Doe v. Delie

Decision Date24 July 2001
Docket NumberNo. 99-3019,99-3019
Citation257 F.3d 309,2001 WL 817680
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 97-CV-01264) District Judge: Honorable Donald E. Ziegler

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Martha E. Johnston, Esquire (Argued) Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen Llp 1650 Arch Street, 22nd Floor Philadelphia, PA 19103-2097 Attorney for Appellant

D. Michael Fisher, Attorney General Calvin R. Koons, Senior Deputy Attorney General John G. Knorr, III, Chief Deputy Attorney General Howard G. Hopkirk, Esq. J. Bart DeLone, Esquire (Argued) Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania Strawberry Square, 15th Floor Harrisburg, PA 17120 Attorneys for Appellees

Charles W. Kenrick, Esquire Vincent C. Longo, Esquire (Argued) Grogan, Graffam & McGinley Three Gateway Center, 22nd Floor Pittsburgh, PA 15222 Attorneys for Appellee, Paul Noel

Before: Nygaard, Roth and Garth, Circuit Judges


Roth, Circuit Judge

John Doe, a former inmate of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, is HIV-positive. He was informed by the medical staff at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh (SCIP) that his medical condition would be kept confidential. However, because of certain practices permitted by prison officials, Doe's condition was not kept confidential. Doe sued under 42 U.S.C.S 1983, claiming that prison practices violated his right to medical privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment and under the Pennsylvania Confidentiality of HIV-Related Information Act, 35 P.S. S 7601 et seq. The District Court granted defendants' motions to dismiss the S 1983 claims on the basis of qualified immunity, declined jurisdiction over the state claims, and dismissed the case.

Although we ultimately agree that defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, we do not agree with the District Court's reasoning. We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects an inmate's right to medical privacy, subject to legitimate penological interests. However , because this right was not clearly established at the time of defendants' conduct, we will affirm the dismissal of Doe's complaint.


John Doe arrived at SCIP on January 11, 1995. Shortly thereafter, Doe was informed by the medical staff that he was HIV-positive. After signing a written consent of disclosure form, he was told that his medical condition would be kept confidential and that medical records relating to his illness would be maintained separately from his general prison file.

Because of certain procedures permitted by defendants, Doe's condition was not kept confidential. Specifically, when Doe was taken for sick call appointments, staff informed the escorting officers of Doe's medical condition. During physician visits, staff kept the door to the clinic room open, allowing officers, inmates, and guards in the area to see and hear Doe and the treating physician. Finally, while administering medication, nurses announced his medication loudly enough for others to hear , allowing inmates to infer Doe's condition. Doe filed administrative grievances concerning the sick call and medication distribution practices, but the grievances did not bring about any change in the practices.

On July 11, 1997, Doe, proceeding pro se, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. S 1983 and the Pennsylvania Confidentiality of HIV-Related Information Act, 35 P.S. S 7601 et seq. in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The complaint named as defendants Joan Delie, Health Care Administrator at SCIP; Dr. Paul Noel, Medical Director of SCIP; Diane Manson, a Nurse/Grievance Officer; and Sophie Swika and Kim Zimmerman, both nurses at SCIP. Doe claimed his constitutional right to privacy was violated by the "open- door" examination room policy, by the disclosure of his medical condition to corrections officer escorts, and by the loud announcement of the names of his medications. He alleged that these practices made him reluctant to discuss embarrassing symptoms with doctors, subjected him to psychological harassment and humiliation, and caused him to discontinue treatment. Doe requested declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages.

On August 5, 1997, Doe filed motions for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction ordering defendants to provide for nondisclosure of his medical information during sick call visits and medication distribution. The Magistrate Judge recommended that both motions be denied pending service of the complaint and motions on defendants. This Report and Recommendation was adopted by the District Court on September 16, 1997.

After service of the complaint,1 defendants Delie, Manson, and Swika, and defendant Noel by separate motion, moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Doe was granted leave to file an amended complaint and did so on March 3, 1998. The amended complaint added James Price, the superintendent of SCIP, as a defendant and otherwise reasserted Doe's privacy claims. Defendants reasserted their motions to dismiss based, inter alia, on the defense of qualified immunity, which shields public officials from actions for damages unless their conduct was unreasonable in light of clearly established law.

The Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation on September 21, 1998. The Magistrate found that no clear federal constitutional right to nondisclosure of an inmate's medical condition exists and recommended dismissal of defendants Delie, Manson, Swika, and Price on grounds of qualified immunity. The Magistrate found that the only involvement alleged as to defendant Noel was his inadequate response to Doe's grievances, which did not give rise to a S 1983 claim. In addition, the Magistrate Judge found, sua sponte , that defendant Zimmerman was entitled to qualified immunity for her alleged misconduct and recommended dismissal of the complaint against her pursuant to 28 U.S.C. S 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Finally, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the District Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Doe's state law claims.

Over Doe's objections, the District Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and dismissed the case on December 17, 1998. On January 13, 1999, Doe filed his notice of appeal of the District Court's decision. We appointed counsel for Doe and have benefitted as a result from counsel's willingness to undertake this representation.

Shortly before oral argument, counsel informed us that Doe was awaiting a re-trial on his conviction. Counsel has now informed us that Doe was acquitted in his re-trial, and therefore is no longer an inmate at SCIP.


The District Court had subject matter jurisdiction over Doe's S 1983 claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C.S 1331 and over the state law claim under 28 U.S.C. S 1367. We have appellate jurisdiction over the District Court's final judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. S 1291. We exercise plenary review over the District Court's dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Piecknick v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255 (3d Cir. 1994). We must accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint as well as the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them. Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1993). We may dismiss the complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984).


Because Doe is no longer an inmate at SCIP, we must first consider whether his claims are moot before reviewing the District Court's qualified immunity analysis.


The Constitution limits the power of the federal judiciary to the resolution of "cases and controversies." See U.S. Const. art. III, S 2, cl.1. Federal courts are not empowered to decide moot questions. North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246 (1971) (per curiam). The mootness doctrine requires that an actual controversy exist at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed. New Jersey Turnpike Auth. v. Jersey Cent. Power & Light, 772 F.2d 25, 31 (3d Cir. 1985).

We have stated that "mootness has two aspects: (1) the issues presented are no longer `live' or (2) the parties lack a cognizable interest in the outcome." Id. As a result of his acquittal, Doe is no longer an inmate at SCIP . It is clear that any declaratory or injunctive relief with respect to the staff at SCIP would have no impact on him, and therefore his equitable claims are moot.

Doe argues that his case falls into the "capable of repetition, yet evading review" exception to the mootness doctrine. The exception is limited to cases which have two elements: "(1) the challenged action was in its duration too short to be fully litigated to its cessation or expiration and (2) there is a reasonable likelihood that the same complaining party would be subjected to the same action again." Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 4 F .3d 195, 206 (3d Cir. 1993) (emphasis omitted), quoting Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147, 149 (1975)(per curiam). Given the length of time it took Doe, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, to reach this stage of the litigation we will assume, arguendo, that the first element is satisfied.

However, as a result of his acquittal, we...

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