294 F.3d 492 (3rd Cir. 2002), 99-5081, Montgomery v. Pinchak

Docket Nº:99-5081
Citation:294 F.3d 492
Party Name:Montgomery v. Pinchak
Case Date:June 25, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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294 F.3d 492 (3rd Cir. 2002)

Jeffery MONTGOMERY, Appellant

v.

Steven PINCHAK; Al Ortiz; Terry Moore; C. Naficy, Mr.; C.M.S. Correctional Medical Service

No. 99-5081.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

June 25, 2002

Argued: Sept. 28, 2001.

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Carl A. Solano (Argued), John F. Mullen, Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Appellant.

James R. Birchmeier (Argued), Powell, Birchmeier & Powell, Tuckahoe, NJ, for Appellees Terry Moore, Al Ortiz, and Steven Pinchak.

Stephen D. Holtzman (Argued), Lally, Holtzman, Gilligan & Quasti, Linwood, NJ, for Appellees C.M.S. Correctional Medical Service and C. Naficy.

Before: ROTH, AMBRO, and FUENTES, Circuit Judges.

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OPINION

FUENTES, Circuit Judge.

Jeffery Montgomery appeals from the entry of summary judgment against him in this civil rights action initially brought pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Montgomery, an inmate in the New Jersey State correctional system, claims that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Montgomery also contests the District Court's denial of his motion to appoint counsel. We find that, under the standards established by this Court in Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147 (3d Cir. 1993), the District Court abused its discretion in denying Montgomery counsel. Because we believe that Montgomery's ability to meet the evidentiary requirements of the summary judgment motion was prejudiced by his lack of counsel, we will vacate the District Court's grant of summary judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

I.

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff Jeffery Montgomery is currently an inmate at Riverfront State Prison in Camden, New Jersey. The events that gave rise to this lawsuit occurred from 1995 to 1998, while Montgomery was incarcerated at East Jersey State Prison ("East Jersey") in Rahway, New Jersey. Defendants Steven Pinchak, Terry Moore, and Al Ortiz were administrative officials at East Jersey during the period of Montgomery's incarceration (these three defendants will be collectively referred to as "Administrators"). Defendant Correctional Medical Services ("CMS") is a private corporate entity that has provided medical care to prisoners at East Jersey since April 1996. Defendant Dr. C. Naficy is a physician employed by CMS as an independent contractor at East Jersey who rendered medical care to Montgomery during his incarceration.

Montgomery has a heart condition and has tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can cause AIDS. In March 1996, in response to Montgomery's complaints of chest pains, Dr. Ghazanfar Jafferi, a cardiologist at St. Francis Hospital, examined Montgomery and determined that he needed a cardiac catheterization. At that time, all medical care at East Jersey was provided by medical personnel employed by the New Jersey State Department of Corrections ("DOC") and all of Montgomery's medical records were within the custody and control of DOC. East Jersey was notified of Dr. Jafferi's recommendation, and Montgomery's catheterization was scheduled to be performed that May.

In April 1996, about a month after Dr. Jafferi's examination, the State of New Jersey entered into a contract with CMS, under which CMS assumed responsibility for providing medical care for the prisoners at East Jersey and all other New Jersey State correctional institutions. CMS was subsequently unable to locate any of Montgomery's previously generated medical records. These records included not only Dr. Jafferi's recommendation for Montgomery's catheterization, but also all records of any antibiotic medicines prescribed and/or dispensed to treat Montgomery's HIV as well as several medications prescribed for his heart condition.

Montgomery's scheduled catheterization was not performed that May. He claims that he never underwent the procedure, nor the subsequently prescribed treatment, because the defendants lost his medical records, which documented the necessity of the procedure. Montgomery raised this issue with defendant Pinchak through a letter dated August 9,1996, stating:

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I wish to bring to your attention about medical staff claiming to have lost my medical records. This has denied me to medical treatment follow up that was schedule for the month of May 1996 with a cardiologist specialist at St. Francis Hospital.

App. at A48.

On January 30, 1997, while in solitary confinement, Montgomery was awakened in the middle of the night by severe chest pains. A nurse came to his cell, accompanied by four East Jersey guards. Montgomery related to the nurse his cardiac history and condition, but, as Montgomery explained in his original complaint, "the nurse refuse[d] to have the officers open my cell door to examine me [n]or did the nurse take my vital signs which is standard procedure with an individual suffering from chest pains." App. at A43. The guards permitted Montgomery to attempt to pass his arm through the food portal so as to enable the nurse to take his vital signs. Finding, however, that Montgomery's arm would not fit, the nurse and guards made no further effort to treat Montgomery. In her report of the incident, the nurse explained simply that Montgomery was denied care that night because he seemed "agitated."

Montgomery also claims that, after losing his records, the defendants deprived him of necessary HIV antiviral medications over a ten month period, from May 1996 to February 1997.1 A physical examination of Montgomery revealed that, by February 1997, his white blood cell count had dropped to a dangerously low level.

After CMS lost his medical records, Montgomery filed various requests, in accordance with East Jersey procedures, for both his records and for his prescribed treatment. Although a significant part of Montgomery's records were recreated, many remain missing by CMS' own admission. Additionally, Montgomery asserts that the defendants refused to recreate his file until after he brought this suit and that significant portions of the recreated records are either inaccurate or have been falsified. He also claims that the recreated records fail to reflect the actual treatment that he had received.

B. Procedural History

In February 1997, Montgomery filed the initial complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Montgomery claimed that the defendants had violated his civil rights under 42 U.S.C § 1983 by depriving him of prescribed treatment for his various medical conditions, thereby denying him his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically, Montgomery alleged that, because of the lost medical records, the defendants denied him a cardiac catheterization scheduled for May 1996, and that from May 1996 to February 1997 they refused to administer his prescribed antiviral and cardiac medications, or to provide necessary x-rays and laboratory blood work. This is the only complaint that Montgomery has brought since being incarcerated.

In May 1997, the District Court approved Montgomery's application to proceed in forma pauperis and allowed him to submit an amended complaint. In June 1997, Montgomery submitted a motion for the appointment of counsel, asserting that the "complexity and difficulty of this case itself warrants counsel." App. at A40.

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Montgomery noted that the case "will require expert witnesses in the medical field," that he is "unable to afford counsel" and that he "has a limited knowledge of the law." Id.

The District Court referred the motion for appointment of counsel to the Magistrate Judge, who, on October 24, 1997, denied the motion. In explaining his decision, the Magistrate Judge remarked that "[p]laintiffs case does not seem to have merit as a civil rights suit." App. at A10-11. The Magistrate Judge added that, even if Montgomery had stated a proper civil rights claim, "[p]laintiff is well able to present his case. Although Plaintiff is incarcerated, he is adept at following the Court's procedures." App. at All. Finding that the case "is fairly straightforward and presents no excessively complex issues of fact or law," the Judge concluded that Montgomery "can adequately represent himself and that the appointment of counsel was therefore not merited. App. at All.

On October 24, 1997, the same day he denied Montgomery's motion for appointment of counsel, the Magistrate Judge also denied Montgomery's Rule 37 motion to compel production of his medical documents from CMS.2 Contrary to his finding that Montgomery was "adept at following the Court's procedures," the Magistrate Judge determined that Montgomery had "failed to request the specified documents as provided for in Fed.R.Civ.P. 34," and that Montgomery further violated Local Civil Rule 37.1(b)(1) by not submitting affidavits certifying the parties' good faith efforts to resolve the discovery dispute without the aid of the court.3 App. at A105. The Judge therefore concluded that Montgomery's "motion to compel production of documents [was technically] a request to Defendants to provide said documents" and should be denied. App. at A106.

Thereafter, Montgomery continued to pursue discovery without the aid of counsel, with varying degrees of success.4 For instance, on November 20, 1997, Montgomery sent a series of interrogatories to defendants. CMS objected to six of Montgomery's first nine interrogatories. Montgomery then brought a motion to compel answers to those first six questions, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(2)(B).5 On January 27, 1998, the Magistrate Judge denied Montgomery's motion because CMS had in fact filed responses, even though they were in the form of objections.

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