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Rigney v. Guzenski

August 21, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure



Steven J. Rigney filed this pro se civil rights action regarding alleged violations of his constitutional rights which took place during his prior confinement at the State Correctional Institution, Mahanoy, Pennsylvania ("SCIMahanoy").*fn1 Named as Defendants are the following SCI-Mahanoy employees: Superintendent Edward Klem; Major Thomas Derfler; Unit Manager Richard Spaide; Lieutenant Michael Agostinelli; Sergeants Stephen Peek, Shawn Golomb, and Ronald Schell; along with Correctional Officers James Guzenski, Donald Rakus and Joseph Dziczek.*fn2

The Complaint initially asserts that between June 22-28, 2006, Defendant Guzenski retaliated against the Plaintiff for his initiation of a complaint by subjecting him to ethnic intimidation and placing him at risk for assault by other prisoners in his housing unit. Specifically, the Defendant angered the 45-50 prisoners in Plaintiff's housing unit by stating that he would not open any doors for them to go to lunch until Rigney was ready. See Record document no. 1, ¶ 13. On July 2, 2006, Defendants Golomb and Agostinelli "obstructed justice and inflicted official oppression" by withholding from Rigney the forms he needed to initiate a criminal complaint and an inmate grievance. See id. at ¶ 14.

The third claim alleges that Defendant Rakus retaliated against the Plaintiff for his prior complaints against Guzenski. The Complaint maintains that on July 15, 2006, Rakus verbally harassed and threatened Rigney while the prisoner was engaged in a telephone conversation with his mother. Rakus also issued Plaintiff an alleged meritless misconduct charge (unauthorized use of the telephone) stemming from the same incident.

In his fourth claim, Plaintiff avers that although he was suffering "a diabetic attack" on August 17, 2006, Sergeant Schell refused his request for permission to enter his cell and obtaining his diabetes medication. Id. at ¶ ¶ 17-18.

On October 8, 2006, Defendant Rakus purportedly opened the Plaintiff's cell door for the purpose of allowing another prisoner to enter Rigney's cell and assault him "with a lock inside a sock." Id. at ¶ 19. As a result of the assault, Plaintiff required sutures above his left eye. The Complaint concludes by contending that Defendants Klem, Derfler, Spaide, Peek, and Dziczek conspired to cover up the alleged violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights by lying about the above incidents. As relief, Rigney seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive and declaratory relief.

By Order dated June 25, 2007, Plaintiff's motions to amend were granted and the Complaint was deemed to name the Defendants in both their official and individual capacities. Presently pending is the Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. See Record document no. 23. The motion has been briefed and is ripe for consideration.


A court, in rendering a decision on a motion to dismiss, must accept the veracity of the plaintiff's allegations. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 1990). In Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996), the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit added that when considering a motion to dismiss based on a failure to state a claim argument, a court should "not inquire whether the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail, only whether they are entitled to offer evidence to support their claims." "[W]hen a complaint adequately states a claim, it may not be dismissed on a district court's assessment that the plaintiff will fail to find evidentiary support for his allegations or prove his claim to the satisfaction of the factfinder." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955. 1969 (2007).

"The test in reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is whether, under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Holder v. City of Allentown, 987 F.2d 188, 194 (3d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). Additionally, a court must "accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them." Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990); Independent Enters., Inc. v. Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Auth., 103 F.3d 1165, 1168 (3d Cir. 1997). Finally, it is additionally well-settled that pro se complaints should be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). This Court will now discuss the Defendants' motion in light of the standards set forth above and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

It is noted that the pending motion to dismiss does not address the allegations of: (1) retaliation by Defendant Rakus; and (2) denial of access to medication by Defendant Schell. Consequently those claims shall proceed.

Eleventh Amendment

The Defendants' initial argument is that to the extent that Rigney's action may be seeking monetary relief against them in their official capacities, it must be dismissed under the Eleventh Amendment. The Eleventh Amendment provides:

The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state.

"[C]laims for money damages against the prison officials in their official capacity are claims for retroactive relief and hence are barred by the Eleventh Amendment." Doe v. Wagginton, 21 F.3d 733 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663 (1974). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 661 F.2d 23, 26 (3d Cir. 1981), similarly concluded that an "action in federal court for damages or back pay against a state official acting in his official capacity is barred because such retrospective relief necessarily depletes the state treasury." Pursuant to the above discussion, Plaintiff's claims to the extent that they seek monetary compensation from the Defendants in their official capacities are clearly barred by the Eleventh Amendment and will be dismissed.

Personal Involvement

The second argument for dismissal contends that the Complaint fails to allege that Defendants Klem, Derfler, Spaide, Peek, and Dziczek had any personal involvement in the purported constitutional misconduct. Defendants add that "[i]f Rigney is attempting to hold these Defendants liable as supervisors, a supervisory official's misconduct cannot be merely a failure to act." Record document no. 24, p. 6.

A plaintiff, in order to state an actionable civil rights claim, must plead two essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of 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. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995); Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990).; Frazier v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 785 F.2d 65, 68 (3d Cir. 1986)(a civil rights complaint ...

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