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Mincy v. Klem

February 16, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge


Hilton Karriem Mincy ("Mincy") initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U. S.C. § 1983 on April 30, 2007, alleging that his First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by numerous Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") employees assigned to the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy. (Doc. 1.) The matter is proceeding via an amended complaint, which was filed on September 10, 2009. (Doc. 27.) Presently pending is a partial motion to dismiss (Doc. 31) plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), filed on behalf of all defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part. This memorandum will also address plaintiff's recently filed motion for an indefinite extension of time.

I. Motion to Dismiss Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all [factual] allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts contained in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide "the defendant notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). The plaintiff must present facts that, if true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a) (stating that the complaint should include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief"); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ---U.S. ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (explaining that Rule 8 requires more than "an unadorned, the-defendant unlawfully-harmed-me accusation"); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"). Thus, courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim if it contains "enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest the required element. 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 234 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Under this liberal pleading standard, courts should generally grant plaintiffs leave to amend their claims before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000).

II. Allegations of the Complaint*fn1

Mincy pursues four claims in his amended complaint. (Doc. 27.) In the first claim, he alleges that defendants, Vance, Wetzel, Murphy, and Gower, issued him four separate retaliatory misconducts. (Doc. 27, at p. 16.) In his second claim, he avers that SCI-Mahanoy officers intentionally stole new sneakers and boots in retaliation for filing grievances and lawsuits against officers and staff and that when he grieved the theft by utilizing the administrative grievance process available, the process was conducted in a perfunctory and retaliatory manner in an effort to "aide and abet" the retaliating officers. (Id.) In the third claim he states that SCIMahanoy officers destroyed his typewriter in retaliation for filing a grievance concerning the theft of his sneakers and boots and filing other grievances and lawsuits. He also states that the administrative grievance process was rote and perfunctory "with retaliatory animus, and in an effort to aide and abet retaliating officers." (Id. at pp. 16-17) (emphasis in original.) Finally, he challenges "[t]he usage of a legitimate transfer as means of retaliating against Plaintiff by intentionally recommending and having Plaintiff sent to the farthest prison (S.C.I. Albion) in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections." (Id. at 17.) He also avers that defendant Wertz knowingly and intentionally hindered his efforts to inspect and document the damage done to his typewriter and that this conduct was done in an effort to aide and abet and conceal the retaliatory conduct of other officers of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. (Id.) He received monetary compensation for his stolen and destroyed property. In this action, he seeks injunctive relief as well as nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages. (Id.)

III. Discussion

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers private citizens a means to redress violations of federal law committed by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.. . .

Id. Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, but merely a method for vindicating violations of other federal laws. Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); Kopec v. Tate, 361 F.3d 772, 775-76 (3d Cir. 2004). In order to prevail on a civil rights claim, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) the alleged wrongful conduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2) the conduct deprived him of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000); Schiazza v. Zoning Hearing Bd., 168 F. Supp.2d 361, 372 (M.D. Pa. 2001).

A. Eleventh Amendment

Under the Eleventh Amendment, states and state agencies are immune from suit in federal court. See Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 144 (1993). "Because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections is a part of the executive department of the Commonwealth, see PA. STAT. ANN., tit. 71, § 61, it shares in the Commonwealth's Eleventh Amendment immunity." See Lavia v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrections, 224 F.3d 190, 195 (3d Cir. 2000). While a state may lose its immunity by Congressional abrogation or by waiver, see id., Congress did not abrogate states' sovereign immunity when it enacted 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989). Moreover, the Pennsylvania legislature has expressly declined to waive its sovereign immunity by statute. See Lavia, 224 F.3d at 195; see also 42 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 8521(b). The Eleventh Amendment prohibits a lawsuit against defendants sued in their official capacities because the state is the real party in interest inasmuch as the plaintiff seeks recovery from the state treasury. Melo v. Hafer, 912 F.2d 628, 635 (3d Cir. 1990).

Defendants seek to dismiss the claims against them in their official capacity as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Mincy argues that because he is seeking injunctive relief, rather than monetary relief, the motion should be denied. (Doc. 33, at p. 6.) However, a prisoner lacks standing to seek injunctive relief if he is no longer subject to the alleged conditions he seeks to challenge. See Weaver v. Wilcox, 650 F.2d 22, 27 n.13 (3d Cir. 1981) (finding that a prisoner's transfer from the prison moots claims for injunctive and declaratory relief ...

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