Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Terry Binkley v. Governor Edward Rendell

January 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rambo


Plaintiff Terry Binkley, an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Dallas"), commenced this civil rights action with a complaint filed on June 14, 2010, pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) Named as Defendants are a number of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") officials and employees ("Commonwealth Defendants"),*fn1 as well as Keefe Group, the company that provides SCI-Dallas with commissary items, and Jane Jesse, M.D., a medical provider at SCI-Dallas. In his complaint, Plaintiff makes several allegations about the conditions at SCI-Dallas. He seeks monetary damages, as well as injunctive relief.

Presently before the court are two motions to dismiss filed on behalf of two sets of Commonwealth Defendants.*fn2 (Docs. 11 & 41.) For the reasons set forth below, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

A. Facts

For purposes of disposition of the instant motions to dismiss, the court will recount only the factual allegations provided by Binkley related to the Commonwealth Defendants, and will accept those allegations as true and view them in a light most favorable to Binkley.

In his complaint, Binkley alleges that at some point in time former Governor Rendell enacted a policy to create more bed space in DOC institutions. (Doc. 1 at 10 ¶ 18.) As a result of this policy, implemented by a number of Commonwealth Defendants including former Secretary Beard, inmate Sechrist had his single cell status revoked and was placed in a double cell. (Id.) Once placed in a double cell, inmate Sechrist immediately attacked his cellmate and attempted to either kill him or sexually assault him. (Id.) Inmate Sechrist was placed in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") for a period of time, and, prior to his release, he told the Program Review Committee that he would assault another inmate if he was put in a double cell again. (Id.) The Program Review Committee ignored inmate Sechrist's threats, stating that the institution was too overcrowded to place inmate Sechrist in a single cell, and released him, placing him in a double cell with Binkley. (Id.)

When Binkley became aware that he would be placed in a cell with inmate Sechrist, he informed Defendants C.O. Mulgrew and C.O. Mosher of inmate Sechrist's history of behavior and of his own fear for his life. (Id. at 11 ¶ 19.) Mulgrew and Mosher "began laughing and taunting [Binkley] while betting on how long it would take before he too was assaulted." (Id.) Binkley also reported his fears to Defendant Breuninger and another official, who "stated that they pretty much didn't care about his concerns and explained that he would either remain doubled up with this inmate, or be placed in the RHU." (Id.)

Thereafter, on July 20, 2009, between 4:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., Binkley was awakened to inmate Sechrist cutting his neck with a razor and choking him. (Id. at 11 ¶ 20.) Binkley repeatedly called out for help, and an officer "eventually" arrived and called for backup. (Id.) Approximately ten minutes later, officers arrived at the cell, handcuffed both inmates, and took them to the hospital area of SCI-Dallas. (Id. at 11 ¶ 21.) While Binkley was awaiting treatment, unidentified officers "began to make light of the condition of [Binkley] . . . ." (Id.) Upon receiving treatment, the attending nurse told him that he was not hurt, but gave him a bandage and told him to report back to the medical department later in the day. (Id.) Binkley did report back to medical as instructed, but was given no further treatment for his injuries, namely to his neck and back. (Id. at 12 ¶ 22.) Further, Binkley attempted to get psychiatric treatment for the trauma he experienced, but has been denied such treatment. (Id. at 12 ¶ 23.)

In his complaint, Binkley also makes a variety of general allegations relating to the conditions of SCI-Dallas. He alleges that SCI-Dallas is overcrowded and conditions have significantly deteriorated during his approximately seven years of confinement there. (Id. at 6 ¶¶ 1, 2.) He complains about the plumbing and lack of adequate shower facilities. (Id. at 6 ¶ 2.) He complains that the electrical systems are "overloaded," causing lighting to be "minimal" and inmates to be unnecessarily locked down. (Id. at 6 ¶ 3.) He alleges that the food preparation facilities have "degenerated to deplorable standards," with inmates finding foreign objects in their food, and being forced to eat undercooked or cold food with filthy utensils. (Id. at 6 ¶ 4.) He alleges that commissary food items are stale and rotten, and other items such as footwear and electronics are defective, hazardous, and fraudulently sold. (Id. at 7 ¶ 5.) He complains that the medical facilities are understaffed and medical staff is incompetent. (Id. at 7 ¶¶ 6-8.) He complains about poor heating systems, ventilation, noise levels, as well as a lack of emergency call buttons in cells and unsafe prison yard conditions. (Id. at 8-9 ¶¶ 10-14.) Finally, he complains that mentally ill inmates are being improperly celled in the general population. (Id. at 9-10 ¶¶ 15-16.)

In addition to the general complaints of the conditions at SCI-Dallas, Binkley also makes several complaints about the law library. He complains that it is difficult to sign up for law library time. (Id. at 12, 13 ¶ 26.) He further alleges that the library is inadequate and poorly staffed. (Id. at 19 ¶ 16.) He complains that he and other inmates are denied access to DOC policies and procedures set forth in the inmate handbook, as well as to "legal books and leisure reading." (Id. at 19-20 ¶¶ 16, 17.)

B. Procedural History

Binkley filed his complaint on June 14, 2010. (Doc. 1.) On September 16, 2010, the first set of Commonwealth Defendants filed their motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. 11.) After being granted an extension of time, Binkley filed his brief in opposition on February 23, 2010. (Doc. 32.) Once served with the complaint, the second set of Commonwealth Defendants filed their motion to dismiss on August 25, 2011. (Doc. 41.) Binkley filed his brief in opposition to this second motion on September 14, 2011. (Doc. 43.) Thus, the motions are now 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 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). A defendant's conduct must have a close causal connection to plaintiff's injury in order for § 1983 liability to attach. Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 285 (1980).*fn3 A prerequisite for a viable civil rights claim is that a defendant directed, or knew of and acquiesced in, the deprivation of a plaintiff's constitutional rights. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir. 1988). On its face, ยง 1983 creates no exceptions to the liability it imposes, nor does it speak of immunity for any ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.