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Wallace v. Doe

November 23, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Conner)


Tyree Wallace ("Wallace"), a Pennsylvania state inmate, initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated while incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Huntingdon"). (Doc. 1.) Named as defendants are the following: Jane Doe, Medical Staff; Barbara Hollibaugh, Unit Manager; Mary Lou Showalter, Corrections Health Care Administrator, Dr. Klemick, Medical Director ("Klemick"); Scott Walters, Unit Manager; Jay Johnson, Counselor; Jane Doe, Plumbing Supervisor; and, Raymond W. Lawler, Superintendent. Presently pending is a motion to dismiss (Doc. 21) Wallace's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), filed on behalf of defendant Klemick. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied in part and granted in part.

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

Wallace alleges that in the summer of 2006, he was prescribed medication to prevent seizures. (Doc. 1, at 2.) On April 23, 2008, while in the pill line at SCIHuntingdon, he inquired about having his seizure medication renewed and was informed that prescription renewal was handled during sick call. (Id. at 3.) The following day, he reported to sick call and was told that he needed to see the doctor. (Id.) An appointment with the doctor was scheduled for the following day, April 25, 2008. However, all appointments were cancelled on that date due to a prison shakedown. (Id. at 3.)

He suffered a seizure on April 28, 2008, which rendered him unconscious for approximately one hour and forty-five minutes. (Id. at 2, 3.) During that time, he was laying on the floor against an uncovered radiator. (Id.) He suffered severe burns to his face, head, arm, and ear.

III. Discussion

A. Statute of Limitations

Klemick first argues that "[Wallace's] bodily injury occurred on April 28, 2008[,] but he did not file his lawsuit until May 4, 2010, more than two (2) years after the date of his bodily injury, and his claims against [him] are therefore time barred." (Doc. 22, at 1.)

Federal civil rights statutes do not contain a specific statute of limitations for § 1983 actions. Therefore, the district court utilizes the appropriate state statute of limitations which governs personal injury actions. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387-88 (2007); Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276 (1985); Urrutia v. Harrisburg Cnty. Police Dept., 91 F.3d 451, 457 n. 9 (3d Cir. 1996). Pennsylvania's applicable personal injury statute of limitations is two years. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(7); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 190 (3d Cir. 1993).

A cause of action accrues when a plaintiff knew or should have known he was harmed. See Garvin v. City of Phila., 354 F.3d 215 (3d Cir. 2003) (finding that a cause of action accrues when a plaintiff knew or should have known he was harmed. ; Sameric Corp. of Delaware, Inc. v. City of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998) (same). It is undisputed that Wallace's cause of action arose on April 28, 2008. It is also undisputed that the complaint was received in the Office of the Clerk of Court on May 4, 2010. Klemick contends that because Wallace did not file his complaint until May 4, 2010, it is untimely and should be dismissed with prejudice. Wallace indicates that "the 1983 civil suit was given to officer (per policy) and placed in the mailbox April 25th 2010. The jail stamped the suit on April 28th 2010." (Doc. 28, at 1.)

Because Klemick is a prisoner, acting pro se, he must be given the benefit of the prison mailbox rule which provides that an inmate's pleadings are deemed filed at the moment he delivers the documents to prison officials to be mailed, not the date the documents were received by the court. See Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 275-76 (1988) (explaining that the date of filing is the date on which an inmate deposits the petition in the prison mail system.); Longenette v. Krusing, 322 F.3d 758 (3d Cir. 2003); Burns v. Morton, 134 F.3d 109, 113 (3d Cir.1998) (prison mailbox rule provides that "a pro se prisoner's habeas petition is deemed filed at the moment he delivers it to prison officials for mailing to the district court."). "Given the 'evidentiary difficulty in determining when a prisoner relinquishes control of the complaint to prison personnel' this date is presumed to be the date plaintiff gave the notice to prison officials to be mailed." Crooker v. Wachovia Bank, 2010 WL 1996377 (E.D. Pa. May 13, 2010) (quoting Taylor v. Naylor, 2006 WL 1134940, *3 (W.D.Pa. 2006). See also West v. Lockett, 2009 WL 1270225, at *4 n. 2 (W.D. Pa. May 6, 2009) (stating that "[a]bsent proof of the exact date of delivering the . . . petition to the prison authorities, the court will presume the date whereon Plaintiff signed his . . . petition is the date he gave the prison authorities his . . . petition for mailing."); Hodge v. Klopotoski, 2009 ...

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