United States District Court, D. New Jersey
November 3, 2005.
JONATHAN P. LOPEZ, Plaintiff,
DEVON BROWN, JAMES F. BARBO, LYDELL B. SHERRER, RICHARD CEVASCO Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENNIS CAVANAUGH, District Judge
This matter comes before the Court upon motion by Defendants
Devon Brown, James F. Barbo, Lydell B. Sherrer and Richard
Cevasco ("Moving Defendants") for summary judgment against
Plaintiff Jonathan P. Lopez ("Plaintiff"). No oral argument was
heard pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. After carefully considering the submission of the
parties and based upon the reasons set forth below, it is the
finding of this Court that Defendants' motion is granted and
the Complaint is dismissed as to Moving Defendants. The
Complaint is not dismissed as to the remaining Defendants, Dr.
Harold Goldstein, Dr. Scott Miller and Dr. Alicia Caputo.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On December 20, 2004, Plaintiff filed a Complaint pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Devon Brown, James Barbo, Lydell
Sherrer, Richard Cevasco, Dr. Harold Goldstein, Dr. Scott Miller, Dr. Alicia Caputo, and Dr. S. Kurra, and an application
to proceed in forma pauperis. At the time of the filing of the
Complaint, Plaintiff was an inmate at Northern State Prison
("NSP") in Newark, New Jersey. On February 16, 2005, the Court
granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. On August
22, 2005, Defendant S. Kurra filed a motion to dismiss for
Plaintiff's failure to keep the Court and counsel apprised of his
current address. The Court granted the motion to dismiss on
October 17, 2005, and S. Kurra was terminated as a party to this
Plaintiff was incarcerated at NSP from September 16, 2004
through April 29, 2005. See Affidavit of Mario Viera, Exhibit A.
Prior to his incarceration at NSP, Plaintiff was remanded to the
custody of the Atlantic County Department of Public Safety at the
Atlantic County Jail, where he remained from August 20, 2004 to
September 3, 2004. Pl. Comp. at ¶ 16. On September 3, 2004,
Plaintiff took an overdose of prescription medications in a
suicide attempt. Id. at ¶ 17. After the overdose, Plaintiff was
treated at a local hospital, and then involuntarily committed to
Ancora Psychiatric Hospital from September 4, 2004 through
September 15, 2004. Id. at ¶ 19. While a patient at Ancora,
Plaintiff was prescribed a course of medical treatment, including
the administration of various psychotropic medications. Id. at
¶ 20. Plaintiff was discharged from Ancora on September 15, 2004
and transferred back to the Atlantic County Jail where he
remained in custody until being transferred to NSP on September
16, 2004. Id. at ¶ 21. Plaintiff alleges that once back at NSP,
he was not allowed to continue the course of medical treatment
prescribed to him at Ancora. Id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiff also
contends that he was subjected to verbal harrassment by his
treating physician, former Defendant S. Kurra. Id.
In his pro se Complaint, Plaintiff seeks damages and
injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff asserts
that the Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights in two
ways: (1) by deliberate indifference in changing a prescribed course of
medical treatment and abrupt discontinuation of treatment and (2)
by cruel and unusual punishment in disregarding the right to
refuse medical treatment. Pl. Compl., Stmt. of the Case. In
addition, Plaintiff alleges medical malpractice, harassment, and
negligence under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. Pl. Compl. at 1.
With regard to the Moving Defendants, Plaintiff claims Defendants
had knowledge of these violations of his rights and deliberately
failed to take any action to protect his rights. Pl. Compl. at ¶
On May 13, 2005, Defendants filed the instant motion for
summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56,
on the basis that the undisputed facts show that the Moving
Defendants were not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's
alleged medical needs, that they are entitled to qualified
immunity as to their actions, and that Plaintiff's claims are
barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Def. Br. at 2. In addition,
Defendants submit that Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages
should also be dismissed because he can not show that the Moving
Defendants' actions were motivated by an evil motive or callous
indifference. Def. Br. at 2.
A. Standard of Review
Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is
only appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Rule 56(e) requires that when
a motion for summary judgment is made, the nonmoving party must
set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial. Id.; see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment,
a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party and must resolve any reasonable doubt as to the existence of a
genuine issue of fact against the moving party. Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co., Ltd., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The burden of
showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists rests
initially on the moving party. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the
parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion
for summary judgment. Only disputes over facts that might affect
the outcome of the lawsuit under governing law will preclude the
entry of summary judgment. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.
If the evidence is such that a reasonable fact-finder could find
in favor of the nonmoving party, summary judgment should not be
granted. See id.; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
Due to an understandable difference in legal sophistication, a
complaint drafted by a pro se litigant must be held to a less
exacting standard than a complaint drafted by trained counsel.
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972). However, "while pro se
complaints are entitled to liberal construction, the plaintiff
must still set forth facts sufficient to survive summary
judgment." Ezeiruaku v. U.S., 2000 WL 1751077, *3 (E.D.Pa.
2000) (citing Shabazz v. Odum, 591 F.Supp. 1513 (M.D.Pa.
B. Plaintiff's Eight Amendment Claims
Plaintiff invokes the jurisdiction of the Court pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 authorizes a person such as Plaintiff
to seek redress for a violation of his federal civil rights by a
person who was acting under color of state law. To recover under
section 1983, a plaintiff must show two elements: (1) a person
deprived or caused him to be deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) the
deprivation was done under color of state law. See West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co.,
398 U.S. 144, 152 (1970); Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1107
(3d Cir. 1989).
Plaintiff claims that the Moving Defendants, in their capacity
as employees of the state, violated his Eighth Amendment rights.
Plaintiff theorizes that his constitutionally guaranteed rights
were violated because the Moving Defendants did not adequately
respond to his concerns about his medical treatment, thereby
evidencing deliberate indifference to his medical needs and
causing the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.
Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs
Prison systems have a duty to provide prisoners with adequate
medical care. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976).
"It is now settled that the treatment a prisoner receives in
prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject
to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment." Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (citations and internal quotations omitted).
However, prison authorities are afforded considerable latitude in
the diagnosis and treatment of prisoners. See Inmates of
Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce, 612 F.2d 754, 762 (3d. Cir.
1979) (claim for deliberate indifference does not arise just
because one doctor disagrees with the diagnosis of another.) As
such, for a prisoner to succeed in an action claiming inadequate
medical treatment, a prisoner must show more than negligence; he
must show "deliberate indifference" to a serious medical need.
Durmer v. O'Carroll, 991 F.2d 64 (3d Cir. 1993) (quoting
Estelle at 104-106.)
In support of his allegations, Plaintiff claims Moving
Defendants failed to take sufficient action upon receipt of a
memorandum written by Plaintiff describing his medical issues.
Id. at ¶ 27. Specifically, Plaintiff claims Defendants Sherrer and Cevasco
never replied to his memorandum, and although Defendant Barbo did
reply to Plaintiff's memorandum, Plaintiff alleges his concerns
were not addressed. Id. Plaintiff asserts that he contacted
Defendant Brown again on October 14, 2004, by way of letter
requesting removal from the special needs roster.
The Third Circuit addressed a similar situation in Durmer,
where it affirmed as proper the granting of summary judgment in
favor of non-physician prison administrators, 991 F.2d at 69. The
Circuit reasoned that because the defendants were not physicians,
they could not be "considered deliberately indifferent simply
because they failed to respond directly to the medical complaints
of a prisoner who already was being treated by the prison
doctor."*fn1 Id. The Circuit further explained its
reasoning in Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 236 (3d Cir.
2004), stating: "if a prisoner is under the care of medical
experts, a non-medical prison official will generally be
justified in believing that the prisoner is in capable hands . . .
[A]bsent a reason to believe (or actual knowledge) that prison
doctors are mistreating (or not treating) a prisoner, a
non-medical prison official . . . will not be chargeable with . . .
deliberate indifference." Additionally, in Estelle, the
Supreme Court instructed that mere negligence on the part of
prison officials does not constitute a violation of the Eight
Amendment. 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1977); see also Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825, 835 (1994) (reiterating Estelle's distinction
between deliberate indifference to serious medical needs and
Here, Moving Defendants have submitted an affidavit indicating
that Plaintiff's memorandum was indeed forwarded to medical
personnel. See Reihm Affadavit, Exhibit A. Moreover, none of the
Moving Defendants are physicians and therefore cannot be
considered deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical needs because
they failed to respond to Plaintiff's medical concerns. It is
clear from the record before the Court that Plaintiff's concerns
were brought to the attention of the medical personnel at NSP.
Reihm Aff., Ex. A. As such, Plaintiff's Eight Amendment claim for
medical indifference against the Moving Defendants is dismissed.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
"The Eighth Amendment, in only three words, imposes the
constitutional limitation upon punishments: they cannot be `cruel
and unusual.'" Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 345 (1981). The
Eighth Amendment prohibits conditions which, although not
physically barbarous, involve the unnecessary and wanton
infliction of pain or are grossly disproportionate to the
severity of the crime warranting imprisonment. Rhodes,
452 U.S. at 346, 347. "Among unnecessary and wanton inflictions of pain
are those that are totally without penological justification."
Id. at 346 (citations and internal quotations omitted).
The Court finds no evidence of cruel and unusual treatment of
the Plaintiff by the Moving Defendants. After Plaintiff's suicide
attempt, he was transferred to a psychiatric hospital for
evaluation and treatment, a course of action that is most
appropriate given the circumstances. The medical records provided
to the Court in Defendants' affidavits show Plaintiff received
medical care. As discussed above, a non-medical prison officer
will be justified in thinking the prisoner is in the capable
hands of the treating prison physician. Spruill,
372 F.3d at 236. Thus, the decision of the treating physician at the Atlantic
County jail to terminate the course of medication prescribed to
Plaintiff at Ancora does not implicate infliction of cruel and
unusual punishment on the part of Moving Defendants. Plaintiff's
Eight Amendment claim of cruel and unusual punishment is dismissed.
In light of the above reasoning, the Court does not feel the
need to address the remaining arguments put forth by Defendants
in their motion for summary judgment. In sum, Moving Defendants'
motion for summary judgment is granted.
For the reasons stated, it is the finding of this Court that
Plaintiff's claims against Moving Defendants Devon Brown, James
Barbo, Lydell B. Sherrer and Richard Cevasco are dismissed with
prejudice. An appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.
© 1992-2005 VersusLaw Inc.