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Harry L. Beckett v. Department of Corrections

October 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge

(Judge Rambo)


Plaintiff Harry L. Beckett ("Beckett"), an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Huntingdon"), commenced this action on January 11, 2010, with the filing of a complaint pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as amended on December 8, 2010. (Doc. 70.) Beckett alleges that the Defendants, including Prison Health Services, Inc. ("PHS") and a number of its medical staff, (collectively, "Medical Defendants"),*fn1 as well as a number of Department of Corrections ("DOC") employees,*fn2 violated his constitutional rights, conspired against him in order to deny him his constitutional rights, treated him differently from similarly-situated persons, committed discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134, and committed a number of pendant state law violations when they failed to properly treat his medical condition.

Presently before the court are two separate motions to dismiss the complaint, filed by Medical Defendants and DOC Defendants, respectively. (Docs. 71 & 81.) For the reasons that follow, the motions to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

A. Facts

In the amended complaint, Beckett provides the following factual background with respect to his claims. The court notes that for purposes of disposition of the instant motions to dismiss, the factual allegations asserted in the amended complaint will be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to Beckett.*fn3

Prior to his incarceration, Beckett was injured during his service in the United States Army from 1989 through 1991. (Doc. 70 ¶ 13.) On or about June 28, 1991, Beckett was honorably discharged from the Army due his physical injuries. (Id.) Sometime thereafter, Beckett's condition developed into reflex sympathetic dystrophy ("RSD") and complex regional pain syndrome ("CRPS"). (Id. ¶ 14.)

On or about November 15, 1992, Beckett was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Court of Common Pleas for Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 15.) In the fall of 1993, he was transferred to SCI-Huntingdon. (Id.)

On or about July 3, 1996, Dr. Mangino, SCI-Huntingdon's medical director, prescribed Beckett with "medical showers" in the infirmary after the 4:00 p.m. count. (Id. ¶ 16.) Further, on July 10, 1996, P. Yarger submitted a medical memorandum which stated, "Dr. Mangino has ordered Beckett to have a hot 15 minute shower in the infirmary. . . . This is due to RSD to the left upper extremity." (Id.) As a result of this treatment plan, Beckett's condition improved. (Id. ¶ 22.) However, this order for hot showers expired sometime in August 1996. (Id. ¶ 18.)

On or about August 1996, during sick call, Defendant PA Mills refused to reorder Beckett's prescribed treatment of 15-minute hot showers or schedule him for an examination with the doctor.*fn4 (Id. ¶ 18.) During this time, Defendant PA Aultman also refused to reorder the hot showers or schedule an examination with a doctor. (Id. ¶ 19.) Beckett avers that the repeated refusal or delay in the prescribed treatment since that time has led him to experience "excruciating pain and suffering and a deterioration of his health and future health." (Id. ¶¶ 21, 22.)

On November 4, 2006, Beckett passed out as a result of his chronic RSD/CRPS and fractured his hip. (Id. ¶ 23.) Defendants Albright and Randolph responded to this emergency, but failed to provide reasonable or adequate medical care. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 25.) Beckett acknowledges, however, that he was subsequently prescribed a "cane as needed." (Id. ¶ 23.) Following the incident, Defendants Albright and Randolph issued a misconduct to Beckett as a result of the November 4, 2006 incident. (Id. ¶ 26.) Beckett asserts that Albright and Randolph knowingly issued this false misconduct with the intention to discriminate against him because of his "serious medical disability" and to treat him differently from similarly situated inmates. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27.)

From 1995 through 2008, Defendant Showalter was aware of Beckett's RSD/CRPS and the pain associated with his condition as a result of the denial of hot showers. (Id. ¶ 28.) In addition, from 1995 through 2009, Beckett submitted numerous inmate requests and grievances to Defendant Showalter to have his hot shower treatment reinstated. (Id. ¶ 30.) Beckett further avers that Defendant Showalter and Defendant Beresgouskava "condoned and acquiesced" in an "unwritten 'practice, procedure or custom' of arbitrarily and unreasonably discontinuing the prescribed '15 minute medical showers' without a[n] informed medical determination . . . ." (Id. ¶ 29.)

In addition to these allegations, Beckett asserts in his amended complaint that all Defendants conspired to "deny, deprive, impair or impede" his rights under federal and state law, as well as under the "American Disability Act" when they repeatedly refused to deny him the prescribed treatment of hot showers. (Id. ¶ 35.) He also claims that at some point in time while he was in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU"), he was limited to a five-minute shower three times a week; his prescribed back brace and neck collar were confiscated; he was denied two blankets and a pillow; and was confined within a "cold punishment cell." (Id. ¶ 35(f).) He also claims that he was discriminated against when prison officials required him to pay a $16.00 co-pay for a doctor visit for his RSD/CRPS. (Id. ¶ 36.)

B. Relevant Procedural History

Beckett filed his motion for leave to file an amended complaint on June 10, 2010. (Doc. 39.) After responsive and reply briefing was submitted (see Docs. 47, 50), by order dated December 10, 2010, the court granted Beckett's motion for leave to amend his complaint, and accepted the proposed amended complaint for filing. (Doc. 69.) Medical Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on December 17, 2010. (Doc. 71.) DOC Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on February 4, 2011. (Doc. 81.) Responsive and reply briefing has been filed, and thus the motions to dismiss are ripe for consideration.

II. Standard of Review - Motion to Dismiss

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 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). 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 by lawyers." Erickson, 127 S. Ct. at 2200 (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

Finally, in the Third Circuit, a court must grant leave to amend before dismissing a civil rights complaint that is merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 428 (3d Cir. 2001); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

III. Discussion

A plaintiff, in order to state a viable § 1983 claim, must plead two essential elements: 1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and 2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Liability under § 1983 is personal in nature and a defendant is liable only if he was personally, affirmatively involved in the alleged wrongdoing. Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh, 120 F.3d 1286, 1294 (3d Cir. 1997), abrogated in part on other grounds by Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006) (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)). A defendant who supervised the wrongdoer but did not personally participate in the wrongful act is not liable under § 1983 on a theory of respondeat superior unless he personally directed or had actual knowledge of, and acquiesced in, the deprivation. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981) (citing Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)); Robinson, 120 F.3d at 1294. A defendant who lacked any supervisory power over the wrongdoer and who was not personally, affirmatively involved in the alleged wrongful conduct is not liable under § 1983. Id.

As stated above, there are two motions to dismiss pending in the instant case. In their motion to dismiss, DOC Defendants argue that the amended complaint should be dismissed on the following grounds: (1) Beckett's claims against DOC Defendants in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) Beckett's state tort claims against the DOC are barred by sovereign immunity where the Commonwealth has not waived immunity for the claims asserted; and (3) Beckett has failed to state a conspiracy claim. (Doc. 93.) In their motion to dismiss, Medical Defendants argue that the amended complaint should be dismissed on the following grounds: (1) Beckett has failed to allege personal involvement of certain Medical Defendants; (2) Beckett's claims accruing prior to January 2008 are barred by the applicable statute of limitations; (3) Beckett has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his claims in the amended complaint; (4) Beckett has failed to state a claim of deliberate indifference towards his medical needs; (5) Beckett has failed to state a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"); (6) Beckett has failed to state a conspiracy claim; (7) Beckett has failed to state a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment; and (8) Beckett's claim for punitive damages should be dismissed. (Doc. 72.) The court will address the arguments set forth in both motions to dismiss in turn.

A. DOC Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

1. Official Capacity

DOC Defendants contend that the Eleventh Amendment bars Beckett's claims for money damages against them in their official capacities. The Eleventh Amendment precludes federal court jurisdiction over suits by private parties against states or their agencies unless sovereign immunity has expressly been waived. United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980). By statute, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has specifically withheld its consent to be ...

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