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Charles v. Sabol

June 12, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rambo


Plaintiff Marc St. Clair Charles ("Charles"), an inmate confined at the York County Prison in York, Pennsylvania, filed the above-captioned civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on November 3, 2008. (Doc. 1.) Charles names the following Defendants: Mary Sabol, Warden of York County Prison, and Counselor Koons, an employee at York County Prison. Plaintiff claims his right to equal protection was violated by Defendants, contending that they discriminated against him because his disciplinary sentence for fighting was more severe than the sentences imposed on white inmates who were involved in the same incident underlying the discipline.

Before the court is a motion to dismiss Charles' complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), filed on behalf of Defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss will be granted. However, Charles will be granted the opportunity to amend his complaint to assert a claim against Defendants, if possible.

I. Background

All of the following facts are stated in the complaint and are taken as true for purposes of disposing of the instant motion.

On May 11, 2008, Charles was involved in a dispute with two Caucasian inmates at York County Prison. (Doc. 1 at 3.) An inmate named Peyton came to his cell in order to assault him, but Charles retaliated against him. (Id.) At lunchtime that same day, inmate Peyton tried to assault Charles again in the prison's day room, but a corrections officer saw the activity. (Id.) As a result, both Charles and inmate Peyton were placed in the behavioral adjustment unit ("BAU") of the prison. (Id.) Another inmate was brought to the BAU in connection with the incident also. (Id.)

After prison officials conducted an investigation, Charles pleaded guilty to the incident before a hearing examiner. (Id.) In connection with this hearing, Charles states,

Counselor Koon imposed 20 days of sentence. Three week[s] later while I was in the prison hole two African American officers saw me at the hole who have knowledge about the incident, inform me to place a complaint to the grievance preciding [sic], they felt I was bein[g] racial [sic] discriminated. I felt I was being discriminated. The two Caucasian who was involved in the incident received lesser time. I was attac[ked] on my cell again in the day room. Note: I am a black man. (Id. at 2.)

As relief, Charles seeks an "apology" and $10,000,000. (Id. at 4.)

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, 555 (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, 550 U.S. at 555; 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, 550 U.S. at 555, 570; 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 fact 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, 550 U.S. at 556).

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 ...

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