Judge dismisses former Phila. mob boss's eyesight suit against U.S. Govt.

By Jon Campisi | Apr 3, 2014

A judge has dismissed a complaint by a former reputed head of the

Philadelphia mob who claimed the government negligently allowed his eyesight to deteriorate while he was in federal custody.

In a March 28 memorandum and order, U.S. District Judge Mary McLaughlin, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, dismissed with prejudice an amended complaint that had been filed by Ralph Natale, who served as the reputed head of the Philadelphia mafia during the 1990s.

Natale sued the government last April over allegations that while he was a government witness in federal custody, officials refused to allow him to seek medication attention relating to his eyesight.

Natale, who is no longer imprisoned, claims his eyesight deteriorated so badly during his 13-year incarceration that he is now legally blind.

Natale’s lawyer, J. Conor Corcoran, had previously told Philadelphia Weekly that the government “created their own monster in their way, because now this poor man can’t see and can’t do anything else, so they left him with an incredible sense of vindictiveness for what they’ve done to him.”

The complaint, which was previously reported on by the Pennsylvania Record, said that Natale began complaining to prison medical staff about degenerating vision in his left eye beginning in 2002.

He maintained that throughout the years, he made requests to the defendants for treatment of his vision problems, but that those requests were rebuffed.

In his lawsuit, Natale claimed that his civil rights were violated because of the actions of the government.

In her memorandum, Judge McLaughlin wrote that the medical malpractice claim under state law needed to be tossed because the statute of limitations for such actions had expired.

Natale had argued that his claim was one for ordinary negligence, but the judge determined that it sounded in professional negligence.

“The plaintiff’s attempt to frame his claim as one of ordinary negligence because he did not get any treatment whatsoever is contradicted by the allegations in the complaint,” the judge wrote. “The amended complaint alleges that Natale was examined by medical professionals, including an ophthalmologist at the Mayo Clinic. Whether the diagnosis and recommended course of treatment by those medical professionals was appropriate is a question of medical judgment that must be proven by expert testimony.”

And the medical negligence claim cannot move forward, McLaughlin determined, because it was not timely filed.

Under Pennsylvania law, such claims have to be brought within a seven-year window, the judge noted.

The record shows that Natale complained about his eyesight issues between 2002 and 2005.

His lawsuit was filed in the spring of 2013.

Corcoran, Natale’s lawyer, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was still considering whether to appeal McLaughlin’s ruling.

In his complaint, Natale, who is currently in federal witness protection, even claimed that his daughter-in-law, Kathaleen Natale, a nurse and technician at Philadelphia’s renowned Wills Eye Institute, tried to persuade the government to allow her to take Natale in for an eye assessment, but that the request was denied.

Natale turned government witness after he was nabbed on drug charges in the late 1990s.

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