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Merrell v. Lawler

June 16, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge


I. Introduction

This is a pro se civil-rights action filed by plaintiff, Willie Merrell, an inmate at SCI-Huntingdon, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, that made several constitutional claims. Upon an initial screening, and then later by way of a motion to dismiss, the claims were reduced to the following: (1) an Eighth Amendment medical claim for lack of heat in Plaintiff's cell against defendants Jeffrey A. Beard, the secretary of the Department of Corrections; R.M. Lawler, Huntingdon's superintendent; Mr. J. Keller, Plaintiff's unit manager who then became a program manager at Huntingdon; and Mr. A. Lovett, a counselor at Huntingdon.

Plaintiff also had a First Amendment free-exercise claim, which was dismissed, but with leave to amend so that Plaintiff could name the defendants who had personal involvement in the denial of his right to practice his religion.*fn1 In compliance with our order, Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint (doc. 25) and named three new defendants: Mary Lou Showalter, health-care administrator; deputy Fisher, former Huntingdon deputy and now the superintendent at SCI-Smithfield; and deputy B. Corbin. He also named defendants Keller and Lawler on this claim.

Plaintiff additionally sought leave to file a supplemental complaint on a retaliation claim. We allowed him to do so and Plaintiff filed a supplemental complaint (doc. 24) naming security officer Tress as the defendant.

We are considering two motions to dismiss the second amended complaint, one by defendants Beard, Lawler, Keller and Lovett and the other by the new defendants, Showalter, Fisher, Corbin and Tress. The latter motion also challenges the supplemental complaint against Tress.

II. Standard of Review

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Under Rule 12(b)(6), we must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)).

A complaint has to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d. 929 (2007). Detailed factual allegations are not required, id. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964; Pryor, supra, 288 F.3d at 564, only a "short and plain statement" showing the right to relief. Pryor, supra, 288 F.3d at 564 (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002) and quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, U.S. , , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

Additionally, "'however inartfully pleaded,' the 'allegations of [a] pro se complaint [are held] to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 529 (3d Cir. 2003)(quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 596, 30 L.Ed.2d 652, 654 (1972)) (brackets in Mitchell).

III. Discussion

A. The Beard, Lawler, Keller and Lovett Motion to Dismiss

These defendants first argue that the Eighth Amendment medical claim and retaliation claim against them must be dismissed because Plaintiff did not replead them in his second amended complaint, as required by Local Rule 15.1(a). We disagree. Local Rule 15.1(a) requires a party's amended pleading to be "complete in itself" when the "party files a motion requesting leave to file an amended pleading." Here, Plaintiff did not file a motion seeking to file a amended complaint. Instead, he was ordered to do so after the defendants filed a motion to dismiss. As we noted in our memorandum of January 15, 2010, citing Payne v. DeLuca, 433 F. Supp. 2d 547, 606 n.62 (W.D. Pa. 2006), a plaintiff does not always have to start over with an amended complaint that can stand on its own.

The defendants next argue that the First Amendment free-exercise claim fails as against defendants Lawler and Keller for not alleging their personal involvement in the claim. See Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005)(personal involvement in the alleged wrongs is necessary for the imposition of liability in a civil rights action). As the defendants note, Plaintiff alleges that they "failed to accommodate Plaintiff, both by reply of grievance [sic] and by way of meeting in chapel." (Doc. 25, Second Am. Compl. ΒΆ 5). We disagree. Plaintiff is pro se, and a pro se complaint is held to a less ...

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