United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MADELINE COX ARLEO, U.S.D.J.
matter has been opened to the Court by Plaintiffs filing of
a pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 alleging inadequate medical care in
violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Court previously
granted Plaintiffs application to proceed in forma
pauperis. Federal law requires this Court to screen
Plaintiffs Complaint for sua sponte dismissal prior
to service, and to dismiss any claim if that claim fails to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and/or to dismiss any defendant who is
immune from suit. See 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B). For the reasons explained in this
Memorandum Opinion, the Court will dismiss with prejudice the
§ 1983 claims for damages against Defendants in their
official capacities and will dismiss without prejudice the
§ 1983 claims for inadequate medical care. In the
absence of a viable federal claim, the Court will deny
supplemental jurisdiction over any potential state law claims
and will provide Plaintiff with 30 days within which to
submit an amended complaint.
Court first addresses whether Plaintiff states any claims for
relief under 28 U.S.C. § 1983. A plaintiff may have a
cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain
violations of his constitutional rights. Section 1983
provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory ...
subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the
United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof
to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the
party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other
proper proceeding for redress....
"to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a
plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the
Constitution and laws of the United States and must show that
the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person
acting under color of state law." See West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Malleus v.
George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).
Plaintiff has sued Defendants Gary M. Lanigan, George O.
Robinson, Bridget Hogan, and John Doe 1 in their official and
personal capacities and seeks damages and
injunctive/declaratory relief. The Court will dismiss with
prejudice the official capacity claims for damages against
the state Defendants, because these claims are essentially
damages claims against the state. And the state is not a
"person" subject to suit under § 1983. See
Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58,
68-70 (1989) (holding that States and governmental entities
considered "arms of the State" for Eleventh
Amendment purposes are not "persons" within the
meaning of § 1983); Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21,
27 (1991) ("State officers sued for damages in their
official capacity are not 'persons' for purposes of
the suit because they assume the identity of the government
that employs them.").
Court construes Plaintiffs Complaint to allege that he was
provided with inadequate medical care in violation of the
Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment "requires prison
officials to provide basic medical treatment to those whom it
has incarcerated." Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d
192, 197 (3d Cir.1999) (citing Estelle v. Gamble,
429 U.S. 97 (1976)). In order to state an Eighth Amendment
medical claim, an inmate must allege acts or omissions by
prison officials sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate
indifference to a serious medical need. See Spruill v.
Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 235-36 (3d Cir. 2004); Natale
v. Camden Cty. Correctional Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582
(3d Cir. 2003).
order to prevail under § 1983, a plaintiff must assert
that each defendant had personal involvement in the alleged
wrongs, and liability cannot be predicated solely on the
operation of respondeat superior. Rizzo v.
Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Rode v.
Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Here,
Plaintiff fails to state § 1983 claims for inadequate
medical care against Defendants Lanigan, Robinson, and Hogan,
as the Complaint states only that these Defendants are
"legally responsible for" the operation of the
prison and/or the medical care of inmates. (ECF No. 1, Compl.
at ¶¶4-7.) Such allegations are premised solely on
a theory of respondeat superior liability, which is
not a basis for relief under § 1983. The Court will
therefore dismiss without prejudice the § 1983 claims
for inadequate medical care as to Defendants Lanigan,
Robinson, and Hogan.
also fails to allege a § 1983 claim against Defendant
John Doe 1, the only other Defendant identified in the
caption of the Complaint. (ECF No. 1, Compl. at 1.) To state
a claim under the Eighth Amendment, a prisoner must
demonstrate "(1) that defendants were deliberately
indifferent to [his] medical needs and (2) that those needs
were serious." Rouse, 182 F.3d at 197. "To
act with deliberate indifference to serious medical needs is
to recklessly disregard a substantial risk of serious
harm." Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318, 330 (3d
Cir. 2009). Deliberate indifference requires proof that the
official "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to
inmate health or safety." Natale, 318 F.3d at
582 (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837
(1994)). For instance, a plaintiff may make this showing by
establishing that the defendants "intentionally den[ied]
or delay[ed] medical care." Giles, 571 F.3d at
330. The Third Circuit has found deliberate indifference
where a prison official: "(1) knows of a prisoner's
need for medical treatment but intentionally refuses to
provide it; (2) delays necessary medical treatment based on a
nonmedical reason; or (3) prevents a prisoner from receiving
needed or recommended treatment." Rouse, 182
F.3d at 197. Notably, however, allegations of negligent
treatment or medical malpractice do not trigger
constitutional protections. Pierce v. Pitkins, 520
Fed.Appx. 64, 66 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (citing
Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06); Singletary v. Pa.
Dep't of Con., 266 F.3d 186, 192 n. 2 (3d Cir.
2001). Such allegations rise only to the level of potential
medical malpractice, which are insufficient to state a
cognizable deliberate indifference to a serious medical need
claim under § 1983. See Spruill, 372 F.3d at
235 ("Allegations of medical malpractice are not
sufficient to establish a Constitutional violation.")
(citations omitted); see also Bramson v. Sulayman,
251 Fed.Appx. 84, 86 (3d Cir. 2007) (per curiam)
("[Plaintiffs] complaint makes clear that the defendants
treated him on many occasions. He claims those treatments
proved ineffective and that defendants negligently failed to
diagnose his heart condition, but those allegations do not
state an Eighth Amendment claim.") (citing
Estelle, 429 U.S. at 107-08 & n.16.)
alleges in the Complaint that John Doe 1, a medical doctor at
Northern State Prison, treated him in June 2014 after
Plaintiff fell out of his bunk bed and injured his back and
hip. (ECF No. 1, Compl. at ¶¶ 9-13.) John Doe 1
allegedly provided Plaintiff with Motrin and approved his
return to the general population but "did not conduct or
order any scientific medical examination of Plaintiff as a
result of the fall." (Id. at ¶ 11.) John
Doe 1 also allegedly diagnosed Plaintiff with arthritis, and
Plaintiff appears to disagree with this diagnosis, as he did
not have arthritis prior to his fall from the bunk bed.
(Id. at ¶ 13.) There are no other allegations
in the Complaint against John Doe l. The Court finds that the
allegations against John Doe 1 do not rise to the level of an
Eighth Amendment violation evincing deliberate indifference
to Plaintiffs serious medical needs. Rather, these
allegations at best suggest that John Doe 1 may have
misdiagnosed Plaintiff and/or committed medical malpractice,
which is not actionable under § 1983. As such, the Court
will dismiss without prejudice the claims against John Doe 1.
remaining allegations in the Complaint (see
¶¶ 14-27) detail Plaintiffs requests for medical
treatment for his injuries during the period from June 2014
through October 2016. Plaintiff alleges that he submitted
medical requests, complaining that he was experiencing
increasing pain and decreasing mobility due to the 2014 fall.
(Id. at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff requested to be taken
to the hospital or other facility for "more
sophisticated examinations", but unidentified medical
personnel "ignored his pleas insisting that he continue
taking pain medication and attending physical therapy."
(Id.) Further, the "medical services personnel
at Northern State Prison did not recommend or order that
Plaintiff undergo more extensive examinations in response to
[Plaintiffs] disclosure that he was experiencing more acute
pain in his lower back and side." (Id. at
¶ 16.) Plaintiff further alleges that his condition
during this period was "deteriorat[ing]" and that
he began having trouble moving his legs and hips.
(Id. at ¶ 17.) In June or July 2016,
unidentified medical staff were summoned to the yard because
Plaintiff was lying prone and unable to move, which Plaintiff
alleges was a direct result of the 2014 fall. (Id.
at ¶ 18.) After that incident, he was taken to the
infirmary, where he was questioned; however, medical
personnel did not examine him or perform any procedures.
(Id. at ¶ 19.) Several months later, on October
14, 2016, Plaintiff fell again in his cell and was
transported to the infirmary; at that time, he was advised by
the treating physician that he would be transported to an
outside medical facility for an MRI or CAT scan because those
tests were needed to diagnose his condition. (Id. at
¶ 21.) It is not clear whether Plaintiff received the
MRI or CAT scan.
Court notes that the generically-identified medical personnel
described in paragraphs fourteen through twenty seven are not
named as John Doe Defendants, and it is impossible to
determine if the same medical personnel treated Plaintiff on
the dates provided in the Complaint or if he was treated by
different medical personnel each time. Nor has Plaintiff
provided sufficient facts suggesting that any of these
individual medical personnel were deliberately indifferent to
his serious medical needs, i.e., knew of his need
for medical treatment but intentionally refused to
provide it, delayed necessary medical treatment for a
nonmedical reason, or prevented him from receiving needed or
recommended treatment. To the contrary, the Complaint
acknowledges that Plaintiff was receiving pain medication and
physical therapy for his injuries, and that prison medical
personnel wanted him to continue with that course of
treatment. After his second fall, however, a prison physician
determined that he needed an MRI and/or CAT scan. Although
Plaintiff alleges that his condition was worsening, and that
he wanted "more sophisticated tests" to diagnose
his injuries, he does not deny that he was receiving
treatment for his injuries and ultimately was referred to a
specialist for an MRI or CAT scan. It is well-established
that "'[m]ere disagreement as to the proper course
of medical treatment'. .. is insufficient to state an
Eighth Amendment claim." Artis v. Jin, 642
Fed.Appx. 92, 95 (3d Cir. 2016) (Spruill v. Gillis,
372 F.3d 218, 235 (3d Cir. 2004)); see also Norris v.
Frame, 585 F.2d 1183, 1186 (3d Cir. 1978) ("Where
the plaintiff has received some care, inadequacy or
impropriety of the care that was given will not support an
Eighth Amendment claim."). For these reasons, the
Complaint, as currently drafted, fails state an Eighth
Amendment claim for deliberate indifference to his serious
medical needs against any of the "medical
personnel" listed in the Complaint, and the Court will
dismiss this claim without prejudice.
it is unclear whether Plaintiffs Complaint also raises state
law claims for relief. Because the Court has dismissed the
federal claims, the remaining potential basis for this
Court's jurisdiction over Plaintiffs state law claims is
supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
"Supplemental jurisdiction allows federal courts to hear
and decide state-law claims along with federal-law claims
when they are so related to claims in the action within such
original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or
controversy." Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections v.
Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 387 (1998) (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). Where a district court has original
jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 over federal
claims and supplemental jurisdiction over state claims
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), the district court has
discretion to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction
if it has dismissed all claims over which it has original
jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3); Growth
Horizons, Inc. v. Delaware County, Pennsylvania, 983
F.2d 1277, 1284-1285 (3d Cir. 1993). In exercising its
discretion, "the district court should take into account
generally accepted principles of 'judicial economy,
convenience, and fairness to the litigants.'"
Growth Horizons, Inc., 983 F.2d at 1284 (quoting
United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726
(1966)). Where the federal claims are dismissed at an early
stage in the litigation, courts generally decline to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over state claims. United Mine
Workers, 383 U.S. at 726; Growth Horizons,
Inc., 983 F.2d at 1284-1285. Here, the Court has dismissed
the federal claims without prejudice at the earliest possible
stage of the proceedings and exercises its discretion to
decline supplemental jurisdiction at this time.
reasons stated above, the Court dismisses with prejudice the
§ 1983 claims for damages against Defendants in their
official capacities. The Court dismisses without prejudice
the § 1983 claims for inadequate medical care against
Defendants in their personal capacities. To the extent
Plaintiff alleges state law claims, the Court declines to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over those claims at this
time. The Court will provide Plaintiff with thirty days to
submit an amended ...