Pro se inmates can proceed on limited discovery in case against prison system, judge rules

By Jon Campisi | Apr 2, 2012

A federal judge in Philadelphia has granted a motion by four prison inmates to proceed on limited discovery in their collective action against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, which alleges that the agency either denied or delayed them medical treatment.

Plaintiffs Willie Polite, Gregory Stover, Edward Monroe and Aaron Christopher Wheeler filed an amended complaint against the defendants, which also included the Pennsylvania Department of General Services and former Gov. Ed Rendell, back on June 15, 2010, alleging claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The plaintiffs, all of whom are currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania’s prison system, argue that the defendants violated their respective constitutional rights by denying or delaying medical attention, giving the plaintiffs generic medications, and forcing the inmates to make $5 copays for medical visits.

The plaintiffs also claim that some of the defendants received financial incentives for denying medical treatment, according to background information in the judicial ruling.

After being served with the suit, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss without prejudice, which was subsequently denied by the court, however a judge did dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to the background information.

Given the number of parties involved on both sides of the litigation, the number of claims, the status of plaintiffs as pro se litigants, to clarify the plaintiffs’ claims and streamline the litigation, and to develop a record such that the court could determine whether to appoint counsel in this matter, the court ordered the defendants to take the plaintiffs depositions and file motions of summary judgment, the ruling states.

The court also stated that following depositions, it would hold a status conference to determine what, if any, discovery relevant and appropriate at this time to the issues in the case was warranted.

The defendants, as ordered by the court, filed motions for summary judgment following the plaintiffs’ depositions, and following an August 2011 status hearing, the court ordered the plaintiffs to submit discovery requests to “facilitate their responses to Defendants' motions for summary judgment.”

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno wrote that the court finds that the most appropriate procedure in this case is to allow discovery on whether the defendants violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights since the defendants’ actions resulted in the claimed violations of the Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments for deprivation of adequate medical care and requiring a copay for such care.

Some of the plaintiffs’ discovery requests, however, were “overlapping and redundant, unduly burdensome to Defendants, and some requests had no relevance to the underlying claims,” Robreno wrote.

Robreno overruled objections by the defendants and permitted the plaintiffs limited discovery. The ruling ordered the defendants to provide the following discovery to each plaintiff by April 23, 2012: copies of the various plaintiffs’ medical records, the entire contract between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and one of the other defendant’s, Prison Health Services, which provides the “rights and obligations for medical services,” the job description of the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, an inmate handbook and other service contracts.

In his ruling, Robreno denied without prejudice all other discovery requests within the plaintiffs’ motions for discovery. He also denied without prejudice the defendants’ motions for summary judgment.

Any additional motions for summary judgment must be filed by May 23, and subsequent responses by July 9.


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