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Premous Clinton v. Camp Hill Prison


February 1, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Magistrate Judge Carlson)

( Judge Jones)


I. Statement of Facts and of The Case

A. Procedural History

This is a pro se civil rights case that was first brought by a state prisoner, Premous Clinton, through the filing of a civil rights complaint on November 28, 2011. (Doc. 1.) After some delays, McMillian filed a proper motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis on January 3, 2012. (Doc.5.) Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for initial review by this court.

In its present form, Clinton's complaint names twelve individual and institutional defendants. (Id.) The institutional defendants include the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Camp Hill Prison. (Id.) The individual defendants consist of nine officials at the State Correctional Institution, Camp Hill, and the warden of the York County Prison, Mary Sabol.(Id.)

After listing this array of individual and institutional defendants, Clinton's complaint sets forth a curious array of factual recitals. For example, Clinton identifies these ten individual defendants, but then never makes any allegation of personal involvement in any wrongdoing by any of these individuals. (Id.) Instead, in this pleading Clinton recites that he was a state prisoner at Camp Hill, who is currently being detained in the York County Prison. (Id.) The balance of Clinton's complaint consists of a comparison of the inmate amenities offered at the two prisons, a comparison which illustrates that, in Clinton's view, York County Prison is a less commodious institution. (Id.)

Many of the matters which Clinton chooses to highlight in his complaint border on the frivolous. For example, Clinton protests limitations on "contact visits" at the York County Prison, complains that commissary costs are "sky high" at this institution, alleges that "I do not get TV with cable in my cell here", states that "phone calls is [sic] very expensive" and contends that "I have to pay for a haircut here". (Id.) Other allegations made by Clinton concern matters involving access to religious services and materials, issues of potentially greater gravity.(Id.) However, these allegations are simply made through formulaic recitals by Clinton without any supporting facts or allegations of personal involvement by any of the named defendants.(Id.) Indeed, the failure of Clinton to specifically identify the actions taken by particular defendants in his complaint is hardly surprising since Clinton's complaint contains an odd juxtaposition of claims and parties. The gist of Clinton's complaint relates to his dissatisfaction with amenities in the York County Prison. (Id.) Curiously, though, eleven of the twelve defendants named in the complaint are linked to the Camp Hill Prison, an institution whose cable TV offerings, contact visitation rules, and haircut policies Clinton describes in favorable terms. (Id.) Furthermore, the only defendant with ties to the York County Prison, Mary Sabol, is not alleged by Clinton to have been personally involved in any of the matters set forth in the complaint.

Along with this complaint, the plaintiff filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis on January 3, 2012. (Doc. 5.) For the reasons set forth below, we will GRANT this motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 5), but recommend that the Court dismiss the complaint for failure to presently state a claim upon which relief can be granted, without prejudice to allowing the plaintiff to attempt to correct the deficiencies noted in this report and recommendation by filing an amended complaint.

II. Discussion

A. Screening of Pro Se In forma Pauperis Complaints--Standard of Review

This Court has a statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of pro se complaints brought by plaintiffs given leave to proceed in forma pauperis in cases which seek redress against government officials. Specifically, we are obliged to review the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A which provides, in pertinent part:

(a) Screening. - The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.

(b) Grounds for dismissal. - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or

(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

Under Section 1915A, the Court must assess whether a pro se complaint "fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." This statutory text mirrors the language of Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a complaint should be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:

Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (12007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)]and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal --U.S.--, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).

In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the Court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the complaint are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court "need not credit a complaint's bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally a court need not "assume that a ... plaintiff can prove facts that the ... plaintiff has not alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a plaintiff must provide some factual grounds for relief which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do." Id. at 555. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court has underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, a court should "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 1950. According to the Supreme Court, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949. Rather, in conducting a review of the adequacy of complaint, the Supreme Court has advised trial courts that they must:

[B]egin by identifying pleadings that because they are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are 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.

Thus, following Twombly and Iqbal a well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere legal labels and conclusions. Rather, a complaint must recite factual allegations sufficient to raise the plaintiff's claimed right to relief beyond the level of mere speculation. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated:

[A]fter Iqbal, when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. 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.

Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11.

In addition to these pleading rules, a civil complaint must comply with the requirements of Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure which defines what a complaint should say and provides that:

(a) A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support; (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.

Thus, a well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere legal labels and conclusions. Rather, a pro se plaintiff's complaint must recite factual allegations which are sufficient to raise the plaintiff's claimed right to relief beyond the level of mere speculation, set forth in a "short and plain" statement of a cause of action.

B. Clinton May Not Sue The State or The State Prison for Damages

First, as a matter of constitutional law, the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution provides that "[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the . . . States . . . .", U. S. Const. Amend XI. By its terms, the Eleventh Amendment strictly limits the power of federal courts to entertain cases brought by citizens against the state and state agencies. Pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment, states and state agencies are generally immune from lawsuits in federal courts brought against them by citizens. Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996). This broad grant of immunity from damages claims in federal court admits of only two exceptions: First, a state can waive its immunity, See Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 755 (1999), or, second, Congress can expressly abrogate that state immunity, provided that Congress "both unequivocally intends to do so and acts pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional authority." Bd. of Trustees of the Univ. of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363 (2001). In this case, to the extent that Clinton seeks damages from the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania has not waived its constitutional immunity from suit for damages and Congress has not expressly abrogated this immunity. Furthermore while the plaintiff may still be able to pursue injunctive relief against the state consistent with the Eleventh Amendment, Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662-63 (1974), there is plainly no basis for an injunctive relief claim against the state since Clinton alleges that he is not housed in a state facility, but rather is imprisoned in the York County Prison. Therefore, these claims against the Commonwealth must be dismissed.

B. Clinton's Complaint Fails to Allege Personal Involvement in Wrongdoing By Any Individual Defendants and Fails as a Matter of Law

Clinton's complaint also names ten supervisory prisons officials as defendants, nine of whom are employed at SCI Camp Hill and one of whom works at the York County Prison. However, the complaint is wholly bereft of any factual allegations regarding direct misconduct any of by these individual defendants.

This is a fatal flaw in this pleading since it is clear that a claim of a constitutional deprivation cannot be premised merely on the fact that the named defendant was government supervisory official, when the incidents set forth in the complaint occurred. Quite the contrary, to state a constitutional tort claim the plaintiff must show that the supervisory defendants actively deprived him of a right secured by the Constitution. Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Maine v.Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1 (1980). Constitutional tort liability is personal in nature and can only follow personal involvement in the alleged wrongful conduct shown through specific allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence in the challenged practice. Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh, 120 F.3d 1286 (3d Cir. 1997).

In particular, with respect to government supervisory officials it is well-established that:

"A[n individual government] defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing; liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior. Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir.1988).

Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005).

As the Supreme Court has observed:

Government officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior. . . . See Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978) (finding no vicarious liability for a municipal "person" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983); see also Dunlop v. Munroe, 7 Cranch 242, 269, 3 L.Ed. 329 (1812) (a federal official's liability "will only result from his own neglect in not properly superintending the discharge" of his subordinates' duties); Robertson v. Sichel, 127 U.S. 507, 515-516, 8 S.Ct. 1286, 3 L.Ed. 203 (1888) ("A public officer or agent is not responsible for the misfeasances or position wrongs, or for the nonfeasances, or negligences, or omissions of duty, of the subagents or servants or other persons properly employed by or under him, in the discharge of his official duties"). Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1948 (2009).

Applying these benchmarks, courts have frequently held that, in the absence of direct evidence of supervisory knowledge and approval of subordinates' actions, a plaintiff may not maintain an action against supervisors based upon the misdeeds of their subordinates. O'Connell v. Sobina, No. 06-238, 2008 WL 144199, * 21 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 11, 2008); Neuburger v. Thompson, 305 F. Supp. 2d 521, 535 (W.D. Pa. 2004). Rather, "[p]ersonal involvement must be alleged and is only present where the supervisor directed the actions of supervisees or actually knew of the actions and acquiesced in them. See Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir.1988)." Jetter v. Beard, 183 F.Appx. 178, 181 (3d Cir. 2006).

Here, Clinton simply does not allege that any of the named individual defendants directed the acts set forth in the complaint, or had knowledge of that conduct and acquiesced in it. Rather, Clinton merely listed these individuals in the caption of the complaint, without setting forth any basis for a claim against them in the body of this pleading, a style of pleading which is plainly inadequate to state a claim against a prison supervisor and compels dismissal of these defendants. Hudson v. City of McKeesport, 241 F. App'x 519 (3d Cir. 2007)(affirming dismissal of defendant who was only named in caption of case.) Therefore, these individual defendants should also be dismissed from this case.

D. Many of Clinton's Claims Are Frivolous

Moreover, many of the substantive claims apparently made by the plaintiff in this complaint are wholly without merit and frivolous. For example, we conclude, consistent with settled case law, that Clinton has no constitutional right to watch cable TV in his cell, and that "such a deprivation does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Portier v. Defusco, 2009 WL 823551, *3 (D.Colo. Mar. 27, 2009) (deprivation of a loner TV set for 495 days while in solitary confinement, allegedly seriously impacting inmate's mental health, did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment) (citing Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 718 (7th Cir.1995) (finding "no support in the case law" for claim that denial of "cigarettes and television amounts to a constitutional violation"); James v. Milwaukee County, 956 F.2d 696, 699 (7th Cir.1992) ("a prisoner who is denied ... a television set has not set out a deprivation of [his rights under] ... the eighth amendment"); Scheanette v. Dretke, 199 Fed. Appx. 336 (5th Cir.2006) (denial of televisions to death row inmates not cruel and unusual because watching television is not a life necessity or a basic human need); Elliott v. Brooks, 188 F.3d 518, 199 WL 525909 (10th Cir.1999) (no constitutional right to watch television in prison)). See Sattar v. Gonzales, 2009 WL 606115, * 3 (D.Colo. Mar. 6, 2009) (Severe limitations of confinement in ADX in Florence alone do not constitute an Eighth Amendment violation.)." Jackson v. Wiley, No. 09-1148, 2009 WL 2600361, 4 (D.Colo. Aug. 21, 2009).

Similarly, we find that Clinton's complaints about contact visits are unavailing since it has been held that such a "prohibition of contact visits is a reasonable response to legitimate concerns of prison security. An inmate is not precluded from visiting with members of his family and others, but only from physical contact with those individuals."Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce, 612 F.2d 754, 759-60 (3d Cir. 1979). Thus, prison contact visitation restrictions have long been upheld by the courts as a constitutional response to valid security concerns. See, e.g., Dunn v. Castro, 621 F.3d 1196, 1203 n. 2 (9th Cir. 2010); Thorne v. Jones, 765 F.2d 1270, 1273-75 (5th Cir.1985) (holding prisoner had no absolute right to visits from his parents); Harmon v. Auger, 768 F.2d 270, 272 (8th Cir.1985) (holding that an inmate does not have a liberty interest in contact visits); Smith v. Coughlin, 748 F.2d 783, 788-89 (2d Cir.1984) (upholding prison regulation that prohibited contact visits from family); Bellamy v. Bradley, 729 F.2d 416, 420 (6th Cir.1984) (upholding the termination of family visits as a result of prison regulation violations); Ramos v. Lamm, 639 F.2d 559, 570 n. 26 (10th Cir.1980) ("[W]e think the weight of present authority clearly establishes that there is no constitutional right to contact visitation. We agree with this view." (internal citations omitted)).

Furthermore, we find that the alleged practice of charging inmates at the York County Prison for haircuts does not offend any fundamental right guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Therefore, Clinton's claims premised on a constitutional right to a free haircut also fail. See Brigaerts v. Cardoza, No. 90-300, 1993 WL 87217 (N.D. Cal. March 19, 2993)(summary judgment on inmate free haircut claim).

In short, none of these contentions, individually or in combination, present a deprivation of such a fundamental nature that it states a constitutional claim. Therefore, all of these claims should be dismissed

D. This Complaint Should be Dismissed Without Prejudice

In sum, in its current form this complaint fails to state a claim against these defendants upon which relief may be granted. While this screening merits analysis calls for dismissal of this action in its current form, we recommend that the plaintiff be given another, final opportunity to further litigate this matter by endeavoring to promptly file an amended complaint. We recommend this course mindful of the fact that in civil rights cases pro se plaintiffs often should be afforded an opportunity to amend a complaint before the complaint is dismissed in its entirety, see Fletcher-Hardee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, 482 F.3d 247, 253 (3d Cir. 2007), unless granting further leave to amend is not necessary in a case such as this where amendment would be futile or result in undue delay, Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir. 2004). Accordingly, it is recommended that the Court provide the plaintiff with an opportunity to correct these deficiencies in the pro se complaint, by dismissing this deficient complaint at this time without prejudice to one final effort by the plaintiffs to comply with the rules governing civil actions in federal court.

III. Recommendation

Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis be GRANTED (Doc. 2), but that the Plaintiff's complaint be dismissed without prejudice to the plaintiff endeavoring to correct the defects cited in this report, provided that the defendant acts within 20 days of any dismissal order.

The Parties are further placed on notice that pursuant to Local Rule 72.3: Any party may object to a magistrate judge's proposed findings, recommendations or report addressing a motion or matter described in 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(B) or making a recommendation for the disposition of a prisoner case or a habeas corpus petition within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy thereof. Such party shall file with the clerk of court, and serve on the magistrate judge and all parties, written objections which shall specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations or report to which objection is made and the basis for such objections. The briefing requirements set forth in Local Rule 72.2 shall apply. A judge shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The judge, however, need conduct a new hearing only in his or her discretion or where required by law, and may consider the record developed before the magistrate judge, making his or her own determination on the basis of that record. The judge may also receive further evidence, recall witnesses or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. Submitted this 11th day of January, 2012.

Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge


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