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Frazier v. Daniels

May 20, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Legrome D. Davis, J



This matter arises out of alleged constitutional violations that were committed by prison officers and staff against Plaintiff Jason Frazier while he was incarcerated in the State Correctional Institute of Graterford ("SCI-Graterford").*fn1 On May 21, 2008, an inmate and a prison officer were fighting on Plaintiff's cellblock. When two corrections officers, Defendants Tommy Daniels and Jennie White, ran to assist, Plaintiff grabbed Daniels to prevent him from jumping on the fighting inmate. (Compl. ¶¶ 1-3.) According to Plaintiff, he did not touch anyone else, and as he and Daniels were "going to the floor," White jumped on Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 4.) As a result of this incident, Plaintiff received two misconduct reports.*fn2 (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 9.) On May 23, 2008, a hearing was held before Defendant Hearing Officer Mary Canino, who found Plaintiff guilty of all charges, and punished Plaintiff to a total of 810 days of disciplinary custody in the Restrictive Housing Unit ("RHU"). (Id. at ¶¶ 14, 16-19.) Plaintiff appealed this ruling to the Program Review Committee, Defendant SCI-Graterford's Superintendant David DiGugliemlo, and the Chief Hearing Examiner. Canino's rulings were upheld. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23.)

When Plaintiff arrived in RHU, Defendant Unit Manager Sylvia Pallott, placed him on an "administrative custody" wing in a cell that was secluded from others, and put a tag on Plaintiff's door that read, "Assault on Staff." (Id. at ¶ 25.) According to Plaintiff, from May 22, 2008 to June 11, 2008, the following deprivations occurred: Plaintiff was denied food by Defendants corrections officers Thomas McMichael, Tony Butler, Donald Vaughn Jr., John Everding, Fred Toluba, and Joshua Marsh,*fn3 (id. at ¶¶ 26, 29); he was denied clean underclothing by these Defendants and Pallott, (id. at ¶ 34); and he was denied a shower by Vaughn, Everding, Toluba, and Marsh, (id. at ¶ 31). On May 25, 2008, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Everding spit into a food tray before giving it to Plaintiff, stating, "You can't put your hands on an officer and not get a 'grind up.'" (Id. at ¶¶ 36-37.) Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that from May 22, 2008 to June 7, 2008, he was denied his one hour per day of yard time by Butler and McMichael, (id. at ¶ 28), and from May 22, 2008 to July 12, 2008, he was denied access to the law library by Butler, McMichael, Pallott, Vaughn, Everding, Toluba, and Marsh, (id. at ¶ 39).

Plaintiff sent a letter to the Department of Corrections Office of Professional Responsibility ("OPR") about these conditions, and on August 4, 2008, an officer from OPR interviewed Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 45-46.) According to Plaintiff, Pallott and the corrections officers on the RHU wing first learned of Plaintiff's grievances because of this interview, and following the interview, they began to retaliate against Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 47.) Plaintiff claims that on August 17, 2008, Vaughn denied Plaintiff his dinner, telling Plaintiff that he "shouldn't have filed that paperwork on us!" (Id. at ¶¶ 49, 52.) And, following a meeting with OPR on August 27, 2008, Defendant corrections officer Michael Wassel took Plaintiff's dinner tray from his cell while Defendant corrections officer Kevin MacGregor observed.*fn4 (Id. at ¶¶ 53, 55, 57.) On August 28, 2008, Plaintiff woke up "starving, dizzy, lightheaded, weak, and experiencing pain in his stomach," and he later collapsed in front of his cell. (Id. at ¶ 59-60.) An officer found him, and when he reported it to Pallott, she told the officer to put a sickcall slip in Plaintiff's door and leave him on the floor. (Id. at ¶¶ 61-62.) Four hours later, Plaintiff was semi-conscious and taken to the dispensary in a wheelchair, where he received an EKG. (Id. at ¶¶ 65-66.) Thereafter, Defendant Dr. McDonald placed Plaintiff in a "hardcell" on suicide watch with a smock, a psych blanket, and a "food loaf." (Id. at ¶ 67.) Plaintiff returned to the RHU on August 29, 2008, where Defendant corrections officer Henry Sutton stated, "We're gonna make sure you die down here for what you've done . . . ." (Id. at ¶ 71.) Plaintiff was moved to another RHU cellblock, but Sutton continued to threaten Plaintiff and attempted to solicit another inmate to throw a cup of urine on Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 74-75.)

Plaintiff also alleges that his personal property, including all of his legal materials, were tampered with by Defendants corrections officers Patrick Curran and Walter Grunder. When Plaintiff was initially taken to RHU, officers on his old housing block packed and inventoried Plaintiff's property without Plaintiff present. (Compl. ¶¶ 87-88; Inventory List, May 22, 2008, Compl. Ex. K.) The property was taken to the property room and stored under Curran's supervision. (Compl. ¶ 92.) From May 2008 through September 2008, Plaintiff sent request slips to the property room for his legal materials, as the time period to file his federal habeas petition was soon expiring, but he never received a response. (Id. at ¶¶ 93-95.) Both Plaintiff and a lieutenant checked his property for the legal materials, but neither found the documents. (Id. at ¶¶ 99, 102.) A fellow inmate assisted Plaintiff in preparing a new habeas petition using two old direct appeal briefs, which Plaintiff filed but did not think was adequate. (Id. at ¶¶ 105, 109.) Plaintiff asserts that he recently discovered that he had an allegedly meritorious claim of ineffective assistance of counsel that was raised in his Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA") petition, but it was not included in his habeas petition because he was unaware of it without access to his legal materials. (Id. at ¶ 119.) Plaintiff also noticed that some of his missing personal property was replaced with items substantially similar to his own. (Id. at ¶¶ 106-07, 110, 112.)

As a result of these incidents, Plaintiff filed grievance reports with OPR. (Id. at ¶ 83; OPR Grievances, Compl. Ex. J & U.) The grievances were denied. Plaintiff appealed the OPR's decision to DiGuglielmo and the Chief Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals. (Compl. ¶ 83.) When his appeals were denied, Plaintiff filed the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.§ 1983 against Defendants DiGuglielmo, Canino, Pallott, Daniels, White, Butler, Everding, Toluba, Marsh, Wassel, McMichael, MacGregor, Sutton, Curran, Grunder, Vaughn, and McDonald. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his Eighth, Fourteenth, and Sixth Amendment rights, as well as his right to access the courts, and that Defendants retaliated against him and conspired against him in committing these violations. Presently before this Court are Defendant McDonald's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. Nos. 14 & 15), the Commonwealth Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 22), and Defendant Vaughn's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 30).*fn5 For the following reasons, Defendants' Motions are granted in part and denied in part.


A complaint may be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When evaluating a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), "the facts alleged [in the complaint] must be taken as true and a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). A court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id. Moreover, "[a court] liberally construe[s] the pleadings of pro se litigants." Cann v. Hayman, 346 F.3d 822, 824 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). However, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "The plausibility standard 'asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.'" Miles v. Twp. of Barnegat, 343 F. App'x 841, 844 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). "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." Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). "The assumption of truth does not apply . . . 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.'" Miles, 343 F. App'x at 845 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949).

"Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. In making this determination, the court may look to the allegations made in the complaint, the exhibits attached to the complaint, and any documents whose authenticity no party questions and whose contents are alleged in the complaint. Pryor v. Nat'l Coll. Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). Documents attached to a defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss may only be considered if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and if they are central to the plaintiff's claims. Id. "Courts should generally grant plaintiffs leave to amend their claims before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient." Century Indem. Co. v. URS Corp., No. 08-5006, 2009 WL 2446990, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 7, 2009) (citing Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002)).


A. Eighth Amendment Claims

Plaintiff asserts a variety of Eighth Amendment violations related to his confinement at SCI-Graterford. To establish an Eighth Amendment violation, an inmate must allege both: (1) an objective element, that "the deprivation is 'sufficiently serious' such that the prison official's act or omission resulted 'in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities;'" and (2) a subjective element, that "the prison official has a 'sufficiently culpable state of mind,' that of deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety." Booth v. Pence, 354 F. Supp. 2d 553, 558-59 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)). "Life's necessities" include "food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care and personal safety." Booth, 354 F. Supp. 2d at 559 (quoting Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d 703, 709 (3d Cir. 1997)). We consider each of Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims in turn.

1. False Charges and Disciplinary Action

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Daniels and White violated the Eighth Amendment following the incident on May 21, 2008, when Daniels falsified misconduct reports on behalf of himself and White, and when White reported false accounts to Daniels. (Compl. ¶¶ 8, 11-12.) The Commonwealth Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to state a cause of action because these charges are "essentially words" and "[do] not rise to the level of a deprivation of a basic human need." (Commonwealth Defs.' Mem. 5-6.) We agree. Under the Eighth Amendment, "false misconduct charges are not 'sufficiently serious' that they result 'in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'" Booth, 354 F. Supp. 2d at 559 (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). Furthermore, although Plaintiff correctly argues that we may consider whether, when "viewing the totality of the conditions of the prison, the inmate's conditions of confinement, alone or in combination, deprive him of the minimal civilized measures of life's necessities," see Booth v. King, 228 F. App'x 167, 171 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Tillery v. Owens, 907 F.2d 418, 426-27 (3d Cir. 1990)), Plaintiff's argument as it relates to this claim must fail. "Conditions are to be evaluated independently unless 'they have a mutually enforcing effect that produces the deprivation of a single, identifiable, human need such as food, warmth, or exercise.'" Williams v. Campbell, No. 07-885, 2008 WL 2816089, at *3 (E.D. Pa. July 18, 2008) (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 304 ...

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