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Johnson v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 26, 2015

JOHN D. JOHNSON, SR., #414-025 Plaintiff
v.
WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, INC. DR. KASAHUN D. TEMESGEN DR. BOLAJI ONABAJO Defendants

MEMORANDUM

JAMES K. BREDAR, District Judge.

Procedural History

Plaintiff, presently housed at the Dorsey Run Correctional Facility in Jessup, Maryland ("DRCF"), filed a civil rights complaint seeking money damages and surgery and alleging he continues to be denied necessary surgery to alleviate back pain. A motion to dismiss filed by defendant Wexford Health Sources, Inc. ("Wexford") (ECF No. 6) was denied and plaintiff was permitted to amend his complaint to name the specific health care providers who allegedly failed to respond to his back pain. ECF No. 12.

Plaintiff names two Wexford physicians, Dr. Kasahun D. Temesgen (DRCF's Medical Director) and Dr. Bolaji Onabajo (plaintiff's primary treating physician), in his amended complaint. ECF No. 14. Plaintiff states therein that he has repeatedly sought medical care for severe back pain since his June 28, 2013, arrival at DRCF, and that his condition has worsened. As a result, he has used a wheelchair since February of 2014. Id. An MRI performed on August 4, 2014, showed significant disc herniation. Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Charles Park, a neurosurgeon, on October 6, 2014. Dr. Park assessed L3-S1 spondylosis confirmed by MRI and indicated that if steroid injection did not provide relief, surgery would be required. Id.; ECF No. 14-1.

In response, defendants Temesgen and Wexford move to dismiss the original and amended complaint on the basis of respondeat superior. All three defendants move for dismissal on grounds that plaintiff failed to allege any specific injury, argue that each is entitled to qualified immunity, and reiterate their claim that plaintiff's cause of action rests solely on a theory of medical negligence, requiring arbitration through Maryland's Healthcare Alternative Dispute Resolution Office ("HCADRO"). Defendants further assert they are entitled to summary judgment as the medical record belies plaintiff's claim that he was denied constitutionally adequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment. ECF No. 19.

Plaintiff opposes these arguments (ECF No. 24), and defendants have filed a reply to plaintiff's opposition. ECF No. 27. The pending dispositive motion shall be resolved without need for a hearing, in conformity with Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014).

Standard of Review - Motion to Dismiss

The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. See Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). The dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted does not require defendant to establish "beyond doubt" that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561 (2007). Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint. Id. at 563. The court need not, however, accept unsupported legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles County Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or conclusional factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, see United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).

1. Respondeat Superior

Plaintiff has named Wexford as a party to this action, presumably under the theory of vicarious liability known as respondeat superior. The law in the Fourth Circuit is well established that the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply in § 1983 claims. See Love-Lane v. Martin, 355 F.3d 766, 782 (4th Cir. 2004) (no respondeat superior liability under § 1983; Powell v. Shopco Laurel Co., 678 F.2d 504, 506 (4th Cir. 1982); McIlwain v. Prince William Hospital, 774 F.Supp. 986, 990 (E.D. Va. 1991). Thus, Wexford is entitled to be dismissed from this lawsuit.

Dr. Temesgen's role as a party defendant is more problematic. Liability of supervisory officials "is not based on ordinary principles of respondeat superior, but rather is premised on a recognition that supervisory indifference or tacit authorization of subordinates' misconduct may be a causative factor in the constitutional injuries they inflict on those committed to their care.'" Baynard v. Malone, 268 F.3d 228, 235 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing Slakan v. Porter, 737 F.2d 368, 372 (4th Cir. 1984)). Supervisory liability under § 1983 must be supported with evidence that (1) the supervisor had actual or constructive knowledge that his subordinate was engaged in conduct that posed a pervasive and unreasonable risk of constitutional injury to citizens like the plaintiff; (2) the supervisor's response to the knowledge was so inadequate as to show deliberate indifference to or tacit authorization of the alleged offensive practices; and (3) there was an affirmative causal link between the supervisor's inaction and the particular constitutional injury suffered by the plaintiff. See Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 799 (4th Cir. 1994).

Dr. Temesgen examined plaintiff on only one occasion. Plaintiff infers that delays regarding the scheduling of the MRI, steroid injection, orthopedic consultation, and scheduling of surgery are attributable to Dr. Temesgen's action (or inaction) in his role as Medical Director at DRCF. If this is proven, Dr. Temesgen could be held liable. As this case will proceed to discovery, the court declines to dismiss Dr. Temesgen from suit at this time.

2. Failure to Allege Actual Injury

"The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion [to dismiss] is to test the sufficiency of a complaint.'" McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts that plaintiff alleges are true, the complaint fails, as a matter of law, "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Therefore, in considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must "accept[ ] as true the well-pled facts in the complaint ...


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