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Beattie v. Dep't of Corrections Sci-Mahanoy

March 3, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Rambo)


Pending before the court are three motions to dismiss the civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 filed by Plaintiff Antonio S. Beattie ("Beattie"), filed on behalf of three sets of defendants,*fn1 several state officials and prison officials from the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy in Frackville, Pennsylvania ("SCIMahanoy"). For the reasons set forth below, the motions to dismiss of two sets of defendants will be granted, and the motion to dismiss of the third set of defendants will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

The facts alleged in the complaint are as follows. On July 3, 2002, Beattie was an inmate incarcerated at SCI-Mahanoy and was participating in a program for convicted sex offenders. (Doc. 3 at 4.) The program was scheduled to end on January 3, 2004. (Id.) In October 2002, Beattie was removed from the program because, according to the complaint, he had been helping other inmates with their homework. (Id.; Doc. 25 at 1.) Beattie was placed at the bottom of the list for placement in the next program. (Doc. 3 at 4.) However, he was not reinstated into the program. (Id.) Beattie avers that the failure to reinstate him in the program caused his parole to be denied on two occasions and, therefore, he remained incarcerated for his maximum sentence.

On May 21, 2007, Beattie finished serving his sentence. (Id.) Upon his release from incarceration, under Pennsylvania's Megan's Law Beattie was required to register with the Pennsylvania State Police as a sex offender.*fn2 See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9795.2(a). However, Beattie did not register and on the date of his release from incarceration, Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Shawn Kofluk arrested him for failing to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law. (Doc. 3 at 4.) Beattie was charged under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 4915 and detained at Schuylkill County Prison while awaiting trial.*fn3 (Id.) Preliminary hearings with respect to his case were scheduled for May 30, 2007 and June 6, 2007 in the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas, but were postponed. (Id.) Further, a trial date and bail hearing were set for August 2007, but were also postponed. (Id.) Beattie continued to be detained in Schuylkill County Prison until October 18, 2007, at which time the charge was dismissed by the trial court and Beattie was released. (Id.)

Beattie filed the instant § 1983 complaint in this court on March 31, 2008, seeking compensatory and punitive damages against all Defendants based on his removal from the sex offender program and the events subsequent to that removal. (Doc. 3.) By order dated May 27, 2008, the court directed service of the complaint on the named defendants. (Doc. 8.) The Judicial Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and supporting brief on June 19, 2008. (Docs. 11 & 12.) The Commonwealth Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and supporting brief on June 25, 2008. (Docs. 16 & 17.) The DA Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and supporting brief on July 1, 2008. (Docs. 20 & 21.) These motions are now ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard - Motion to Dismiss

Among other requirements, a sound complaint must set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Fair notice" in Rule 8(a)(2) "depends on the type of case -- some complaints will require at least some factual allegations to make out a showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted). "[A] situation may arise where, at some point, the factual detail in a complaint is so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Id. A plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" to show entitlement to relief. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965; accord, e.g., Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231-32; Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (the court is not "compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.") (quotations and citations omitted)); Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005).

A defendant may attack a complaint by a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007), and all reasonable inferences permitted by the factual allegations, Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2007), viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007). Accord Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233. If the facts alleged are sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" such that the plaintiff's claim is "plausible on its face," a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1974; Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234; Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007); Stevenson v. Carroll, 495 F.3d 62, 66 (3d Cir. 2007). This requirement "calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

"To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted); see also Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Pension Benefit, 998 F.2d at 1196. Additionally, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002) (citation omitted); see also U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) ("Although a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be considered without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.") (internal quotation omitted). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in making its decision. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

When presented with a pro se complaint, the court should construe the complaint liberally and draw fair inferences from what is not alleged as well as from what is alleged. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003); Youse v. Carlucci, 867 F. Supp. 317, 318 (E.D. Pa. 1994). Such a complaint "must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson, 127 S.Ct. at 2200 (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

Finally, in the Third Circuit, a court must grant leave to amend before dismissing a civil rights complaint that is merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 428 (3d Cir. 2001); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

III. Discussion

A plaintiff, in order to state a viable § 1983 claim, must plead two essential elements: 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 and laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). A defendant's conduct must have a close causal connection to plaintiff's injury in order for § 1983 liability to attach. Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 285 (1980).*fn4 A prerequisite for a viable civil rights claim is that a defendant directed, or knew of and acquiesced in, the deprivation of a plaintiff's constitutional rights. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir. 1988). On its face, § 1983 creates no exceptions to the liability it imposes, nor does it speak of immunity for any individual who might deprive another of civil rights. See Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 268 (1993). Nevertheless, it is well-settled that certain government officials possess immunity from § 1983 liability. Id.

As stated above, three sets of defendants have filed motions to dismiss Beattie's complaint. The court will discuss the motions in turn.

A. Motion to Dismiss by DA Defendants

In connection with the court proceedings related to Beattie's failure to register under Megan's Law mentioned above, in the complaint Beattie names, inter alia, James P. Goodman, Esquire, District Attorney for Schuylkill County, and William Reiley, Esquire, former Assistant District Attorney for Schuylkill County. Beattie alleges that Defendant Goodman is "liable and culpable with his knowledge that an unlawful arrest, lack of probable cause and no prima facie case existed in order to bring the then defendant Antonio Beattie to a trial." (Doc. 3 at 3.) The complaint contains no further allegations as to Defendant Goodman.

Beattie alleges that Defendant Reiley is "liable and culpable for intentionally detaining Mr. Beattie by making bail impossible for him and prolonging the bail hearing and other criminal processes once an arrest has been undertaken." (Id.) He also asserts that Defendant Reiley intentionally caused bail proceedings to be postponed under a "pretense that Mr. Beattie was a flight risk." (Id. at 4.)

The United States Supreme Court has recently reconfirmed that prosecutors are absolutely immune from liability in § 1983 suits based on prosecutorial actions that are "intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process." Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, - U.S. -, 129 S.Ct. 855, 860 (2009) (quoting Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976)). See also Williams v. Consovoy, 453 F.3d 173, 178 (3d Cir. 2006); Hughes v. Long, 242 F.3d 121, 125 (3d Cir. 2001). The availability of immunity depends not on the identity or office of the individual asserting it, but rather on the function served by the act for which it is sought. Buckley, 509 U.S. at 269 (citing Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 229 (1988)); Williams, 453 F.3d at 178 (observing that courts apply absolute prosecutorial immunity using a functional approach that focuses on the purpose served by the acts for which immunity is sought); Hughes, 242 F.3d at 125 (same). This immunity applies when a prosecutor prepares to initiate a judicial proceeding, and it continues throughout the execution of the prosecutor's basic trial advocacy duties. Van de Kamp, 129 S.Ct. at 861. See also Hughes, 242 F.3d at 125 (observing that immunity covers actions such as "initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution and presenting the state's case in court"). In contrast, absolute immunity may not protect a prosecutor acting outside of the trial process in a purely investigative or administrative capacity. See Van de Kamp, 129 S.Ct. at 861; Buckley, 509 U.S. at 273 ("A prosecutor's administrative duties and those investigatory functions that do not relate to an advocate's preparation for the initiation of a prosecution or for judicial proceedings are not entitled to absolute immunity"); Hughes, 242 F.3d at 125

("A prosecutor's administrative and investigative duties, however, are not immune"). The prosecutor seeking to invoke immunity has the burden of establishing its applicability to the actions upon which the plaintiff ...

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