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Askew v. Lehigh County Prison Maintenance Division

March 6, 2009

DARREN KEITH ASKEW PLAINTIFF
v.
LEHIGH COUNTY PRISON MAINTENANCE DIVISION, ET AL. DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Golden, J.

Before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. No. 16.) For the following reasons,*fn1 the Court will GRANT the Motion.

BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff Darren Keith Askew ("Askew") is suing the Lehigh County Prison Maintenance Division ("Maintenance"), Corrections Officer Troy Wright ("Wright"), and Lieutenant Robert Reighns ("Reighns"). (Compl., Doc. No. 7, ¶ II.b.) The alleged actionable conduct occurred in the Lehigh County Prison, (id. at ¶ II.a.), sometime before March 13, 2008 (id. at ¶ IV.b.).*fn2 Askew alleges that Wright "was aware of the water leakage" in Askew's cell and "didn't tell his Sergeant [Sergeant Fencemaker [sic]] that [Askew] was requesting to go to another cell." (Id. at ¶ V.1.) The water leakage "resulted in [Askew] slipping and falling." (Id.) Askew further alleges that Maintenance should have "fixed the problem" that caused the leak. (Id. V.2.) Lastly, Askew alleges that Reighns knew about the leak for two months and even told Maintenance about the leak, but he failed to follow up. (Id. V.3.)

Askew seeks the following relief: "For Officer TroyWright/ and Maintenance Department to be found incompetent and negligent. Secondly, I want to be granted proper medical care to find what is damaged, I still have to use crutches. Last, I want full compensation for my slipping and falling and pain and suffering that I still go through." (Id. VI.)

Maintenance, Wright, and Reighns (the "Defendants") move that the Court dismiss Askew's pro se Complaint with prejudice for its failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

STANDARD

When construing pro se complaints, the Court has a duty to do so liberally. See Bush v. City of Philadelphia, 367 F. Supp. 2d 722, 725 (E.D. Pa. 2005). However, a pro se complaint "must nevertheless set forth facts which, taken as true, state a claim as a matter of law." Barclay v. Amtrak, 435 F. Supp. 2d 438, 448 (E.D. Pa. 2006). In order to state claim for relief, a plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Bell v. Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (May 21, 2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 1965. "[A] complaint . . . must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Id. at 1969. In other words, to survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must have "nudged his claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Id. at 1974.

ANALYSIS

Liberally construed, Askew has alleged three causes of action. The first sounds in tort and is based on allegations that Wright and Maintenance either negligently fixed or failed to fix the leak that caused Askew to fall in his cell. The second and third allege violations of the Eighth Amendment, which are actionable through Section 1983.*fn3 The alleged Eighth Amendment violations arise out of the conditions of Askew's confinement in the Lehigh County Prison and his allegations of improper medical care.*fn4

I. Federal Claims

A. Conditions of Confinement

"[T]he treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment." Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993). The Eighth Amendment "imposes duties on [prison] officials, who must provide humane conditions of confinement; prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994).

A prisoner asserting a conditions of confinement claim must allege (1) that "he has suffered an objectively, sufficiently serious injury," and (2) "that prison officials inflicted the injury with deliberate indifference." Id., at 834. The first prong of the Farmer test is an objective one. The plaintiff must demonstrate that he has been incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm. See id.; Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 682 (1978) (holding that the Eighth Amendment required a remedy where inmates were crowded into cells with other inmates having infectious hepatitis and venereal disease). The second prong of the Farmer test is a subjective one, requiring the plaintiff to plead that the defendants acted with deliberate indifference. To establish deliberate indifference, a prison official must (1) know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety, (2) be aware of facts from which an inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and (3) draw that inference. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.

Here, even giving Askew the benefit of the liberal pleading standards that he is entitled to, he has not sufficiently pleaded a constitutional violation. He alleges that he slipped and fell in his cell due to water that was accumulating there from leaky pipes. He further alleges that prison officials knew about the condition and either failed to act or acted negligently in repairing the leak. However, slippery floors, even if they cause inmates to fall and injure themselves, do not give rise to constitutional violations. See Atkins v. Sheriff's Jail Avoyelles Parish, 278 Fed. App'x 438, 439 (5th Cir. 2008) (affirming dismissal of plaintiff/inmate's conditions of confinement claim as frivolous where plaintiff/inmate alleged that "prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to his health or safety when they failed to repair leaks that caused water puddles, which in turn caused [plaintiff/inmate] to slip and fall"); Mathis v. Ratelle, 166 F.3d 1218, *1 (6th Cir. 1999) (holding that no constitutional violation occurred where prison officials failed to repair a crack in prison ceiling, even after plaintiff/inmate's cell was flooded) (table); Ellis v. Garcia, 159 F.3d 1357, *1 (5th Cir. 1998) (finding no constitutional violation where plaintiff/prisoner was housed in a cell with a plumbing leak) (summary calendar); Jackson v. Taylor, No. 05-823, 2008 WL 4471439, *5 (D. Del. Sept. 26, 2008) (holding that "excessive humidity in the kitchen [, which] caused inmates to routinely slip and fall on the 'old side' floor does not constitute a sufficiently serious deprivation under the Eighth Amendment); Elvy v. Kearney, No. 02-362, 2005 WL 1026718, *4 (D. Del. Apr. 5, 2005) (granting motion to dismiss on conditions of confinement claim when plaintiff/inmate fell down a set of stairs due to the accumulation of water at the top of an interior stairwell after a heavy rainfall); Santiago v. Guarini, No. 03-475, 2004 WL 2137822, *1-2 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 20, 2004) (granting motion to dismiss on conditions of confinement claim and stating that "[s]lippery prison floors are not objectively serious conditions giving rise to Eighth Amendment violations"); Thomas v. Zinkel, 155 F. Supp. 2d 408, 414 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (granting motion to dismiss ...


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