Prisoner • Inadequate Medical Treatment • Prison Food and Services • 42 U.S.C. §1983

DeJesus v. Aramark Food Service, Inc., PICS Case No. 14-0084 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 14, 2014) Sánchez, J. (10 pages).

The court dismissed with prejudice the prisoner’s complaint for violations of his constitutional rights.

DeJesus was a prisoner at Chester County Prison between May and October 2013. He alleged that the food he received while incarcerated was preserved with citric acid, which caused sores in his mouth, throat and digestive system. DeJesus did receive medical services while in prison. DeJesus additionally alleged that various items in the prison canteen were overpriced. He also claimed there was black mold growing in the showers which created air quality conditions that placed inmates at risk of cancer.

The complaint named as defendants three individuals who worked at the prison as well as Aramark Correctional Services and Chester County. Defendants moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

To state a claim for inadequate medical treatment, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to the plaintiff’s medical needs; and (2) that those needs were objectively serious.

A private corporation such as Aramark may only be liable for Eighth Amendment violations under §1983 if it deliberately chose not to take reasonable steps to address a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate. DeJesus failed to adequately plead that his injuries were caused by any deliberate action on the part of Aramark. He also failed to establish that the county or any of the individual defendants acted with deliberate indifference. Where medical professionals are providing treatment to an inmate, non-medical employees are entitled to defer to them.

With regard to Aramark and Chester County, the court stated that either could potentially be liable under the following circumstances: (1) a municipal policy or custom caused a constitutional violation; and (2) through deliberate conduct, the municipality or private company was the moving force behind the alleged injury. A municipality may be liable for an employee’s conduct that implements an official policy or practice. However, a municipality is not liable for an employee’s conduct that violates a citizen’s constitutional rights under a respondeat superior theory of liability.

Because the complaint did not allege deliberate conduct by an employee that met the standard for a constitutional violation, the court held the prisoner’s impermissible reliance on the theory of respondeat superior required dismissal. The court found no facts which indicated that either Aramark or Chester County had an official policy or custom which was a moving force behind the inmate’s alleged injury.

The claim against Aramark for overpricing food items at the prison canteen was dismissed as being vague. DeJesus did not allege what injury he suffered or which of his constitutional or statutory rights had been violated. Likewise, the claim regarding mold and air quality issues was dismissed, because DeJesus failed to assert any particularized injury or grounds for relief.