PHILADELPHIA – A federal appeals court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that a Scranton woman’s civil rights and personal injury claims were barred by their respective statutes of limitation.

In a per curiam ruling handed down on July 5, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit judges Patty Shwartz, Robert E. Cowen and Julio M. Fuentes upheld the aforementioned ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

In August 2016, plaintiff Rosa Yap Munchak filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Munchak appears to allege that several defendants (in Pennsylvania – Geisinger Hospital; Becky Ruckno, a Geisinger employee; Dr. Amy Law, an oncologist at Geisinger; the Estate of Dr. Robert L. Walker, a surgeon at Geisinger; and in Florida – Moffitt Cancer Center; Dr. Robert Wenham, an oncologist at Moffitt; and Dr. Ravi Shankar, a radiologist at Moffitt) violated her civil rights with respect to a December 2004 ovariohysterectomy at Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania, and later chemotherapy treatments administered between 2005 and 2010 in Pennsylvania and Florida.

“Specifically, Munchak claims that the surgery and course of medical treatment were unnecessary, performed without her adequately informed consent, and resulted in side-effects, including lower extremity neuropathy and edema, which plague her to this day,” per the Third Circuit.

In August 2016, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sections 1915(e) and 1915A(a), the Magistrate Judge recommended dismissing Munchak’s complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and explained amendment of the complaint would be futile. Over Munchak’s objections, the District Court, by order entered on Dec. 13, 2016, adopted the recommendations of the Magistrate Judge and dismissed the case, leading Munchak to appeal.

“We agree with the District Court that even if Munchak’s complaint could be construed as alleging a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, she has failed to state a claim for relief. A Section 1983 action may be maintained only against a defendant who acts under color of state law. Private actors, such as the non-governmental defendants named here, can be said to act under color of state law only if their conduct is fairly attributable to the state. But none of the conduct alleged in the complaint can be fairly viewed as state action, and the District Court properly determined that the defendants are all private entities or individuals, not arms of the state,” the Third Circuit said.

According to the appellate judiciary, Munchak “makes no allegation that would even arguably support a claim that these private defendants acted under color of state law in any actions they took regarding her medical care.”

“Moreover, any federal Section 1983 claims arising from Munchak’s medical treatment are subject to Pennsylvania’s two-year statute of limitations applicable to personal injury actions, and Florida’s four-year residual personal injury statute of limitations. As Munchak’s complaint was filed some six years after the treatments in question, dismissal was proper, and amendment as to Munchak’s Section 1983 claims would be futile. For the foregoing reasons, we will affirm the District Court’s judgment,” the Third Circuit concluded.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 17-1247

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania case 4:16-cv-01639

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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