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Christopher Jones v. Co Lindler & Dr. Dempsey

March 26, 2012


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


This action arises out of an assault upon pro se plaintiff Christopher Jones suffered while he was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Dallas (SCI-Dallas) . The attack took place on February 5, 2008, perpetrated by another inmate at SCI-Dallas. Jones claims via 42 U.S.C § 1983 that the defendants violated Jones' Eighth Amendment rights through their deliberate indifference: defendant Correctional Officer Lindler (originally incorrectly designated Linhart) by failing to protect Jones from the assault and defendant Dr. William Dempsey by failing to provide adequate medical care following the assault. The complaint, making its claims against Lindler and Dempsey in their official and individual capacities, seeks both compensatory and punitive awards against each of them.

Presently before the court are three motions: Lindler's motion to dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment (Doc. 78); Dempsey's motion to dismiss (Doc. 95); and Dempsey's unopposed motion to strike (Doc. 102) two of Jones' supplemental briefs relating to the defendants' above-mentioned dispositive motions. For the reasons that follow, both motions to dismiss will be granted and the motion to strike will be denied as moot.

I. Background*fn1

This case has a lengthy history, with its essential facts repeated many times by the parties, by this court, and by the Third Circuit; they are set forth here with an emphasis on concision and only as necessary for disposition of the pending motions.*fn2

On February 5, 2008, while at SCI-Dallas, Jones was outside his cell heading toward the guards' desk when another inmate, Woodrow Mitchell, threw a television set from the top tier of the cell block, which hit Jones on the head and knocked him unconscious. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 13, 15.) While Jones lay immobile on the floor, Mitchell threw hot water and an "object" at him, injuring him further. (Id. ¶¶ 16--17.) Correctional Officer Lindler, who was on duty that day and "only a few feet away" from Mitchell, did not physically intervene; instead, he ordered Mitchell to return to his cell and close the door. (Id. ¶ 19.) Medical personnel arrived in due course, took Jones to the infirmary for treatment and then sent him to an outside hospital for further treatment. (Id. ¶ 20.) Upon return to SCI-Dallas, Jones remained under the care of Dr. Dempsey. (Id. ¶ 23.)

On February 12, 2008, Jones filled out an official inmate grievance form (Doc. 87, at 13) and directed it to Robin Lucas, the facility grievance coordinator. In italicized, bold-faced print, the grievance form commanded: "State all relief that you are seeking." (Id.) Nonetheless, Jones' complaint included no statement for relief. (Id.)

Lucas assigned unit manager Joseph Semon to respond to Jones' grievance; Semon found the grievance meritless and denied it. (Id. at 11.) Jones appealed the denial, which was upheld March 28, 2008. (Doc. 1, ¶ 28.) On May 12, 2008, Jones' final appeal was dismissed as untimely.

Jones filed his pro se complaint on May 11, 2009. (Doc. 1.) Then-defendants Hashagen, Semon, and Klopotski successfully obtained dismissal of all claims against them (see Docs. 26, 53), which dismissal survived Jones' appeal to the Third Circuit (see Docs. 64, 64-2). This court had"constructively dismiss[ed]" (Doc. 64-2, at 8) the claims against the current defendants essentially on the basis of their never having been served with the complaint. However, the Third Circuit reversed the dismissal as to these two defendants. The Third Circuit held that because Jones was proceeding in forma pauperis, the court and its officers were responsible for effecting service-and "a failure to serve should not prejudice a faultless plaintiff." (Id. at 7--8 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d).)

Following the Third Circuit's mandate, Lindler and Dempsey were served with notice of the suit against them; they subsequently filed the pending motions (Docs. 78, 95, 102), which are now ripe for adjudication.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "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." Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)); see also Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts contained in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide "the defendant notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests."

Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint in the face of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must conduct a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, "the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1947 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id.; see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210--11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the well-pleaded factual allegations have been isolated, the court must determine whether they are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. at 1950 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"). A claim "has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." ...

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