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Fields v. Connections

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 21, 2018

CONNECTIONS, et al., Defendants.



         The plaintiff Isaiah Jamaal Fields ("Fields"), an inmate at the Sussex Correctional Institution ("SCI"), appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 6.) Fields filed this lawsuit alleging violations of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] (D.L 1.) Before the court is a motion to dismiss filed July 25, 2017 by the defendant Connections Community Support Programs Inc. ("Connections") and Fields' opposition. (D.I. 25.) Fields also requests counsel. (D.L 38.)


         Fields raises medical needs claims. Upon screening, all the defendants were dismissed with the exception of Connections and nurse practitioner Louise Ryan ("Ryan). Connections moves for dismissal on the grounds that the complaint fails to allege that it maintained a policy, practice, or custom that caused the alleged inadequate treatment of Fields' injured ankle/foot.


         In reviewing a motion filed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Because Fields 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, 551 U.S. at 94. A court may consider the pleadings, public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint, and documents incorporated into the complaint by reference. Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion maybe granted only if, accepting the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the complainant, a court concludes that those allegations "could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007).

         "Though 'detailed factual allegations' are not required, a complaint must do more than simply provide 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'" Davis v. Abington Mem'l Hosp., 765 F.3d 236, 241 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). The court is "not required to credit bald assertions or legal conclusions improperly alleged in the complaint." In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc. Sec. Litig., 311 F.3d 198, 216 (3d Cir. 2002). A complaint may not be dismissed, however, "for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted." Johnson v. City of Shelby, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014).

         A complaint must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has "substantive plausibility." Id. at 347. That plausibility must be found on the face of the complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the [complainant] pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the [accused] is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. 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. at 679.


         When a plaintiff relies upon a theory of respondeat superior to/hold a corporation liable, he must allege a policy or custom that demonstrates such deliberate indifference. Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1110 (3d Cir. \9S9); Miller v. Correctional Med. Sys., Inc., 802 F.Supp. 1126, 1132 (D. Del. 1992). To establish that Connections is directly liable for the alleged constitutional violations, Fields "must provide evidence that there was a relevant [Connections] policy or custom, and that the policy caused the constitutional violation[s] [plaintiff] allege[s]." Natale v. Camden Cty. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 584 (3d Cir. 2003) (because respondeat superior or vicarious liability cannot be a basis for liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a corporation under contract with the state cannot be held liable for the acts of its employees and agents under those theories). Assuming the acts of an Connections' employee have violated a person's constitutional rights, those acts may be deemed the result of a policy or custom of the entity for whom the employee works, thereby rendering the entity liable under § 1983, where the inadequacy of existing practice is so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights that the policymaker can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need. See Natale, 318 F.3d at 584 (citations omitted).

         "'Policy is made when a decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to establish ... policy with respect to the action issues an official proclamation, policy or edict.'" Miller v. Corr. Med. Sys., Inc., 802 F.Supp. at 1132 (alteration in original) (quoting Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990)). "Custom, on the other hand, can be proven by showing that a given course of conduct, although not specifically endorsed or authorized by law, is so well-settled and permanent as virtually to constitute law." Id. (citing Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480; Fletcher v. O'Donnell, 867 F.2d 791, 793-94 (3d Cir. 1989)).

         As noted above, Connections argues dismissal is appropriate because Fields has not pled facts sufficient to demonstrate it has a deficient policy or procedure. As is well-established, the legal standard when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions is identical to the standard used when screening a complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). See 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)). The court previously reviewed Fields's allegations and found that he stated what appear to be cognizable and non-frivolous claims. (See D.I. 17, 18.) Nothing has changed since that ruling. Nonetheless, the court has revisited the allegations, liberally construed them, as it must, and finds that Fields adequately raises medical needs claims under the Eighth Amendment.

         The allegations are that Fields injured his ankle/foot on February 1, 2016, and was sent to medical and given medication and ice for the ankle. Fields had severe pain. He presented for his chronic care appointment on February 4, 2016, and was seen by Ryan, and told her that he had pain and a burning sensation in his foot/ankle traveling up his calf. Ryan conducted the normal chronic care examination and sent Fields back to his tier, apparently without providing treatment for the ankle/foot condition.

         Fields continued to have pain and submitted sick call slips and medical grievances to receive medical care. He also wrote to prison personnel regarding his severe pain and discomfort. Fields was then provided a brace and pain medication for 30 days, but there has been no follow-up. Fields alleges that the brace has caused his condition to worsen and makes his ankle/foot burn even more. He ...

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