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Ronnie E. Johnson v. Michael E. Wenerowicz

April 8, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert F. Kelly, Sr., J.


Presently before the Court are the Commonwealth Defendants' Motion to Dismiss ("Motion to Dismiss") filed by Defendants Michael E. Wenerowicz ("Wenerowicz"), Michael Lorenzo ("Lorenzo"), Gary Olinger ("Olinger"), and Dan White ("White") (collectively, "Defendants") and Plaintiff's Opposition of Commonwealth Defendants' Motion to Dismiss ("Plaintiff's Opposition") filed by Plaintiff Ronnie E. Johnson ("Plaintiff"). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion will be granted.


On October 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendants in their individual and official capacities, seeking injunctive and monetary relief stemming from his placement in the Special Management Unit ("SMU")*fn1 at the State Correction Institution ("SCI") at Graterford ("Graterford").*fn2 In their official capacities, Wenerowicz is Superintendent of Graterford, Lorenzo is Deputy Superintendent of Graterford, Olinger is Correctional Classification Program Manager at Graterford, and White is Lieutenant on J Block, SMU. On October 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed a First Amended and Supplemental Complaint ("Amended Complaint") against the same Defendants, which contained substantially the same allegations and claims.

In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on May 26, 2010, White and Olinger ordered him to be placed in the SMU after a Program Review Committee ("PRC") hearing in violation of his procedural due process rights because they did not articulate a reason for their decision in a form called a DC-141 part 4. *fn3 (Am. Compl. ¶ 8.) Although Plaintiff does not explain whether he was placed in the SMU for disciplinary or administrative reasons, we assume that Plaintiff was placed in the SMU for administrative reasons.*fn4 On May 29, 2010, Plaintiff filed his first appeal of the PRC decision to Wenerowicz, claiming that White and Olinger intentionally violated his due process rights at the PRC hearing and that White's decision was based on discrimination against him. Id. ¶ 9. On June 6, 2010, Wenerowicz denied Plaintiff's appeal citing to Pennsylvania DOC policies DC-ADM 801 and 802 as the basis for his denial.

Id. ¶ 10. On June 9, 2010, Plaintiff filed an appeal to Chief Hearing Examiner Robert B. McIntyre, which was denied on June 16, 2010.

Plaintiff alleges that his due process rights were again violated on August 18, 2010, at a PRC hearing before Lorenzo and Olinger, who decided that Plaintiff should remain in the SMU. Id. ¶ 12. The basis of Plaintiff's claim is that he was not provided with a DC-141 part 4. Id. On August 24, 2010, Plaintiff appealed the PRC's decision to Wenerowicz, who granted Plaintiff another PCR hearing due to the DC -141 part 4 deficiency. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. On September 17, 2010, Plaintiff attended a PRC hearing before Major Francis Fields,*fn5 White, and Olinger. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff alleges that they failed to "establish a substantiated reason" for their decision to keep him in the SMU. Id. On October 12, 2010, Plaintiff was transferred to SCI at Fayette ("Fayette"). Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff claims that he has still not received a DC-141 part 4 regarding the PRC's decision to keep him in the SMU. On January 24, 2011, Plaintiff notified the court that he had been temporarily transferred to Montgomery County Correctional Facility ("MCCF") to defend himself in a criminal proceeding.

As a result of the foregoing events, Plaintiff claims Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process rights, his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection, his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and his Pennsylvania Constitutional rights. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16-19.) Plaintiff requests injunctive, declaratory, and compensatory relief as well as punitive damages from Defendants and "also those that stood in authority and could have stopped such an unreasonable request for SMU placement." Id. ¶ 19.

On December 23, 2010, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Defendants argue that Plaintiff's equitable claims are moot, Plaintiff cannot recover a monetary award from Defendants in their official capacities, Plaintiff failed to state a § 1983 claim against Defendants in their individual capacities, and Plaintiff's state law claims are barred by sovereign immunity. On January 13, 2011, Plaintiff filed an Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss ("Plaintiff's Opposition").


A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). Under Rule 12(b)(6), the defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, the Supreme Court stated that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Following Twombly, the Third Circuit has explained that the factual allegations in the complaint may not be "so underdeveloped that [they do] not provide a defendant the type of notice which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). Moreover, "it is no longer sufficient to allege mere elements of a cause of action; instead 'a complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. att 563 n.8). Furthermore, the complaint's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 234 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "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." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

Notwithstanding Twombly, the basic tenets of the Rule 12(b)(6) have not changed. The Knit With v. Knitting Fever, Inc., No. 08-4221, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30230, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 8, 2009). The general rules of pleading still require only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, not detailed factual allegations. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231. Moreover, when evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations of fact in the plaintiff's complaint, and must view any reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id.; Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). A complaint filed by a pro se defendant is to be liberally construed and "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Iles v. Deparlos, 2009 WL 3103736 at *3 (M.D. Pa. 2009) (citing Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007)). Finally, the court must "determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Pinkerton v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002).


A. Mootness of Plaintiff's Requests for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief

A federal court has neither the power to render advisory opinions nor to decide questions which cannot affect the rights of litigants in the case before them. Sutton v. Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 248 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 401 (1975)). An inmate's transfer from the facility complained of generally moots the equitable and declaratory claims. Id. (citing Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 4 F.3d 195, 197 (3d Cir. 1993)). But these claims are not mooted if they present a question that is capable of repetition, yet evading review. Akbar, 4 F.3d at 206. The "capable of repetition" doctrine is a narrow exception to the mootness principle and is limited to cases presenting two elements: "(1) the challenged action was in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or ...

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