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Carlos Robles v. J.J. Casey

June 8, 2011


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


Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the courts must conduct screening of complaints filed by prisoners against a government entity or official. Magistrate Judge Blewitt conducted the screening of Plaintiff's amended complaint and issued a report and recommendation recommending that the complaint be dismissed in part. (Doc. No. 20.) The parties fully briefed the issues, and the matter is now properly before the Court. For the reasons stated more fully herein, the Court will adopt Magistrate Judge Blewitt's report and recommendation in part.


Plaintiff, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Dallas, filed a complaint against various prison officials raising Eighth Amendment claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff's original complaint was confined to injuries suffered by Plaintiff when, on the direction of prison staff, he was cleaning the prison kitchen and the chemical cleaner splashed into his eyes causing severe burning. This Court dismissed the complaint in part, but granted Plaintiff leave to amend. In Plaintiff's amended complaint he adds conditions of confinement claims and denial of medical care claims. The factual details surrounding Plaintiff's claims are comprehensively set forth in Magistrate Judge Blewitt's report and recommendation, and Plaintiff does not object to Magistrate Judge Blewitt's recitation of the facts. Accordingly, the Court will not reproduce the factual allegations here.


Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must dismiss any civil action filed by a prisoner against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity where the complaint fails to state a claim or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A; see also Vega v. Kyler, 90 Fed. Appx. 437, No. 03-1936, slip op. at 3 n.2 (3d Cir. 2004); Martin v. Scott, 156 F.3d 578, 580 (5th Cir. 1998). In reviewing whether the prisoner has failed to state a claim under Section 1915A the Court applies the standard of reviewed used in motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Brown v. Kelsey, No. 04-316, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7345, at *3 (D. Del. Apr. 27, 2005)

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court may "consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim." Lum, 361 F.3d at 221 n.3. The motion will only be properly granted when, taking all factual allegations and inferences drawn therefrom as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Markowitz v. Ne. Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to show that no claim has been stated. Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 33 (3d Cir. 1980). Thus, the moving party must show that Plaintiff has failed to "set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that those elements exist." Kost, 1 F.3d at 183 (citations omitted). A court, however, "need not credit a complaint's 'bald assertions' or 'legal conclusions' when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906, 908 (3d Cir. 1997). Indeed, the Supreme Court has held that while the 12(b)(6) standard does not require "detailed factual allegations," there must be a "'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion of entitlement to relief. . . . '[F]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231-32 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Put otherwise, a civil complaint must "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 Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1955 (2009)).


Magistrate Judge Blewitt recommended, without objection from either party, that the following claims be permitted to proceed: (1) Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment denial of proper medical care claim against Defendants Bohinski and Leskowski arising from the July 25, 2010 eye injury; (2) Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment denial of medical care claim against Defendant Bohinski regarding Defendant Bohinski's failure to treat Plaintiff's pre-existing eye conditions; and (3) Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment state-created danger claim against Defendant Casey. (Doc. No. 20 at 22.) The Court finds no error with these recommendations and will adopt them without further discussion. In addition, Plaintiff files no objection to Magistrate Judge Blewitt's recommendation that all claims for money damages against all named Defendants in their official capacities be dismissed. (Id.) The Court previously ordered that such claims be dismissed with prejudice; accordingly, the Court will adopt this recommendation without further discussion. Finally, to the extent that any claims are based on Defendants' handling of the grievance procedure, Plaintiff apparently agrees that such allegations cannot support a claim.*fn1 As such, the Court will dismiss these claims with prejudice.

Plaintiff objects to Magistrate Judge Blewitt's Report and Recommendation arguing that the claims against Defendants Lucas, Sowga, Walsh, Varner, Davis, and Jones ("Supervisory Defendants") were improperly dismissed. (Doc. No. 21.) The objections appear to focus primarily on Plaintiff's conditions of confinement claim; however, the Court will also discuss the claims against these Defendants as they relate specifically to the July 25, 2010 kitchen accident. For ease of reading, the Court will consider these issues in reverse order.

A. Kitchen Accident Claim Against Supervisory Defendants

Plaintiff's first claim arises from injuries he suffered as a result of the July 25, 2010 kitchen accident. None of the Supervisory Defendants are alleged to have been present when Plaintiff was injured in the kitchen. Nor does Plaintiff allege that any of these Defendants denied him safety equipment or ordered him to work without such equipment on this occasion. Instead, Plaintiff argues that he has alleged a claim of supervisory liability by pleading that Defendants had knowledge of their subordinates' violations and acquiesced in the same. (Doc. No. 21 at 2-3.) The Third Circuit permits Section 1983 claims to proceed based on a theory of supervisory liability where a plaintiff can show defendants had knowledge of their subordinates' violations and acquiesced in the same.*fn2 See Baker v. Monroe Twp., 50 F.3d 1186, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1995) (permitting plaintiff to hold a supervisor liable for a subordinate's Section 1983 violation provided plaintiff is able to show "the person in charge . . . had knowledge of and acquiesced in his subordinates' violations"). To impose liability on a supervisory official there must be "both (1) contemporaneous knowledge of the offending incident or knowledge of a prior pattern of similar incidents, and (2) circumstances under which the supervisor's assertion could be found to have communicated a message of approval to the offending subordinate." Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F.2d 663, 673 (3d Cir. 1988). Allegations of actual knowledge and acquiescence must be made with particularity. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). None of the Supervisory Defendants are alleged to have had contemporaneous knowledge of the incident. Accordingly, Plaintiff is only able to state a claim to the extent that he is able to show knowledge of a prior patter of similar incidents coupled with circumstances indicating a message of approval.

Regarding Defendants Walsh, Sowga, Lucas, and Varner, Plaintiff only alleges that they became aware of the conditions which led to the July 25, 2010 kitchen accident via his grievance filings.*fn3 However, participation in the after-the-fact review of a grievance or appeal is insufficient to establish personal involvement on the part of those individuals reviewing grievances. See Rode, 845 F.2d at 1208 (finding the filing of a grievance insufficient to show the actual knowledge necessary for personal involvement); Brooks v. Beard, 167 F. App'x. 923, 925 (3d Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (allegations of inappropriate response to grievances does not establish personal involvement required to establish supervisory liability). Accordingly, the Supervisory Defendants cannot be held liable for Plaintiff's July 25, 2010 kitchen injury.

Defendants Jones and Davis are alleged to have had prior knowledge of other occasions on which Plaintiff was forced to use hazardous chemicals in the kitchen without safety equipment. (Doc. No. 17 ΒΆΒΆ 19-20, 28.) Defendants dismiss these allegations as naked assertions that do not satisfy Iqbal's plausibility requirements. (Doc. No. 22 at 9.) Defendants further cite Santiago v.Warminster for the proposition that a plaintiff may not state a claim for supervisory liability by simply describing a constitutional violation "and appending the phrase 'and the Chief told them to do it.'" Santiago, 629 F.3d at 133. The claims against Defendants Jones and Davis are less than compelling. However, they rise above the level of implausibility described in Santiago. Here, Defendants are alleged to have been aware of a pattern of behavior in which inmates including Plaintiff were ordered to use hazardous materials without safety equipment and that ...

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