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Dawn Marie Ball v. Jeffrey Beard

March 31, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


Plaintiff Dawn Marie Ball ("Ball") filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 while confined as an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy (SCI-Muncy), Pennsylvania. She has since been transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs (SCI-Cambridge Springs), Pennsylvania. Named as Defendants are Jeffrey Beard, former Secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and seven (7) SCI-Muncy employees.*fn1 In the complaint Ball alleges that Defendants violated her constitutional rights by refusing to transfer her to another correctional institution after she began experiencing physical and mental problems she attributes to her confinement in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") at SCI-Muncy for over two (2) years. Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. No. 20.) The motion is ripe for consideration and, for the reasons that follow, will be granted.

I. Background

In the complaint Ball alleges that she was brought to the RHU at SCI-Muncy on April 10, 2007, and was still confined there at the time she filed this action. According to Ball, she is scheduled to remain in the RHU until the year 2024.*fn2 She claims that Defendants refuse to transfer her to another prison out of state, preferably New Jersey, where she can "thrive" and be closer to her family. She states that since she has been housed in the RHU her physical and mental health have declined. For example, she alleges that she "smells things that are not there," constantly scrubs her hands, is worried, stressed and disoriented, has lost about 100 pounds, has lost hair, and must deal with constant noise. Ball further contends that she has lost interest in everything, and that she has not seen her family or been permitted to call her son in over two (2) years. She claims that on April 8, 2009, Defendant Edwards "denied the courts to allow [her] contact visits and phone calls to [son]." (Doc. No. 1, Compl. at 3.) Ball claims she is suing Defendants Lamas and Beard because of "prison policies." (Id.) As relief she seeks monetary damages, a transfer to a prison in New Jersey, and visits/calls with her family.*fn3

II. Motion to Dismiss Standard

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 (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).

III. Discussion

A. Claims for Damages against Defendants in their Official Capacities

Defendants first move to dismiss all claims set forth against them in their official capacities seeking monetary damages as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits actions for damages against a state in federal court unless the state has waived its immunity. U.S. Const. Amend. XI; Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974)("a suit by private parties seeking to impose a liability which must be paid from public funds in the state treasury is barred by the Eleventh Amendment"). There is no waiver of immunity applicable to this case. Although § 1983 imposes liability upon "every person" who deprives another of a constitutional right under color of state law, the Supreme Court has ruled that "neither the State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are 'persons' under § 1983." Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). Thus, Defendants' request to dismiss all claims for damages against them in their official capacities will be granted.

B. Eighth Amendment Claims

To the extent that Ball seeks to state an Eighth Amendment claim, she fails to allege the requisite personal involvement on the part of any of the Defendants. In order to prevail in a § 1983 action, a plaintiff must establish two elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) that the conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.

Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 184 (3d Cir. 1993).

Section 1983 liability cannot be predicated solely on respondeat superior. Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Thus, individual liability can only be imposed if the state actor played an "affirmative part" in the alleged misconduct. Chinchello v. Fenton, 805 F.2d 126, 133 (3d Cir. 1986). Personal involvement may be shown by either allegations of personal direction of or actual knowledge and acquiescence in the deprivation. Id. Alleging a mere hypothesis that an individual defendant had personal knowledge or involvement in depriving the plaintiff of his rights is insufficient to establish personal involvement. Rode, 845 F.2d at 1208. Moreover, if an official's only involvement is investigating and/or ruling on an inmate's grievance after ...

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