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Therese Afdahl v. Frank Cancellieri

April 4, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cooper, District Judge



The plaintiff, Therese Afdahl, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § ("Section") 1983 alleging violations of her First Amendment and Eighth Amendment rights. (Dkt. entry no. 1.) The Court initially dismissed the First Amendment claims and permitted the Eighth Amendment claims to proceed. (Dkt. entry no. 3.) The Court - in response to (1) a motion by the defendants Dr. Frank Cancellieri, Kiesha Williams, Shelly Wilson-Howard, and Correctional Medical Services ("CMS") to dismiss the Complaint insofar as asserted against them, and (2) a separate motion by the defendant Dr. Louis Colella to dismiss the Complaint insofar as asserted against him - then dismissed the remaining claims against CMS and the claim brought against Colella in his official capacity. (Dkt. entries nos. 31, 32, 36 & 37.) When discovery closed, Cancellieri, Williams and Wilson-Howard moved for summary judgment in their favor ("First Motion"). (Dkt. entry no. 71.) Colella moved separately for summary judgment in his favor ("Second Motion"). (Dkt. entry no. 76.) Plaintiff opposed the First Motion and Second Motion. (Dkt. entry no. 82.) The Court will determine these Motions without an oral hearing. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons stated herein, the Court will grant the First Motion and Second Motion.*fn1


I. Facts Relevant to the First Motion

Plaintiff is a state prisoner currently incarcerated at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility ("EMCF"). On August 24, 2008, she developed a toothache and submitted a medical/dental request form ("request form") indicating merely that she was experiencing a "toothache." (Id. at 5.) On August 27, 2008, Plaintiff was seen by a nurse, given ibuprofen ("Motrin") and informed that she would be scheduled for an appointment with a professional in the EMCF dental department. (Id.) On August 29, 2008, Plaintiff was examined by Cancellieri and Williams. (Id.) An X-ray was performed, and Cancellieri determined that a root canal procedure should be scheduled. (Dkt. entries no. 71-9 and 71-10.) For the meantime, Plaintiff was prescribed 800 mg of Motrin, three times a day, as a painkiller. (Id.)

On September 3, 2008, Plaintiff submitted another request form and, on September 4, 2008, was seen by an administrative assistant who assured Plaintiff that her follow-up dental care would take place as soon as possible. (Dkt. entry no. 1, at 6.) On September 8, 2008, Plaintiff met with Williams and requested an increase of her Motrin prescription. (Id.) Williams denied that request, but informed Plaintiff that the dental follow-up treatment would be in a week. (Id.)

Starting on September 9, 2008, and for the following few days, Plaintiff suffered abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting, which she ascribed to her consumption of Motrin. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff, therefore, was prescribed Vicodin instead of Motrin. (Id.)

On September 16, 2008, Cancellieri and Williams performed a partial root canal and detected an infection around the affected area. (Id. at 8.)

On October 15, 2008, Plaintiff had further work performed on her root canal. (Id.) On October 19, 2008, she began experiencing severe pain in the root canal area, and observed swelling on the next day. (Id. at 9.) Plaintiff was seen by a nurse and prescribed an antibiotic to control the infection. (Id. at 10.)

On October 30, 2008, another doctor and an assistant (both not named as defendants in his matter) treated Plaintiff; her root canal procedures were completed on November 26, 2008, by yet another doctor and an assistant (also not named among the defendants). (Id. at 12.)

Plaintiff alleged that her constitutional rights were violated by Cancellieri, Williams and Wilson-Howard because: (1) the dental treatment of Plaintiff by Cancellieri and Williams was not as speedy as Plaintiff felt proper; (2) Cancellieri prescribed Plaintiff Motrin in a dosage that she believed was unduly high and presumed to be the cause of her stomach cramps and vomiting; and (3) Wilson-Howard did not take measures to ensure that Plaintiff's root canal procedure would be speedier.

II. Facts Relevant to the Second Motion

Colella, the Director of Dental Services for the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJDOC"), does not perform any dental work and holds no supervisory authority over the medical and dental staff of NJDOC, even though his responsibilities include various advisory functions, including making non-binding suggestions as to the course of treatment for a particular inmate. (Dkt. entries no. 76-2 and 76-4.)*fn2

Plaintiff spoke with and wrote to Colella in 2005 and June 2008, expressing dissatisfaction with the general dental care at EMCF and with the treatment she had been receiving on prior occasions, unrelated to the facts alleged in the Complaint. (Dkt. entry no. 76-4.)

As to the events listed in the Complaint, Plaintiff wrote to Colella on September 11, 2008, requesting that her root canal procedure (prescribed by Cancellieri two weeks prior to that mailing, i.e., on August 29, 2008) would begin. (Id.) When Colella received Plaintiff's letter on September 19, 2008, and examined her medical file, the latest entry in the file indicated that Plaintiff's root canal procedures were already underway: since September 16, 2008. (Id.)

On October 15, 2008, Plaintiff wrote to Colella again, this time stating her dissatisfaction about the speed with which various steps of ...

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