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Dickson v. McGrady

March 30, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


Chad B. Dickson ("Dickson"), an inmate confined at the State Correctional Institution at Retreat ("SCI-Retreat"), Pennsylvania, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter proceeds on the original complaint and a supplement thereto. (Doc. Nos. 1, 9.) Named as Defendants are James McGrady, Superintendent at SCI-Retreat, and seven additional SCI-Retreat employees.*fn1 In the complaint, Dickson sets forth allegations of denial of access to the courts, and retaliation in the form of intrusive cell searches and the issuance of false misconduct charges. Before the Court for consideration is Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 15.) The motion is fully briefed and, for the reasons that follow, will be granted in part and denied in part.*fn2

I. Background

In the complaint Dickson alleges that Defendant Miller confiscated his legal papers, which included a legal discovery packet relevant to his criminal trial held in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, on March 12 and 13, 2008. Miller is alleged to have engaged in this activity because he is a party in the Cambria County case. Dickson states that because of Miller's actions he was unable to use the confiscated papers as evidence in his pro se trial. Dickson further alleges that Miller gave orders to Defendant Hall to conduct cell searches to remove specific legal papers. (Doc. No. 1, Compl. at 2.) The confiscated papers were thereafter given to Defendants Miller and Pall. Defendants Pall, Sweeney, Novak and Lanning are also alleged to have confiscated Dickson's legal papers, and to have provided them to Miller. (Id.)

Dickson also claims that every time he sent documents to the law library for copying, Defendant Burns would provide the documents to Miller. It would take 24-72 hours for the papers to be returned to Dickson, and some of the papers would be missing. He claims that Defendant Lanning had a large black trash bag filled with his legal work, papers and discovery from his Cambria County trial, and that he wrote a confiscation slip that referenced some of these legal documents.

Based on the foregoing, Dickson claims that Defendants' actions interfered with his legal research and his attempts to present his trial in Cambria County. (Id. at 3.) As a result, he alleges he was unable to present an adequate defense, and was convicted and sentenced to a term of incarceration. (Doc. 9, Suppl. Compl. at 1.) He also claims that he was unable to file legal actions and complaints. (Id.) When he complained to Defendants about these matters, they retaliated against him by conducting frequent intrusive cell searches, and confiscating his papers.

He also contends that he was issued several false misconduct reports for the sole purpose of keeping him housed in the Restricted Housing Unit. (Id.) Plaintiff requests both injunctive and compensatory relief.

II. Discussion

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims alleged in the complaint. Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint, and construe any inferences to be drawn from the allegations in Plaintiff's favor. See Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007)(quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). "The assumption of truth does not apply, however, to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations or to '[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.'" Marangos v. Swett, No. 08-4146, 2009 WL 1803264 (3d Cir. June 25, 2009)(citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009). In considering a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain enough "facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), and the factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted); accord Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1953. The facts plead must offer more "than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id., 120 S.Ct. at 1949 (internal quotations and citations omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Further, a district court should provide leave to amend "when amendment could cure the deficiency and would not be inequitable." Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 2002). A complaint that does not establish entitlement to relief under any reasonable interpretation is properly dismissed without leave to amend. Id. at 106.

B. Analysis

In moving to dismiss the complaint, Defendants argue that: (1) the claims for money damages against Defendants in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) the access to the courts claim is subject to dismissal for failure to establish actual injury; (3) no personal involvement has been established with respect to Defendant McGrady; and (4) the retaliation claim is subject to dismissal due to Dickson's failure to establish he was deterred from engaging in constitutionally protected activity. (Id. at 4-5.)

1. Claims for Monetary Damages Against Defendants in Their Official Capacities

Defendants seek the dismissal of all claims for money damages set forth against them in their official capacities. The Court agrees that these claims are subject to dismissal. Unless consented to by the state, the Eleventh Amendment prevents suits from being brought in federal court against a state or one of its agencies or departments for money damages. Pennhurst v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99-100 (1984). A suit brought against an individual acting in his or her official capacity is similarly deemed to be a suit ...

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