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Devon C. Kuhn v. County of Butler

March 6, 2012

DEVON C. KUHN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF BUTLER, ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Cathy Bissoon

MEMORANDUM ORDER

For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss (Doc. 9) filed by Defendants County of Butler, Butler County Prison, Richard P. Gigliotti, Arthur P. Marx, Jr., and Richard T. Shaffer ("Moving Defendants") will be granted with prejudice in part, and without prejudice in part.

At the times relevant to the complaint, Devon C. Kuhn ("Plaintiff") was a pre-trial detainee at the Butler County Prison ("BCP") located in Butler, Pennsylvania. Compl. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 4-5). Plaintiff brings this suit pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging deprivations of his rights under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. This suit commenced with this Court's receipt of the complaint on May 18, 2011. (Doc. 1). Moving Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on August 29, 2011 (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition this motion on October 4, 2011 (Doc. 15). This motion is ripe for disposition.

A. Relevant Factual History and Legal Claims

Plaintiff alleges that, on May 20, 2009, while he was a pre-trial detainee at BCP, he "engaged in a verbal altercation" with an unknown corrections officer. (Doc. 1 ¶ 26). Plaintiff was then attacked and beaten by a four unknown corrections officers ("Doe Defendants"). Id. ¶¶ 26-28. Prison officials "immediately noticed that Plaintiff was in need of emergency medical attention." Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff was taken to Allegheny General Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma and underwent emergency brain surgery. Id. ¶¶ 30, 35-38. After his initial surgery, Plaintiff suffered various complications, which required further surgery and treatment. Id. ¶¶ 39-43. As of the date of the filing of this civil action, Plaintiff resided in a special care facility, and continued to suffer from several ill effects resulting from the alleged assault. Id. ¶¶ 43-49.

Plaintiff alleges that, as a result of his brain injury, he does not recall the events of May 20, 2009. Id. ¶ 50. He does indicate that, after he allegedly was assaulted, Moving Defendant Gigliotti allegedly called Plaintiff's father to inform him that Plaintiff was being transported to a hospital "for a severe head injury" that he suffered after "[falling] off the toilet[.]" Id. ¶¶ 31-32. It also is alleged that Moving Defendant Gigliotti asked a District Magistrate to modify Plaintiff's bond, so that Defendant BCP could avoid responsibility for Plaintiff's medical expenses. Id. ¶¶ 51-53. Further, he contends that Moving Defendants Gigliotti, Marx, and Shaffer "had contemporaneous knowledge through the Prison [sic] chain of command that the [] Doe [D]efendant correctional officers imposed a severe beating on [Plaintiff]." Id. ¶ 62. Plaintiff alleges that no investigation into the incident of May 20, 2009, ever took place. Id. ¶ 69.

Plaintiff claims that Moving Defendants engaged in a policy of "nepotism and cronyism" and, as a result, hired "unqualified, inexperienced and untrained individuals as correctional officers." Id. ¶¶ 63-63. He further asserts that they have failed to supervise and train their officers, and that there is a policy at BCP "allowing correctional officers to intimidate, threaten and punish detainees and inmates without supervision" and "without disciplinary consequences." Id. ¶¶ 65, 67-68, 70. Furthermore, Moving Defendant Gigliotti "as Warden of [BCP], [allegedly possesses] a documented history of correctional officers using excessive force on detainees and inmates." Id. ¶ 67. Plaintiff claims that these policies had the "direct and foreseeable consequence" of violating his rights under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Id.

¶ 71. Plaintiff sues Moving Defendants in their official capacities concerning these alleged policies. Id. at 13.

Additionally, Plaintiff sues Moving Defendants Gigliotti, Marx, and Shaffer in their individual capacities for their alleged failure to train and supervise their subordinates. Id. ¶¶ 77-79. Plaintiff also claims that all Defendants were part of a conspiracy to violate his constitutional rights. Id. ¶ 15.

B. Analysis

1.Official Capacity Claims and Claims Against BCP

When an individual is sued in his or her official capacity, the action is considered to be against the governmental entity which he or she represents. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). As such, Plaintiffs claims against any individual Defendant in his or her official capacity are duplicative of his claims against Defendant County of Butler. By this same logic, claims against Defendant BCP are duplicative of those against Defendant County of Butler, as the prison merely is an entity of county. See Colburn v. Uppery Darby Twp., 838 F.2d 663, 671 n.7 (3d Cir. 1988) (overruled in part on other grounds by Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993)); see also Phillips v. Rustin, 2009 WL 1688466, at *1 n.3 (W.D. Pa. June 17, 2009) (Hay, C. Mag. J.). Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims against Moving Defendants in their official capacities, and his claims against Defendant BCP, will be dismissed with prejudice.

2.Section 1983 Conspiracy

In order to set forth a cognizable conspiracy claim, a plaintiff cannot rely on broad or conclusory allegations. D.R. by L.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Vocational Technical Sch., 972 F.2d 1364, 1377 (3d Cir. 1992); Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 366 (3d Cir. 1989); Durre v. Dempsey, 869 F.2d 543, 545 (10th Cir. 1989). A plaintiff must allege conspiracy with particularity even though a heightened pleading standard generally does not apply to individual defendants to civil rights actions. Bieros v. Nicola, 860 F. Supp. 223, 225 (E.D. Pa. 1994) (citing Leatherman 507 U.S. at 168). A complaint alleging a conspiracy must make "factual allegations of combination, agreement, or understanding among all or between any of the defendants [or coconspirators] to plot, plan, or conspire to carry out the alleged chain of events." Spencer v. Steinman, 968 F. Supp. 1011, 1020 (E.D. Pa. 1997); see also Loftus v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 843 F. ...


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