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Daniel Laughlin v. Ms. Peck

November 30, 2011


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


KELLY, Magistrate Judge

Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed on behalf of Defendants Christylee Peck and David Smith, seeking the dismissal of Plaintiff‟s Complaint with prejudice pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [ECF No. 20]. For the following reasons, the Motion to Dismiss Defendants Peck and Smith is granted.


The Complaint alleges claims for the alleged violation of Plaintiff‟s rights under the United States Constitution for Defendants‟ failure to protect him from assaults arising out of his participation in the criminal prosecution of a fellow inmate. We deem the claims to be made pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983 for the alleged violation of Plaintiff‟s Eighth Amendment rights made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment rights.

While Plaintiff was serving a sentence at the State Correction Institute in Albion, PA ("SCI-Albion") in early 2008, Plaintiff alleges he sent a letter to a Cumberland County official disclosing that Rodney Comer, a fellow inmate, admitted to a past incident involving the molestation of a child. The investigation of Plaintiff‟s information was assigned to Defendant Peck, a Cumberland County Assistant District Attorney, and Defendant Smith, a Cumberland County detective assigned to the District Attorney‟s Office. In the course of investigating the information, Plaintiff was asked to present testimony against inmate Comer. Plaintiff agreed to testify, but alleges that he spoke with prison personnel and requested that he be housed separately from Comer. Plaintiff avers he was informed that either he or Comer would be placed in administrative custody. Implementation of this alternative housing arrangement was delayed and both inmates remained in general population of SCI-Albion for approximately one month after the investigation commenced. During this time, Plaintiff began to experience verbal harassment and repeated physical assaults from other inmates and was labeled a "snitch."

Plaintiff alleges he brought the assaults and harassment to the attention of prison personnel and requested that he be placed in protective housing. Plaintiff further alleges that in March of 2008, he forwarded a letter to Defendant Smith, also addressed to Defendant Peck, and presumably detailed the abuse he was suffering.*fn1 ECF No. 1-2, p. 10. In July 2008, prior to testifying, Plaintiff raised the subject of his letter with Defendant Peck, who had not received it. Plaintiff informed her that he had mailed a letter to Defendant Smith, and Defendant Peck asked Defendant Smith for the letter, read it, and assured Plaintiff that she would contact personnel at SCI Albion. Id. Plaintiff then testified in the Comer criminal matter and was returned to SCI Albion. Plaintiff‟s Complaint does not allege any further contact with Defendants Peck or Smith. However, during the next nine months, Plaintiff alleges he sustained multiple physical and sexual assaults because of his participation in the prosecution of a fellow inmate. Plaintiff further alleges that the assaults ended when he was eventually transferred to the State Correctional Institute in Mercer, PA ("SCI- Mercer") in March 2009.

Defendants Peck and Smith have filed the instant Motion to Dismiss. [ECF No. 20]. As to Defendant Peck, the Motion to Dismiss is predicated upon prosecutorial immunity and as to Defendant Smith, the Motion to Dismiss is based upon his lack of personal involvement in the decision making process with regard to Plaintiff‟s housing. Defendants also raise the statute of limitations, noting that the last contact that Plaintiff had with either Defendant was on July 14, 2008. The instant action, however, was not initiated until August 30, 2010, approximately two months after the expiration of the applicable two year statute of limitations. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Dismiss is granted as to Defendants Peck and Smith.


In the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("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 often frivolous and harassing lawsuits 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 ("IFP"). The amended statute provides that "[n]otwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, 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). In the case at issue, Plaintiff has been granted IFP status, and is a prisoner within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915.*fn2 Thus, Section 1915(e)(2) is applicable. In applying the PLRA, notonly 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 the Court's mandated function of review of 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 must apply 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. 1997) ("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 compliance with the standard, 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). 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, 78 S. Ct. 99, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957)).

"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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. "Where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged -- but it has not "shown‟ -- that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. at 1950.

In line with the pleading standards established by the United States Supreme Court in Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has instructed district courts to conduct a two-part analysis when disposing of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir.2009). This analysis proceeds as follows:

First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show" such an entitlement with its facts.

Id. at 210--11 (internal citations omitted).

Finally, courts must construe complaints "so as to do substantial justice." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e). Courts liberally construe pro se pleadings and "apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether the pro se litigant has mentioned it by name." Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir.2003) (citing Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir.2002)).


A.Plaintiff has failed to state a plausible claim for relief as neither Defendant had a "special relationship" with Plaintiff requiring them to act on his behalf.

Section 1983 affords a right to relief where official action causes a "deprivation of rights protected by the Constitution,.." Monell v. Dep‟t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). The statute is not an independent source of substantive rights, but merely "provides a remedy for deprivations of rights established elsewhere in the Constitution or federal laws." Kopec v. Tate, 361 F.3d 772, 775-76 (3d Cir. 2004); see also Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002). To establish a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff "must plead a deprivation of a constitutional right and that the ...

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