United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 29, 2005.
CHARLES EDWARD BROWN, Plaintiff,
JEFFREY A. BEARD, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. CAPUTO, District Judge
Plaintiff, Charles Edward Brown, an inmate at the State
Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pennsylvania, commenced this
pro se civil rights action with a complaint filed pursuant to
the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as Defendants are
Jeffrey A. Beard, Sharon M. Burks, Kristen Resinger, Thomas
Lavan, George Mathews, Richard A. Holmes, Joseph Federick, Joseph
Holocheck, and Mike Truchon. Defendants are sued in their
official and individual capacities. Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants have denied adequate heat to Plaintiff's cell, in
violation of the Eighth Amendment proscription of cruel and
unusual punishment, and Plaintiff has suffered temperatures
ranging between twenty-six (26) to minus fifteen (-15) degrees.
As a result, Plaintiff claims that he became "ill with a cold and
fever and cramps." (Doc. 1 at 3.) For relief, Plaintiff seeks
injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss
(Doc. 21) Plaintiff's complaint. Defendants claim that they are
entitled to Eleventh Amendment Immunity, and that the supervisory
Defendants should be dismissed because liability in a § 1983
action may not be based upon respondeat superior. The motion has
been briefed, and it is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the motion will be
A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity
Defendants claim that they are entitled to immunity from suit
in their official capacities, and Plaintiff may only seek relief
on the individual claims. The Court agrees. To state a viable §
1983 claim, Plaintiff must establish (1) that the alleged
wrongful conduct was committed by a "person" acting under color
of state law, and (2) that the conduct deprived the plaintiff of
a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or
laws of the United States. Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806
(3d Cir. 2000). Both elements must be present to sustain a § 1983
action. It is well-settled that neither a state nor its agencies
are considered a "person" as that term is defined under § 1983
and, therefore, are not subject to § 1983 suit. Hafer v. Melo,
502 U.S. 21, 25-27 (1991). In Will v. Michigan Dep't of State
Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989), the United States Supreme Court
reiterated its position that state agencies are not "persons"
subject to liability in § 1983 actions brought in federal court.
The Court noted that a § 1983 suit against a state official's
office was "no different from a suit against the State itself."
Id. at 71. "Will establishes that the State and arms of the
State, which have traditionally enjoyed Eleventh Amendment
immunity, are not subject to suit under § 1983 in either federal
or state court." Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 365 (1990).
After Will, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that in
determining whether a state agency is entitled to Eleventh
Amendment immunity, a federal court should consider: (1) whether
the state would be responsible for the payment of any judgment
rendered against the agency; (2) the source of the agency's
funding; and (3) the degree of autonomy enjoyed by the agency, as well as other similar factors. Bolden
v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 953 F.2d 807, 818
(3d Cir. 1991).
In this case, payment of any judgment rendered against the
state prison officials employed by the Department of Corrections
would have to be paid out of the Pennsylvania state treasury, and
the Department of Corrections enjoys no degree of autonomy.
Therefore, under Will and Bolden, Defendants are not
"persons" for the purpose of § 1983 in their official capacities
and, therefore, not properly named defendants.
B. Motion to Dismiss Standard
Defendants also seek dismissal of the complaint because there
are no specific allegations of wrongdoing by these defendants,
and § 1983 liability may not be premised on a theory of
respondeat superior. They are mistaken. In rendering a decision
on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the Plaintiff's
allegations as true. White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 106 (3d
Cir. 1990). In Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996),
the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit added
that when considering a motion to dismiss, based on a Rule
12(b)(6) argument, a court should "not inquire whether the
plaintiffs will ultimately prevail, only whether they are
entitled to offer evidence to support their claims." A motion to
dismiss may only be granted if there is no reasonable reading of
the facts that would entitle Plaintiff to relief. Lum v. Bank of
America, 361 F.3d 217, 223 (3d Cir. 2004). Moreover, the Court
is mindful that pro se complaints are to be liberally
construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).
C. Section 1983 Claim
As set forth previously, Plaintiff must plead two essential
elements in order to state a viable § 1983 claim: (1) that the conduct complained of was
committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2)
that said conduct deprived the Plaintiff of a right, privilege,
or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United
States. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Nicini v.
Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000). It is undisputed that
Defendants acted under color of state law, and the Constitutional
issue implicated in this case is the Eighth Amendment requirement
that prison officials make reasonable efforts to assure prisoner
health and safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994).
The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons, and
prisons that house inmates convicted of serious crimes cannot be
free of discomfort. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992);
Peterkin v. Jeffes, 855 F.2d 1021, 1027 (3d Cir. 1988).
However, although the Supreme Court has made clear that prison
conditions may be "restrictive and even harsh," they may not
deprive inmates of "the minimal civilized measure of life's
necessities." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). To
sustain a conditions of confinement challenge, Plaintiff must
show that the conditions were more than uncomfortable, and
instead rose to the level of "conditions posing a substantial
risk of serious harm" to his health or safety. Farmer,
511 U.S. at 834.
The Supreme Court has confirmed that adequate shelter is a
basic human need, DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social
Services, 489 U.S. 189, 200 (1989), and courts have held that
adequate shelter would include sufficient heat. See Inmates of
Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 699 F.Supp. 1137 (W.D. Pa. 1988)
(holding inadequate a heating plant that breaks every winter).
Regardless of the viability of respondeat superior as a basis for
§ 1983 liability, the complaint alleges that all of the
Defendants were "aware of no heat in Plaintiff's cell," and they
were all "saving the State [sic] of Pennsylvania Prisons money in violation of Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment right
from cruel and unusual punishment. . . ." (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 27-35.)
With this allegation, Plaintiff raises an inference that all of
the Defendants were aware of the absence of heat in Plaintiff's
cell, and the Defendants refused to remedy the situation to save
money in maintenance or utility costs. Thus, the Court is unable
to conclude that no reasonable reading of the complaint would
entitle Plaintiff to relief, and Defendants' motion will be
denied. An appropriate order follows. ORDER
AND NOW, THIS 29th DAY OF SEPTEMBER, 2005, in accordance
with the foregoing memorandum, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT
Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 21) Plaintiff's complaint is
© 1992-2005 VersusLaw Inc.