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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 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 restricting his diet to nutri-loaf and withholding his mattress during day-time hours to discipline him for attempting suicide. Mestre seeks injunctive relief,*fn2 and compensatory and punitive damages.

Wagner has moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that dietary and day-time mattress restrictions do 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 he complains.*fn3

Background

As alleged in the complaint, which we read liberally in light of Mestre's pro se status, Mestre was cited for misconduct and placed in restrictive housing. During his 40 days there, his diet was restricted to nutri-loaf three times a day, five days a week. As a result, Mestre alleges he lost twenty-five pounds. He was also placed on mattress restriction for 13 days, during which time his mattress was removed from his cell from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. daily. He claims that the lack of a mattress caused him severe pain and aggravated an existing back condition.

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, he discusses opinions analyzing convicted prisoners' Eighth Amendment claims and pretrial detainees' Fourteenth Amendment challenges to the conditions of their confinement.*fn4

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 him to amend his complaint to allege his custody status, we shall analyze his claim under both the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Eighth Amendment

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, ...


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