¶ 2.) Therefore, Defendants
contend, Plaintiff's claim of deliberate indifference to his
medical needs must be examined under the Fourteenth Amendment.
1. Claim under Section 1983
Section 1983 subjects to liability "[e]very person who, under
color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of
any State or Territory . . . subjects . . . any citizen of the
United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges,
or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws."
42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Section 1983 "`is not itself a source of substantive rights,'
but merely provides `a method for vindicating federal rights
elsewhere conferred.'" Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271
(1994) (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3
(1979)). "The first step in any [§ 1983] claim is to identify the
specific constitutional right allegedly infringed." Albright,
510 U.S. at 271 (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394
(1989), and Baker, 443 U.S. at 140). To establish a viable §
1983 claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that "the conduct
complained of was committed by a person acting under the color of
state law" and that the "conduct deprived the plaintiff of his
rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution or
laws of the United States." Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176,
184 (3d Cir. 1993) (quoting Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527,
535 (1981) overruled in part on other grounds by
Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327 (1986)). 2. Appropriate Constitutional Standard
Following his convictions for criminal attempt aggravated
sexual assault, burglary, and possession of a weapon, Plaintiff
was incarcerated. Individuals committed under the SVPA are not
being punished, as the legislature intended the SVPA to be
regulatory rather than punitive in nature. See State v.
Bellamy, 178 N.J. 127, 138 (N.J. 2003). Persons committed under
the SVPA remain confined "because of the nature of the mental
conditions from which [they] suffer and the danger they
present. . . ." SVPA § 30:4-27.2(d). Though Plaintiff is not
incarcerated for the purpose of completing a fixed, imposed
sentence, "[p]ersons committed to Kearny are housed in locked
rooms and monitored by uniformed correctional officers, some
carrying weapons, who are employed by the Department of
Corrections. Residents leaving the facility are shackled with
handcuffs to waist chains and also with ankle cuffs. There are no
opportunities at Kearny to advance to a less restrictive physical
structure." In re commitments of M.G. and D.C., 751 A.2d 1101,
1105 (N.J.Super. App. Div. 2000).
Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated for having committed a
criminal offense; rather, he is involuntarily committed, pursuant
to the SVPA. In Natale v. Camden County Correctional Facility,
318 F.3d 575 (3d Cir. 2003), the Third Circuit held that, when
considering pre-detainees' claims, pursuant to Section 1983, for
deliberate indifference application of the Fourteenth Amendment
is clearly appropriate. The Court found that because the
plaintiff was not committed as a prisoner, the Eighth Amendment
did not directly apply. "In this context, the Natales should have
pleaded their § 1983 claim as one based on the Due Process Clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment." Id. However, the Court noted
that, when evaluating deliberate indifference under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Third Circuit
has found no reason to apply a different standard than that
pertaining to deliberate indifference claims brought under the
Eighth Amendment. See also Woloszyn v. County of Lawrence,
et al., 396 F.3d 314 (3d Cir. 2005) (explaining that in the
context of a pre-trial detainee's § 1983 claim, deliberate
indifference under the Eighth Amendment does not directly
control, but the Court may nevertheless look to Eighth Amendment,
because the rights of pre-trial detainees are at least as great
as those rights of the convicted); Hubbard v. Stanley Taylor, et
al., 399 F.3d 150 (3d Cir. 2005) (evaluating a pre-trial
detainee's Fourteenth Amendment inadequate medical care claim
under the standard used in similar claims brought under the
Pursuant to Third Circuit precedent, this Court directly
applies the Fourteenth Amendment because Plaintiff was not
incarcerated at the time of the events giving rise to the acts or
omissions underlying this complaint. The standard for considering
due process claims of deliberate indifference under the Eighth
Amendment are appropriate for consideration by analogy. Analysis
Plaintiff's complaint alleges that Defendants Rogers and
Santiago are liable under Section 1983 and the Fourteenth
Amendment for acting with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's
serious medical needs. (Compl. ¶ 5.)
Defendants state, in conclusory fashion, "plaintiff has not
demonstrated that any of his alleged medical needs were serious
enough to satisfy the first prong of the Fourteenth Amendment
inquiry." (Def.'s Br. at 14-18.)
To state a claim for deliberate indifference as to a serious
medical need in violation of the due process guarantees under the
Fourteenth Amendment, Plaintiff must show that his medical needs
are serious. See Monmouth County Corr. Institutional Inmates
v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987). 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." Id.
at 347 (quoting Pace v. Fauver, 479 F. Supp. 456, 458 (D.N.J.
1979), aff'd, 649 F.2d 860 (3d Cir. 1981). Further, serious
medical needs are those which would result in permanent loss or
handicap in the absence of medical treatment. Id.
Plaintiff alleges that he began complaining to Dr. Bharatkumar
Patel of chest pains and symptoms related to coronary artery
disease in August 2001. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Sometime thereafter, Dr.
Patel scheduled a cardiac consultation with Dr. Jeferi of
Hamilton Specialists. In October 2001, Plaintiff visited Dr.
Jeferi, who ordered a cardiac stress test and cardiac catheterization. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff received a cardiac
stress test in December 2001, but did not receive the
catheterization at that time. (Defs.' App., Ex. D.)
On March 14, 2002, Joan D. Van Pelt, Plaintiff's court
appointed counsel, sent a letter to Defendant Santiago requesting
an investigation into the delay in implementing Dr. Jeferi's
instructions that Plaintiff receive a cardiac catheterization.
(Santiago Aff., Ex. C.) The record does not indicate any response
to Van Pelt's letter. In May 2002, Plaintiff claims that he spoke
to Santiago about the status of Dr. Jeferi's order for a cardiac
catheterization. On August 7, 2002, Plaintiff submitted a
grievance against Santiago relating to the delay of his
catheterization. ("Def.'s App.," Ex. C.) Plaintiff underwent the
cardiac catheterization on November 19, 2002, thirteen months
after his alleged initial complaint. (Defs.' App., Ex. D.)
Defendant fails to provide this Court with even a scintilla of
evidence supporting the proposition that the heart condition
about which Plaintiff complained and was diagnosed does not
present a serious illness. Further, the nature of the procedure
itself could serve as tangible evidence from which a reasonable
trier of fact could conclude that Plaintiff's condition was
serious. Drawing inferences in favor of the non-movant, as is
required pursuant to Rule 56, this Court concludes that genuine
issues of material fact remain as to whether Plaintiff's heart
condition presents a serious illness.
II. Deliberate Indifference
In addition to determining that the complained of condition
constituted a serious medical illness, this Court must determine
whether Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to that
condition in violation of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights
to life, liberty, and due process. Defendant Santiago was the former Assistant
Administrator at the STU, and Defendant Rogers was the
Administrator at the time the actions alleged to constitute
deliberate indifference in Plaintiff's Complaint took place.
Defendants argue that Defendant Rogers may not be held liable
because (1) Plaintiff alleges no facts in his complaint that
state a claim of deliberate indifference by Defendant Rogers, and
(2) a theory of liability based on Roger's supervisory status,
such as a theory of respondeat superior, is not colorable in a §
1983 claim. (Defs.' Mot. in Supp. of Summ. J. at 7, 8.)
Defendants urge that because no reasonable jury could find that
either defendant acted with deliberate indifference, this Court
should grant summary judgment in their favor.
A. Theories of Liability Under Section 1983
Defendants argue that Plaintiff does not allege that he
contacted Rogers directly, and therefore Rogers cannot have acted
with deliberate indifference as a matter of law. In addition,
Defendants argue that because a theory of respondeat superior may
not be sustained under a § 1983 claim, Plaintiff's complaint
fails to state a cause for which relief may be granted.
Defendants' arguments are to no avail for two reasons. First,
knowledge of medical need and delay for non-medical reasons are
sufficient to support a finding of deliberate indifference. See
Hathaway v. Coughlin, 841 F.2d 48, 66 (2d Cir. 1988) (holding
that plaintiff's allegations of a two year delay in arranging
necessary surgery were sufficient to survive summary judgment, as
they created a factual dispute as to whether defendants acted
with deliberate indifference). The Residents' Guide to the STU,
which each resident receives upon arrival, instructs that when a
grievance is filed and is not resolved to the satisfaction of the
resident, as in the case at bar, the grievance will be forwarded to the Administrator for final
resolution. (Defs.' App., Ex B.) The fact that Plaintiff did not
contact Rogers directly is not dispositive of whether she acted
with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's medical needs.
Second, Plaintiff does not allege a theory of respondeat
superior. Whether such a claim may be maintained under § 1983 is
not an issue that is properly before this Court, and need not be
Applying the standard for the Residents' Guide here, this Court
finds that Defendant Rogers was the Administrator of the STU at
the time of the acts and omissions alleged in Plaintiff's
complaint and further finds that she may have had certain
affirmative responsibilities regarding Plaintiff's written
grievance. A reasonable jury could determine on these facts that
Rogers was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's need for a
cardiac catheterization. This Court finds that a genuine issue as
to a material fact remains as to Defendant Roger's action. As a
consequence, this Court must deny Defendants' motion for summary
judgment regarding Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Rogers.
Defendants further argue that neither Defendant Santiago nor
Defendant Rogers acted with deliberate indifference and that
Plaintiff's allegations are better asserted against CMS.
Defendants argue that CMS treated Plaintiff during all relevant
time periods, thus demonstrating that Plaintiff had access to
medical care and undermining any allegation of deliberate
indifference. Moreover, Defendants contend that, "[o]n September
24, 2002, Santiago responded to Plaintiff, and because the
Resident Grievance Form only referred to medical issues, Santiago referred the matter to medical as indicated on the top
right corner of the Resident Grievance Form." (Santiago Aff. Ex.
C.) Defendants contend that by forwarding the grievance form "to
medical," Defendant Santiago and Defendant Rogers fulfilled their
obligations to assist Plaintiff in obtaining access to proper
Defendant's argument seeks to delegate responsibility to
provide access to necessary medical procedures to CMS. However,
"[c]ontracting out prison medical care does not relieve the State
of its constitutional duty to provide adequate medical treatment
to those in its custody. . . ." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 56
(1988) While the record demonstrates Plaintiff had some access to
medical care during the relevant time periods, Plaintiff does not
allege that he had no access to medical care. Rather, Plaintiff
contends that he was denied access to a cardiac catheterization,
a medical diagnosis that remains unchallenged. Further, Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant Santiago was personally aware of Dr.
Jeferi's order for a cardiac catheterization and acted with
deliberate indifference by not responding to Plaintiff and his
Defendants rely heavily on Durmer v. O'Carroll, 991 F.2d 64,
69 (3d Cir. 1993), in which the Ciruit held that where a detainee
is under the care of medical professionals, prison employees did
not act with deliberate indifference when they did not respond to
medical requests. The instant case, however, is not analogous to
Durmer. In Durmer, at the time the plaintiff was complaining
to prison staff, the medical necessity of the plaintiff's request
for physical therapy was a vigorously contested issue. Therefore,
the Circuit found that prison employees were not qualified to
resolve the question. Durmer, 991 F.2d at 68-69. In the instant
case, however, Plaintiff complained and requested an
investigation regarding the delay in his procedure ordered by Dr. Jeferi. Dr. Jeferi's order, which remains unchallenged by
Defendants and on which Defendants present no contrary medical
opinion, is not in dispute.
This Court finds that by forwarding the grievance sheet "to
medical," Defendants may not have overcome their burden to
demonstrate that they showed the requisite level of care and that
Plaintiff had reasonable access to obtain the procedure.
Plaintiff has thus raised genuine issues of material fact as to
whether Defendants Rogers and Santiago acted with deliberate
indifference to his need for a cardiac catheterization.
Plaintiff has raised genuine issues of material fact as to
whether his medical condition is a serious illness. Plaintiff has
further raised genuine issues of material fact as to whether
Defendants Rogers and Santiago acted with deliberate
indifference. Based on the consideration of these fact issues,
this Court denies Defendants' motions seeking summary judgment in
toto. Further, Plaintiff's Rule 56(f) motion provides a separate
basis for denying Defendants' motions.