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Openshaw v. Wexford Medical Department

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 16, 2017



          THEODORE D. CHUNDG United States District Judge.

         Self-represented Plaintiff William Openshaw, who is currently confined at Patuxent Institution ("Patuxent") in Jessup, Maryland, filed this Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants Wexford Health Sources, Inc. ("Wexford",, incorrectly named in the Complaint as "Wexford Medical Department"; Damon Fayall, incorrectly named in the Complaint as "Damien Fayall"; and Asresahegn Getachew, identified incompletely in the Complaint as "Dr. Getachew, " violated his civil rights in connection with providing medical treatment for hepatitis C. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on March 15, 2016. Openshaw was notified that he had the right to file an Opposition to the Motion, and that failure to do so could result in dismissal of the case, but he has submitted no such brief. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss shall be granted.


         The facts set forth in the Complaint are sparse. Openshaw was incarcerated at Roxbury Correctional Institution ("RCI") in 2009, at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown ("MCIH") in 2011, at the Metropolitan Transition Center ("MTC") in 2014, and at Patuxent in 2014. Each of these institutions was aware that he suffers from hepatitis C. Nevertheles,, Openshaw asserts that each correctional facility "keep[s] passing the buck to the next prison" with respect to treatment for hepatitis C, and that prison officials have sent him to Bon Secours Health System ("Bon Secours") for treatment. Compl. at 3. He seeks "the right medication so I wontt be in physical pain anymore" and asks that he be treated at the University of Maryland Hospital rather than at Bon Secours. Id.


         Defendants offer two reasons that the Complaint should be dismissed. First, they assert that Openshaw has failed to state a claim against Wexford because there is no vicarious liability under 42 U.S.C. S 1983. Second, they claim that Openshaw has not alleged sufficient facts to establish that any Defendant deprived him of his constitutional rights.

         I. Legal Standard

         To defeat a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Although courts should construe pleadings of self-represented litigants liberally, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Davidson Cly., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005).

         II. Vicarious Liability

         42 U.S.C. S 1983 allows individuals to sue in federal court any person who violates their federally protected rights while acting under color of state law. Private companies that employ individuals acting under color of state law are considered "persons" for the purposes of S 1983, but they cannot be held liable for violating a plaintiffs rights solely because they employ an individual who committed an unlawful act. Austin v. Paramount Parks, Inc., 195 F.3d 715, 728 (4th Cir. 1999). Rather, they can be sued under S 1983 only if the violation results from the companyss custom or policy. Id. Cf. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978) (holding that there is no vicarious liability for S 1983 claims against local government entities).

         Thus, while Wexford is responsible for "the delivery of medical care in a prison setting, " a duty that Defendants acknowledge is "a governmental function, " Def's Mem. at 4, ECF No. 9-2, absent a particular custom or policy that led to the deprivation of Openshaw's constitutional rights, Wexford cannot be held liable for his claims under S 1983. See Austin, 195 F.3d at 728. Here, however, Openshaw has alleged no specific custom or policy of Wexford that resulted in the loss of any rights. Because the Complaint does not include facts sufficient to support a claim against Wexford, the claim against Wexford is dismissed.

         III. Eighth Amendment

         The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain by virtue of its guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. See Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976). This safeguard not only bears on "those punishmen's authorized by statute and imposed by a criminal judgment, " but equally extends to "the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined." De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993)). Thus, claims concerning the denial or adequacy of medical care to incarcerated persons arise under the Eighth Amendment, because the deliberate indifference to an incarcerated person's serious medical needs "constitutes the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (quoting Gregg, 428 U.S. at 173)).

         An Eighth Amendment claim based on denial of medical care has both objective and subjective components. To state such a claim, an incarcerated plaintiff must establish that, "objectively assessed, he had a sufficiently serious medical need to require medical treatment, " and that the defendant prison official was "subjectively aware of the need and of its seriousness" but "nevertheless acted with deliberate indifference to it by declining to secure available medical attention." Brice v. Va. Beach Corr. Ctr.,58 F.3d 101, 104 (4th Cir. 1995). "Deliberate indifference" entails more than ordinary negligence or lack of due care for the prisoner's interests or safety; it instead requires that a prison official actually "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety." Farmer v. Brennan,511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994); De'Lonta, 330 F.3d at 634 (stating that deliberate indifference requires "that a prison official actually know of and disregard an objectively serious condition, medical need, or risk of harm"). "Actual knowledge or awareness" on the part of prison staff is essential to an Eighth Amendment claim for denial of medical care, because prison officials who lacked knowledge of a medical risk cannot be said to have inflicted cruel and unusual punishment by withholding treatment. Br ...

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