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Inmate’s lawsuit against SCI Houtzdale reinstated

Davis was stabbed by fellow prisoner; claims medical care not provided

A federal appeals court has reinstated a Pennsylvania inmate’s lawsuit against officials of the State Correctional Institution Houtzdale for failure to provide recommended medical care after he was stabbed by another inmate.

The lawsuit was dismissed In 2019 by District Judge Kim R. Gibson in Johnstown because the inmate, Patrick Davis, 34, who was injured in the stabbing, failed to file objections to a recommendation by a magistrate judge that concluded his lawsuit did not state a valid legal claim.

Magistrate Judge Keith A. Pesto, who presides in Johnstown, was given the Davis lawsuit to review.

In recommending dismissal he gave Davis 14 days to object.

Davis, who eventually was transferred from Houtzdale to the State Correctional Institution Rockview, Centre County, claims he never received the recommendation and became aware of it only after inquiring — 17 months later — what happened to it.

According to an opinion issued last week by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Judge Gibson dismissed the lawsuit after being informed Davis had made an inquiry.

The dismissal was “with prejudice,” meaning Davis could not refile or amend his lawsuit.

The 3rd Circuit panel, composed of Judges Patty Shwartz, Cheryl Ann Krause and Julio M. Fuentes, granted Davis’ appeal.

It concluded the district judge “erred by not giving (Davis) an opportunity to amend.”

The panel sent the lawsuit back to the Johnstown-based court for further action.

In doing so, the appeals court stated that judges have an obligation toward individuals, including prisoners, who act as their own counsel.

“We have a special obligation to be more forgiving of pro se litigants and to construe uncounseled pleadings lest we close the courthouse door to those lacking in formal legal education,” according to the 3rd Circuit.

It stated, “On inspection … Davis’ complaint adequately pleaded a claim of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights (a constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment).”

The panel pointed out that after the 2016 stabbing incident, Davis was to receive a neck brace, a sling, and be referred to a neurosurgeon for further treatment.

Davis claims he was partially paralyzed during the stabbing incident, which occurred in SCI Huntingdon.

His lawsuit contended medical authorities at Houtzdale, where he was transferred after the stabbing, did not follow through with the recommended treatment, despite several grievances filed by Davis.

The lack of follow-up treatment resulted in “unnecessary pain and suffering,” Davis contends in his lawsuit.

The magistrate judge dismissed Davis’ contention that prison officials were “deliberately indifferent” to his medical needs as a conclusion without merit.

The 3rd Circuit panel disagreed, stating Davis’ legal complaint was much more than a “threadbare recital” of his situation.

“These concrete factual allegations, which we presume to be true at this stage, form a sufficient basis to state essential elements of a claim for deliberate indifference to Davis’ serious medical needs,” the panel stated.

Davis of Tannersville is serving a lengthy prison sentence imposed by a Monroe County judge for attempted homicide that occurred 10 years ago during a drug deal that went awry.

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