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Brian Edward Griffin v. Thomas Williams

August 10, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Rambo)


Plaintiff Brian Edward Griffin ("Griffin"), an inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Coal Township"), initiated this civil rights action on December 2, 2010, with a complaint filed pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) Named as Defendants are Robert McMillan, a Deputy Superintendent at SCI-Coal Township; Thomas Williams, a Unit Manager at SCI-Coal Township; Correctional Officer T. Behney; and Hearing Examiner L.S. Kerns-Barr. In the complaint, Griffin alleges that Defendants Williams and Behney retaliated against him for filing past grievances when they ordered him to move to another cell on the cell block rather than transfer him to a separate cell block as he had requested. Griffin refused to leave his cell and subsequently was issued a misconduct. Griffin also alleges that Defendant McMillan ignored his complaints about Defendants Williams and Behney and also ignored his grievance regarding the cell move. Lastly, Griffin alleges that Defendant Kerns-Barr violated his constitutional rights in the context of a disciplinary proceeding related to the cell move.

Presently before the court is a motion to dismiss the complaint filed on behalf of Defendants. (Doc. 25.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

A. Facts

In the complaint, Griffin provides the following factual background with respect to his claims. The court notes that for purposes of disposition of the instant motion to dismiss, the factual allegations asserted in the complaint will be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to Griffin.

At the time of the alleged retaliation, Griffin was housed in the C-2 Block at SCI-Coal Township. (Doc. 1 ¶ 3.) According to Griffin, he had been "having problems" with several of the correctional officers on that cell block, including Defendants Williams and Behney. (Id.) At some point prior to the alleged retaliation at issue here, Griffin requested a transfer to another cell block in SCI-Coal Township. On August 12, 2010, Griffin filed a grievance against Defendant Williams for not moving him out of the C-2 cell block as he had requested. (Id.) On August 23, 2010, Griffin filed another grievance, complaining of problems he was having with Defendants Williams, Behney, and other staff on the cell block. (Id.) Griffin also states that he "filed other grievances against Williams in which he retaliated by using his power violative to [Griffin's] rights." (Id.) He further states that "[g]rievances and other forms of complaints were filed against [Defendant Behney]." (Id. ¶ 7.)

On August 23, 2010, Defendant Behney, at the direction of Defendant Williams, ordered Griffin to move from one cell to another cell in the same cell block. (Id. ¶ 7.) Griffin refused this order, stating that he had requested a move off of the cell block rather than to another cell in the same block. (Id.) He states, "I also pointed out to C/O Behney that there was no reason in moving me to another double bunk cell when I'm single cell status already in a double bunk cell, which would not serve any penological purpose." (Id.) Griffin also spoke with Defendant McMillan that day, informing him that Defendants Williams and Behney were retaliating against him for filing grievances and other complaints against them. (Id. ¶ 4.) Griffin alleges that Defendant McMillan's "body language told me he didn't want to hear what I had to say." (Id.) Instead, Defendant McMillan told Griffin to file a grievance with Major Miller, who would address his claim. (Id.)

On the morning of August 24, 2010, Defendant Behney again ordered Griffin to move to another cell in the same cell block. (Id. ¶ 7.) Griffin refused the order, telling Defendant Behney to "stop harassing me." (Id.) Defendant Behney then refused to let Griffin out of his cell for breakfast. (Id.) Griffin also alleges that at some point prior to this date, Defendant Behney denied him a shower, searched his cell, and ignored his requests to sign up for yard. (Id.) As a result of his refusal to move to another cell, Griffin was issued a misconduct for refusing to obey an order and presence in an unauthorized area. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 8.)

On August 26, 2010, Hearing Examiner Kerns-Barr conducted a misconduct hearing via video. (Doc. 1 ¶ 8.) At the hearing, Griffin stated his claim of retaliation against Defendants Williams and Behney. (Id.) He also told Defendant Kerns-Barr about his conversation with Defendant McMillan. (Id.) At one point during the hearing, the corrections officer who had escorted Griffin to the hearing asked Griffin to step out of the hearing room. (Id.) Griffin did so, and upon his return, Defendant Kerns-Barr rendered her decision, finding Griffin guilty of refusing to obey an order and sentenced him to ninety (90) days of disciplinary segregation. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 8.)

B. Procedural History

On December 2, 2010, Griffin filed his complaint. (Doc. 1.) In the complaint, Griffin seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Griffin also filed two motions for preliminary relief seeking a transfer from SCI-Coal Township to SCI-Graterford. (Docs. 11 & 20.) By memorandum and order dated June 29, 2011, the court denied these motions. (Doc. 33.)

On February 9, 2011, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint (Doc. 25) along with a supporting brief (Doc. 26). Griffin filed his brief in opposition to the motion on February 18, 2011. (Doc. 29.) Defendants have not filed a reply brief. Thus, this matter is ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Among other requirements, a sound complaint must set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). This statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Fair notice" in Rule 8(a)(2) "depends on the type of case -- some complaints will require at least some factual allegations to make out a showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."

Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted). "[A] situation may arise where, at some point, the factual detail in a complaint is so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Id. A plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" to show entitlement to relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; accord, e.g., Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231-32; Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (the court is not "compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.") (quotations and citations omitted); Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -- U.S. --, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (recognizing that Rule 8 pleading standard "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation") (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

A defendant may attack a complaint by a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S. Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007), and all reasonable inferences permitted by the factual allegations, Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2007), viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007); accord Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233. If the facts alleged are sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" such that the plaintiff's claim is "plausible on its face," a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570; Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234; Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007); Stevenson v. Carroll, 495 F.3d 62, 66 (3d Cir. 2007); see also Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (explaining a claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged"). Further, when a complaint contains well-pleaded factual allegations, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950. However, a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Id. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

"To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted); see also Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Pension Benefit, 998 F.2d at 1196. Additionally, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002) (citation omitted); see also U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) ("Although a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be considered without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.") (internal quotation omitted) (emphasis added). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in making its decision. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

When presented with a pro se complaint, the court should construe the complaint liberally and draw fair inferences from what is not alleged as well as from what is alleged. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003); Youse v. Carlucci, 867 F. Supp. 317, 318 (E.D. Pa. 1994). Such a complaint "must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted ...

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