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Williams v. Hull

June 4, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Baxter


Chief Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter

A. Relevant Procedural History

On May 7, 2008, Plaintiff, a prisoner filed the instant action pro se. Plaintiff has named Greg Hull, a Correctional Officer, and Deputy Warden Vincent Kinnane, both of the Erie County Prison, as Defendants to this action.*fn2

In his short complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on April 30, 2008, First of all I put a request slip in to ask the counselor for a greviance [sic] which read could I have a greviance [sic] about the shit they fed us the day before the food they served us was not cooked all the way so I was called up to desk and he told me I could not recive [sic] a greviance [sic] and so I told I was going to go to his supervisor so he decided to give me a misconduct ticket. And then I went to ask why was our mail being held and he would not commit so I asked for another grivance [sic] which was denid [sic]. So I had wife call the Warden Kinnane and she informed him as to what was going. And he stated to her he did not care.

Document, # 7, Complaint (in its entirety). Plaintiff claims that Defendants have violated his "due process of law prisoners rights to a grievance." Id. As relief, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, as well as the "grievance procedure fixed." Id.

In a later filing, Plaintiff expands upon the allegations of his complaint and summarizes his claims as:

a. Plaintiff contends that the Defendants violated his First Amendment right to free speech when they retaliated and confined Plaintiff in his cell for eight (8) hours after he requested a grievance to complain about the inedible food he was served.

b. Plaintiff alleges that his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were violated when the Defendants imposed upon him an eight (8) hour period of lock-down in his cell.

c. Plaintiff contends that the Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to decent conditions in prison when they served him food that was inedible.

d. Plaintiff contends that the Defendants violated his First Amendment right to access to the courts by rejecting legal correspondence that was mailed to him; and

e. Plaintiff alleges that his First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the Erie County Prison's handling of mail.

Document # 28, Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, pages 3-4.

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, along with supporting documentation. Document # 26, incorporating the motion to dismiss filed at Document # 18. Within the text of the supporting brief, Defendants request that Plaintiff be directed to file a more definite statement pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e), "because the allegations are so vague and ambiguous that the Defendants cannot reasonably be required to frame a responsive pleading." Document # 19, page 16. Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition to the pending dispositive motion. Document # 28.

B. Standards of Review

1. Pro se Litigants

Pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded," must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969)(petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read "with a measure of tolerance"); Smith v. U.S. District Court, 956 F.2d 295 (D.C.Cir. 1992); Freeman v. Department of Corrections, 949 F.2d 360 (10th Cir. 1991). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997). See, e.g., Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996)(discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Company, 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990)(same). Because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant, this Court will consider facts and make inferences where it is appropriate.

This Court liberally construes Plaintiff's filings to encompass five claims: 1) Plaintiff claims that he was retaliated against after he requested a grievance in order to complain about the poor quality of the prison food; 2) Plaintiff claims the punishment of eight hours of cell confinement violated his due process rights; 3) Plaintiff claims the denial of a grievance process violates his constitutional rights; 4) Plaintiff claims that the poor quality of the food violates his Eighth Amendment rights; and 5) Plaintiff claims that his mail was mishandled thereby restricting his access to the courts in violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Because many of Plaintiff's allegations have been clarified in his Opposition Brief, Defendants have not addressed all of Plaintiff's claims in the pending motion to dismiss.

2. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to 12(b)(6)

Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a pleading must set forth a claim for relief which contains a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, ___ 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). The issue is not whether the plaintiff will prevail at the end but only whether he should be entitled to offer evidence to support his claim. Neitzke; Scheuer v. Rhodes, 419 U.S. 232 (1974). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)(rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, ___, ___ S.Ct. ___, ___ 2009 WL 1361536 (May 18, 2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act). The court must accept as true all allegations of the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). The Court, however, need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Although the United States Supreme Court does "not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is "required to make a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Smith v. Sullivan, 2008 WL 482469, at *1 (D.Del. February 22, 2008) quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). "This does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232, quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3.

3. Motion for Summary Judgment

Defendants have submitted evidence in support of their motion to dismiss. Therefore, this Court will convert the motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

See Burns v. Harris County Bail Bond Bd., 139 F.3d 513, 517 (5th Cir.1998). ("When matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the district court, the district court must convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment."); Greer v. Smith, 2003 WL 1090708, *1 (3d Cir. 2003) ("the District Court considered material outside of the pleadings and, therefore, should have converted the motion for dismissal to a summary judgment motion, allowing the plaintiff an opportunity for appropriate discovery and a reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to the motion.").

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment shall be granted if the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(e) further provides that when a motion for summary judgment is made and supported, "an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing ...

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