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Pearson v. Prison Health Service

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

March 7, 2017


          Argued December 7, 2016

         On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (W.D. Pa. No. 3-09-cv-00097) District Judge: Honorable Kim R. Gibson

          Robert J. Ridge Brandon J. Verdream, Clark Hill, Counsel for Appellant.

          Kemal A. Mericli, Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Counsel for Department of Corrections Appellees.

          Kathryn M. Kenyon, Meyer Unkovic & Scott, Counsel for Appellee Medical Director McGrath.

          Before: FISHER [*] , KRAUSE and GREENBERG, Circuit Judges.


          FISHER, Circuit Judge.

         Antonio Pearson is a prisoner who suffered from two serious medical needs during his incarceration at Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution-Somerset ("SCI-Somerset"). In 2009, he filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that various prison officials and an independent medical contractor were deliberately indifferent to those needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. In this appeal, Pearson challenges the District Court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the five defendants remaining in this case. For the reasons set forth below, we will reverse the District Court's order, in part, insofar as it grants summary judgment in favor of Nurse David Rhodes. We will, however, affirm the District Court's order in all other respects.



         In April 2007, medical officials at SCI-Somerset sent Pearson to the hospital twice within the same week to undergo surgery. The first was a surgery to remove his appendix. The second was a surgery to repair a urethral tear caused by the insertion of a catheter during the first surgery. The defendants are five individuals who were either aware of or responded to Pearson's requests for medical treatment before those surgeries. Dr. McGrath is a medical contractor who examined Pearson when he complained of bleeding after his first surgery. The other four defendants are Department of Corrections employees, including three nurses who examined Pearson, and a guard who was informed of Pearson's bleeding on the morning of his second surgery.

         Events Leading to Surgery for Appendicitis

         On April 10, 2007, Pearson began experiencing sharp pains in his abdomen and requested an appointment with the medical unit. At 1:00 p.m., Nurse Denise Thomas examined Pearson and noted that his pain intensified with certain movements and never fully relieved. Diagnosing him with a pulled muscle, she placed him on sick call for the following day without ordering additional treatment.

         Pearson's excruciating pain continued and he returned to medical at 5:00 p.m. This time, Nurse Linda Kline examined him, offered Tylenol or Maalox, and instructed him to rest until his sick-call appointment in the morning. According to Pearson, she told him that his gallbladder was failing.

         At approximately 11:00 p.m. that night, Pearson told the block officer that he was in severe pain and asked him to call the medical unit. After speaking with the medical unit, the officer returned to Pearson's cell and told him that Nurse David Rhodes would not come to see him because two nurses had already examined him, and he was on sick-call for the following day. Left in excruciating pain, Pearson screamed for several hours until the officer called medical again. This time, Nurse Rhodes came to his cell with a wheelchair-but Nurse Rhodes was upset, Pearson alleges, and told him that he would not be taken to medical unless he placed himself in the wheelchair. Unable to walk and in pain, Pearson claims that he was forced to crawl across the floor to the wheelchair.

         Nurse Rhodes took Pearson to the infirmary and examined him. He checked his vitals and recognized that Pearson had possible signs of appendicitis. Because abdominal pain has many causes and Pearson was scheduled for a doctor's examination in the morning, Nurse Rhodes thought a period of watchful waiting would be prudent and placed Pearson inside an infirmary cell for observation. At this time, Nurse Rhodes put an order on Pearson's chart for "nothing by mouth" as a precaution in case he needed surgery but did not elevate Pearson's condition to another medical official. J.A. 124, 288-91. Continuing to suffer in pain, Pearson screamed throughout the night.

         At approximately 10:00 a.m. on April 11, Pearson was seen by Dr. Ghatge, who ordered him sent to Somerset Hospital for evaluation. Later that day, Pearson was diagnosed with appendicitis and a surgeon removed Pearson's inflamed appendix, as well as a gangrenous part of his omentum.

         Events Prior to Surgery for Urethral Tear

         On April 14, 2007, Pearson returned to the prison with an order from his attending surgeon that he be scheduled for a follow-up examination in one week. He was examined by a prison nurse and prescribed Motrin, physical therapy, and a follow-up with a physician's assistant before being sent back to his cell. J.A. 115, 132, 377.

         On April 15, Pearson began experiencing sharp pains and felt liquid running down his leg, which he later identified as blood flowing from his penis. He requested to be seen by medical. According to Pearson, the correctional officer called medical, but Nurse Kline instructed the officer that bleeding was normal after surgery and that Pearson should just lie down on his bunk. She did not examine him.

         At this point, Pearson claims that he continued to bleed in constant pain until the block officer witnessed it and sent him directly to the medical unit. At medical, Pearson maintains, Nurse Magyar had him undress in case he needed to go to the hospital and called Dr. McGrath, who was angry at being called at home. During that call, Dr. McGrath ordered antibiotics as well as an increased intake of fluids. J.A. 115-16, 377. He also instructed the nurse to place Pearson in the infirmary for over-night observation.

         Dr. McGrath examined Pearson at 6:45 a.m. the following morning, diagnosed the bleeding as a normal consequence of the recent surgery, and sent him back to his cell. During the examination, Dr. McGrath collected lab work, ordered antibiotics, and scheduled a follow-up appointment. J.A. 116-17, 377-78. Later that night, Pearson began bleeding again and collected a quarter of a cup of blood in a glove to show the extent of it. He then complained about the bleeding to Sergeant Rittenour. According to Pearson, Rittenour relayed his complaint to Captain Thomas Papuga, who ordered Rittenour to discard the blood Pearson collected in the glove. But Papuga knew that Pearson was receiving medical care-one of the cell block officers contacted medical and relayed to Captain Papuga that Pearson was unsatisfied with their response. J.A. 324, 385.

         At 7:00 a.m. on April 17, Pearson began bleeding again. He returned to medical where Dr. McGrath observed the bleeding and transferred him to the emergency department at Somerset Hospital. At the hospital, it was determined that Pearson was suffering from a urethral tear caused during his prior surgery. Pearson underwent a second surgery to cauterize the tear and was returned to SCI-Somerset the same day.


         In 2009, Pearson filed suit, pro se, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that twenty-eight defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Shortly thereafter, the District Court dismissed Pearson's complaint for failure to state a claim, and, on October 16, 2009, we vacated that dismissal, holding that several of Pearson's allegations stated a claim for deliberate indifference, including his allegations against Nurse Thomas, Nurse Kline, Nurse Rhodes, and Dr. McGrath. Pearson v. Prison Health Serv., 348 F.App'x 722, 725-26 (3d Cir. 2009). At the time, we left open whether the other defendants might be able to raise grounds for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Id. at 725. And we ordered the District Court to allow Pearson to amend his complaint before dismissing it. Id. at 726.

         On remand, Pearson filed an amended complaint, and in 2011, the District Court dismissed the claims against all the defendants except Nurse Kline, Nurse Rhodes, Captain Papuga, and Dr. McGrath for failure to state a claim. Nine months later, the District Court entered summary judgment in favor of Dr. McGrath and dismissed Pearson's actions against Nurse Kline, Nurse Rhodes, and Captain Papuga as a sanction for failure to prosecute. Pearson appealed and this Court vacated the dismissal against Nurse Thomas, Nurse Kline, Nurse Rhodes, and Captain Papuga as well as the summary judgment order in favor of Dr. McGrath. Pearson v. Prison Health Serv., 519 F.App'x 79, 82-84 (3d Cir. 2013). Once again, we remanded this case to the District Court.

         During the second remand, counsel was appointed for Pearson, [1] who requested funds for the retention of a qualified medical expert to develop malpractice and informed-consent claims against Somerset Hospital and his appendicitis surgeon, Dr. Pradham. Those requests were denied, and, in 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued a report and recommendation advising that summary judgment be entered for the five remaining defendants in this case. The District ...

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