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James Gerald Holmes v. Correctional Officer Geider

August 10, 2011

JAMES GERALD HOLMES
v.
CORRECTIONAL OFFICER GEIDER, ET. AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Juan R. Sanchez, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff James Gerald Holmes, an African-American inmate at the Chester County Prison (CCP), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Defendants Correctional Officer Geider, Correctional Officer Hitchcock, Correctional Officer Ramsay, Sergeant Moeller, Lieutenant Benethum, and Warden McFadden committed various race-related constitutional violations. Defendants ask this Court to deny Holmes's pending motion for a preliminary injunction and to dismiss Holmes's Complaint for failure to state a claim. Because Holmes has failed to allege Defendants deprived him of a constitutional right, his Complaint will be dismissed.

FACTS*fn1

Holmes's Complaint is based on two incidents which allegedly occurred in November 2010. First, on November 8, 2010, Holmes was informed he would be moved to a new cell to accommodate a white inmate who, like Holmes, was entitled to occupy a bottom bunk. When Holmes asked Correctional Officers Hitchcock and Geider why he had to move to a new cell while the other inmate, who had recently been transferred to the cell, was allowed to stay, Hitchcock responded by saying that Holmes was the "smart type," and that he didn't like "[Holmes's] type at all." Compl. 3. Hitchcock also directed Holmes to "just move when the time came." Id. Holmes requested to speak to Sergeant Moeller, who listened to Holmes's account of the situation, but told him the move had already been approved.

When Geider asked Holmes if he was ready to leave his cell, Holmes replied, "[N]o, not yet." Id. Holmes alleges that "both" Hitchcock and Geider made a "racial statement" in response to his comment, saying, "[C]ome Rosa Parks, I thought you were dead." Id. Holmes immediately requested a slip to report a grievance, but claims he did not receive one even though he been given such slips in the past to report other incidents. Holmes spoke to Moeller about the statements Hitchcock and Geider made, which Moeller allegedly found amusing. Holmes then requested to move to a different cellblock, but his request was denied.

The second incident occurred on November 12, 2010, after Holmes asked Correctional Officer Ramsay to move him from his new cell because several inmates were "making racial slurs and talking about lynching black inmates." Id. at 3-4. Holmes felt these statements created an unsafe environment for him because he believed he was one of the black inmates being discussed. Ramsay asked Holmes, "[W]hat are you scared boy[?]" Id. Holmes replied by asking Ramsay to call him by his name and again requesting to be moved due to the "racial tensions" in the cellblock. Id. Nothing was done in response to this request, despite Holmes's numerous complaints to Moeller, Lieutenant Benethum, and Warden McFadden.

On December 1, 2010, Holmes filed the instant Complaint pro se, alleging Defendants committed unspecified constitutional violations and stating he was "emotionally disturbed" by Defendants' behavior. As relief, he seeks the creation of a policy at CCP against racial discrimination by staff and inmates, changes to the CCP grievance procedure, and $200,000 in damages.*fn2

On December 29, 2010, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Holmes's Complaint. On January 11, 2011, Holmes filed a response which added more detail to his allegations, including some excerpts from the CCP Inmate Handbook.

On February 7, 2011, Holmes filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking this Court to order Hitchcock and Geider to stay away from him because of their alleged acts of retaliation.*fn3

DISCUSSION

When considering a motion to dismiss, courts must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Courts are not, however, "bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Id. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain "more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully- harmed-me accusation" such that the right to relief is more than speculative. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

When a plaintiff files a complaint pro se, the complaint must be liberally construed so "'as to do substantial justice.'" Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 234 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(f)). Even a pro se complaint will be dismissed, however, if it does not "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Brown v. DiGuglielmo, No. 09-3494, 2011 WL 944418, at *3 (3d Cir. Mar. 24, 2011)(internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

"To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff (1) must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and (2) must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Because the Defendants do not contest that they were acting under color of state law, this Court need only consider whether Holmes has sufficiently alleged that his constitutional rights were violated. Liberally construing Holmes's Complaint, Holmes alleges violations of his Fourteenth and Eighth Amendment rights, which this Court shall address in turn.

The Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause "prohibits states from intentionally discriminating between individuals on the basis of race." Antonelli v. New Jersey, 419 F.3d 267, 274 (3d Cir. 2005). To show an equal protection violation, "'[p]roof of racially discriminatory intent or purpose is required.'" City of Cuyahoga Falls v. Buckeye Cmty. Hope Found., 538 U.S. 188, 194 (2003) (quoting Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 265 (1977)). To survive a motion to dismiss a discrimination claim, the plaintiff must include sufficient factual allegations in his complaint to "nudge[] his ...


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