Judge Michael M. Baylson

ALLENTOWN – An inmate’s claims of indifference to his medical needs against Lancaster County prison officials will not be dismissed, according to a recent ruling from a federal judge.

Judge Michael M. Baylson, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ruled on Tuesday that Manuel E. Abrante III’s lawsuit against Lancaster County Prison Warden Vincent Guarini, Deputy Warden Joe Shiffler, Classification Coordinator Ann Haines and Nurse Practitioner Lori Hostetter would proceed, in opposition to a motion for summary judgment claiming Abrante failed to exhaust administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA).

Abrante claims the group of defendants did not provide him with adequate medical care after he suffered gunshot wounds to each of his legs and a fractured pelvis during his arrest by Lancaster Police on Aug. 1, 2011.

After receiving medical treatment at Lancaster General Hospital, Abrante maintained his doctor ordered he was to receive physical therapy, occupational therapy, the use of crutches, oxycodone to treat any pain from the gunshot wounds and a prescription for blood thinners to prevent blood clots resulting from his gunshot wounds after being transferred to Lancaster County Prison on Aug. 5, 2011.

Abrante alleges he languished on the Classification Block for one month after his arrival at Lancaster County Prison, which resulted in him not receiving his required medical care and being forced to be confined to his cell for all but 30 minutes per day.

According to the lawsuit, Abrante used every resource available to make inquiries and file grievances for his lack of appropriate medical care to each of the defendants over a period of months, to no avail.

Abrante filed suit in December 2012, alleging one count each of violating his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, against the defendants. Abrante alleged the defendants’ decision to violate his rights and deny him adequate medical care caused him “permanent and debilitating injuries, as well as intense, significant and unnecessary physical pain and suffering.”

The defendants filed their motion for summary judgment on March 11, which led Baylson to examine the case and make his ruling. Baylson began by describing the process by which Abrante filed his grievances with Lancaster County Prison.

“It is undisputed that Abrante was given an Inmate Handbook, which provides that a General Purpose Request Form is the vehicle by which inmates should communicate both housing classification and other grievances to prison administrators,” Baylson said. “After receiving a written response by the Prison to his or her classification-related grievance, the inmate may additionally make a written request to meet with a Classification Committee member.”

Baylson explained Abrante’s grievances and inquiries were met with no response.

“With respect to Abrante’s housing classification, Abrante has submitted a sworn declaration averring that he filed at least four grievances in August 2011 containing complaints on this topic, none of which were answered by the Prison,” Baylson said. “Abrante’s declaration is corroborated by both a Sept. 22, 2011 General Request Form complaining that he had not received replies to multiple prior grievances, as well as evidence that the Prison’s recordkeeping of inmate grievances is incomplete.”

Baylson stated Abrante’s “factual materials not only establish factual issues which preclude summary judgment for defendants, but also are sufficient to resolve the issue of whether Abrante submitted housing classification grievances in August 2011.”

“Likewise, defendants have not met their burden to show Abrante failed to exhaust available remedies for his medical treatment complaints. Abrante has submitted General Purpose Request Forms describing severe pain, guards’ failure to retrieve him for medical visits, re-injury from falls, and a lack of physical therapy,” Baylson said.

“Defendants argue Abrante was required to appeal these grievances by submitting additional General Purpose Request Forms directed to higher-level administrators. The Inmate Handbook section on General Request Forms, however, does not specify any such procedure, and neither defendant Schiffler, defendant Haines, nor the Prison’s witness could point out where it does. Defendants declined to depose Abrante during the exhaustion discovery period, and have no other evidence that he knew of an appeal process not described in the Inmate Handbook. An appeal procedure for non-housing classification grievances was therefore never ‘reasonably communicated’ to Abrante, and was therefore unavailable.”

Baylson also rejected a defense argument suggesting the defendants did not receive Abrante’s complaints because they were not specifically directed towards the individuals involved, since the prison’s grievance procedures did not require such specificity.

“The Court finds that Abrante exhausted the remedies available to him under the Prison’s grievance procedures for his complaints relating to both his housing classification and his allegedly insufficient medical treatment,” Baylson said.

The plaintiff is seeking proclamation the actions of the defendants violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, in addition to nominal, compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, court costs and any other relief the Court deems just and proper.

The plaintiff is represented by John C. Grugan, Jonathan S. Satinsky, Jonathan E. Selkowitz, Mary E. Morales Singh and Paul J. Koob of Ballard Spahr, in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by John P. Gonzales, Lawrence J. Bartel and Thomas J. Szymanski, of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in Philadelphia, along with John R. Ninosky and Matthew Ridley, of Johnson Duffie Stewart & Weidner, in Lemoyne.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 5:12-cv-06860

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

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