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Huertas v. Sobina

July 14, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter

District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin



It is respectfully recommended that the Defendants' motion to dismiss [Document # 17] be granted as to Defendants Sobina and Varner. The Clerk of Courts should be directed to terminate Defendants Sobina and Varner from this action. The Defendants' motion to dismiss also should be granted with respect to Plaintiff's Fourteen Amendment procedural due process claim. The motion should be denied as to Defendant Henry and as to his exhaustion and Eleventh Amendment immunity arguments.

It is further recommended that Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment [Document # 23] be denied.

A Case Management Order will be issued separately.


A. Relevant Procedural History

In June 2009, Plaintiff Hector Huertas, a state prisoner who at the time giving rise to this suit was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Albion, Pennsylvania ("SCIAlbion"), commenced this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. First, he alleges that on three separate occasions (January 29, 2008, February 7, 2008, and August 12, 2008) Defendant Dan Henry, the mailroom supervisor at SCI-Albion, opened, read, and returned to him letters that he had written to his bank. Document # 4, ¶¶ 9-20. This, Plaintiff claims, constituted a violation of his First Amendment rights. Id., ¶ 66. Second, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Henry violated the Department of Corrections' policy when he read and returned his outgoing mail without first receiving the necessary authorization and providing him with the proper notice. Id., ¶¶ 21-25. This, Plaintiff claims, constituted a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Id., ¶ 66. Third, Plaintiff alleges that in response to his complaints Defendant Henry unlawfully retaliated against him for filing grievances by interfering with and taking contents from his mail. Id., ¶¶ 34-48, 67. Fourth, Plaintiff claims that Defendants Raymond J. Sobina, the Superintendent of SCI-Albion, and Dorian Varner, the Chief Secretary of Inmate Grievances, violated his First Amendment rights by failing "to act, intervene, [and] correct [Defendant Henry's] wrong and personally consent[ing] to the actions by acquience [sic]." Id., ¶ 68; see also id., ¶¶ 44-55.

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss. Document # 17. Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition. Document # 20. Plaintiff also has filed a motion for partial summary judgment against Defendant Henry. Document # 23.

B. Standards Of Review

1. Pro se Pleadings

Pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded,"must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Brierley, 414 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read "with a measure of tolerance"); Smith v. U.S. District Court, 956 F.2d 647 (7 th Cir. 1992); Freeman v. Dep't of Corr., 949 F.2d 360 (10th Cir. 1991). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997). See, e.g., Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990) (same). Because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant, this Court may consider facts and make inferences where it is appropriate.

2. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (rejecting the traditional 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act).

The Court need not accept inferences drawn by Plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). See also McTernan v. City of York, Pennsylvania, 577 F.3d 521, 531 (3d Cir. 2009) quoting Iqbal, ___ U.S. at ___, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 ("The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions."). A plaintiff's factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Although the United States Supreme Court does "not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is "required to make a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Smith v. Sullivan, Docket No. 07-cv-528, 2008 WL 482469 at *1 (D.Del. Feb. 22, 2008) quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). "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 ...

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