Section 1983 Claim • Respondeat Superior • Punitive Damages • Negligence

Christopher v. City of Philadelphia, PICS Case No. 14-0194 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 5, 2014) Yohn, J. (10 pages).

Estate failed to allege that doctors were directly involved in decedent’s medical care, and therefore failed to state a claim under §1983 of the Civil Rights Act, but sufficiently alleged claim for punitive damages in negligence. Motion granted in part and denied in part.

Estate of plaintiff, who died while a pre-trial detainee in county prison, brought an action under 42 Pa.C.S. §1983, and also asserted claims in negligence and wrongful death against medical providers who, as respondeat superiors, were allegedly responsible for decedent’s medical care. Plaintiff claimed that decedent suffered from hypertensive heart disease, as noted on her intake questionnaire, and that medical personnel were unresponsive to decedent’s stated medical needs and requests for treatment. The complaint also sought punitive damages. Defendants moved to dismiss the §1983 claim, and requested the court to deny punitive damages.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed the §1983 claim without prejudice, and held that plaintiff alleged a claim sufficient to seek punitive damages.

Supervisory failures are not a basis for a claim under §1983. Where a complaint alleges no facts indicating the individual defendant personally directed or knowingly acquiesced in the allegedly violative action—or where the complaint implicitly rests on the doctrine of respondeat superior—it fails to state a claim under §1983. Here, the complaint does not allege that either doctor was directly involved in decedent’s medical care during her pre-trial detention.

In addition, plaintiff sufficiently alleged an entitlement to punitive damages to survive a motion to dismiss. The complaint asserts “the defendants knew, should have known, or with deliberate indifference failed to determine that . . . [decedent's] condition would cause serious illness, injury, or death without medical intervention[,]” and that the failure to provide proper medical care was willful and/or reckless.