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Unitt v. Bennett

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 30, 2019




         Before the court is the Motion to Dismiss (#74) of defendants Bonnie Damigella, RN, Lisa Sholudko, Dr. Khatija Gaffar, and Dr. Steven Descoteaux (collectively, the Medical Defendants).[1] The Medical Defendants represent that they were employed by the Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional Health (MPCH) during the relevant time period. They ask that the court dismiss all counts against them pursuant Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


         The court writes for the parties and assumes their familiarity with the lengthy Second Amended Complaint (SAC) (#59). In short, pro se plaintiff Lee Unitt suffers from a rare, chronic medical condition known as Fibromuscular Dysplasia (FMD) which is characterized by abnormal cell growth within the artery walls.[2] She was diagnosed with this condition in 2011, before she came into the care and custody of the Massachusetts Department of Correction in 2013. Unitt claims that, because of alleged exposure to asbestos, PCBs, and other harmful airborne particulates while incarcerated at MCI Framingham, the FMD has worsened and her left renal artery has become increasingly stenotic, or narrowed. She was also diagnosed with type II diabetes in 2015. The prescription medications Unitt takes to treat hypertension, malignant hypertension, and diabetes also prevent the ability of the body to thermoregulate. She claims that the Medical Defendants have failed to provide adequate care for her medical condition.


         I. Claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Unitt brings claims against the Medical Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they violated the Eighth Amendment. “Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain' proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976) (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell and Stevens, JJ.)). “This is true whether the indifference is manifested by prison doctors in their response to the prisoner's needs or by prison guards in intentionally denying or delaying access to medical care or intentionally interfering with the treatment once prescribed.” Id. at 104-105 (footnotes omitted). However, not “every claim by a prisoner that he has not received adequate medical treatment states a violation of the Eighth Amendment, ” and “[m]edical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner.” Id. at 105, 106.

         “In order to state a cognizable claim, a prisoner must allege acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Id. at 106. An Eighth Amendment claim for inadequate medical care consists of subjective and objective components. See Kosilek v. Spencer, 774 F.3d 63, 82 (1st Cir. 2014) (en banc). As to the objective component, a plaintiff must plead facts, which, if true, show “a serious medical need for which [the plaintiff] has received inadequate treatment.” Id. at 85. The subjective component requires factual allegations supporting an inference of “deliberate indifference” by the defendant. Id. at 83.

         Here, the Medical Defendants argue that the § 1983 claims against them should be dismissed because (1) Unitt has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”); (2) Unitt has failed to plead facts showing that she has a serious medical need for which she has received inadequate treatment and that the Medical Defendants acted with deliberate indifference; and (3) the Medical Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. The court will address these arguments seriatim.

         A. Failure to Exhaust

         The Medical Defendants maintain that Unitt's claims are barred by the administrative exhaustion requirement of the PLRA. They represent that Unitt failed to file grievances in accordance with the MPCH grievance procedures on a variety of issue and that she did not file a grievance which even mentions the name of any Medical Defendants. In support of this, the Medical Defendants refer to medical grievances by Unitt which they submitted in support of their motion. Citing generally to those same grievances, the Medical Defendants further assert that, since the date of the alleged events from which Unitt's claims against the Medical Defendants arise, she has not filed any grievances or grievance appeals.

         Unitt contends that she has properly exhausted her administrative remedies, and that the PLRA exhaustion requirement does not require exhaustion through the MPCH grievance process. Unitt further states that, under DOC regulations, she is not required to identify in the grievance all persons allegedly involved in the complained-of event or condition. Unitt submitted copies of various grievances in support of her argument. See Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Dismiss Ex. (#84-1).

         Under the PLRA, Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). However, Unitt is not required to plead exhaustion under the PLRA because it is not an element of her claim. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 202 (2007). Further, the court cannot consider extrinsic material on a 12(b)(6) motion. See Freeman v. Town of Hudson, 714 F.3d 29, 35-36 (1st Cir. 2013).

         The Medical Defendants invite the court to consider their motion on this issue as one for summary judgment. The court declines. Summary judgment is only permissible where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). This standard is not met ...

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