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Darwin Palmer v. Ramon Rustin

June 21, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer

Magistrate Judge Bissoon


For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss (Docket No. 34) filed by Defendants Rustin, Leone, McCall, Hungerman, Cestra, Butler, Kavals, Dutrieville,*fn1 and Helt ("Defendants") is granted with prejudice, in part and without prejudice, in part.

Darwin Palmer ("Plaintiff") brings this suit pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging deprivations of his rights under First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, committed by multiple Defendants during his incarceration at the Allegheny County Jail ("ACJ") in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a parole violation. Compl. (Docket No. 3 at 2). Plaintiff‟s last known address was at Renewal, Inc., in Pittsburgh.*fn2 This suit commenced with this Court‟s receipt of Plaintiff‟s complaint, without filing fee, on January 12, 2010. (Docket No. 1). Leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") was granted on January 13, 2010. (Docket No. 5).

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on September 7, 2010. (Docket No. 34). As of the date of this writing, Plaintiff has not responded to this motion. Hence, the motion is ripe for disposition.

A. Plaintiff's Factual Allegations

The following is a recitation of Plaintiff‟s factual allegations relevant to disposing of the instant motion. Plaintiff alleges that, on February 28, 2008, he was transferred into pod 4B at ACJ. (Docket No. 3 at 5). Rules for the pod were posted on the walls of the pod. Id. These rules allegedly did not appear in the ACJ handbook. Id. Defendant Helt allegedly told Plaintiff that a violation of the posted rules would result in Plaintiff being confined in the restricted housing unit ("RHU"), and that Plaintiff then would be "up shits [sic] creek." (Docket No. 3 at 5 -- 6). Defendant Helt allegedly also refused to give Plaintiff a pillow, mattress, or hygiene products as he requested. Id. at 3 -- 4. Defendant Helt further allegedly refused to turn off the light in Plaintiff‟s cell, and threatened Plaintiff that, if he did not take a mandatory shower every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, he would be locked in his cell for a period of 48 to 72 hours. Id. at 5 -- 6. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Helt answered "no" when Plaintiff asked whether he would be allowed to attend Muslim religious services on February 29, 2008, and allegedly further responded that "if he had it his way he would kill everyone in the middle east [sic]." Id. at 7 -- 8. Plaintiff was transferred to a different pod on March 15, 2008. Id. at 8.

On April 3, 2008, Defendants Ducker and Leone allegedly would not allow Plaintiff to attend Muslim religious services "because [Plaintiff‟s] I.D. arm band was held together with a rubber band." Id. at 8 -- 9. Defendant Leone allegedly refused to allow Plaintiff to attend services again on April 11, 2008, because Plaintiff‟s name did not appear on a list of Muslim inmates.*fn3 Id. at 9.

On April 14, 2008, Defendant Dutrieville allegedly left a note in the housing block log book indicating that Plaintiff and his cellmate were to be locked in their assigned cell during the following two days. Id. at 11. While Plaintiff does not explicitly state Defendant Dutrieville‟s reason for doing this in the text of the complaint, a letter grieving this incident, which was submitted to this Court as an attachment to the complaint, indicates that it was because "[Plaintiff] did not lock into [his] cell quickly enough to [sic] [Defendant Dutrieville‟s] liking." (Docket No. 3-1 at 7). Plaintiff alleges that, on April 15 and 16, 2008, Defendants Kavals and Butler would not allow Plaintiff to exit his cell for recreation or showers. (Docket No. 3 at 11). Plaintiff states that he never received a misconduct report, any sort of written notice, or a hearing in relation to this incident. Id. at 12.

Finally, Plaintiff makes general allegations with respect to Defendants Rustin,*fn4 McCall, and Hungerman based on their supervisory capacities or involvement in the administrative grievance process. Id. at 4, 9, 15 -- 16. Plaintiff also alleges that he grieved the above incidents through the jail‟s grievance system, but received no responses. Id. at 9, 12, 17.

B. Applicable Standard of Review

Dismissal is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) if, reading the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and accepting all factual allegations as true, no relief could be granted under any "reasonable reading of the complaint." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). Under this standard, a court must accept as true all allegations of the complaint, and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Sec., Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). However, a court need not accept inferences drawn by a plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employees‟ Ret. Sys. v. Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004). Nor must a court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Furthermore, it is not proper for a court to assume that "the [plaintiff] can prove facts which [he or she] has not alleged, or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged." Assoc.‟d Gen. Contractors of California, Inc. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).

Additionally, a Court must dismiss a complaint that does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. This is not to say that "heightened fact pleading of specifics . . ." is required. Id. at 570. However, "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555. The Supreme Court has made it clear that the requirement that pleadings be facially plausible, as expressed in Twombly, applies to all civil suits in the federal courts. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009).

When ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, a court may take into consideration information in addition to the complaint, such as "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, 1385 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994). Factual allegations within documents described or identified in the complaint also may be considered if the plaintiff‟s claims are based upon those documents. Pension Benefit Guar. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). (citations omitted). Moreover, a district court may consider indisputably authentic documents without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir.2004); In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

A court must employ less stringent standards when considering pro se pleadings than when judging the work product of an attorney. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). In a section 1983 action, a court must liberally construe a pro se litigant‟s pleadings and ""apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether a pro se litigant has mentioned it by name.‟" Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Holley v. Dep‟t of Veterans Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999)). ""Since this is a § 1983 action, the [pro se] plaintiffs are entitled to relief if their complaint sufficiently alleges deprivation of any right secured by the Constitution.‟" Higgins, 293 F.3d at 688 (quoting Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996)).

Finally, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that, in civil rights cases, a court must give a plaintiff the opportunity to amend a deficient complaint -- regardless of whether the plaintiff makes such a request -- when dismissing a case for failure to state a claim, unless doing so would be inequitable or futile. See ...

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