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Mario Medina v. Warden Robert L. Raiger

March 7, 2012

MARIO MEDINA, PLAINTIFF
v.
WARDEN ROBERT L. RAIGER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



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

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

On March 16, 2011, Plaintiff Mario Medina, a prisoner housed at SCI-Coal Township, in Coal Township, Pennsylvania, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 relating to events that occurred while housed at the Lebanon County Prison (LCP). Named as Defendants in the Complaint are: Warden Raiger; Corrections Officer (CO) Hornberger; CO Wenrick; CO Hartman; CO Gerstner; CO Wentzel; CO Woody; Cpl. Christner; Warden of Treatment Anthony Hauck; Nurse Carey; CO Mease, CO Carpenter and CO Perry. Mr. Medina alleges that prison officials violated his Eighth Amendment rights when they failed to protect him from assault; used excessive force against him; and denied him medical treatment for his injuries. Doc. 1, Compl. He also claims these events were retaliatory in nature. Id.

Presently before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss and supporting brief. Doc. 15, Mot. to Dismiss; Doc. 16, Br. in Supp. Mot. to Dismiss. Several months have passed without Plaintiff filing any opposition to defendants' motion, or requesting an enlargement of time to do so. Thus, the motion ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss will be granted in part, and denied in part. While a number of Mr. Medina's claims for relief will be dismissed, his Eighth Amendment claims of excessive use of force and denial of medical care claims will proceed.

II. Standard of Review

On a motion to dismiss, "[w]e 'accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoted case omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege sufficient facts, if accepted as true, state "a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when a plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at , 129 S.Ct. at 1949. The court is " 'not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.' " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at , 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1965); see also PA Prison Soc. v. Cortes, 622 F.3d 215, 233 (3d Cir. 2010).

In resolving a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court's "inquiry is normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011)(citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at , 129 S.Ct. at 1947-50). If a party opposing a motion to dismiss does not "nudge [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974.

Finally, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007); Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318, 322 (3d Cir. 2009). However, under no circumstance is a court required to accept bald assertions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. See In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc. Sec. Litig., 311 F.3d 198, 215 (3d Cir. 2002); Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 n. 8 (3d Cir. 1997). Pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a curative amended complaint even when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend, unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Fletcher--Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007). However, a complaint that sets forth facts which affirmatively demonstrate that the plaintiff has no right to recover is properly dismissed without leave to amend. Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. Statement of Alleged Facts

On March 18, 2009, Mario Medina was escorted by Lebanon County Sheriffs to the Lebanon County Courthouse for sentencing. Doc. 1 at CM/ECF p. 1.*fn1 At his sentencing hearing, Mr. Medina advised the sentencing judge that he "feared that [his] life was in danger due to the victim of [his] case having relatives in said location (Lebanon C.P.)". Id. After approving Plaintiff's plea, the judge "ordered sheriff's (sic) to house [him] at the Lancaster County Jail" until he was transferred to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Id. However, the unidentified transporting sheriffs delivered Mr. Medina to the LCP.

On March 20, 2009, Mr. Medina was housed with another inmate and also placed in an exercise area with two other inmates in contradiction to Deputy of Treatment Hauck's administrative segregation order. Id. While in the exercise area, Mr. Medina was "involved in a[n] altercation with these inmate". Id. Officers Hornberger, Wenrich, Hartman, Gerstner Wentzel, Louden and Woody then "arrived and secured" the inmates with cuffs. Id. at CM/ECF pp. 1-2. While handcuffed these officers yelled racial slurs at Mr. Medina, doused him with pepper spray, and beat him unconscious. Id. at CM/ECF p. 2. During this ordeal, the officers stated that Ms. Martinez, a co-worker and mother of the victim in Mr. Medina's criminal case, sends her regards. Id. Officer Wentzel is accused of striking Plaintiff with a metal baton during the assault. Plaintiff was then removed from the recreation area and "forced into a closet" were he was beaten, choked and "subjected to water hose drowning tactics". Id. When he was eventually "forced to the medical area," Nurse Carey refused to treat or document his injuries. Id. Officer Woody, the Commanding Officer that day, refused to get Mr. Medina any medical assistance or allow him access to water to minimize the effects of the pepper spray. Id. Cpl. Christner was the officer "in charge of all officers" on March 20, 2009, and failed to properly monitor, train and supervise the officers as did the Warden and unidentified transporting sheriffs. Id.

Plaintiff claims defendants used excessive force against him in retaliation for his criminal acts against their co-worker's daughter; failed to protect him from harm; and denied him medical care. Id. Mr. Medina alleges defendants tried to cover up the incident by transferring him to the Lancaster County Jail. Id. However, that facility would not accept him due to his apparent injuries, and as a result he was transferred to SCI-Camp Hill. Upon his arrival there state prison officials photographed his injuries and transported him to a local hospital for treatment. Id. As relief, Mr. Medina seeks monetary damages. Id.

IV. Discussion

A. Failure to State a Claim against Defendants Mease.

The doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to constitutional claims. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, U.S. , , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)("Government officials may not be held liable for unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior."); see also Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005)(claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cannot be premised on a theory of respondeat superior)(citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)). Rather, each defendant must be shown, via the complaint's allegations, to have been personally involved in the events underlying a claim. Iqbal, supra, U.S. at , 129 S.Ct. at 1948 ("[A] plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution."); see also Argueta v. United States ICE, 643 F.3d 60, 72 (3d Cir. 2011)(same). A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs, which may be shown through allegations of actual involvement in, personal direction of, or knowledge of and acquiescence to the asserted civil rights violations. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)(citations omitted). "Allegations of participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence, however, must be made with appropriate particularity." Id. Alleging a mere hypothesis that an individual defendant had personal knowledge or involvement in depriving the plaintiff of his rights is insufficient to establish personal involvement. Id. at 1208. "In order to satisfy the 'personal involvement' requirement, a complaint need only allege the conduct, time, place and person responsible." Solan v. Ranck, 326 F. App'x 97, 101 (3d Cir. 2009)(per curiam)(nonprecedential).

Aside from naming "Officer Mease" as a defendant in this action, Doc. 1 at CM/ECF p. 1, Mr. Medina's Complaint makes no allegations whatsoever concerning Defendant Mease's involvement in the underlying events that allegedly violated his constitutional rights. Therefore, the Court concludes that the Complaint must be dismissed ...


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