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Prosenio Wagner v. Julio Algarin

December 16, 2010

PROSENIO WAGNER
v.
JULIO ALGARIN, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'neill, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Proseno Wagner, formerly an inmate at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, filed this lawsuit against eleven defendants.*fn1 In his complaint, he alleged that defendants violated his rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. On August 24, 2010, defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. Plaintiff filed a response on October 13, 2010.*fn2 Defendants filed a reply on October 19, 2010. The motion is fully briefed and presently ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, I will grant defendants' motion to dismiss.*fn3

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was incarcerated for an unspecified period of time at the Montgomery Country Correctional Facility. It is unclear from his complaint whether he was serving a sentence or merely being detained pending trial.*fn4

Plaintiff alleges that while he was incarcerated at the MCCF he was required to sleep in "gyms," "M.P.R. rooms," "classrooms" and "3 and 4 man cells with less than the 60 [square feet] allowed per person." See Compl. at 4 (June 28, 2010) (Doc. No. 5). Each of the rooms in which he was required to sleep had "locks on the doors." Id. Plaintiff describes these sleeping arrangements as "hazardous." Id.

Plaintiff also alleges that his access to the MCCF's law library was restricted. Specifically, he contends that he was forced "to choose between [the] law library and the bathroom." Id. He also asserts that his ability to conduct legal research was impaired by "outdated books, torn pages, charging for Shepardizing and not being given adequate time per week in the law library." Id.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to dismiss all or part of an action for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Typically, "a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations," though plaintiff's obligation to state the grounds of entitlement to relief "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all of the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. (citations omitted). The complaint must state "'enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Wilkerson v. New Media Tech. Charter School Inc., 522 F.3d 315, 321 (3d Cir. 2008), quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. The Court of Appeals has recently made clear that after Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1955, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009), "conclusory or 'bare-bones' allegations will no longer survive a motion to dismiss: 'threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.' To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must now set out 'sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009), quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. The Court also set forth a two part-analysis for reviewing motions to dismiss in light of Twombly and Iqbal: "First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at 210-11, quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. The Court explained, "a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to 'show' such an entitlement with its facts." Id., citing Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008). "Where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged--but it has not 'show[n]'--'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.

Additionally, pro se pleadings are held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Dickerson v. Brooks, 2007 WL 4689001, at *2 (W.D. Pa.), citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969), noting that a petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read "with a measure of tolerance." Pro se complaints, especially from civil rights plaintiffs, should be read liberally, as prisoners in particular are often at an informational disadvantage that may prevent them from pleading the full factual predicate for their claims. Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 233-34 & n.6 (3d Cir. 2004). Because this plaintiff is a pro se litigant, I will consider his allegations of fact liberally and make inferences where necessary and appropriate.

DISCUSSION

Defendants argue that plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed for five reasons. First, because plaintiff does not allege, as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), that his "hazardous" sleeping conditions caused him any physical harm. Second, because plaintiff does not plausibly allege that he was deprived of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities" as required to state a claim under the Eighth Amendment. Third, because plaintiff does not allege that he suffered an actual injury as a result of having his access to the MCCF's law library restricted. Fourth, because plaintiff does not allege what role each of the defendants played in the violations of plaintiff's Constitutional rights. Finally, because each of the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. I will discuss each argument in turn.

I. Plaintiff Has Not Alleged a Physical Injury Sufficient To Satisfy the Requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) provides that "[n]o Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury." In Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 533-34 (3d Cir. 2003), the Court of Appeals held that the alleged physical injury must be "more than de minimis." See Mitchell, 318 F.3d at 535-36. There, a prisoner had filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging, inter alia, that he had been confined under constitutionally deficient conditions. The district court dismissed the plaintiff's complaint because it contained no allegations that the plaintiff had suffered physical injury. See id. at 533. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that his complaint satisfied the physical injury requirement because it contained allegations that he had been deprived of food, drink and sleep for four days. See id. The Court of Appeals disagreed. It acknowledged that "physical injuries could result from such deprivation after four days" but it held that "[l]oss of food, water, and sleep are not themselves physical injuries." See id. at 534.

Plaintiff's allegations in this case are insufficient for the same reason. He alleges that he was forced to sleep in gyms, classrooms, multipurpose rooms and overcrowded cells but does not allege that he suffered any physical injury as a result of his conditions of confinement. I will therefore dismiss plaintiff's unconstitutional conditions of confinement claim but grant plaintiff leave to amend his complaint to include allegations of the harm he suffered, if any.

II. Plaintiff's Complaint Does Not State a Plausible Claim Under Either the Fourteenth or Eighth Amendments Defendants also argue that plaintiff's complaint does not plausibly allege that plaintiff was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Plaintiff's complaint does not state whether, at the time of the allegedly unconstitutional confinement, he was imprisoned as a pre-trial detainee or as a convicted prisoner. The distinction is important because conditions of confinement claims brought by pre-trial detainees are considered under the Fourteenth Amendment, while such claims brought by convicted prisoners are considered under the Eighth Amendment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 n.16 (1979); Hubbard v. Taylor, 399 F.3d 150, 166-67 (3d Cir. 2005). "Due process[, under the Fourteenth ...


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