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William Wyland v. Gary Brownfield

November 9, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly

ECF No. 90


KELLY, Magistrate Judge

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the "Motion"). ECF No. 90. Through the Motion, Defendants seek to dismiss the pro se action filed by Plaintiff William Wyland, who seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as an award of monetary damages for alleged violations of his rights arising out of his treatment as an inmate at the Fayette County Jail ("FJC"). Plaintiff's claims are brought pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1343, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985 and 1986; as well as the First, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. For reasons set forth herein, the motion is granted.


Plaintiff's allegations arise out of his post-conviction incarceration at the Fayette County Jail. He alleges that, as a homosexual, he was targeted by Defendant Gerauld Strickler, a guard at the Jail, who taunted and verbally threatened Plaintiff. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Strickler formed his hand into the shape of a gun and pointed it at Plaintiff and said "bang," while also telling Plaintiff that twenty-five people wanted to shoot him. ECF No. 86, p. 4. Plaintiff alleges that these threats constitute "serious threats of bodily injury" in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Strickler violated Plaintiff's rights to equal protection by verbally harassing him and using vulgar epithets concerning his sexual orientation. Id. at 5.

Plaintiff also alleges that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated when, on one occasion, Defendant Strickler required him to clean a moldy shower, which also had backed up sewage, without protective gloves, a mask and/or proper cleaning equipment. Plaintiff avers that this caused "severe skin irritation and pain." Id. at 5. Plaintiff further alleges a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights because on one occasion, he was not permitted to change his uniform before eating lunch, even though he had been cutting the hair of other inmates and there was hair on his uniform. Plaintiff alleges that the FCJ violated his Eighth Amendment rights by inappropriately segregating mentally ill inmates with protective custody and punitive custody inmates, such that he was exposed to "dangerous behavior," including yelling, screaming and "human waste and urine all over b block." Id. Plaintiff also asserts that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated because he was not permitted outdoor exercise.

Plaintiff complains that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the inadequacy of the FCJ law library, which he asserts is limited to computerized research of old case law. Legal research is also alleged to be impeded by the inability to access the Fayette County law library, housed in the Fayette County Courthouse. Plaintiff contends that the condition of the FCJ law library required him to act as a "jailhouse lawyer due to the prison not having a law library that would be adequate for a pro se litigant." Id. at 7. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that his defense of criminal charges for shoplifting, providing false identification to police and public drunkenness was harmed because the condition of the law library impeded his preparation of a timely "bill of particulars and discovery" and, as a result, his criminal case "was lost." Id. at 9.

Plaintiff also seeks to remediate what he perceives to be jail-wide issues. In particular, Plaintiff alleges the insufficiency of semi-annual attempts to chemically treat for vermin resulting in the presence of unspecified vermin at the FCJ. Id. Plaintiff contends that the inadequacy of mental health screening resulted in the suicide of another inmate, which he learned of through a newspaper article. Plaintiff alleges that due process is violated because legal mail is not treated as privileged and is not promptly delivered or forwarded. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that notice is not provided when incoming or outgoing mail is rejected. Further, Plaintiff complains of the inadequacy of the prison grievance system, in that he does not believe it provides a meaningful manner to be heard, as evidence by the Defendants' failure to "follow up" with regard to Plaintiff's grievances. Plaintiff also alleges the violation of Sixth Amendment rights as a result of the monitoring of telephone calls to attorneys. Id. at 9, 10.

For each of these alleged violations, Plaintiff has asserted claims against the Fayette County Sheriff, members of the Fayette County Prison Board charged with inspecting the facility, the Commissioners of the Fayette County Prison, the Prison Warden as well as the individual guard who has allegedly verbally abused the Plaintiff.

Defendants have moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint, asserting that the claims against each of the Defendants save Gerauld Strickler are based not upon any personal involvement in the alleged violations, but solely upon Plaintiff's perception of Defendants' supervisory roles and thus are not cognizable at law. Defendants also move to dismiss the claim against Gerauld Strickler because his conduct does not constitute a constitutional violation and he is entitled to good faith qualified immunity. With regard to the claims concerning the law library, Defendants argue that the claims with regard to the adequacy of the law library are legally insufficient and are barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), because the challenge to the adequacy of the law library allegedly impeded Plaintiff's ability to defend himself in an unrelated criminal proceeding. Finally, Defendants assert that the allegations regarding the conditions of Plaintiff's confinement do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Plaintiff has filed two affidavits in opposition to the motion to dismiss ECF Nos. 93 and 95, which is ripe for review.


In the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (the "PLRA"), Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), Congress adopted major changes affecting civil rights actions brought by prisoners in an effort to curb the increasing number of oftentimes frivolous and harassing law suits brought by persons in custody. See Santana v. United States, 98 F.3d 752, 755 (3d Cir.1996). The PLRA significantly amended the statutory provisions with respect to actions brought by prisoners who are proceeding in forma pauperis. The amended version of the statute now reads that "[n]otwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid [by a prisoner granted IFP status], the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that-(A) the allegation of poverty is untrue; or (B) the action or appeal-(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Here, Plaintiff has been granted IFP status, and is a prisoner within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915.*fn1 ECF No. 5. Thus, Section 1915(e)(2) is applicable herein. Moreover, not only is a court permitted to sua sponte dismiss a complaint which fails to state a claim, but it is required to do so by the mandatory language of "the court shall dismiss" utilized by Section 1915(e). See, e.g., Keener v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, 128 F.3d 143, 145 n. 2 (3d Cir.1997) (describing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) as "the PLRA provision mandating sua sponte dismissal of in forma pauperis actions that are frivolous or fail to state a claim."); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir.2000)("It is also clear that section 1915(e) not only permits but requires a district court to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim.").

In performing a court's mandated function of sua sponte reviewing complaints under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) to determine if they fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a federal district court applies the same standard applied to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Powell v. Hoover, 956 F.Supp. 564, 568 (M.D.Pa.1997)(applying Rule 12(b)(6) standard to claim dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)); Tucker v. Angelone, 954 F.Supp. 134, 135 (E.D.Va.) ("Under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A, 1915(e) and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c) the courts are directed to dismiss any claims made by inmates that ‗fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted'. This is the familiar standard for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)."), aff'd, 116 F.3d 473 (Table) (4th Cir.1997).

In reviewing complaints as mandated by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) and, consequently, utilizing the standards for a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must be read in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff and all well-pleaded, material allegations of fact in the complaint must be taken as true. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). Dismissal is proper under Rule 12(b)(6), and hence, under Section 1915(e), where the court determines that the facts alleged, taken as true and viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, fail to state a claim as a matter of law. See, e.g., Gould Electronics, Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir.2000). Furthermore, because Plaintiff is pro se, courts accord an even more liberal reading of the complaint, employing less stringent standards when considering pro se pleadings than when judging the work product of an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972).

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. In order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 556 (2007) (rejecting the traditional 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The issue is not whether the plaintiff will prevail at the end but only whether he should be entitled to offer evidence to support his claim. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, (1989). The complaint must be read in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all well-pleaded, material allegations in the complaint must be taken as true. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976).



Defendants argue that the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint concerning the conditions of his confinement, even if accepted as true, do not state a violation of the Eighth Amendment. ECF No. 90 at 10-12. The Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment" restrains prison officials from certain actions (e.g., the use of excessive force against prisoners), and imposes on them a duty to provide "humane conditions of confinement." Betts v. New Castle Youth Development Center, 621 F.3d 249, 256 (3d Cir. 2010), quoting, Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). That is, "prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must ‗take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.' " Id. (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27, (1984)). For an alleged deprivation to rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation, it must "result in the denial of ‗the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.' " Id. at 835, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (quoting Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347).

To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, two requirements must be met:

The inmate must show that: 1) he suffered a risk of "serious" harm; and 2) prison officials showed "deliberate indifference" to such risk. Id., 511 U.S. at 834. The first element is satisfied when the alleged "punishment" is "objectively sufficiently serious." Id. In determining whether a prisoner has alleged a risk that is objectively serious, a court must consider not only the seriousness of the potential harm and the likelihood that the harm will actually occur, but evidence that unwilling exposure to that risk violates contemporary standards of decency. In other words, the prisoner must show that the risk of which he complains is not one that today's society chooses to tolerate. Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, ...

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