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Alfredo Mestre, Jr. v. Warden George A. Wagner

January 31, 2012

ALFREDO MESTRE, JR.
v.
WARDEN GEORGE A. WAGNER



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Savage, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Alfredo Mestre, a state prisoner, filed this pro se action*fn1 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that George Wagner, Warden at Berks County Jail System, violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by requiring him to eat in his cell "where there is a toilet." Wagner has moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, arguing that requiring a prisoner to eat his meals in his cell does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Additionally, he contends that Mestre has not alleged any facts that he had personal involvement in the restrictions about which Mestre complains.

Mestre's complaint, read liberally in deference to his pro se status, consists of a single paragraph alleging a single fact -- that he is required to eat his meals in his cell in close proximity to an uncovered toilet. He claims this treatment violates "state and federal regulation[s] and is unsanitary and unhealthy." Mestre demands "an injunction and $25,000 in compensation."*fn2

Standard of Review

A complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), giving the defendant "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Although this standard "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' . . . it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me-accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, __, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

A complaint is subject to dismissal if the plaintiff fails to plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plaintiff must allege facts that indicate "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. Pleading only "facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability" is insufficient and cannot survive a motion to dismiss. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Holk v. Snapple Beverage Corp., 575 F.3d 329, 334 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). We may also consider documents attached to the complaint. Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Additionally, the pro se plaintiff's pleadings must be considered deferentially, affording him the benefit of the doubt where one exists. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002)). With these standards in mind, we have accepted the facts as they appear in Mestre's complaint as true and have drawn all possible inferences from these facts in his favor.

Discussion

Nothing in the complaint identifies Mestre as a pretrial detainee or a convicted prisoner while housed at the Berks County Jail System. In his response to the motion to dismiss, Mestre discusses his claim under the Eighth Amendment exclusively.

If Mestre was a pretrial detainee, his conditions of confinement claim is analyzed under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause. Hubbard v. Taylor, 399 F.3d 150, 157-58 (3d Cir. 2005) ("Hubbard I"). On the other hand, if he was a convicted prisoner, his claim is reviewed under the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Natale v. Camden Cnty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2003). Because Mestre is a pro se prisoner, and without requiring an amended complaint to allege his custody status, we shall analyze his claim under both the Eighth and the Fourteenth Amendments.

Eighth Amendment Conditions of Confinement Claim

The Eighth Amendment proscribes the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. Const. amend. VIII. Prison conditions are cruel and unusual if they deprive inmates of basic human needs and life's necessities. Tillman v. Lebanon Cnty. Corr. Facility, 221 F.3d 410, 417-18 (3d Cir. 2000). The test is whether the conditions, together or alone, function to deprive the inmate "of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Id.

To state a claim challenging conditions of confinement, an inmate must allege facts that would, if proven, establish that the deprivation was objectively serious and the prison official had a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F.3d 120, 125 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)).

Whether the harm is objectively serious is measured by society's view of the risk to the prisoner's health and safety, that is, "whether 'it violates contemporary standards of decency to expose anyone unwillingly to such a risk.'" Betts v. New Castle Youth Dev. Ctr., 621 F.3d 249, 257 (3d Cir. 2010) (emphasis omitted) (quoting Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 36 (1993)). Restrictive or harsh conditions are part of prison life. Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). Only conditions that deprive the prisoner of one of life's necessities, such as food, water, clothing, shelter, and medical care are ...


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