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O'Neal v. Connection's Medical Care

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 26, 2017

BRADLEY M. O'NEAL, Plaintiff,
v.
CONNECTIONS MEDICAL CARE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

         The plaintiff, Bradley M. O'Neal ("O'Neal"), an inmate at the Sussex Correctional Institution ("SCI"), Georgetown, Delaware, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1](D.I. 3, 7.) He also requests counsel. (D.I. 11.) O'Neal appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (D.I. 5.) The court proceeds to review and screen the complaint and amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b)(1).

         I. BACKGROUND

         In June 2016, O'Neal began having groin pain. He submitted a sick call slip on June 28, 2016, and saw three different nurses on June 29, 2016, the last of whom diagnosed him as having a hernia. O'Neal was in extreme pain and had swelling in the groin area. He was taken to the infirmary on July 2, 2016, and immediately transferred from the SCI to the Beebe Medical Center ("Beebe") where he was admitted. Surgery was performed that day, and O'Neal underwent a second surgery on July 4, 2016. O'Neal remained at Beebe for two weeks. He return to the SCI infirmary on July 11, 2016, and transferred to general population the next day. O'Neal returned to Beebe for a follow-up on September 7, 2016 and was told "it appears to be OK." (D.I. 3.)

         On December 14, 2016, O'Neal notice a reoccurrence of the condition. He submitted a sick call slip on December 15, 2016 and saw a nurse on December 16, 2016. He submitted another sick call slip on December 18, and was seen by a nurse on December 19, 2016. On December 20, 2016, he asked if he was on the list to see a physician, and he was not. He was seen by a physician the next day, December 21, 2016. On the morning of December 22, 2016, O'Neal began bleeding, was seen at the infirmary, and then transferred to Beebe. He was admitted and surgery was performed the next day, December 23, 2016. O'Neal returned to the SCI on December 24, 2016 and remained in its infirmary until December 27, 2016. O'Neal complains of the pain he suffered when the packing used for the wound was removed on December 25 and December 27, 2016. He alleges that "all of this could have been prevented if they would have let him see the doctor a lot sooner than they did." (D.I. 7.) O'Neal seeks $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b) if "the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner actions brought with respect to prison conditions). The court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to a pro se plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Because O'Neal proceeds pro se, his pleading is liberally construed and his complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94 (citations omitted).

         An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(1), a court may dismiss a complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or a "clearly baseless" or "fantastic or delusional" factual scenario. Neitzke, 490 at 327-28; Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); see, e.g., Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d Cir. 1995) (holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison officials took an inmate's pen and refused to give it back).

         The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions. Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)). However, before dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, the court must grant O'Neal leave to amend his complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).

         A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions. See Ashcroftv. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). A plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has substantive plausibility. See Johnson v. City of Shelby, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014). A complaint may not dismissed, however, for imperfect statements of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. See Id. at 346.

         Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps: (1) take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth; and (3) when there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Elements are sufficiently alleged when the facts in the complaint "show" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         O'Neal takes exception to the medical care he was provided and alleges that had he been seen sooner, the procedures and pain from his condition could have been prevented. The Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment requires that prison officials provide inmates with adequate medical care. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-105 (1976). In order to set forth a cognizable claim, an inmate must allege a serious medical need and acts or omissions by prison officials that indicate deliberate indifference to that need. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104; Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1999). A prison official is deliberately indifferent if he knows that a prisoner faces a substantial risk of serious harm and fails to take reasonable steps to avoid the harm. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). A prison official may manifest deliberate indifference by "intentionally denying or delaying access to medical care." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05.

         However, "a prisoner has no right to choose a specific form of medical treatment, " so long as the treatment provided is reasonable. Lasko v. Watts, 373 F.App'x 196, 203 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Harrison v. Barkley, 219 F.3d 132, 138-140 (2d Cir. 2000)). Moreover, allegations of medical malpractice are not sufficient to establish a Constitutional violation. White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 108-09 (3d Cir. 1990) (citations omitted); see also Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 332-34 (1986) (negligence is not compensable as a Constitutional deprivation). Finally, "mere disagreement as to the proper medical treatment" is insufficient to state a constitutional violation. See Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 235 (3d Cir. 2004) (citations omitted).

         O'Neal's allegations do not rise to the level of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Although "[a]cts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs" constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution, Estelle v. Gamble,429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976), merely negligent treatment does not give rise to a constitutional violation, Spruill v. Gillis,372 F.3d 218, 235 (3d Cir. 2004). O'Neal's allegations indicate that he was treated on multiple occasions (both for the initial condition and its reoccurrence) and that he also received treatment from outside medical care providers. The allegations are insufficient to state plausible constitutional violations. Id.; see also Norris v. Frame, 585 F.2d 1183, ...


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